Month: March 2014

Vouchers: Salvation of Public Education or Continued Ruin for Impoverished Neighborhoods?

I discussed the circumstances of my dismissal with a few of my classes this past fall semester, and one student took the side of the policy that caused my removal as instructor. She is the daughter of a lawyer, and she liked to argue, which I very much appreciated as her instructor of argumentative rhetoric. Her main evidential claim: a school is a business, and schools have to evolve by conforming more toward capitalist norms and current business-office practices.

I argued that a school is not strictly a business, nor should it be, lest it lose its function as a public good. I continue to believe this, but it’s difficult to discount that administrators and educators are leaning toward the idea that a school is indeed a business. In fact, it seems many believe the decline of the American education system happens because schools have not properly catered to the free market entirely.

The Professors is a panel-format TV show (PBS-WYCC on Sunday mornings @ 10:30) that discusses educational issues with educators and administrators based in the Chicago area. The moderator of the show’s March 23rd, 2014, broadcast, Ted Williams III (Kennedy-King College), seemed to agree with the premise that schools should adapt to the capitalist system within which they operate. His assertion involved empowering local parents economically with vouchers, to allow consumers to bring the necessary public funds to schools that work. The idea of choice, a free-market idea, could strengthen Chicago’s school system. He argued that inequality of education might lead to unequal opportunities in the work force for students, and vouchers might allow students in poor neighborhoods with underperforming schools to leave those neighborhoods and permit these students to find a better education.

Chicago’s education problem is based on economic disparity found in the city. Chicago’s Southside has poverty concerns, and fifty public schools have been closed, or threatened with closing their doors. Meanwhile, the Northside has eighty-three overcrowded schools, with stronger economic households and neighborhoods. Northside schools do not have enough classrooms, and the buildings cannot service the overcrowded student populations. Larger class sizes prove too much for teachers to handle, and the individual attention that students need to succeed from their teachers becomes less viable. The concept of a voucher program, in theory, might allow more public funds to flow into these Northside schools, allowing for building new state-of-the-art facilities, adding new classrooms, and hiring more quality teachers. A voucher also costs less for states than traditional public funding per student, potentially creating savings for public school funding (Wang).

Williams based the voucher program argument on results found in my state, Indiana (“Voucher Program”). Vouchers are supposed to allow poor families to escape the poor schools in their neighborhoods, allowing parents to choose better public, private, or charter schools for their children, ideally within driving distance of their homes. In practice, Indiana is finding that more suburban middle-class parents are taking advantage of the voucher program to send their children to expensive private schools, using the voucher as assistance to pay the burdensome tuition costs, which are not entirely covered by the voucher (Wang). In either case, the voucher program seems to endorse a discontinuation of funding for public schools specifically located in poorer neighborhoods.

It was suggested that violence might be most responsible for the exodus from Chicago’s Southside schools and neighborhoods on The Professors panel. Dr. Williams III, who I respect a great deal, cavalierly dismissed this notion, stating that the Southside had a “bad rap” concerning its violent environment. Since he lives on the Southside and nothing worse than a few Michael Jackson tapes were stolen from his car, he seemed to assume violent school environments were an aberration. This seems rather insensitive to me, as if he weren’t able to flip on the local news every now and then to see how many school children are being shot on Chicago’s Southside. The story that still sticks with me is the young boy who was shot because he was trying to shovel snow for a few bucks this past winter…I assume this boy’s mother might discount Williams’ assumption (Rodriguez). At any rate, Williams and I might agree that there is a definitive correlation between poor-performing schools and increasing poverty within Southside neighborhoods. He might not agree that decreased crime and violence might result from improved public education in those impoverished neighborhoods, but I would hope he could be persuaded.

Williams also suggested that the voucher program might allow parents to move out of poor neighborhoods; in fact, he suggested parents should vote with their feet and could move to neighborhoods with better schools, based primarily on available public government programs. A popular notion of today’s teacher is that parents need to get more involved with their children’s education; in fact, it should be the top priority of a parent. Some on the panel assumed that parents would do anything to grant their children a quality education, including moving from these neighborhoods. Williams compared the voucher program to section eight housing, a public program that allows free-market principles to determine family’s living location and circumstance.

These assumptions seem to be dangerous notions, based on ideology that we can see has worked against American neighborhoods. Free-market principles and diminishing public funding are leading to an exodus from once prosperous neighborhoods to so-called better, safer locations. The Southside of Chicago is but one of many areas to which we can point for evidence: Gary, Indiana; Camden, New Jersey; and Detroit, Michigan once thrived economically, but these once-proud cities have been abandoned by all but those who cannot leave (or do not want to leave!). Public services, including education, have nearly dried up in these areas. Residents who remain in these impoverished areas might want to leave, but their economic status might not allow it. Vouchers and section 8 housing are not enough. These remaining families and their children might prefer improved public services instead of the suggestion that they move away from violence and poverty.

Troy LaRaviere, a member of the panel and Principal of Blaine Elementary, located on the Northside of Chicago, agreed. He suggested that parents might want to send their children to the public school located three blocks away, trusting the public institution to provide a quality education. Working parents might need the local public school, as suggestions of transferring schools or moving from households would be an untenable burden. Vouchers might coerce parents to take public funds away from public schools, causing more closures in neighborhoods that do not need more closures.

There are viable alternatives to vouchers. We might relax the constraints of teaching certification for citizens who live in these neighborhoods—philanthropists who want to teach their community, not make a profit—creating professional opportunities in poor neighborhoods, or creating jobs, as politicians like to propagate. We might provide community programs that share best teaching practices with these potential teachers. We could overhaul education budgetary allotments entirely, attempting fairness to all communities for the purpose of improving public education (If our federal tax code needs a complete revision, then education financial reformation should not be as ridiculous as opponents often make it seem.) We might utilize and renovate abandoned facilities within poor neighborhoods, contracting local companies and small businesses. We could disperse funding for neighborhood schools based on need instead of successful test results (see Monday, March 24th’s blog entry, “SAT Testing May Be Detrimental”). We could consider the reduction of gratuitous administrative salaries to create financial incentives for the classroom teacher, where there is a greater need. We could disillusion ourselves of the notion of giving up on impoverished neighborhoods and their schools. We can save and strengthen our public school system, instead of targeting it as a failed experiment.

Dr. Ted Williams III suggests that schools have to address the needs of the American capitalist society in which we live. I would emphatically state that we should oppose capitalistic policies, in order to provide opportunity for impoverished Americans and improve public schooling in their neighborhoods. The capitalist society is mostly responsible for the degradation and impoverishment of neighborhoods, towns, and cities; crippling the public education system further, by supporting vouchers based on capitalist assumptions, is no solution.

Works Cited

“Over-Crowded & Under-Staffed Schools.” The Professors. Public Broadcasting Service. WYCC, Chicago. 23 Mar. 2014. Television.

Rodriguez, Meredith. “Mom: Teen Killed While Earning Money Shoveling Snow.” Chicago Tribune Tribune Interactive, Inc., 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

“Voucher Program.” School Choice Indiana. School Choice, Indiana, 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

Wang, Stephanie. “Indiana Voucher Students Double to Nearly 20,000.” IndyStar Indystar.com, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

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My Last Game of Baseball

Getting to work for the three-to-eleven evening shift is a royal pain. The expressway downtown from the suburbs is perpetually jammed with traffic in the afternoon, especially in the summer months. Every year during the warm season, the city feels it necessary to overindulge on road construction and close down the expressway to one lane. I always expect to crawl to work during the summer, so I’m forced to seek alternate routes along the back roads that interweave back and forth underneath and over the expressway. Honestly, it only cuts down the time to the job by a half hour at the most, but I can’t stand sitting still on the highway. I’d rather jam red-hot slivers of steel in my eyeballs than spend an hour crawling behind a toxic-spewing semi-trailer. It might not be so bad if my hot-box of an automobile had an air-conditioner that worked, but a cool and comfortable driving experience is a luxury someone on my salary can’t afford.

I’ve been taking a route that starts out a half-mile south of the expressway, but the city felt that this particular back road also needs a touchup, so they closed it today. Never mind that there is no evidence of cracks or potholes to be found. Hell, they just repaved the road not two years ago. Nevertheless, a wall of orange and white construction signs greets me to let me know I will need to find a new road to work this day. I glare ominously at the barricade before obediently following the detour back in the direction I came. The blinking orbs atop the signs seem to mock my impatience with each repetitive wink.

