Monday, April 24, 2017

This Was My Day Today

April 24, 2017

Quite a few of my freshmen have been slacking on getting assignments completed, so I decided we needed to back up, slow down, and have a "make-up" day.  I gave my kids who are all up-to-date an extension activity, and told the students I'd be running down a list of which students were missing big assignments they could still work on for credit.

I'm missing journals from Allison, Marcos, Julie, and Richard.
I'm missing the Romeo and Juliet essay from Brook, Ed, Marcos, and Richard.

(Looking up)  Hey--if I'm reading your name, make sure you are making a note of the missing assignment. Write it down so you know what all you need to work on.

I'm missing Collection Test Five from Ed.

(Looking up again) Ed--did you make a note of that? Yes? How is that possible, since you don't have anything out on your desk!

I'm missing...(four more assignments missing from various students).

Okay.  Each of those assignment directions are still up on my website, so you can look them up there as a reference if you're not sure how to get started.

Six students (yes, SIX) at my desk, just after I finished going through the lists:
Um..can you tell us which assignments we're missing? We weren't paying attention.

You're kidding, right?  Even after I just reminded you twice to write down the assignments?

Apparent Student Slacker Spokesperson:
Yeah, we don't know what to do now. So...can you just tell us again?

Also, part of the student follow up:  I don't know how to do the assignment.  I can't find your website. I can't find the assignment on your website. (This last one from the kid who was actually on my website--looking at the actual assignment that he "couldn't find".)  And my favorite: Even though I'm missing a 90 point assignment and a 50 point assignment, I'd rather work on this missing 5 point assignment. Is that okay?

I'm sure you can imagine the conversations that ensued.
As often happens,  3rd period passed on to 7th period what to expect for the day.  Their assessment, according to my 7th period students?  "Watch out. She seems to be in a bad mood for some reason today."

End of the year. Freshmen. Often a charming combination.  Today, not so much.

Monday, April 17, 2017

I Like My Dystopia in Fictional Form, Thank You

April 17, 2017

My favorite genre of literature is dystopian fiction.  Authors create worlds that could be, cautionary tales to warn us away from pitfalls in our present that are driving us forward on a perilous trajectory.  We have not listened, my friends, and now we find our fictional futures colliding frighteningly with our unstable present.  In the words of the prescient authors past and present:

“Sound bytes. Catch phrases. Sales pitches. Words. All lexical legitimizing. ‘A rose by any other name…’ he said. In the end it’s all propaganda.” –J.A. Willoughby, The Promised Land
“…dead to all things but greed and a desire to rule over others.” –Arun D. Ellis, Corpalism

This is a game show to Trump, and has been from the beginning.  He thrives on catch phrases, lives in generalities.  He has eschewed daily briefings because they don’t interest him; he has announced his bafflement at the complex issues he is responsible for when he is made to sit down and listen to the minutiae of the policies he must address.  (Who knew healthcare was so complex?  Everybody. Literally everybody except you.)  He couldn’t even be bothered to be sure about which country he bombed, as a matter of fact, in a show of power.  Did he think about potential consequences? Did he consider the complex political landscape he was walking into? (Not to mention the fact that he had recently declared that Syria needed to attend to their own problems without our interference.)  I mean, who could guess that foreign policy and diplomacy and acts of war could be so complex? Literally everybody, save one, apparently.  Honestly, it’s much more fun to just think about how impressive that giant explosion will be, and damn the consequences!  Desire to rule over others here means a show of force and might, but no real desire for governance for and with the people.

