Midterm misanthropy: I’m not with Stupid

I wish stupidity hurt.

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” (Sam Clemens)

To be clear, I wish I didn’t get hurt by the entitled and ignorant actions of others… I think those consequences should be limited to the perpetrators themselves. Unfortunately, their stupidity can cause grief far beyond themselves… the best the rest of us can do is try to locate a minimum safe distance from the havoc they cause.

This quarter has been a welcome respite: I have great students who seem to be taking responsibility for their own actions. Excuses have been reasonable, and (so far) extended absences have been accompanied by doctor’s notes.

Which means that most of my misanthropy has been directed at people I don’t get to fail, per se. There is a world of difference between naïve and stupid. I love teaching because I get to give information and skills to those who want it. If only I could find a way to disarm wilful ignorance and motivated reasoning outside of class, I would be fantastically happy.  Ironic that I understand why so many misguided evangelists me promise that I will go to hell as an atheist… I understand that they are engaging in a type of wish fulfillment fantasy.

I understand that my wishing it were so won’t make it happen, but I think it is fun to fantasize anyway:

  • I wish that people who honk less than 1 second after a light changes would have their car stall in that moment.
  • … or need to pay an “unnecessary honking” tax.
  • … or be afflicted by a sudden fear of car horns.
  • I have a special wish for rabid anti-vaxx folks to be bitten by a rabies infected critter.  (Dually ironic because the first treatment is get a rabies vaccine or become literally rabid).
  • … I’ll add this treatment to folks who abuse their pets… just let them know after the treatment window had closed.
  • … and for the folks who shield child abusers/rapists (yes, I’m looking at you Pope Frankie).
  • How about we castrate the self labeled “incel” bros.  Maybe less testosterone would make them less misogynistic…
  • … and lets take away their internet access.
  • … and if that doesn’t work, I’m sure they would make excellent fertilizer.

I will not kill people and wear their skins… I will not kill people and wear their skins…. I will not kill people and wear their skins….




Service Culture Redux

We live in a culture that honors soldiers.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. These are people who go into a job knowing that they could be shot to… “defend our liberties.”  Now we can discuss how attacking people overseas who hate us makes us safer. Many hate us for our politics, much of which seems to be about how we like to interfere in world politics and support regimes like the ever peaceful Israeli states (where is my sarcastic font?).  Policy makers inadvertently perpetuate cycles of violence and distrust. Differences in religion don’t help either, but for whatever reason everybody seems to think that God is on their side.

Also, most of the soldiers I know tell me that it is mostly getting too little sleep and too little pay to do boring and menial work.

And to be clear: thank you for your service.  You signed up to take risks for your country.  I have no problem with you fine folks… politicians are another matter entirely.  But now is not the time to open that can o’ worms.

So lets change gears and I’ll ask you: when was the last time you were surprised about hearing about a school shooting (in the US)? Teaching is not a profession without risk anymore.

Sometimes people tell me that teaching is a noble profession.  But I have also had friends ask me if I am nervous about a shooter coming to my school… and I admit I am. But I’ll stay because I love to teach, and that I do it well. Lets make no mistake though, schools are not off limits to mass murderers.

I would like to imagine a culture that honors teachers the same way that it honors soldiers. Can I get my teachers discount at the restaurant?  Or allowed to board a plane early? Can we have parades? Or people on the TV saying they support their teachers in service? Or asking for more money for schools? How about celebrating the families that have several generations of educators?

Imagine a world where literacy, art, and science are valued more than violence.

Imagine a world where we can explore ideas and cultures, without needing to be behind armed barricades.

Imagine a culture that celebrates intellect and invention as protectors of democracy, more than military might.


The importance of failure

“Failure can be the jet fuel to success.”

Some days are easy, some are not.

I say it frequently in my classes:   making mistakes is not failure, it is just part of the process.   The willingness to make mistakes and continue to try are hallmarks of great students.