There’s really only one way left to go other than the expressway and I’ve been avoiding taking that road for most of my adult life. As I drive underneath the expressway, I gaze upward and spot over thirty trucks standing still among a mess of cars, all impatiently waiting to move a foot at a time for the next couple of hours. I mutter a few nonsensical curses under my breath as I pass by the highway exit. Today is going to be the day.

I have been down this road a few times while riding with others. Oft times, I can talk drivers out of going this way with a quick excuse like ‘There’s an easier way’ or ‘I think that road is closed.’ When I am forced to traverse this route, I make a point of looking in the other direction whenever we pass the site that unnerves me so much. Most of the time, I can make it by the spot without too much effort. Sometimes, though, I find myself having to blink my eyes quickly to extinguish a few vaporous tears that work their way up.

I have to do this today. I can’t ignore him anymore. I’ve kept his property in my trunk for years for the day when I finally confront him. He needs it back. I need to give it to him. Today is that day.

I realize I’m going to be late if I follow where my soul is tugging me, but there are more important things in life than losing a few precious minutes off your pay check. I haven’t stood on that soil for many years. I have always wanted to return to visit him while simultaneously dreading a stopover. It’s always a frustrating emotion, which is why I tend to find other ways to go. If he’s out of my sight, he’s also out of my mind. Today as I drive closer to his abode, he’s shoved his way through a mess of worries and musings into the first and foremost position of my thoughts.

I’m going to be late for work. My supervisor’s going to call me into the office and bitch up a storm. I’m usually punctual despite the fact that I live fifty miles away from the plant, but my supervisor relishes raising his voice and seldom passes up the opportunity to dress one of his employees down. I pull into the curved driveway and erase the image of a heated exchange with my boss from my mind. I can’t put this off any longer.

I park my car underneath the shaded canopy of a tree so my seats won’t scorch my backside when I return. The car’s navy-blue vinyl seats retain heat from direct sunlight better than solar panels. I turn down the radio which is blaring out a Sammy Hagar tune. I look around to see if anyone else has chosen to walk the grounds of the beautiful plot of land. Nobody seems to be around this particular park, even though the flowers are blooming at their dazzling zenith and the grass is a brilliant shade of emerald.

I exit the car on shaky legs. I stand outside my vehicle for a moment and contemplate what I’m doing. I take a deep breath and walk to the rear of my car. I pop the trunk and dig out the object from underneath a large pile of empty oil containers and dirty rags.
I’ve always wondered if finding him would be a problem when I returned, but it takes little effort to locate his whereabouts. The last memory I have of being in his presence will never be expunged. My trembling steps lead me straight and true, directly to the spot where my brother now rests peacefully underground.

– – – – –

I sit at the end of the bench with my face buried in my hands, ashamed. I had struck out. Tears mix with dirt and create dark, patterned smears in my palms. I blink several times to clear my vision and cool the hotness that has developed in my eye sockets. The tears that run down my cheeks instead of into my hands momentarily chill the heated surface before evaporating from the regenerating warmth. I had swung on three consecutive fast balls and missed them all.

I wipe my hands down the front of my jersey furiously, trying to wipe away the failure off my body along with the grime. I briefly look back into the palms of my hands and spot dark deposits of dirt etched in the crevices. I realize there is no way to completely wipe it away and clench both hands into tight quivering fists. I bring my fists down hard at my sides and punch the hell out of the splintery wooden bench. The pain that runs up my arms does little to erase the dull ache in my chest.

The bodies at the other end of the bench squirm nervously at the contact of my fists connecting with the wooden plank. They don’t know how to react and continue to edge closer to each other toward the opposite end from where I sit, creating a wide gap that singles me out from the rest of the team. None of the other players dare to look at me. Even the coach has chosen to ignore me. He stands near the outside of the fenced cage leaning against the post at the entrance to the dugout. He fidgets nervously pretending to show interest in the game while wondering if he should speak to me.

My neighbor probably told him. I spotted her in the bleachers earlier. She probably told everybody.

I feel the concerned glares of the other kids’ parents from their perch in the bleachers boring into the back of my skull. I had tossed my cap into the dirt angrily upon returning to the dugout. I reach down and yank the baseball hat down on my head as if the meshed fabric might deflect some of the stares. It doesn’t work as the looks continue to penetrate deeply and noticeably.

I look down at what I had brought specifically for this game. I had tossed it right along with my cap after striking out, and it rested now at my feet. I lean down, pick it up, and rest the baseball bat gently across my knees. I examine the wood for cracks and gingerly brush the dust from its surface. Fresh tears boil up and overflow outward, and I clutch the bat desperately. I hug the bat tightly as if someone has threatened to take it away from me forever.

My coach scratches me from the lineup when we get to the next inning. I sit at the end of the bench for the rest of the game gripping my baseball bat. I roll the bat in my hands feeling the cool smoothness of the perfect wooden surface. I ignore the game on the field just as everyone around me forgets my presence. I sit in a universe far removed from the fun and gaiety of a childhood game.

After that last strikeout, I never play another game of little league baseball.

– – – – –

The screeching of the tires at my back makes me pause momentarily as I walk down the sidewalk in front of my house on a warm, sunny morning. The heavy crash of metal makes me spin right around to see where the offending noise came from. A car had smashed headfirst into my neighbor’s tree interrupting the tranquility of summer. In my eight years of existence, the only car crashes I had seen were the ones I had watched on TV. I stare wide-eyed at the scene as a frightening realization seizes me. Car crashes can happen in real life.

The front of the car had plunged itself into the trunk of the tree located mere feet from the curb of the quiet neighborhood street. The car now looks like a giant bug, wrapping its mandibles around the thick hunk of wood to gnaw at the tasty bark. The hood of the car has been forced open and stands straight up, exposing the ugly innards of the car’s engine. A wisp of smoke floats out of the motor and softly rises on a weak gust of summer air. The thin strand dissipates only a few feet above the compacted car.

A few feet in front of the wreck lies the body of a small child.

A scream issues from the backyard of my home. I recognize the voice as belonging to my mother, though I had never heard such terror issue from her before. My feet seem like they’re planted deep in the cement of the sidewalk. I spy my mother galloping towards the site of the crash and see her hurdle a low-lying fence to get there. I note to myself that my mother is more athletic than I give her credit for as she dives at the still body in front of the vehicle. She clutches the body and rocks slowly back and forth, wailing like my friend’s ornery old hound dog.

I remove my feet from the cement clutches of the sidewalk and proceed forth to investigate. Slowly I walk towards the crash, never removing my eyes from my mother’s screaming and rocking. I reach a point several feet in front of my mother as she embraces the child’s body. She doesn’t seem to notice me and her excessive howling prevents me from addressing her. I look upon the child’s body and notice a large amount of blood flowing over the face, obscuring the features of the fragile boy. I never have seen so much blood, even on the scary movies my father liked. I liked to sneak a peek from the hallway at those movies when I was supposed to be in bed. My mother would kill me if she knew I had seen all of that fake gore. The blood that masks this poor boy, however, has a crimson sheen that looks far different from the sanguine scenes of the horror films. His formerly white T-shirt is soaked with it. It looks so real.

I do not recognize the boy for whom my mother mourns so loudly.

– – – – –

I show up for the game and proceed to the batter’s circle outside the dugout with my precious bat in hand. The other players engage in a hearty game of catch to warm up, but I’m not interested in practicing that aspect of the game. I just want to get up to the plate and crush the ball.

I stand in the white painted circle and rest my bat on the shoulder. I envision an imaginary pitcher tossing me some fastballs and take vigorous cuts at each one. I connect with all of those imaginary pitches and drive them to every part of the field. Eventually, I really start making contact and drive a few of the ghost balls out of the park. I had never hit a homerun before in a game, but I have come close. I know today will be the day I drive one out. It has to be today.

I continue to hit balls from my make-believe pitcher when one of my teammates comes close and offers a greeting. I don’t answer him and continue to swing at a murderous pace. My coach notices the well-intentioned boy and quickly shuffles him back into the dugout. I pause from my practice, slightly panting from the exertion I’ve placed into my swings. He whispers something in the boy’s ear. They both look at me with pity, then walk towards the other members of the team to leave me alone to my frantic swinging. I gulp a fresh supply of cool summer air and continue batting practice.

I hit the next fastball from the nonexistent pitcher directly out over the center field fence.

I notice out of the corner of my eye that the coach has gathered all of the players in a circle into which I am apparently not invited.