“That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn't even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

There have already been little bends and fissures in the laws in place, including healthcare, LGBT rights, and immigration, not to mention some pretty major reversals of previously hard-won policies.  We’ve lost all semblance of “checks and balances” with a Republican president, and a Republican majority in the House and Senate, as well as a conservative majority sitting on the Supreme Court. (Gorsuch, by the way, was confirmed after the rules were changed to go “nuclear” so that only a majority vote was necessary.  This, just shortly after a highly contentious confirmation hearing for the Education Secretary, DeVos, narrowly passed with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Pence.)  So despite dragging their feet for months on a confirmation hearing for Obama’s Supreme Court pick, all it took to get the Republican nominee in was changing the rules to suit their plan.  Those in power are making changes to keep themselves in power indefinitely, closing up avenues to challenge that power.  This should be very frightening indeed.  If we continue to sit back and watch it unfold without raising our voices, soon there will be no place at all for our voices.  Once power is lost, it becomes that much more difficult to regain.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”— George Orwell, 1984

            Trump’s heightened paranoia of his media coverage has become slightly ominous and threatening.  If he gets to ultimately decide which media is “real” (Fox News, Breitbart) and which media is “fake” (every other media outlet), he is effectively proclaiming that his truth, his reality, is the only one that matters. One of the hallmarks of our democracy is our multiplicity of viewpoints and our access to free press—that is, press that is not forcibly controlled by our government in order to narrowly define and disseminate state approved sound-bytes and propaganda.  Continuing to foster a hostile stance against free press and using the office of the president to attack any news source that dares to question or hold him accountable for his actions or his words is merely laying the groundwork for the hostile takeover of public information.

“He hadn’t realized that the ordinary little things that happened, the ones that took place between the big events while waiting for something more exciting to happen – they were the most important, after all.” ― Helen Smith, The Miracle Inspector
“There was protest...There were those who knew. Who saw what was coming. But their voices were mere whispers in a crowd of roaring discontent. The surrender of freedom came in subtle stages, not with an explosive arrival.” –Bard Constantine, Silent Empire

We have spent years languishing in complacency as a society.  We have the most abysmal voter turnout in democratic nations.  We do not seek out active roles in our own governance; we do not educate ourselves about the issues that regulate our world.  We give over—we have given over—our power to others who seem more invested and interested, and we go on about our lives, confident that things will work out.  And mostly, until now, they have.  There were some small things, and even some slightly bigger things, in the running of our country, that I might have disagreed with here and there.  On the whole, though, I was satisfied, and my life didn’t alter significantly when a new law was passed or a new representative hung his name plate on his office in the House.  And we got too comfortable.  I got too comfortable.  By the time I realized it was time to call the fire department, the whole house was engulfed.  In hindsight, I smelled the smoke; I felt a little warm.  I didn’t, however, gather the neighbors and sound the alarm before it got out of control.  Hindsight does not help us—and here we are.  (Months after the election, Trump himself is the one who can’t seem to let it go.  He also seems to think any protest is “paid for” by…who knows? How is it possible that he can’t fathom people coming together of their own volition to express dissatisfaction? His narcissism makes it impossible for him to see dissent, and the people with whom he surrounds himself provide a protective bubble to engender that viewpoint.)

 “When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.”—Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
“I never thought it would get this bad. I never thought the Reestablishment would take things so far. They're incinerating culture, the beauty of diversity. The new citizens of our world will be reduced to nothing but numbers, easily interchangeable, easily removable, easily destroyed for disobedience. We have lost our humanity.” ―Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me
We have lost funding to Planned Parenthood, and the government continues to dismantle healthcare that will deny coverage to millions if they are successful.  Funding for schools, arts, and social programs are all on the chopping block in favor of funneling unimaginable dollars into an already massive military budget, because that’s what Trump believes equates to power—force and might, not humanity and culture.  This is the path he has chosen for us, but I refuse to be reduced to a number.  I will continue to fight for the beauty of diversity and the humanity that is in us all. This is what I choose.

“For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realise that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.” –George Orwell, 1984

My bias may be showing here, but this is where the importance of education comes in, both formal and informal.  We have to ensure that the populace has the security of a humane life and has access to education to become critical thinkers and consumers of information in our world, so that we are not beholden only to the information the Man Behind the Curtain wants to show us, but rather that we are all able to discern and evaluate and assess on our own.  We need to right the ship of power once again so that the people are the captain and the president is the one following their commands, rather than the other way around.  Our President and our elected officials are our crew; we cannot abdicate our responsibility in telling him how we want to sail the ship.  As of now, we have a mutiny afoot, and we have to wrest control back before we lose it altogether.  An ignorant populace breeds fear, contempt, and hostility; an educated one recognizes that gain for each is a gain for all and seeks to uplift and help one another for the greater good.  A “leader” who is more interested in maintaining power than in his constituents will do all in his power to foster the former and not the latter.

