Saturday, October 21, 2006

Troubled in California

from Jacqueline

First of all, my apology for the late arrival of my post. I was away for three days (traveling to Newark-Pennslvania- Newark, then home) and, instead of schlepping my laptop with all its lack of wi-fi-ness with me for just three days, I left it with my husband, who tracked down the necessary upgrade card so that I can get onto the net when I travel. Not a moment before time. It may have been just as well, because I read James' post yesterday and almost blew a fuse.

My first thought was pretty much the same as everyone else's - what a bloody cheek! What arrogance! What sheer unadulterated elitism! It brought out my "bring on the revolution" tendencies, and whisked me back in time to my rantings as to why the monarchy should go - because all the time there's a monarch, the people are serfs, and an intolerable elitism reigns. That's why people like me come to America, only to find Animal Farm alive and well, despite the "We the people" - where the elitism is shod in Manolo Blahniks and bathed in San Pelegrino (or is it Voss now?).

But then I thought about the teacher's comment, and tried to imagine myself saying something like that - how would it feel? And it struck me that James might (might) have been on the receiving end of a different kind of teacher burnout. Could this teacher be sick of his/her privileged charges? Might she/he have tried to interest them in the multicultural, multi-socioeconomic blend that is America, only to find that they really were only obsessed with Paris Hilton and Daddy's yacht, or whatever? (Can't you hear the "whatever ..."). And might that teacher have seen a rolled eye or two when the subject of the social history of this country was laid out for them to - with a bit of luck - become inspired? Maybe that teacher suggested a public school because she/he knew the kids there might know a thing or two about overcoming challenges, and be more open to listening, and engaging in worthwhile dialogue. However you cut the mustard, the kids I pity are the those in the rarified atmosphere of that private school, where they know only one way of life, only one way of meeting a need ($$$), and they miss out on a first-class educational experience - a presentation by a terrific writer who is really stoked about the prospect of sharing his understanding of key events in this country's history. A teacher who is inspired ... isn't that what kids really need? Not a teacher who is either a preening snob or who has had the enthusiam drained out of him/her by the "whatever" class of people in that school.

Being a bit of a terrier, I'm not quite ready to drop this bone yet. I'm going to share a story with you of a dinner party I attended some years ago in Marin County, California. It could have been Orange County - I don't think the north and south of it matters, any more than the actual state matters - we've met these people before in different places, and they are not always well-heeled. However, this particular rather wealthy county - which I love, by the way - has a significant Hispanic population, chiefly situated in an area of San Rafael. There's quite the community spirit there, and various organizations have been set up over time to help with issues such as literacy - both child and adult - and programs to ensure that kids have exposure to new technologies, for example. Volunteers are always needed. Anyway, conversation was buzzing along at the dinner party, when the parents of a graduating high school student began going on a bit about their daughter's accomplishments and how she wanted to "do good" - so they were sending her to Brazil to teach English for a month. They said they liked the idea of her being exposed to an Hispanic culture. Now, I'm all for travel - I come from a country where kids travel overseas extensively throughout their schooling and most take a ""gap year" to travel, usually volunteering in a part of the world where they can help others - but without thinking, I opened my mouth (this is not an unusual phenomenon) and said, "Why doesn't she volunteer at one of the literacy programs for Hispanic children here in Marin - that's helping people, and it's something she could do on an ongoing basis ..." Well, you could have heard a pin hit the carpet. Food almost dropped from mouths. The response wasn't positive. Now, I'm not saying all parents are like that in the area - far from it, I believe - and certainly you can find similar attitudes all over the place, however, it came from the same wellspring of attitude as the brush-off that James received.

All that being said - James, keep on taking that presentation into schools. I know schools here in California that would love to have you come and speak to the kids - and some with kids who are all but choking on silver spoons. I know teachers who know an opportunity to broaden a mind when they see it, and they would jump at the chance of having someone like you in their schools. After all, a mind is a terrible thing to lose, as is a golden educational opportunity.


  1. Well said, Ms. J.

    BTW, it's Voss and for that ignorant dinner guest, Brazil isn't considered Hispanic. The language and cultural history is Portugese.

  2. It's strange how you can find both intelligence and erudite conversation as well as the hugest blind spots in some people. I've had some conversations with people like that and I just shake my head. People will see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear, no matter what is shown to them regarding the contrary.
    I'm amazed that Americans always think that 'doing good' means that you have to go overseas/abroad to do it. I see more value in the Salvation Army and local Food Banks, helping out with literacy programs (Hi Bolling AFB library), etc. I've gone a bit off the Red Cross because they turned down a million dollar donation from the Dixie Chicks for the Hurricane Katrina relief fund because of what the lead singer said about our 'Dear Leader'.
    The issues out there are huge - one of these days, maybe Governments will actually do what they're suppose to do around the world: serve and protect 'the people'.
    Well, that's spooky: the Seekers 'Kum Baya' just came on the radio.
    Nuff quiet ranting...

  3. Oh, NO!!
    The US Government has just banned Vegemite in the USA because it has FOLIC ACID in it! Vegemite, illegal...noooooo!
    I guess the US cereal corporations thought that at One-thousandth of one percent that are users of Vegemite are dangerous competition. Sheesh.
    Sorry, just had to mention that. I'm a vegemite kid! And proud of it. Who cares if my American friends think I'm nuts. :-D

  4. from Jacqueline

    Patty, I'm glad you added the point about Portuguese - I wrote my post quickly, while fuming, and in my first run-through made comment to the effect that the dinner guests in question should have done a bit more research on the cultural history of Brazil, because the kid was going to the wrong country. But then I thought I might have been sounding rather too sarcastic already.

    And yes, Marianne, what a blind spot - just like James' teacher!

    Another blind-spot with the Vegemite - I wonder if Marmite will be banned too.

  5. Jacqueline, a concise and precise stab in the heart of those too pretentious to open their ears or eyes to opportunity.

    "Charity begins at home." At least that's what I've grown to believe.
    However, I guess it doesn't show that upper crusty "virtuosity" to help the local Hispanic population, or any other people struggling with literacy. No, one has to go abroad to get that luminous medal of honour, the elitist PLATINUM spoon they can come back and bray about their unselfish giving and outpouring to the needy----all for the sake of pointing out the stark contrast between themselves and the one they "help."

    Brava, to you too, Patty for pointing out that Brazil is a Portuguese culture!! But when you live in the elite bubble, details like that are just a trifle.

    Jacqueline, good luck tonight at the SCBA book awards,


  6. This ignorance in high places reminds me of the President of Texas A&I University (before it became part of the A&M chain)in Kingsville, who remarked to a new-hire Ph.D in English when the newby mentioned he was Jewish, "I don't think we have a Jewish church in Kingsville."
    And of the education professor, also at A&I, who said he didn't have time to read, but when he retired he had a 'big stack' of Readers' Digest books to go through.
    Gotta bite your tongue..., or do you?

    Tom, T.O.