I crack another offering out of the park. I imagine it careen off the scoreboard in right field.

From the circle, several of my teammates let out a hushed yelp of incredibility simultaneously. A few of them turn to look at me just as I crack my third homerun in as many tries.

I am going to kill the ball today. I’ll do it with my brother’s bat. Then when he comes home, I’ll be able to give it back to him so he can do it himself.

– – – – –

After witnessing the crash and the scene with my mother, I depart and return home. I swing open the front door and hear my youngest brother crying from his playpen. I lean over the playpen and pick the baby up. Numbed by the events of the morning, I reflexively pat his back several times to ease him out of his wailing. After he stops, I place him back into the pen. He smiles up at me, happy to see a familiar face. I don’t really feel like smiling at this moment, but I manage to give him a half-hearted effort.

The boy with the blood all over him stays in my mind’s eye like a freeze frame. I’m half-tempted to run back out there just to confirm what I had seen, but I don’t want to leave my baby brother alone in the house. I know my mother sometimes goes in the backyard to hang laundry if he’s sleeping, but apparently he woke up before she could finish. Now my mother is busy holding a hurt boy outside.

I’m still disturbed by my mother’s outburst. I don’t understand why she would be so horrified by the accident. I don’t know why she would be so moved by the harm caused to a strange boy. Maybe there is something I missed.

A hysterical face suddenly appears at the screen door shouting my name. I recognize one of the neighbors peering through the mesh as she screams some gibberish that I don’t understand right away. I stare at her without saying anything before she slows down her question to a more intelligible level.

She asks me the name of my brother who was hit.

I keep staring at her, wondering what the heck she’s talking about. At the quizzical look on my face, my neighbor appears startled. She places a hand over her mouth, mutters an apology, and runs back through the front yard toward where the wrecked car, my mother, and her injured boy lie.

I look back at my baby brother, stunned. Despite his infantile naivety, he senses something is amiss. He smiles very widely at me in an effort to cheer me up.

I begin to put the pieces together in my head, but I refuse to believe the invading notion that enters my thoughts. I will not believe it until someone tells me that my brother was the bloody boy my mother was holding.

– – – – –

I sit alone on my neighbor’s couch and watch one of the afternoon soap operas on their TV. I don’t really watch what the characters are doing or saying so much. I just lose myself in the motions of the visual representations, allowing the images to hypnotize me. The voices that emit from the device mesh together and fill my ears with blabbering nonsense. My mother despises these shows. She’d probably be appalled to find me sitting in front of one. I consider asking the matriarch of the household to turn the channel for me for a moment. Instead, I elect to remain prone in my vegetative state and stare at the boring romantic plot.

After my brother was loaded into an ambulance, I was shipped over to my neighbors to await the news of whether he would live or die. Unfortunately, these very neighbors own the yard in which the accident happened. From the large picture window situated in their living room, I can see a bustle of activity from police officers and rubber-neckers. I twist on the couch so that my back is to the window and I don’t have to watch any more mayhem.
My mother went with my brother on the ambulance. My father works a job where he is constantly on the road, so she is alone in this ordeal. I’m not old enough to provide the support my mother needs and I silently curse myself for it while watching TV on that musty old couch.

My baby brother was sent with an aunt who had come as quickly as she could. They asked me if I wanted to go with my aunt as well, but I chose to stay here. I had asked every adult I could if my brother was dead. None of them would tell me. I assume that means that he’s not. I figure I’ll stick around until someone returns to tell me he’s going to be OK. Besides, I have a baseball game this afternoon.

I love to play baseball. I remember one time I had dressed in my uniform before dinner because I was so excited to play that day. I had sat at the table and hurriedly started shoveling food down my gullet so we could hurry up and get to the game. My mother had noticed my uniform. She informed me that my coach had called and told her the game had been postponed. Not knowing what a postponement was, I stared blankly at my mother. She explained that meant that I wasn’t going to play that night. I stopped eating and started crying right there at the table.

That night at the dinner table, my brother laughed at me while I cried.

The neighbor boy who lives in this house enters the front door and asks what is going on. He is five years older than me and often picks on the littler kids, myself included. I inform him that my brother was hit by a car without taking my eyes from the television set. He stands there for a moment, then enters the kitchen to confer with his mother. I ignore what they’re saying and concentrate on the impending game.

I want to play tonight. I know if I play, my brother will live. Hell, if he knows that I do well, he might want to play too. I want to play one game of little league with my brother. I know he’d have fun if he’d just try it.

Growing impatient, I walk into the kitchen and ask the neighbor mother if she will take me to the game. Her son runs and hides upstairs while his mother fumbles for an answer. She tells me that it’s probably not a good idea. Instead of pleading with her, I nod my head and return to the living room.

I stand by the couch for a moment, but I don’t sit down. When I’m sure that my neighbor will stay in the kitchen, I sneak out the front door and return to my home. As if I were being followed, I run into the bathroom and slam the door behind me. All of my stuff was right where I had left it this morning. I garb myself in my uniform, shove my cup into my jockstrap, and grab my mitt. Before I leave, I enter the room I share with my brother to retrieve the bat I had given to him in the hopes that he would play with me. I close my eyes as I grab it and promise to hit a homerun for him with that bat.

I exit the house as policemen continue to mull about my neighbor’s front yard. I begin walking towards the baseball fields.

– – – – –

I stand over my baby brother’s playpen and ask him what happened. I ask him out loud if that was our brother out there. I ask him if all of that blood had hidden the features of a boy I was supposed to know better than anyone else. I ask him if it is possible not to know my own brother when he is sitting mere feet in front of my eyes.

My baby brother gurgles a little bit. I kneel down and wipe the spit from the corner of his mouth. I do this without even realizing that my body is performing it. My mind is not in control of its actions.

I rise from the playpen and see my mother outside our front window. She is being escorted back to the house with a neighbor on each side of her. I burst out the front door and run straight towards her as she walks up the front sidewalk.

She kneels quickly and envelops me in her arms. I cry and wail with every fiber of my body. I do this so quickly and violently that it shocks my mind that my body could react so quickly to the confirmation of a suspicion. It is as if my body had reacted to the realization before my mind could accept it. As my mother held me and I cried harder than I ever had in my life, my mind finally did accept the truth. No one had to tell me.

My brother was the bloody boy who had been hit by that car.

– – – – –

I often talked with my brother at night before going to sleep. We had bunk beds, and I was on top while he took the bottom. In the dark of night, we conversed easily without the comfort of being able to see each other. Tonight, I want to know why he doesn’t play baseball.

He tells me he just doesn’t want to play.

I tell him that our Dad likes baseball. So does our Grandpa.

He tells me he’d rather ride bikes.

I tell him that I’d like to play with him.

He tells me that he likes to play catch with me, but he doesn’t want to play real baseball.

I tell him he can be the pitcher and I can be the catcher since that’s what I played anyway.

He tells me that he doesn’t want to play in little league.

I tell him he can have my bat if he plays.

He tells me he doesn’t know. But he thanks me for the bat.

I fall asleep that night, thinking about what it would be like to play a game with my brother.

– – – – –

As I stand before my brother’s gravestone in this picturesque cemetery, the memories rush over me in the short span of a split second. It only took a glance at the name engraved in the granite face to bring it all back. I wanted to talk with my brother to catch him up on all of the things that had happened in my life since his death. I don’t get the chance as sobs choke out any words I could hope to form. He probably knows about my life anyway. I close my eyes and pray that he’s been by my side through the good and the bad.

I stand for a moment before his grave and continue to cry. I cry as hard as I did that time long ago when I ran to my mother’s arms. I glance toward the road and wonder if any of the drivers of the speeding cars notice my outburst. It really doesn’t matter if they do or not. I couldn’t stop crying if I wanted to.

I clutch my brother’s baseball bat in my hands and roll it around in my palms. The surface is still smooth, still perfect. I kneel before my brother’s gravestone and place the bat on the ground before him. I rise and begin walking back towards the car.

I just wanted to play one game of baseball with my brother.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

Science Needs This Brand of Messaging

Human beings have made such magnificent, grandiose leaps in our lifetime because of science; it astounds me that there is such stubbornness about the merits of the scientific process and its conclusions. Americans enjoy the benefits of our scientifically-based technology and information, to the point of blind obedience and forced conformity, yet scientists continue to be ostracized in the court of public opinion.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey broadcast near the beginning of this month, and it is a refreshing appeal, in 2014, to reconsider the validity of the scientific process by enjoying its message. A reinvigoration of Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series (A Personal Journey), the show succeeds with its simplicity of exposition, its vividly-graphic imagery, its historic review, and its detailing of the grandiose sense of scale with both space and time. The intellectual narration of Neil deGrasse Tyson gives such credibility to the series.

