Education

Children in the crossfire

Anti-Slavery Day March To ParliamentIn his chilling piece in Vox about the April 14th abduction of more than 275 Nigerian school girls, Zach Beauchamp argues that Boko Haram’s recent threat to sell the kidnapped children into slavery “is not a one-off event.” Rather, he says, “[i]t’s part of a vast web of human trafficking and slavery in West Africa — one that neither local governments nor the international community have been able to shut down.”

According to Walk Free Foundation, an anti-slavery group in Australia, “30 million people are living as forced laborers, forced prostitutes, child soldiers, child brides in forced marriages and, in all ways that matter, as pieces of property, chattel in the servitude of absolute ownership.” With some 700,000 of its people enslaved, Nigeria now boasts the largest such population in West Africa — and the fourth largest in the world, says Beauchamp.

While the rest of the world has been focused on the missing Malaysian plane, anguished relatives have been looking frantically for their missing little girls and have had relatively little support in the process.  “It’s hard to imagine a more compelling, dramatic, heartbreaking story,” writes Frida Ghitis, a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. “If it had happened anywhere else,” she suggests, it “would be the world’s biggest story.”

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Two years!

Two years ago today, I wrote my first Ruminationville piece, “Underthinking is Overrated.” Typically not one to stick out difficult commitments for the long term—except, of course, the commitment of motherhood—I am amazed that I have managed to keep something going here. I can only attribute it to the quiet support of those who have been following me over these many months. Each time I sit down to write, I think of you…and of never wanting to disappoint. Here’s to another year, or two, or four!

Little Rock then and now and

Little Rock thenThis past week I went to Little Rock, Arkansas, for work and was not especially looking forward to my trip—weaned, as I had been, on images of the state’s 36th governor, Orval Eugene Faubus, defying the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown Vs. Board of Education decision and calling in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine African American students from entering the racially segregated Little Rock Central High.

As my plane descended, however, I was more than a little taken with the lush green landscape, boggy though it was, and, despite myself, I immediately fell in love with the entire state. Our lodging, the Capital Hotel, was the bomb, as it is said, where smiles abounded and where gracious good will seemed a way of life; where I found hand-packed, ribbon-tied toffee on my bed each night; and where each day my toiletries were spread out and lovingly arranged on a hand towel. Everywhere we went, the food was delicious, though nowhere more so than at Brave New Restaurant (the name would not have been my choice), which overlooked the Arkansas River and which served exquisitely fresh salads and crusty sourdough bread.

A few hours before we were to catch our planes, we visited the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, which was very great fun and of enormous interest. For three dollars, we could hold a phone and listen to Bill describe the various exhibits, so we did! And, it was as if he had been speaking to each one of us, alone (I even half expected to hear him say my name). A nosey parker at heart, I particularly enjoyed the handwritten/typed letters from Whoopi, Elton, Queen Noor, and many others and especially liked that the comedienne called Bill “the cat’s pajamas.” I had fantasies, too, about how I might get myself invited to the Clinton “apartment” that sits atop the museum.

Our meeting had been a great success, also, and we were all patting ourselves on the back for it and were gushing about how wonderful the attendees were. But, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone and, after, was compelled to tell my colleagues the story of the college president who sat at the table behind me during an interactive session and who, in a booming voice, referred to the African American students on his campus as “the blacks.” I almost got whiplash.

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Pride, pomp, and circumstance

Three weeks into my new job at a community college, I was asked to attend its graduation. Sporting a polyester gown I borrowed along with a wrong-colored hood and a cap anchored stupidly with stretched-out bobby pins, I sat on stage with other staff and faculty members to watch a rush of students river on by.

This was not a graduation for those who never question their privilege and entitlement; it was a holy rite of passage for those who toiled like dogs for every credit they earned. The ceremony was book-ended by a religious invocation and a benediction, and, while it made a secularist like me twitch, no one seemed fazed by the many mentions of their Father. It was He, I believe they believed, who made the seeming impossible possible.

The ceremony took place in an opera house located at the intersection of Poverty Street and Strife Avenue. It was crammed with hooters and whoopers and howlers who shouted out whenever they saw their loved ones. “That’s my baby!” screamed a mother. “That’s my wife!” cried another. Corey, Simcha, Teka, Ayo, Lakesia, Varun, Tenia, Nikia, Nakeia, Sarala, George, Crenese, Pema, Brittany, Krishna, Guy, Lavera, Frazontra, Pearlie, Teena, Melvin, Jamal, Bibek, Naresh, Zdravko, Nada, Dante, Leslie, Tyteona, Janice, Dell, Kossi, Cesar, and hundreds more strode across the stage to receive their diplomas from the President.

One had glued fuzzy green and white pom-poms along the edges of her mortar board, someone else had somehow managed to attach blinking white lights to hers, and still another did a shimmy shaky slinky dance that fetched a squeal from a delighted audience. Everyone had someone to cheer them on, which made me so happy I bawled; yet, I couldn’t help but think that had I been one to walk across that stage silence would surely have dogged me.

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Farewell

I went back to part-time teaching because, after a year, I still hadn’t found a full-time job, or any job. In less than two weeks, I will begin a new, non-teaching job. I probably won’t return to the classroom, so here are some things I want to impart: 

1. Teaching is the hardest thing you will ever do. 2. Adjunct faculty earn spit-on-you pay. 3. It’s impossible not to get chalk on your behind. 4. Sometimes when you read graffiti on bathroom walls you will mentally correct the grammar. 5. Be frightened if a student hands in a three-page argument paper with Is There a God? as the title. 6. It is never wise to accept jewelry from someone who is failing. 7. Don’t necessarily believe a student who tells you she can’t take an exam because her father has had a heart attack. 8. If you’re foolish enough to wear silk in the summer, make sure you write on the bottom third of the board. 9. Promise yourself you’ll never use a suitcase as a briefcase. 10. Always have a Plan C.       

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Mum’s the word

It can be a torture living inside of myself, but no more so than when I’m monitoring every word that comes out of my mouth. And it’s not just the words themselves that get the once over. I can become easily annoyed with every um and uh that exits.

This all started decades ago, when Marvin Mudrick, an English professor with an asp for a tongue, told me mine was a nice speaking voice but for all the you knows that polluted it. After that, I became a peep-mouse of a thing in his creative writing class, as you can imagine. 

It’s like and it’s a sort of have become my bull’s eyes, too, but, actually, these equivocators are pretty interesting to ponder. The former has been lampooned by comedians far and wide, so I have nothing new to add to that conversation. I haven’t heard anyone talk about the latter, though, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I’ve noticed that it’s a sort of is to the intelligentsia what it’s like was, in its heyday, to the so-called Valley Girl. As in “it’s a sort of exquisite double helix of DNA in biology” or “Derrida was a sort of deconstructionist.” For all of the hot air circulating about the Academy, though, there seems, maybe, a sort of uneasiness with the efficacy of one’s ideas, like “I have this brilliant thought, but, if you don’t agree, perhaps I’m not as married to it as you might think.” Or “I have this brilliant thought, but I don’t want you to know that I think it’s brilliant because God won’t let a braggart inherit the earth.”

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