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
“There’s a big difference between being numb to something and being immune to it.”
― Michael Monroe, Afterlife
“Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change.”—H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

It’s tough in today’s world to be disaffected, to be ignorant, but some people still work at it.  We simply can’t afford it.  Being numb to what is going on doesn’t mean we won’t feel the consequences, and they are likely to get much, much worse before they get better.  It’s now several months in, and some are weary of the continued calls to contact your representatives, or to get out for the mid-year elections, or to continue to write and speak your mind.  They’re counting on that.  They want us to become accustomed to the new normal, to sink into acceptance.  We’ve done that for too long, and that stakes are far too high.  The battle will be won with perseverance and persistence, not force.

“We can't be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can't be controlled. And it means that no matter what they do, we will always cause trouble for them.” –Veronica Roth, Divergent
“You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”—Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed
 “There has to be beauty left in the world, Julia," said Kiyu. "Otherwise we have nothing.”
― Erica Lindquist, Whisperworld

We can’t be controlled.  We can’t wait for the revolution and the resistance to come from somewhere else.  It has to begin with us; it must continue with us.  That, after all, is the beauty left in the world—us.  The individual.  The humanity in us all.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


March 23, 2017

At the risk of being too simplistic, I can only wrap my brain around the new Federal Budget proposal in terms of the environment in which I spend my time.  The proposal includes a massive boost to military and Homeland Security, while cutting huge percentages of domestic programs.  If we drop that Federal Budget scenario down to a microcosm—say a public high school--here’s what it would look like:  We’d have state of the art camera security and a strong police presence around the perimeter of the school in order to protect the students from harmful outsiders.  There would also be a highly visible police presence within the campus, in order to vet each student to ensure that they fit the correct profile of students we want to educate within our walls.  Drones would be enlisted to fly over the campus periodically to make sure all students adhered to appropriate conduct codes, and to ensure that no one on the outside attempts to scale the heavily fortified wall surrounding the compound. God forbid we should want to educate those who didn’t start their education here.

Inside the classroom however, the children share meager materials—

They’ll be sitting on the floors, because there aren’t enough desks.

They’ll be sharing texts, because there is no funding to ensure each child has a book.

More kids than we thought will have books today, though, since several students are home sick, not having the ability to access health care.

Several students are unable to focus on lessons, because they struggle with mental health issues for which there is no assistance—or their parents do.

Students break for lunch at noon.  If they weren’t fortunate enough to bring their own lunches from home, they will be going without. They should have known better than to be born into a family without sufficient means to provide them lunch.

Don’t worry about afternoon music classes; there aren’t any.  Those go by the wayside when funding for NEA becomes obsolete.  Ditto for field trips to the local museums.

Programs to assist students who need additional help in acquiring English language skills, or students who are struggling and falling behind in reading and math?  Good luck.  Perhaps those students should try NOT having another language as their primary language, or perhaps they should just try not to have learning disabilities.  Again, they should have had the foresight to be born into families with better resources.

Yes, unless born to privilege, in our little school the kids will lack resources.  They’ll be hungry, and in need.  Access to the most basic of needs will be limited; access to culture and art non-existent.  Not to worry, though—no harm will come to them from the world outside the school house doors.  Probably.  On the inside, however, they’re on their own.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


March 7, 2017

Our memories alone are silent black and white films. Shared, they are fuller, richer, technicolor prisms, reflecting a multiplicity of shades, perspectives, and details. Collective memory is shared humanity.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Fletcher Experience

March 6, 2017

A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I looked up my old 5th and 6th grade teacher on Facebook.  I had tried to look him up before, but it's tough to look up folks when you don't know their first name--or if their first name is "Mr.".  Anyway, he was one of those incredibly unique and interesting educators that not all students are fortunate enough to encounter in their careers, and he made quite an impression on me in my young days.  I always wondered where he ended up.