In the first episode, titled “Standing Up in the Milky Way,” I was struck by the inclusion of the story of Giordano Bruno. It is frightening to understand that free thought and ideas might be stifled and suppressed in an individual, by sixteenth-century institutional religion and government; it is most disturbing to comprehend that such suppression of scientific thought still occurs in twenty-first-century American society.

How can we still have individuals that insist the Earth is only 6,000 years old in present-day America? How do talking heads get away with denying scientific validity in favor of financial gain and acquisition, not for the benefit of the many, but the few? How can Christians insist that God allows for man’s vanity, when it is God’s creation, the planet Earth, which is being abused, as science continues to inform us? How can science and religion have such opposition, when scientific thought originated from attempting to understand God? How can politicians insist that scientific process has little validity when it comes to policy creation, social construction, or our country’s future? How do journalists get away with opposing scientific research under the auspices of intellectual authority?

Bruno’s history has inspired many ponderings, most of which I assume can only be answered by understanding humanity’s long-standing historic stubbornness of opposition to the scientific process…and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is well-written, well-planned, and thought-provoking; if science needs propaganda, then it’d be a challenge to find a better vehicle. In a time of intellectually stagnant television, where Jersey Shore, Duck Dynasty, and Honey Boo-Boo have enjoyed incredible ratings, I might assume that the general viewership of television has become incapable of greater intellectualism. Once upon a time, it was understood that television was an important educational tool for the American consumer. I’d advocate more programming like Cosmos, if we are to regain some intellectual capacity, collectively.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

Refuting the NCAA’s Argument

Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board in Illinois ruled that athletes at Northwestern University can be considered employees of the college, and these athletes can unionize for the purpose of determining fair compensation and collective bargaining. Northwestern University is appealing this decision, but this ruling is being pointed to as a landmark.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has become predictable as a business organization, just as colleges across the nation have become predictable when it comes to money. In essence, the cost of an education is excessive—and becomes more so year to year—yet the money must be safe-guarded lest a student sees an “inappropriate benefit,” other than the mysteriously subjective component we refer to as “education.” Heaven forbid an alumnus contributes to the well-being of a student lest the NCAA interferes in the transfer because of ethical issues (and we can surmise that financial expenditures are the only ethics that matter to the NCAA). The case of student-athletes at Northwestern University standing up and declaring solidarity for their right to earn money as student-athletes has been a long-time coming, and it points to a larger problem in colleges everywhere: money going into colleges is not distributed fairly for the benefit of college students.

This past Sunday, March 23rd, NCAA President, Mark Emmert, appeared on Meet the Press to state the tired, old case that students are not employees. He stated, “These are student-athletes. These are young men and women who should continue to be students and not be unionized employees. Those are two different [things.]” The concept of a student-worker is not exactly unprecedented, nor do we need to differentiate the two as completely different categories. Most colleges employ student-workers primarily to deliver the education to other students. Most 100 level courses are taught by graduate students, who are often paid a pittance to teach the courses; in fact, these graduate students are underpaid under the same auspices which student-athletes are stifled: grad students receive the benefit of education, so fair payment is not necessary. Graduate students who teach are poorly compensated, yet they deliver the majority of the education for which the NCAA points as the primary reward for student-athletes. These instructors are employees of the college, and they are not two different roles. Colleges often discourage unionization of graduate students for fear of paying a fair wage, also. This is well-documented in the book, Will Teach for Food: Academic Labor in Crisis by Cary Nelson. Heaven forbid the majority understand that those who “get” education are “given” education by those who are also underpaid, especially in light of rising tuition costs. The cost of an education is rising as the educators’ wages are diminishing and students are being denied fair compensation for their athletic and academic work.

Emmert also states in the forum, “Are you taking students and converting them to employees?…In order to unionize them, you have to say these are employees. If you’re going to do that, it completely changes the relationship. I don’t know why you’d want them to be students…Don’t let calculus get in the way.” Emmert works against his own association’s mission statement when he says this, and he betrays the validity of sports at colleges in their entirety. The idea of sports, traditionally, has been to assist students in their academic endeavors, teaching student-athletes important elements as discipline, values, camaraderie, physics, morals, rules, comprehension, communication, competition, fairness, health, interviewing, rhetoric, sportsmanship, diplomacy, and more. All of these lessons can be applied to any discipline studied at a college, and it’s the primary reason that sports have been allowed to originate and flourish in the college environment. The only element of the relationship that might change involves the transfer of the money that is received by the colleges, which is Emmert’s primary concern. (And calculus doesn’t necessarily get in the way of sports; it’s actually a viable component.)

To be fair, Emmert did advocate the allotment of a couple thousand dollars as stipend to college athletes, to help family attend games, eat, and the like. The NCAA committee has twice taken votes on this and struck it down. Emmert and others at the NCAA realize that a stipend might pacify the movement and prevent unionization of student-athletes. If unionization occurs, Emmert and others know that they will lose control of the allotment of nearly a billion dollars of revenue. Ultimately, this is the mission of the NCAA: to control the allocation of the riches that college sports has wrought.

Emmert stated, “The vast majority of the revenue flows into the NCAA and goes right out to the universities, either directly or indirectly through the support of these championships. The money is not going to colleges, and they’re not sitting on it. It’s supporting 450,000 kids. It’s a big, big amount of money.” Everyone concedes that college sports generate a big amount of money, but it is debatable whether or not it is used to support nearly half-a-million students. The control the NCAA has allows for the flow of the money to go to administrators, college coaches, and brick-and-mortar structures and equipment. I will concede that a portion of the money is used to fund all of the sporting endeavors under the blanket of collegiate sports, which is a good use of funds, but the NCAA must also concede that a majority of the revenue ends up inflating the salaries of coaches and athletic directors at larger schools, as college-athletes are prevented from accepting any compensation under the auspices of student-athlete. Bruce Pearl, recently hired at Auburn, basically confirmed this when he asked a large, frothy crowd in Alabama, “Have you seen the contract I signed yet?”

The President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, stated primarily in his interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, “The game-changer in life for all of us is getting an education. A real, valid, legitimate education, making sure they can do that without having to worry about the costs and how it’s going to be paid for. Making a commitment to a life-time education, I think, makes great sense.”

There is a problem here, and it is not students asking for a cut of the money of which they primarily earn for the institution…the problem is greed and an unwillingness to share. The problem involves those in authority wanting to hoard the money for the few that are in their positions of authority, while telling those who are not in authoritative positions, “Sorry. We can’t afford it.”…You know, the same problem we have in just about every corporation or business endeavor in America.

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NBC’s Meet the Press interview is property of NBC Universal Media, LLC.

Russia…With No Love

Mitt Romney might have been right when most thought he had committed a gaffe: Russia is our biggest foe on the world stage. Certainly in the last month Russia has re-emerged as America’s primary opposition.

A couple weeks ago, a former student contacted me about Russia. We had always enjoyed political discussions in class, and he had stated his intent to serve our country as a member of the United States military. I have a lot of love for this former student, and he honored me by seeking out my response concerning the Russian invasion of Crimea.

His concern was that he saw the Russian seizure of Ukrainian military bases, specifically the surrender of the head of the Ukrainian navy, as similar to the start of the Third Reich. He intimated that these might be the signs of a third World War. His question: “Isn’t this what the German political and religious leaders [did] for Hitler?”

I responded as follows:

It is good to hear from you; though, the circumstances for the correspondence are anything but good. In answer to your question, it does seem like aspects of the Russian insurgence appear to mimic the formation of the Third Reich. Certainly, the act of military leaders pledging allegiance to a world leader has some similarities. However, I’m not ready to make the leap to declaring a third World War.

The situation in Ukraine has, admittedly, been viewed through primarily American lens, especially considering the Olympic coverage that occurred simultaneously. Our media coverage saw the insurgence in Kiev as a tragic, yet necessary protest in order to free the people from Russian dictatorship and create an alliance with the EU. The deaths and violence were noble and created an opportunity to remove a dictator and create a new democratic government (a theme that seems to occur annually in the Middle East and Europe).

