Last night, using a screening code from my sister, I watched a documentary entitled "The Right to Read." It describes how many school districts in the United States teach reading wrong, and consequently a lot of students don't learn it, and of course these students are disproportionately not white. The wrong method teaches students to guess words based on the accompanying pictures instead of learning how each letter and each word is pronounced. It kind of blew my mind. Educators and curriculum manufacturers presumably learned to read when they were children, so it kind of blows my mind that they don't know how children learn to read. Teaching is kind of a fustercluck altogether. When I trained as a graduate instructor, I constantly had to read things that were like, "This is how teaching has been done forever, but it's wrong and stupid and needs to change." That was rather intimidating for someone brand new to the profession. In fairness, just thinking about teaching a kid to read English the correct way gives me a headache. After every rule, I'd have to add, "But don't get too attached to it, because half the words you see won't follow it." So I get why adults would want to skip that and hope the kids figure it out on their own.
Because of the disproportionate racial impact, the NAACP is leading the charge for childhood literacy. The documentary emphasizes over and over that we live in the information age and that if you can't read, you have little access to that information, and you're powerless. I would argue that the very next priority needs to be critical thinking, because millions of people do have access to all the information and are still utter morons. But literacy is a necessary first step. I was reminded of something I've contemplated a lot lately - that most of my opportunities and potential in life have little to do with my personal merits or choices, and a lot to do with where I was born, when I was born, and how much money my parents had. I'm sure many, many people as smart as Einstein have lived insignificant and forgotten lives because nobody gave them what they needed to thrive. Granted, I'm sure the same thing has happened to many people as evil as Hitler, so it's not all bad news.
The racial disparities also reminded me of my least favorite middle school to teach at. It was incredibly not-white by Utah standards. I've been in classes where more than half the kids were Latino. I wonder where all their parents are, because the overwhelming majority of adults that I see in adult spaces were and still are white. Anyway, a disproportionate percentage of the kids who wouldn't stay in their seats, wouldn't be quiet, and wouldn't do their work were Latino. I'm sure this was because of their socioeconomic status, and I'm sure the school didn't address the root issues by sending them to the refocus room or suspending them. Of course I, a lowly substitute teacher with no rights, was in no position to address the root issues either. There were a few that I expect to be in jail within five years. And that will pretty much ruin their lives and perpetuate the cycle. That could have been me; I could have been born into their circumstances. I really can't take much credit for my accomplishments. I could give God the credit, but I'm not comfortable with him playing favorites. I just tend to think that society is a dumpster fire that only works exactly the way it was intended to when it's screwing certain groups of people over.
Now that the disaster at my substitute teaching job, alluded to last week, has been "resolved," I'm going to rant about it. I got an "URGENT!" email on the 16th from Kelly Education's incident manager Ana Gradillas saying that Mountain Crest High School of Hyrum, Utah, where I worked on the 15th, had reported an "incident." Of course for perfectly obvious reasons this email mentioned nothing whatsoever about what the alleged incident actually was. Instead, I had to email Ana at a different email address to schedule a time to talk to her about it on the phone so she could then email me a link to write a statement about the things I already told her on the phone and she could then "resolve" the alleged incident. All of these steps are necessary for perfectly obvious reasons. I talked to her and wrote the statement the following Monday. On Tuesday, nothing happened. On Wednesday, nothing happened. Thursday afternoon, by a staggering coincidence, she finished up resolving the "URGENT!" incident right when I called her to find out what the hell was taking so long. And of course during this whole time I was locked out of the scheduling system and couldn't work. The assignments I had already scheduled were canceled. And I experienced a great deal of stress and more insomnia than normal. And also this whole thing happened while I was already dealing with a spurt of loneliness and existential dread over the possibility that there's no afterlife, so you know, I didn't need it.
