Bigger and Better?

Not necessarily bigger and better, but different. As Golis has hinted at, I have indeed moved on to the world beyond Cambridge Common (the location) and Harvard. My lack of posting over the summer was, in fact, due to an intense time commitment to one of the post-college teacher placement programs known to heavily recruit on campus. Having long been concerned with education policy, and also possessed of a strong calling to teach, I decided to take the next few years and dedicate myself to the task of actually doing something rather than just participating in dining hall discussions.

I am currently teaching Government and Economics (two separate classes) in a Title I high school that is entirely on free lunch in one of the poorest communities in the country. Having been “on the job” for several weeks now, I can honestly say that I am in the right place and made the right decision in taking the road less traveled.

But what of my future here on Cambridge Common (the website)? Well, for one thing, it means that the topic of my postings will, come the beginning of the academic year at Harvard (after all, it would be nice to have an audience outside of the two dozen odd souls who daily check this site…), take on a different outlook. My intention is to use this space to periodically report from the “front lines of the classroom,” as more than one pundit has called it, and give observations and thoughts about my experience. I will, from time to time, post on other issues as they strike my fancy, but my main focus will be education and teaching. Golis will be bringing in a fresh perspective on campus issues, although I of course reserve the right to chime in about campus politics.

For now, I’ve got to get back to grading (I have nearly 150 students spread out over five classes), but I do promise to report back soon and, hopefully, more often. Until then, I welcome your comments on what particular areas of my experience that you would like to know about. Hope that those of you preparing to return to Cambridge have had a quasi-relaxing summer.


4 responses to “Bigger and Better?

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  2. Jamal,

    Good to see you back; gives me a moment to reply to your last post below, which I meant to do many weeks ago but just kept putting off for no good reason.

    I appreciate your candor about the way these things work in our heads and hearts. I’ve had lots of conversations with people who were unable to get to the point of thinking straightforwardly about how they actually come to their decisions about what to say and when. (Including a very close relative of mine, a Bush voter who at first gave every reason not to vote for Kerry except the real one: his *own* service in Vietnam.) I’m sure I’ve got hangups that I don’t recognize about what matters, but I’ve yet to meet the person with the Socratic skills to help me figure out what they are. (I’m pretty focused, in my own mind, on facts and the importance of an informed electorate. We have all the mechanisms to defeat propaganda yet it flourishes.) I reckon the ‘glare’ of my own skills tends to distract from the dialectical work I try to do with people and with myself. (I once met a psychoanalyst whose e-mail address was ‘maieutix@__’; a play on ‘maieutics,’ a word worth knowing.)

    Three things of substance:

    1) I have no idea why you’re still hesitant to accept the only plausible reading of the DSM. I’m not sure you know why either, though I think the question of how we deal with loved ones in danger has a lot to do with it (and yes, a best buddy of mine was over there too until a few months ago). One hates to think that they went on false pretenses; but one might also be glad to think that Florida and we will be better for our having gone there, even if the Fountain of Youth was never in prospect.

    2) I’m not sure that considering ‘conversation’ an inadequate thing to do in a time of national crisis is at all healthy. In a democracy the power comes from us, and that means we are each responsible to every soldier to put people in office that make the best decisions. Aren’t there conversational modes that advance this aim? And if not, what does? Benevolent demagogy (something I’ve engaged in myself a good bit)?

    3) Just want to point out a rather prescient comment I made last month, which takes on new resonance in light of Katrina.

    “Incompetence, in many jobs, is immoral; and that’s more true the more important the job is.”

    Wonder if you’ve seen any of the coverage about the head of FEMA and his total lack of credentials for his current job.

    1a) Oh, also: being ‘patronizing’ is almost exactly the same thing as being ‘condescending.’ I’d continue to maintain that in the past I was being neither of those things, but straight-up ‘mean.’

    I’m a mean guy. But I salute you warmly, again, on your work this year and next, and thereafter. Wishing you the best of luck in the classroom — and note, by the way, that the discipline you enforce there sometimes seems mean, too. Gotta do it. My friend who did TFA was teaching in South Boston in the years afterward, and she picked her spots to insist on the rules in extreme ways. Once a girl cut her finger during class, and she told her to blot it with paper, or, if she was going to see the nurse, to just put her name on the detention list on the way. The gratifying whisper in the next minute or so (the bleeding girl was basically fine, of course) was “She’s crazy!” A well-run classroom.

    They’ve gotta think you’re a little nuts, or even, perhaps, hysterical. Or maybe it’s best to just BE that. Saves on acting classes.

    “The key to acting is sincerity; once you can fake that, you can fake anything.”

    Write to us about TEACHING itself and what the students think of you. Are you “‘acting'” up there? Does teaching draw on game skills or management skills? Give examples. 3-5 pp., due in section. Late anecdotes will be penalized without a doctor’s note.

    Stream-of-consciousness mean-ass motor-scooter,
    and legitimately angry at the government all the more, by the way, in case you were wondering,


  3. it was chapa? who knew…

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