What seems slightly hypocritical to me is what is occurring right now with Crimea. Crimea’s people have stood up in greater numbers and declared their allegiance to Russia. It is isolated from the Ukraine, and it could easily be annexed [to Russia] from the Ukraine with little economic or social impact; yet, Crimea remains part of the country of Ukraine, so you have the posturing.

I’m not trying to justify Putin. He obviously is attempting to maintain Russia’s investment in the Ukraine. Sticking it to American sensibilities does seem to be an added bonus. I notice most people in the media are very careful about mentioning military opposition against Russia (even though any attempt to promote Obama’s weakness is a favorite tactic of certain news networks, I don’t believe even Fox News would advocate throwing slings and arrows at Russia at the first provocation).

I believe that if the Russian military maintains its position in Crimea AND Ukraine is willing to [lose] the territory of the mostly pro-Russian population, then further escalation will cease. We actually have precedent for this situation when you review the military cessation of Georgia from a few years back. America imposed sanctions and declared diplomatic threats, but Russia still did what it wanted to do in their own backyard.

It is most difficult to make predictions because of one person: Vladmir Putin. He is most unpredictable, and he does not seem to regard most other world leaders. It is also obvious he does not respect American considerations and values (honestly, like many Russians, Europeans, or anybody that does not live in America). If Putin does decide that the military presence must push through Ukraine, then it will essentially force the hand of the European Union AND the United States of America. I do not think Putin is so vain (or stupid) to presume that it would be a good idea to instigate a war of such magnitude. I think the military presence will hold its position in Crimea for the unforeseeable future. I do not think this is the start of World War III.

After a few weeks of reflection, I regret a few claims in my correspondence, especially my concluding remarks. I am starting to wonder if this is indeed the start of the next World War. I realize that I was taking a paternalistic stance in my response, and I tried to appease my student’s sensibilities (especially considering he might be a member of any ground forces dispatched to the Ukrainian country). Furthermore, I was dismissively ignoring the similarities of the start of past World Wars because I, like many other people, cannot fathom the possibility of another World War in 2014. Like so many other socially violent possibilities, it is just easier to be ignorant of the probability.

I also regret how I framed the ease of Russia annexing Crimea away from the Ukraine. I remember how easy Georgia was invaded, and I saw little response from the rest of the world, especially America. I also see how Russia’s stubbornness has allowed massacres to continue occurring in Syria, while America stands around with its hands tied, as Syrian children are shot, gassed, and exploded daily. I just figured the occupation of Crimea would be another instance of Russia getting away with it, with little intervention or choice by other nations. Perhaps, I underestimated the proximity of the world media exposure the Olympics earned for Russia.

I also regret giving Fox News and certain Republican pundits the benefit of the doubt when it comes to mouthing off about foreign affairs. It seems like there is no opportunity to bash Obama that can go unused. I just hope that most citizens realize that it is preposterous to assume, because Obama might look “weak” on the world stage, that Ukrainian protesters decided to oust their Russian-aligned prime minister AND allowed Russia to occupy Crimea. Apparently, every country in the world acts according to America’s whims and wishes, and since Obama is the worst President in American history (according to these pundits), Vladmir Putin feels compelled to instigate American repercussions and violate Ukrainian sovereignty.

I understand that Ronald Reagan has achieved god-like status in Republican minds as the ideal model for the American President. I think most Republicans believe that if Reagan were President in 2014, he would have cowered Russia into folding in upon itself, doing away with any notion of opposing America’s wants or opinions in the Eurasian theater. In fact, I believe many Republicans have a fantasy in their minds that involves a shirtless Reagan, shooting bears from atop a horse, with Vladmir Putin in tow as squire to Reagan’s valiant knight.

Let me be clear: Vladmir Putin would be invading Ukraine even if Ronald Reagan were today’s president.

What I do not regret conveying in my correspondence with my student is how I painted Putin. He is instigating America with purpose. He is convincing his people that a war with America would result in a Russian victory. He is responsible for this—not Barack Obama—and he might be instigating a military war with America and the European Union. Vladmir Putin is at fault, and he might be as vain and stupid as I assumed he was not.

It would behoove Americans to stop blaming everything on Barack Obama and create a show of strength behind our representative leader in the face of foreign aggression. I’d like to stop hearing how strong a leader Vladmir Putin is; there are those who paint an idolatrous picture of Putin, intended to besmirch Obama’s image. The opinions broadcast on Fox News border on treason. If the Cold War has been reinvigorated, then it would be in America’s best interest to become United…as our country’s name indicates, but our political affiliations have marred.

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A Problem with Advertisements: A Call for More Journalistic Integrity

I’m honestly chomping at the bit to slam Fox News, but I’d like to start my journalistic criticism in this blog by targeting MSNBC. For one, criticizing Fox News seems to be a popular internet and media practice, yet it does not seem to slow down the ratings bonanza. Also, I anticipate quite a few of my daily blog posts will feature Fox News because they provide so many points against which to argue. Finally, MSNBC seems to suffer from one obvious, yet often ignored, aspect that runs antithetical to its primary journalistic shows’ represented positions: its sponsors. I cannot stand to see it night after night, and I dare say it makes MSNBC seem a bit hypocritical.

I am a subscriber of Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC; these two seem to be the best daily representative watchdogs on the environmental dangers of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and natural gas excavation. Their shows’ content frequently feature information that is vital for understanding the repercussions of the natural gas push in this country, including the proliferation of fracking wells in more and more neighborhoods, hypocritical CEOs that do not want these wells in their own neighborhoods, and even frequent seismographic earthquakes that seem to be occurring because of fracking. I salute their coverage, and I crave more of it.

The problem is that during nearly every one of their shows, along with most of MSNBC’s daily lineup, they run those damnable advertisements from The People of America’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry.

I understand how advertising works. I understand that Maddow and Hayes have little input with deciding whose commercials get to run during their programs, and I also understand that they are prevented from speaking much ill of any of their advertisers during broadcasts. This is the power that advertisers have over broadcast programs, regardless of network. It is pervasive.

I also understand that MSNBC is pretty much the only network that opposes the ideology of The People of America’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry, so it ends up being a good business decision to throw excessive amounts of advertising dollars at MSNBC, to the point they cannot refuse the 30-second sound bites. These commercials end up being pacifiers that work better at appeasing the majority’s fears about fracking more effectively than the journalistic shows’ extended, intellectual coverage.

It is infuriating that broadcast advertisements are considered better educational tools for the public than a featured analytical report. The content of the commercials merely insist that fracking is safe, without providing proof. Instead we get a visual graphic, because we understand pretty pictures work better than actual answers to pertinent questions. We also get the business answer of why we should continue forward with fracking: more jobs and a continuation of daily American life. Never mind there might be environmental repercussions…and certainly don’t interfere with the wealth that leads to corporate pockets…Johnny and Jane Citizen can keep riding their kids to school and forgetting to flip off light switches. It’s the American way, or so says the strong, trustworthy, well-dressed professional woman that is supposed to represent the average American.

Scratch that. Apparently, this political activist lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, seems to think the average American likes getting talked down to by executives who know better…

…and maybe they are right. This commercial is effective for countering useful information and argument. This was most apparent on February 24th, 2014, when Josh Fox, the environmental watchdog, appeared on All In With Chris Hayes. Josh Fox is often refuted by academics who accuse him of not being legitimate because he’s not an academic (*sigh* more example of collegiate representatives selling out to business money, while betraying their professorial ethics). On this evening, Fox and Hayes (and Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado) had a wonderful exchange about how dangerous fracking is, how it is in fact damaging local neighborhoods, and how even CEOs from the drilling companies do not want fracking wells in their own neighborhoods. I admit I was quite lathered up about this hypocrisy.

Then they cut to commercial, and lo and behold, MSNBC’s hypocritical leanings appear. There she was again, with confidence and relaxed tone, assuaging those of us who might become panicked by the inflammatory reporting, stating, “…Let’s put America’s oil and natural gas to work…for more Americans.” I had to suppress my gag reflex that night, as I do most nights the commercial is aired.

There is obviously a campaign of pacification that is intended to stifle citizens’ interest in the environment and, specifically, fracking. It’s disturbing that thirty-second commercials are working so well to appease concerns; it’s more disturbing to know that the wealth of this country is being used to pacify the majority and drown out significant questions and intellectual concerns.