As a teacher, it can be more complicated.  I continue to try, but do I consider my students who don’t pass the class failures?   Yes and no.   I know that there are different ways to reach these students.   Some require special handling, some mere encouragement, and others may lack some fundamental skills.  That is always part of the job.

Behavior problems are more of a problem.  A lot of mistakes stem not from skill deficits, but from social ones.  A common problem for adult teachers:  what do you do about the student who would rather talk through your class and learn from their friends than from you as a teacher.   This would be fine, except the friends in class don’t have a complete skillset either, and often is a distraction for more than them.   Depending on the situation, you may want to appeal to either the student who is asking questions of their friend, or the one answering them.   There is a time and a place.

Please tell me we are turning the corner...

Then there are the mistakes you make as a teacher.

We are only human, we make mistakes. As teachers, the sooner we acknowledge mistakes the better.  When teaching a skill, if I spot an error that I made it turns into a new teaching opportunity. “See how this happened, and what it will do to the work that follows?”

Beyond mistakes, failure as a teacher can mean two things.  First, failing a student who could have been helped but who wasn’t. Life is busy, and hard, and there are other students to care for, but all of the students need you. The other failure is the student who passes who doesn’t have the skills to succeed.  These are the ones who pass, and don’t deserve it.  They will be a burden to their future classes, and they move forward with a false sense of confidence in their abilities.

Making mistakes is not failure.  I hope my students make mistakes, and continue to learn from them.  I intend on not making it too easy for them until they move on.


Late edition Playlists


I’ve been out of touch for a while.   Quite a while… so here are some of the catch up videos I’ve been grading to for the past few quarters.

My winter quarter playlist was a little… angrier than some of my previous ones.   I blame the election.   Nothing like a Russian elected president to get my blood up.    This stuff is soothing to me.   Trust me.


Fall quarter was a little easier.   I was able to take some time to make a nice and easy playlist, with some old favorites along with some new ones.   I was much more optimistic.



More later…

Confrontations in the Classroom

Nobody likes confrontation, but confrontations happen.

Anytime that someone feels like they aren’t being heard, are being misunderstood or mistreated, or are feeling anger (righteous or otherwise) they may end up having words.   Students get stressed out from time to time, and will act out.   It doesn’t make it right, but it can be expected from time to time.

That much is understandable.

And…  confrontations can suck beyond the telling of it.  I’m a fairly together guy.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have triggers, and last quarter a student pulled one of mine.  The sad thing is he wasn’t even my student, he just kept barging into my class while we were still in session.   Trying to verbally denigrate me in front of my class doesn’t sit well.   I have had students escalate violently before.  Yes, I have been assaulted in my classroom (during a final exam, no less).

My adrenaline gland is a big jerk.   It reacts much faster than my conscious mind can act.

Which means that (in this instance) I got to teach my next class while trying to manage an anxiety attack.   Not my best teaching experience ever.

Intellectually, it is easy to remember how to deal with confrontations:   stay calm,  listen,  and try appealing to reason (or even emotion) before resorting to authority.   That being said, when your brain starts reacting, you need to give yourself a moment to assess the situation and recognize your own state before proceeding.   Don’t ignore your instincts, because they have kept the species alive!   But those instincts don’t care about false positives (most classroom arguments are not, thankfully, life threatening).

There are also people like to work in the world confrontationally.   They come off as aggressive, but they don’t mean to be assholes.  Believe it or not, these people can be some of your best students – if you can handle them right.   Here is what can work:   (1) Do NOT meet them head on, this will only make them blow up and it gets uncomfortable in a hurry.   If you move closer and turn down your personal volume, they are forced to lower their own in response, and spend a bit more effort in listening.  (2)  Once they are done with a diatribe, use Socratic questions.   They are unlikely to respond to information or reason from outside themselves.  So ask them questions that will lead their thinking into challenging themselves.  And finally (3) these folks are rarely “all attack, all the time” so you may want to have a chat with them about how to behave in a classroom,  or how to choose their language more carefully.