Recently, it came to me that perhaps I was remembering that Neil was his first name, though I couldn't be sure.  I did a quick search and found a Leo Neil Fletcher.  I looked at a couple of pictures to determine if he was someone I recognized; I saw a couple of pictures of him (I was fairly certain I recognized that mischievous twinkle in his eye), but mostly I saw some incredible underwater marine life photography.  Leo Neil Fletcher was a world traveler, an adventurous diver, and an excellent photographer.  This certainly fit my memory of Mr. Fletcher--a consummate outdoorsman and a free spirit. I didn't know if he'd remember some shy kid who was in his class some 40(!) years ago, but I thought even if it wasn't him, the photographer in me was thrilled by the beauty in his work.  I decided I'd like to connect with him.  Within minutes of my friend request, he accepted.  Two days later he messaged to ask me if I was the same Donna Mayes who was in his class at Dry Creek Elementary so long ago and after confirming, we exchanged a few  'where-has-life's-journey-taken-you' messages.  I tagged him in a couple of old pictures from those early days, which led him to reconnect with a few of my classmates, including my two best friends back then, Kari and Missy.

After a little trip down memory lane, Mr. Fletcher suggested it might be fun for those of us who were still local to have a mini reunion of sorts--he was on a brief hiatus from his travels and was game to catch up with some of his very first students.  We planned to meet up at The Elbow Room on Friday night.

Six of us were there, plus Mr. Fletcher.  Still the consummate story-teller, Mr. Fletcher regaled us with anecdotes that he remembered, and we shared some of our favorite memories.  There was bombarge (Dodgeball), and marching out of the blacktop, competing with the other classes.  There was a love of reading--he read us The Hobbit, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, among others, and weekend camping trips.  There was the incident with Bo and the alligator lizard, and an epic footrace against the fastest kid in our class, which naturally, Mr. Fletcher won.  There was the movie that Mr. Fletcher took three of us to see after we'd won a reading contest in class.  (The movie was Ice Castles, by the way.  I can't remember who the other girl was that came, but I do remember that she and I overruled the boy, Derek, who most certainly did NOT pick Ice Castles as his first choice.  I also remember, sitting in the theater, that I thought even then that the movie was perhaps not quite appropriate for 5th graders, but I really wanted to see it anyway.  In retrospect, there were a lot of things that I think Mr. Fletcher got away with; call it beginner's luck, or willful ignorance of the rules, or an adventuresome desire to stay just out of reach of the realm of the ordinary--the status quo. Doing things differently didn't mean we didn't learn; it just meant that we learned things in a way that was real and that stuck with us.  It's the thing that made him so memorable to us all.)

It's a strange feeling, straddling the world of the past and present simultaneously.  We sat there, both 49 and 9 , and he both 65 and 25.  We were at once teacher and students, and old acquaintances reconnecting over a drink and a meal, reminiscing about the Fletcher experience--a shared moment in time, many, many years ago. They say that a teacher's first class is impressed upon  one's memory in a way that is more indelible than classes that follow, no matter how much you love those subsequent years. As much as Mr. Fletcher made an impression on all of us, his students, I like to believe that as he sat there, laughing, connecting, remembering, that perhaps we made a lasting impression on him, too.

    Missy, me, and Kari
        Missy, Will, me, Mr. Fletcher, Tammy, Kari, and Eric
       Me and Mr. Fletcher

Thursday, February 23, 2017

On the Impending Retirement of One of My Teachers

February 23, 2017

This year, my high school drill and dance teacher will be retiring after devoting years to Clovis High and her students. She was an incredible influence in my life, and I was thrilled to hear that one of her colleagues is putting together a tribute to her, collecting memories from her dancers to share with her at her retirement celebration.  I thought I'd share here what I'll be sending in.

Hi Mik,

As you are heading into retirement, I wanted to take a moment to share with you the impact you had on me as a young kid, which is perhaps more than you could ever know.  