Ideally, I would love to see the executives at MSNBC take a stand and refuse the advertising dollars that are spent by the American Petroleum Institute and their cover name, The People of America’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry. I understand how it might seem crazy for anyone in this country to turn down money, especially the excessive amounts that are attached to advertising. It is not, in fact, crazy to refuse money in this situation; it is principled.

I might be willing to buy one argument on MSNBC’s behalf: Wouldn’t I rather the good guys take the bad guys’ money to fund the extensive reporting? Wouldn’t I rather see the money spent on noble endeavors instead of recycling it within the coffers of the oil industry and its pundits? Perhaps, but the money is spent with the understanding that these advertisements effectively neuter any arguments against fracking. Maybe this is more a problem with the American consumer, who does often seem to be more receptive to simplistic commercial messaging than complex, expository reporting.

If the MSNBC executives continue to endorse these commercials on their network, then I would like to hear a denouncement of these commercials from the shows’ reporters each time they report on fracking or the environment. However, I think a denouncement might be viewed as a deterrent that might prevent the reporters from further reporting on fracking and the environment…so hopefully, this blog’s representation might be a sufficient alternative for reporters who are locked into the corporate structure.

As an olive branch, I would also like to extend an offer to The People of America’s Oil and Gas Industry. I would endorse their commercial messages, if they supported their claims of safe drilling with extended facts. Please answer these questions:

• Why does fracking involve pumping multiple hazardous chemicals into the ground?
• How does releasing excessive methane into our fragile atmosphere translate into “environmentally safe?”
• Why is there an insistence that fracking does not contaminate drinking water when there is evidence that it does? (The answer, up to this point: a very juvenile, “Nah-uh. It doesn’t contaminate water. That’s ridiculous.”)

I am fairly certain that they will need more than thirty seconds to do so…

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
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For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

SAT Testing May Be Detrimental

Education might be the most confounding institution in America. Politicians from both parties highlight the failure of our education system, yet few have any constructive criticism to offer. It’s generally agreed upon, however, that what we are collectively doing is failing our youth. In fact, education is the easiest political issue to thunder upon at a pulpit. Just think of the kids, we are told. According to most, we need to fix education because it is the only clear way for our children to escape poverty.

Contrary to what is socially accepted, I might suggest that an education should be about more than finding a job. Simply, an education should be about learning. Yes, we should compel youth to learn skills that will be applicable to finding a living wage, but primarily, an education should be about students learning about values, morals, and ethics. An education should be about how to engage our neighbors and succeed in creating loving family structures. An American education should be about sharing wisdom and knowledge that will create good human beings, not just workers.

Educators should do more in classrooms than simply cater to national testing structures. I propose that the biggest problem in our education system has become the incessant testing we use to constrain today’s students.

The SAT test is currently being reviewed and revised, and there are several conversations taking place about its validity. The reason that the SAT is being revised involves statistics that tell us there is a problem with the results. Students from impoverished families have proven to perform less successfully than those from wealthier families. So, we need to level the playing field to ensure opportunity. This plays right into the problem with testing in our education system.

Let’s be honest about what test results mean in our education system, nationwide. Test results are a financial indicator that determines how much money a school district will receive. For the individual student, test results are an economic indicator for how much money a student might potentially make. For teachers, test results might determine a salary or even allow for keeping one’s job. For administrators, test results are a tool to wield to endorse necessary change and, ultimately, advocate further testing.

Testing in our education system has become tied to America’s economic woes. It perpetuates the competitive structure that has become synonymous with the American workplace: if you don’t test/work better than another student/worker, then you will ultimately fail/get fired/remain poor. Since getting a job has become inexorably linked with how well one does in school, our education system has attempted to adjust itself, wrongfully, by further catering to the disparities found in the American workplace. As the economic gap between salaries widens, so has the structuring of our education system. Instead of offering equal chances in the classroom, the opportunity gap is widening because of more stringent testing.

Our teachers are not being trained to teach with agency. Increasingly, teachers are encouraged, or even commanded, to simply instruct material that will be found on tests. The profession of teacher is no longer a profession, but simply a job…one in which an agent facilitates learning by accommodating a test’s structure instead of a test’s content.

We see how dangerous a precedent this can be by observing the testing scandal that occurred in Atlanta over the past five years, in which teachers and administrators decided to cheat by erasing incorrect answers of students and entering correct answers. These school members wanted more money for their districts and individual salaries. This unethical practice occurs because the “professionals” were more concerned about their jobs rather than performing their social duties.

It’s obvious that we cannot simply abandon testing in our education system precisely because financial allotments have become so entrenched with test results. This is a similar difficulty we currently have with our American healthcare system (How can we do away with medical insurance structures when so many people depend on the attached financial allotments?). However, it is also obvious that testing is contributing to our education system’s decline, primarily because it is so attached to these financial allotments.

Ideally, a professional teacher should be able to determine a class’s structure for the benefit and good of every student, and her concern should be less about test results and more about comprehension and validity for each student. Students should not be penalized for performing poorly on tests (which often do not effectively calculate what is actually learned), but instead should be rewarded for participating and enjoying the benefits of an actual, active, participatory learning experience. Every student should graduate from a class having the same level playing field, without the competitive structure that stifles so many youth.

Eliminating testing might actually help our education system, but our economic system will not allow it. If we are to solve the problem of education, then we should be willing to break the political, social, and financial constraints that contribute most to the problem. We should not evaluate educators based on universally-constructed parameters; instead, educators should be evaluated on what they can bring to their local classrooms, based on the agency their experience and education have earned them. Students should not be hindered by test results, but instead students should be allowed to thrive by demonstrating individually what they have authentically learned from individual class experiences to their individual educators. Passing a student to the next grade should not be made more difficult by propagating the SAT as the ultimate standard; allowing children to succeed in America should not be determined primarily by its failing test structure.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
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For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

Remembering the Goddess of Love, Not War

This writing is offered freely to readers as an explanation of the love I have for my dog. It was written the day after the events described herein, and, at the time, I attempted to grade papers and prepare lessons so I could get back to work the next day:

I can’t focus. Focus is necessary for writing, so I am choosing to write about what my mind is forcing me to remember. One of the reasons I started writing long ago was catharsis, or a need to find it through the written word. I respect my discipline because of what it has provided for my own stability…the ability to understand my inner monologue, my rampant emotions, by writing them down. This might be an explanation. This might be a lesson. I’m not sure yet what my intentions are.

I went to bed Sunday night, thinking about how I was going to deliver my fallacies lesson the next day. Around 3 a.m., my human love, Vesna, woke me up with the words, “There’s something wrong with Ares.” She was bloated and having trouble breathing. I curled up next to my girl—my red, 11-year-old, 90-some pound Doberman Pinscher, Ares—and I petted her behind the ears while Vesna prepared to take her to the emergency clinic at Purdue North Central in Westville, IN. Ares looked into my eyes, and I saw pain. I cried, and I kissed her three times on her head, each in a different spot on top. I told my dog that I loved her because I knew she was dying.

This expression of love was valuable to her, to my dog, to my Ares. I could see it in her eyes. My dog taught me important lessons about love. I am glad I had a moment to communicate exactly how precious she was to me, but I am most happy that it was understood.

I am divorced, so I do not get to see my kids every day. This is most damaging to my psyche. I find myself somewhat jealous of my parental peers, even students. At points, I want to ask how they might like it if they could only see their sons or daughters on Saturdays and Sundays. Most times, I internalize it and remind myself that it was a decision I made. No need to blame anybody other than the source. Admittedly, this takes a large personal toll, specifically not having your children at home to greet you every day.

Ares has been my salvation in this regard. I could rely on her to make me feel welcome every single time I entered the front door and peered through the window through the interior door…and what a greeting. She would grab her “poss-ay” (a Macedonian word for squirrel or possum…in this case, her toy versions) at first recognition of me or Vesna. Then she would make a very loud, pronounced whine. I will never forget this sound as long as I live. It was unique from Ares, and it conveyed such joy and exuberance from knowing we were home from work.

Then, she would start her dance. She was a “herder,” meaning she would move tightly through a designed choreography, by which she would end up circling the greeted into a controlled area. For Ares, it meant winding and looping her way through the narrow pathways about our furniture collection, which admittedly takes up most of our small house. I would walk into the house, and she would leap forward, prancing and bolting, clenching her “poss-ay” in her jaws. She wouldn’t stop for petting, though, until she made sure I had seen every moment of the routine that she had no doubt dreamed about that afternoon while napping. Ares was an artist with her dance. She would leap and bound back and forth, through and over, every obstacle, every knick-knack. I knocked over more lamps than she did in our tenure at the house. I would stand there, amused and smiling like an oversized goofball, watching her run to and fro. Eventually, she would tighten her loops, and I would move to the center of the living room (our designated spot of being “herded”). Then, she would lean against me, and I would pet her. She did this every single time I came home, and I valued every single time she did this. I will likely miss this routine the most. Honestly, I will fear its absence when I come home from work.