These students will often come back and apologize when they realize they have been disrespectful or disruptive.    Some things are harder to teach than others, as much as I hope that people will learn to be thoughtful and reasonable.

I just can’t fix stupid.

(But I will make fun of it)

Making a Difference

I recently posted about my disappointment in our recent election.   Chagrin may be a more apt term… inside a week, I went from supremely confident that we were going to elect the first female president in American history, and instead we received Donald Trump.

On one hand, I want to wash my hands of responsibility and say that America is getting what it deserves.


Except that we deserve better, and it is partially our fault.   Complacency and indifference helped lose this election.   Not listening has disenfranchised a huge portion of the country.    The underlying problems belong to all of us.

The difficulty at this point is in determining why and how to make a difference.

“Why” is an important question to ask.  Are you deciding to act out of a feeling of guilt?   Like I said, a great deal of responsibility rests on all of us.   I know that I feel guilty about not having done more sooner, but that shouldn’t be why I want to act now.   Our motivations should stem not from fear or guilt, but from responsibility and love.   And protect the people we love and the planet we share.

The next question is “how.”   I advocate three things:  protect yourself and your loved ones welfare, empower the press, and take your actions beyond your circle.   First, there is a heightened sense of threat everywhere.   Some of that are bigots and bullies who feel like they have been vindicated.   Be safe, steer clear, and report whatever you can.   I hate to bring it up, but saving money will also be key because the establishment has promised to dismantle our safety nets.

Next, we need to have an active and empowered press.   Journalism is supposed to shine a spotlight on the ugly parts of the world so we can make it better.   Unfortunately, we have switched to many unofficial news sources.   If you can afford it, buy some news subscriptions or donate to NPR.   Rather than repost “Cracked” and “Huffington Post” articles (where articles are not necessarily fact checked, and editorial standards are lax) try “The Atlantic”, “New York Times” and “Washington Post”.

Lastly, give to people and places that will need it and can make a difference.   The issues that I can see forthcoming are women’s reproductive rights,  church/state separation issues (especially in schools), and protecting minorities.

Here are the charities that I recommend:

Don’t act because you feel guilty.   But don’t be silent, and don’t be complacent.   Comforting yourself by saying “we survived W, we can survive this” isn’t much comfort for the millions that face violence, deportation, conversion therapy, or whatever else is coming.

Raise your voice, be heard, and keep making the changes we need.

Extraordinary People

Like a lot of realists, I get called a cynic a lot.  I see the darker side of human nature, and while I have a good sense of humor, many folks think my sense of humor can be pretty grim.

So I decided to post today about my extraordinary people.   Students, teachers, mentors, and friends.    I have too many to list comfortably in a single post, so I’ll need to come back to this topic.   Today, I would like to focus on extraordinary students.

  • J___ was a single father who I taught several years back.   He had previously had some run-ins with the law but was trying to put his life together again.   During the time I taught him,  he worked hard and kept up with his school work.   There were times he had to leave class early to care for his young son, and he was incredibly apologetic for this.   He also lost his home midway through the term.   He arranged for more time on the shelter computer to finish his schoolwork, and completed the course.    He was very dedicated to completing his schooling so he could be a better person and father.
  • S___ was a woman who was brilliant and bullied because she was pretty.   Easily one of the most intelligent students I’ve had the pleasure of helping, many of her classmates mistreated her.   To my knowledge, she never said an unkind word about anyone.
  • Another student, J___ was a single mom and was fairly math-phobic.   She worked over 100 extra credit hours in a single quarter, aced every single exam and homework assignment, and continued to do this for the rest of her college career.  As I understand it, she is currently pursuing a degree in math.

In addition to which, there are the hundreds of students who were working for degrees after hours, making better lives for themselves and their families.   Some only needed my class to finish their degree, many moved on to bigger and brighter things.

To all of my amazing and wonderful students:   I am proud of you.   You make my job worthwhile.


I am Human

I’m taking the high road, but it isn’t easy.