When I started Clovis High, I was not just new to the school; I was new to the district.  I didn’t know a soul.  For a shy, terrified kid afraid of her own shadow, this was nearly insurmountable. My mom had left my dad, and our home life was difficult and unstable as my mom tried to find her footing suddenly as a single mom with five children in tow.  In my old district, I was a twirler on the baton team, but as Clovis High had only a solo twirler, already selected, my mom pushed to get me on the drill team, well after tryouts had occurred in the spring.  I didn’t even know what a drill team was, but mom knew I needed something to be involved in, or I was likely to fade into invisibility in the vast, overwhelming world of high school.  She knew I needed stability, routine, a sense of belonging somehow.  You probably don’t even know that when my mom dropped me off on that very first day of band camp, I wandered around campus for literally an hour before I worked up the courage to enter the cafeteria, where over 100 girls, every one a stranger to me, were working out and warming up.  The only thing that got me in the door on that first day was that the fear of telling my mother that I hadn’t been able to walk in the door was slightly greater than my fear of all of those unfamiliar eyes looking at me, wondering why I was in their space.  I didn’t think I belonged.  I didn’t think anyone would think I belonged.

Eventually I did go in, and found you, as instructed.  Without hesitation, you smiled and took me in, and introduced me to some of the other freshmen and some of the senior leaders as well.  Band camp week was intensive, difficult, and incredibly rewarding, and I found that I loved being a part of the team.  I also started school that year with friends I wouldn’t have met unless I had been thrust into the family of band in the few weeks before the first school bell rang.  That introduction was life-saving—life-changing.  I found myself part of an incredible group of talented, fun, energetic, and devoted group of people would become my second family.  Anyone who was a part of band, especially in the 1980s, can attest to the unbelievable numbers of hours we all spent together, week in and week out, on the field, in the gyms, traveling on buses, sleeping on gym floors on weekend band review trips.  You helped make that family happen for me. 
Not only did I gain a family and a sense of social inclusion at a particularly important time in my life, but you, and the drill and dance program itself, are the most singular influence on helping to develop my sense of self and confidence in myself.  I remember at the end of my sophomore year, we had auditions for the leadership of the team.  I had never seen myself as a leader; I was a follower, and a darn good one at that.  However, I remember sitting down with you and you encouraging me to consider auditioning for a leadership role.  I don’t remember your words; what I remember is somehow seeing myself through your eyes, hearing that you thought of me as having that kind of potential.  It genuinely opened up new possibilities for me—pushed me to see myself in new ways.  It was one of those moments in time that serves as a catalyst, inspiring real change.  I still had trepidation, but decided that if you could see me as a leader, I could try to live up to what you saw.  I closed my eyes and dove in, working to silence my insecurities.  You placed faith in me, and I found myself the Parade Section Leader my junior year.  It was challenging to lead a group of fifty girls, but I found that my peers respected me and listened to me, and I was a good at diplomacy and working cooperatively with instructors and dance members alike to help bring success to our performances.  I realized that I really enjoyed it, and was made a Co-Captain my senior year, a year that capped off four years of incredible experiences in high school, led predominantly by you.

High school is a formative time for young people, and you came into my life—or rather, I was thrust into yours—when I dearly needed it.  Your talent, leadership, love, and guidance shaped me, and so, so many others, in ways big and small throughout the years.  Your devotion to your girls was abundantly evident in everything you put into our team.  You taught us dance, choreography, musicality, teamwork.  You pushed our physical abilities beyond what we thought we were capable of.  Even more importantly, you taught us to look inside ourselves and grow in strength, commitment, and confidence.  Without you, I’m not sure I would have learned to see myself as a leader.  In my professional career, I have taken on many leadership positions—I relish them, enjoy having a voice, and being a support and advocate for others.  That all began with you—the day you looked at me and saw what I could not see.  For that, I am ever, ever grateful.

My story is just one of literally thousands.  As you move on to this next chapter of your life, I pray that you know just a fraction of the amount of joy and love and confidence you have imparted to your drill and dance team members, as well as your Dance Rep kids.  You have been an inspiration and a guiding light.  I thank you.  We thank you.  We love you and wish you well.

Donna Mayes Lutjens