On the night of Ares’ sickness, last night, Vesna took Ares to the clinic, and I remained at home, attempting to sleep for the next day’s classes. There was no chance of that…I ended up thinking about our family, and how our family was probably going to change that morning:

No matter how close I feel to her, Ares was most in love with her mommy, Vesna. I was gifted with Ares’ friendship when I met Vesna. I fell in love with both ladies. Vesna visited my tiny apartment space, and in bounded this enormous animal and planted her giant paws right in front of me. I said, “hi,” and she went nuts (see the above choreographed dance). Eventually, she ended up trying to eat my socks, then my carpet, and then snuggled between Vesna and me on the couch while watching movies. We were a family ever since that first meeting.

Vesna loves Ares, and Ares loves Vesna. I am blessed from seeing this relationship on a daily basis. I cannot fully describe the nuances of this connection, but I recognize how powerful it is. It is a fascinating study of love. These two ladies’ acceptance of me as part of their private family has helped me personally learn about love of others and love of myself. As a freshly-divorced man, I learned to love again by watching the unadulterated love this woman and her precious, over-sized dog had for each other. I was delighted that this large, menacing, imposing figure of a dog accepted my two daughters as friends, allowing them to touch and pet and bounce about her without so much as a growl. She was truly an extraordinarily gentle “beast.” Ares might not have been able to talk, but Vesna and I communicated daily with her through the language of subjectivity and recognition of emotion that only a dog can emit. Ares only wanted to be able to love, and Ares wanted to be loved….a simple motivation, one I sense most human beings want also. I learned more about the human condition from Ares, and I thrived on the love she exuded.

As a sidenote for the teaching profession, I weary from having to discount the importance of emotions in my lessons. I pronounce the company line of “refrain from using emotional appeals in academic and professional writing” as part of my duties, but I don’t really believe in it, as I recognize writing for one’s self as an important part of personal development. If we look coldly and calculatingly at “objectivity” as the salvation of our society, we run the danger of ignoring the importance of subjectively understanding human animals. As teachers, we are told to “engage” more with our students…objectively, logically, we need to produce better retention and success rates, but how exactly will “engaging” produce better statistics? “Engaging with students” is a highly subjective concept: we must struggle emotionally with students in addition to delivering lectures and grading assignments in order to properly engage. Teachers must get to know students, in order to engage, a most difficult task considering the quantity and volume of human beings involved. In a sense of finding the correct way to teach, I realize that I must find subjective emotions for my students, like love and respect, in order to properly “engage.” Objectively, we cannot define engagement; there is no instruction manual for engaging, as teachers or parents, brothers and sisters, friends or family. That’s not to say people haven’t tried, but emotional subjectivity must be, at minimum, acknowledged in order to do so.

I think it was somewhere around the point where I was considering the next day’s lesson that I briefly drifted into sleep again. I tried to falsely deny the idea of my dog dying in my thoughts; I hadn’t even considered it when I had gone to sleep earlier the previous evening. I woke up to the sound of voices, around 6:30 a.m., with Vesna back and receiving a call from the clinic. I put together phrases from the conversation, like “reconstructive surgery,” “50% of the stomach removed,” and “25% chance of survival, at best.” My dog was dying, and I needed to see her one last time. We quickly drove to the clinic together.

I don’t want to recount the details of my last visit with Ares at the time of this writing. We were there when Ares died around 8:15 am on February 28th, 2011. I will reserve that moment for myself, as a reminder of the power of emotion, and I will share it with Vesna as representative of our grief and sorrow from losing an integral part of our family. I am not concerned with recording the exact details of the moment in writing, as it is indelibly etched in the memory of my mind, where it must remain.

Once we returned from the clinic, I had an hour and a half to get to my first class of the day. I hadn’t had an opportunity to send e-mail notice or find a substitute for my 11:30 a.m. class, and to be frank, I hadn’t really even considered cancelling my classes. I threw on some clean clothes and ran out the door to campus, simultaneously trying to find an opportunity to think about anything other than my recent loss and abandoning Vesna in her greatest time of need. After a numb, unremembered drive to work, I headed to my office, head down so I wouldn’t have to engage in conversation with anyone else while walking the halls.

I arrived in my office, and I contemplated my lecture. I thought I needed to do my duties that day, and I could conceivably push my way through my grief and successfully get through my fallacies lesson twice. Then, I could go home, hold Vesna, and grieve properly for the rest of the evening. I was wrong. I couldn’t even get to the first line of my lecture notes. I stammered my way through a short explanation of my dog’s death occurring not three hours earlier, trying not to openly weep in front of my students, and then I ran, scared of human contact, but more scared of betraying my emotional stance, especially in a profession that values logical, objective, emotionless demeanor. I shouldn’t have been scared; I could tell my students recognized the severity of the incident, and they wanted to share in my grief.

I had a moment of remembrance in my office that made it impossible for me to continue successfully, reminded me of my own fallibility, and created a need to return home to Vesna, post haste, to grieve as we both needed. I remembered a moment from my youth, at a party, when I was trying to muster the skill and courage necessary to “engage” with others, friends and acquaintances from the “older crowd.” Within this gathering, it was revealed that a married couple had lost their dog recently. I remember thinking as a teen, “Well, at least it wasn’t a child…it was just a dog.”

I will tell you honestly, as a person who is committed to non-violence, that if a younger version of myself time-travelled to this moment and told me, “it was just a dog,” then I would invariably punch myself square in the face. However, I realized something in that moment of reflection before my 11:30 class started: exactly what I need to do is convince people around me that I am devastated by the loss of my family dog. My supervisors, my students, my friends, and even members of my family…how could I stress the significance?…and honestly, should I even have to try? I was stymied by the idea of a younger version of myself challenging the validity of my emotions as a more-experienced adult. I was utterly useless as a professional lecturer after this difficulty. I needed to get home to help Vesna. I also needed to get home to help myself, to express myself, to address my loss….Honestly, I needed to cry.

Crying is a purely subjective experience. We can objectively analyze how the body produces such an activity, but there is small scientific proof for examination of the emotions that cause us to cry, but our minds, souls, or spirits demand it of our bodies regardless. When we are in a situation of grief, we shouldn’t be ashamed by our need to cry…objectively, logically, there really is no need to cry, but inherently, subjectively, emotionally, we know that we must. It seems that we place so much value on objective data and statistics, quantitative understanding, and strict regimen and policy—especially in the corporate environment that is fast overriding community colleges—while de-valuing the emotional, subjective aspects of the human condition. Professionally, this writing is a call to consider emotional appeals as a vital component of study and education in our academies; personally, it’s an honest representation of yesterday’s memory that is valuably helping me understand the importance of my dog.

Professionally, this subjective piece of creative memoir might be considered a distorted emotional appeal, a fallacy of persuasive tactic. It is not my intention of distortion, but of honesty. If we use honest emotional appeal in our argumentation, then we do not run the risk of distortion or fallacy, and we might progress forward as scientists and academics, examining the validity of humanity on our college campuses, engaging with students and learners as people, capable of subjective emotion, in addition to objective memory and process.

Personally, I write about my dog to share my experience. I write about Ares to hold onto the pleasant memories and recognize the void that is currently missing from my life. I write about her memory to help me understand my emotions. I write to preserve her, and I write to express my understanding of love, as learned by the most gentle of creatures, one who was well-schooled in communicating emotionally with this writer.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

Introduction-The Maniacal Rant of a Community College “Professor”

The Maniacal Rant of a Community College “Professor”

Blog Introduction

 

Impetus

 

To begin this blog, I’d like to touch on why I decided to write it.  I have long been skeptical of blog-writing, but at the age of 40, it’s time for me to abandon my fears.

 

I am an unemployed college instructor, a teacher of rhetoric, argument, and literature.  I am unwanted by my school, and I cannot find further work as a teacher.  I am a writer, which is a profession that historically provides less hope of financial success than even that of a teacher.  There is little incentive to continue on this chosen path.