To start with, I’m frightened, I’m angry, and I’m unhappy.   The United States just elected Donald Trump as president.  More than ever, I feel that America is on the wrong side of history.   We elected a fear-mongering demagogue who has promised to take away the right to marry for gays, has promised to block entrance for all Muslims, and had said that he will build a wall.  He even promised to take away our health care.  He is trying to take away all the hard-won progress that we have made over my lifetime.


I fear that we are taking the next steps to an authoritarian state.  And if/when this new state asks me, I will call myself Muslim, or atheist, or Latino, or gay… If you come after any of us, you will find me standing with you.   My hands may shake, but I’m with you.

I will admit, I’m scared as hell.   “American” is not a label I wear with pride today, but I am HUMAN.   I will stand with reason, decency, and human rights.

I will fight for LGBTQ rights.

I will fight for religious freedom.

I will fight for women.

I will fight for humans to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of national origin.

I will tear down your wall as fast as you can build it. 

I will build up the minds and hearts of students so they can fight this fight themselves.

Donald Trump does not stand for me.   I STAND FOR ME.  I will continue trying to be a voice for dignity when the rest of the country seems to have lost its mind.  Not for me, America the ugly/racist/misogynistic.   I will stand with blacks, Latinos, women, gays, Muslims, atheists, and all those people that Americans have voted against tonight.

Just because America has lost it’s mind, doesn’t mean that I have lost my heart.

Election Fatigue

I have been absent from my blog for a while.   There are a few reasons:   first, my scheduled writing time went away.   Also, every time I sit down to read and write I find myself assaulted with such awful discourse that it becomes too difficult to write.   I was tired of this election over a year ago… I even wrote an open letter to Donald Trump.

Part of being a teacher is trying to think and talk logically, offer other points of view, and teach others to think critically.   I have had no end of opportunities to do that over the past year.    But I am so tired… separating my personal feelings from my professional life.

My predictions:   if Hillary Clinton wins, there won’t be big changes.   Her main crime in most people’s minds is that she is a centrist.   If Trump wins, I think that good people will try to keep him from starting world war 3, and that his name will be attached to the “Trump Depression.”    But I won’t have to worry for my safety… mostly because I am a white man.   People of different color, faith, and women all would have to deal with a culture that will shift (quickly or slowly) to someplace hostile towards them.   I will keep fighting for critical thinking and reason regardless.

Whatever the outcome, the election will be done soon.   There will be fallout, but hopefully there will be room for more civil discussion.    Yes, that seems like a lot to ask.  I know that “civil” is not something that I can expect after the trajectory of this election, but I can hopefully stop the monitoring of this awful election.

In the meantime, I hope to be back to more regular postings soon.

Old Hat Tricks

I like to say that I have a Velcro brain, in that stuff tends to stick to it.  Being an experienced teacher, I find that I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for teaching, but I can focus more on it now that I have a complete-ish library of teaching materials.   I also have a regular venue for airing some of the stranger or frustrating pieces of teaching so it doesn’t stick around to haunt me…

There is a familiarity that comes with teaching when you have been doing it for a while.   It is simultaneously very comfortable, and a great deal of fun.   I have been teaching for about 6 years now, and I it is still the best and most rewarding work I have found.

Fall quarter brings this out of me especially.   It is the start of a new academic year and students are filled with hope and optimism, so I get to encourage their passion for learning.    More and more, I find that I have my tools for helping people learn.   Keeping my class entertained and engaged keeps them asking questions.  I can keep them coming back, and knowing that they have a safe community where they can get support.

I will admit that I watched other teachers struggle with burnout, and I wondered if that was where I was headed.   At least for this term, the answer is no… I love teaching too much, and I’m too damn good at it.


Also:  even though “Summer break” is fun to have (my classes unexpectedly canceled… welcome to the life of an adjunct!) I have missed teaching, blogging, and Zeus help me, I’ve even missed grading.

It’s good to be back to school.    Does anybody know of any Back-To-School tattoo deals?