 

However, I cannot abandon the writer from my persona.  It has been difficult to discontinue my identity of teacher, so I must find an outlet.  I write to teach, and I taught as a writer.  I did not lose my teaching job because I was a bad teacher.  My students provided enough assurances, through their words and performances, that I was, at minimum, a proficient instructor.  I met the requirements of my institution’s standards, and I fulfilled my duties to the best of my ability.

 

I did not dislike my students, as so many of my peers intimated on a daily basis.  My fellow teachers bad-mouthed their students.  The shared stories of how stupid individual students acted, along with grandiose tales of the magnificence of their pedantic lessons, became insufferable to me.  I liked my students; in fact, I loved them.  I considered a teacher who insulted her students behind their backs to be unethical…a teacher should never give up on her students, because a teacher fails when she considers her student to be hopeless, to be unable to elevate one’s self.  The majority of teachers with which I worked enjoyed berating their students.  I found it distasteful.  I progressively looked forward to engaging with my students in the classroom rather than running into my fellow teachers in the hallways.

 

I did not dislike teaching.  I love to teach.  It is fulfilling, and I felt I had found my niche.  For the better part of a decade, I taught my community.  I operated under the illusion that I filled an important and necessary role for the betterment of my country and its members.

 

I lost my position because a coalition of my fellow teachers and administrators collaborated to remove me from my adjunct position.  The facts lead me to believe the motive was jealousy and spite.  I know that several of them felt that my pedagogy was too controversial.  I know that a few felt that I should restrict myself to teaching classes strictly as a mechanical course, sticking to grammar lessons, spelling errors, and formatting.  I know that most of the members of this alliance did not appreciate my propensity for challenging the institution’s flaws and individuals’ mistakes.

 

Because I am in a committed relationship with another college instructor, I am prevented from continuing my career.  I have been in this relationship for as long as I have worked for the institution, and we have not made it a secret to anybody.  The highest-level administrators knew about this relationship, from the start of both of our tenures.  However, my peers decided to report to Human Resources about this relationship, citing a flawed policy that prevents sexual relationships in the workplace, and I find myself removed…not because I am a bad teacher, but because apparently, policies are not meant to be broken…even when they are antithetical to the institution’s mission.

 

I taught, despite the fact that I was not making a living wage, despite the fact that I was teaching a full-time load at part-time pay rates.  Essentially, I taught classes for less than the minimum wage rate of the state, when you include the hours spent outside of the classroom.  These outside hours are included when calculating how many hours are worked in regard to the changes made by the Affordable Care Act, but when it comes to a paycheck, instructors are paid according to how many hours they spend in the classroom. 

 

Suffice to say, the social norm that has been established is to keep teachers in their place.  Teach because it is vital, but don’t teach with expectations of survival.

 

The institutional impediments that have been established and continue to surface at my school and my state (Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana, respectively) prevent me from performing my professional duties.  I am prevented from contributing because of the established policies of the collegiate institution.  I suppose I should feel humiliated—and I do, on several psychological levels—but I have never been one to “know my place.”  I’d like to lie and say I’m not bitter, but the fact is I’m rather resentful, which fuels my decision to write a blog.

 

The internet provides a viable alternative.  I am a writer, first and foremost.  As a teacher, I wrote my lessons daily.  As a blog writer, I can continue to teach my community, without institutional impediments.  I can write daily and continue to fulfill the aspect of my identity that yearns to return to teaching others.  I can share what I have discovered in my tenure.  I can share what I have discovered since I have become unemployed.  I can share what I have discovered about myself and my community.

 

Survival is ultimately less important.  Continuing to teach, by writing this blog, has become vital.

 

Mission Statement

 

There’s quite a bit of stupidity in this country.  I have witnessed so many illogical statements and idiotic tendencies.  The problem is that the stupidity is coming out of the mouths of America’s authority figures, and it’s being perpetuated by the recipients, who are America’s citizens.  Business executives, journalists, politicians, small business owners, and especially our teachers keep contributing to the dumbing-down of our nation.  Simply, we are breeding a culture that promotes stupidity over intellectualism, and I am sick of living in a country where the elder idiots get to tell the youth that they know better than them, simply because they are in positions of authority and wealth, where they can drown out any intelligent opposition with greater numbers.

 

I have found one of the most distasteful aspects of being an English teacher is the illusion that an English teacher only knows how to correct grammar and spelling.  The reality is that a teacher of language has to know a little bit of everything…a jack-of-all-trades, yet master-of-none.  The challenge of an educator is to engage with students about all of the disciplines found under the authority of the college spectrum.  The challenge of a writer is to learn for one’s self all of the potential topics and issues that might be encountered in the social arena.  I have concentrated my studies and pedagogy towards engaging with others who live under a wide social umbrella, and I have learned enough to write intelligibly about many social issues.  This blog will operate by engaging with most argumentative issues. 

 

My goal is not to contribute to the stupidity, but instead combat it.

 

I want to contribute to my community, but I understand that most of my community will not be receptive to my opinions.  It’s going to take some courage, but I must commit stubbornly in order not to succumb to the tidal wave of popular opinion.  The scariest thing about the internet continues to be the exposure of aggressive language, which often proves to be illogical and wrong.  Furthermore, the internet proves that there are a majority of people that want to bully others into accepting premises as legitimate.

 

I vow not to be bullied by the majority of internet trolls, and I pledge to maintain my stance, unless I am proven wrong by logical counterarguments.  I am willing to retract any claims, if I am proven to be wrong.  This is the best deterrent of stupidity: a willingness to admit fallibility.

 

I admitted earlier that I am a somewhat bitter man. I will not write as one who suppresses his emotions.  Good writing needs to be expressive, and my goal is to maintain my readers’ interest.  This blog will feature my developed writing voice, which is not necessarily a strict academic voice.  I am no longer affiliated with an institution, which seems to be designed to stifle, instead of thrive.  I am committed to writing using my voice, even if it invites criticism, especially from other academics, who often prove to be so immersed in academic conventions that they cannot adequately represent an opposition to the aforementioned stupidity.

 

Donations

 

Although, I suspect many readers assume that blog writers expect to become rich (as I have seen expressed multiple times after researching blogs), I promise you that I have no illusions of becoming rich.  I’ve lived most of my life below the poverty line, and I’ve gotten used to it.  That’s not to say that I am comfortable living this way, but I have learned that becoming rich is not a realistic outcome.

 

What I hope to accomplish is create a base of readers that appreciate my daily ranting to the point that they would be willing to donate yearly…to subscribe to my writing so that I can maintain a daily writing regimen.  I do not ask for riches; I ask for a living wage.  A suggested subscription donation of $20 for a year’s worth of reading would work; if I could find 1,000 readers willing to donate, then this is a sufficient annual income.

 

If you are willing to donate, then please consider sending a donation to:

 

Scott C. Guffey

P.O. Box 53

Michigan City, IN 46360

 

I believe a few things.  1) I despise “clicking” money away in today’s economy.  PayPal has made it too easy to make impulse decisions, and too many people get into financial dire straits because of the convenience of the internet.  I would like my readers to make a conscious, cognitive decision to contribute to my business endeavor.  I do not want to trick readers into making an impulse decision.  2) I see the struggles of the United States Postal Service.  I have many friends who work for the Postal Service, and I want to support its continued existence.  I also would like to invite readers to print a letter with your donations, to which I will be more than happy to create a written response.  3) As my stance on the USPS might indicate, I am an advocate of contributing taxes to my government.  It seems to be assumed that lower taxes are better for individual citizens, but I don’t subscribe as readily to this social norm.  I advocate a sustainable government that provides services and agencies that help its citizens eat, learn, and sustain their pursuit of happiness in this country.  Mind you, I do not support abuses of public expenditures for frivolous government programs; I might submit that most abuses of our country’s wealth come from the public sector more than our government.  I’ll touch on this throughout this blog’s existence.  If you submit a donation to my blog’s creation, then I promise to report it appropriately at tax time.  Furthermore, I will provide a written receipt for your donation appropriately, if requested with your donation.

 

In the future, I might seek sponsors to help fund the continuation of this blog, but I must first generate content for review and a readership that can be tallied.  My goal at the start-up of this blog is a modest 1,000 readers willing to donate.  Please consider assisting me towards this goal in the year 2014.

 

Thank you for any donations.  Thank you also for your consideration.  I look forward to providing thoughtful and thought-provoking rhetoric for your perusal.

 

Scott C. Guffey