One might understand, then, why I was even more upset to learn that Mountain Crest High School's allegations are pure unadulterated bullshit. Mountain Crest High School claimed that when I showed up there, multiple times, and got the sub folder from the office, I was "unresponsive" and didn't answer questions. This is a lie. On every occasion, I have communicated everything that needs to be communicated and I have not ignored any questions. From the way I heard it secondhand, this lie sounded like discrimination against me for being quiet and awkward and forgetting to make eye contact with the office staff - in other words, for being autistic. And of course I just have to sit here and take it like always because it's not big enough to justify the effort of filing a complaint, especially when I live in a Republican state that doesn't care. But it sure annoys me. Stuff like this will never let me forget that the society I live in was not built for people like me and has no desire to coexist with people like me. It increases my empathy for women and people of color and LGBTQ people who are also marginalized, and it makes me want to make the world better for them, but then my efforts in that regard are equally ineffective because nobody seems to pay the slightest attention to me.
Mountain Crest High School also claimed that I "had trouble following the lesson plan." This is a lie. I did literally everything asked of me in the lesson plan for the one actual class I had (in addition to two study halls). But for the first ten minutes of class the students were supposed to be doing an assignment in their books, and after I told them twice and the teacher's aide also told them, only three of them even opened their books. And it turns out that the ones who didn't even open their books later had the gall to complain that I hadn't explained what to do. The instructions were right there on the page of their books to which I told them to go and were also being projected on the classroom wall. The assignment explained itself. The lesson plan didn't tell me I needed to give additional explanation. Not one person indicated at any point that they needed additional explanation. I have been in countless middle and high school classes where, following the lesson plan, I told them to do something in their books or on Canvas and most students went and did it with no trouble because they knew how to read. But somehow it's my fault that these students straight-up refused to do what I told them. I also told them, following the lesson plan, that it would be graded the next day, so I had the crazy idea that they were old enough to know better and face the consequences of their choices. Silly me.
Mountain Crest High School also claimed that I didn't leave a note for the teacher. This is a lie. As I do whenever space permits, I wrote my note on the lesson plan and left the lesson plan in the middle of the desk. It was not hidden. The teacher would literally have to be blind to not find it. Ana Gradillas only alluded to this part of the allegations during our second phone call, when she suggested that in the future I leave a note for the teacher, at which point I interrupted and exploded a little.
Yeah, I made no attempt to hide my anger on that phone call. The first time I was just confused and trying to not get fired, but after a few more days to process it I moved on to resentment. Mostly toward Mountain Crest High School for the false accusations, but also toward Kelly Education for not having any systems in place to prevent its employees from false accusations or to compensate them for loss of income caused by false accusations. My refutation of the false accusations made no difference to anything at all. I'm just an employee stuck in a job available to anyone eighteen years old with a high school diploma. I have no rights. Only the schools have rights. They can say whatever they want with no consequences and I just have to deal with it. Ana was very patient with my anger and very understanding and she kept saying she understood my frustration, but of course her empathy won't pay my rent, which of course is going up significantly while wages aren't. Maybe now I'll get fired for writing this post, but whatever, my life isn't worth much if I can't be honest about things that aren't okay. At least I removed most of the swear words before publication.
1. Earlier this week I noticed a slightly higher than average number of hits from cities in Germany. The only German-language content I have on this site is a translation of my former LDS testimony, so I assumed it had to do with that somehow, but actually what happened was that someone shared my fan fiction based on the rejected screenplay "Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars" on a German Indiana Jones forum.
It says "Interesting novel variant that also functions as a prequel for [Kingdom of the Crystal Skull]. Monkey King has also been rewritten, but is incomplete." I feel flattered and attacked. I never finished Monkey King because, while I love writing out the funny dialogue and the worldbuilding, writing out action scenes that were intended for a movie is difficult and tedious for me. I suppose I ought to get back to it and just push through.
Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars
Indiana Jones and the Monkey King (unvollständig)
2. I made a joke in a GroupMe chat and nine people thought it was funny.
3. It was already a given that under no circumstances will I substitute teach children for another year, but another disaster happened this week that sent me looking for other jobs immediately. I found the exact perfect one that I wanted a day before the application deadline. If I get the job, I won't be able to prove that this turn of events wasn't a lucky coincidence, nor will I understand why God should do me such a favor while allowing millions of his other children to starve, but I will, nonetheless, freely acknowledge it as a miracle. If I don't get the job, then I'll just acknowledge it as an unnecessary kick in the crotch from a capricious deity or an indifferent universe. But anyway, in the application I had to provide student feedback from one semester of my last (and only) two years of teaching. So I picked my feedback from spring 2022 and I actually looked at it for the first time. Yeah, I was graduating and I just wanted to relax all summer and I was scared to read what students had said about me so I didn't. This week I did. The numbers from the quantitative portion were good enough, but the qualitative comments made me cry a little.
English 2010 (067)
English 2010 (074)
So maybe I have a chance?
4. I was going to watch Darby O'Gill and the Little People with a couple of my neighbors on St. Patrick's Day, but for some reason we watched the first episode of DragonTales instead. Nostalgia overload. We discussed the possibility of an edit/dub to make it a horror series, and/or a companion series to follow the adults as their children keep disappearing.
Green Canyon High School is my favorite place to substitute teach. It's a convenient distance and a convenient age group. The last time I was there I saw a poster for an upcoming production of War of the Worlds, so being a lover of sci-fi as well as wanting to support the students, I went to it this weekend. It wasn't based on the book, it was based on the radio broadcast based on the book. The play depicted the radio employees broadcasting the broadcast. Very meta, and not a lot of actual action going on, but it held my interest just fine. The partially tongue-in-cheek thirties nostalgia set a nice tone and the dialogue reminded me that the original book is a freaking masterpiece and I should read it again. I felt bad that this performance didn't have nearly the audience size it deserved.
Speaking of school, I'm planning to go back next year because my mentor convinced me that I haven't spent enough of the prime of my life in school. I'm leaning toward an MFA. I still don't know what differentiates an MFA from an MA and at this point I'm afraid to ask, but I know it's less of a time and money commitment than a PhD that will still advance my career farther than the Bachelor's and the MA that have failed to advance it any farther than substitute teaching K-12. It goes without saying that sixty years ago the Bachelor's alone would have set me up for life, and the bar has somehow been raised to this point where I need at least three degrees to be noticed, but the world was worse sixty years ago than it is today in many ways so I just have to take the bad with the good. Granted, I did choose a "useless" degree according to the people who, if there were any justice in the world, would be denied access to the fruits of the writers, artists, and musicians they hold in such contempt for getting useless degrees.
With a basic college degree portrayed from early childhood on up as the bare minimum to which everyone must aspire in order to have any chance at any success in life whatsoever, it becomes all the more unreasonable that eighteen-year-olds whose brains won't be fully developed for another seven years are held fully accountable for the long-term consequences of the student loans they're pressured into taking out. The issue, of course, is not so much the amount of the loans themselves as the interest that continues to accumulate so they pay several times over what they borrowed and somehow still owe more. I don't see how any person with a basic grasp of ethics can believe this system is fair or justified. So while BIden's forgiveness program may or may not be the most ideal approach, I have not one shred of sympathy for the predators who won't be able to extort as much money as they wish.
I'm far from an expert on the legal or economic nuances of the situation, but at least in theory I see no reason why taxpayers should have to pay the forgiven debts either. If the government holds the debts - and my understanding is that this forgiveness specifically doesn't apply to debts held by private companies - then I don't see why it can't decide that they simply no longer exist, just like it decided that this time today is magically an hour earlier than it was yesterday. Money is not real. Pieces of paper or numbers on a screen have no intrinsic value whatsoever. We decide as a society to pretend that they do because it's easier than having everyone try to work out the exchange rates of a thousand different goods and services and successfully barter with people who may not have the slightest interest in what they have to offer. When conservative Christians read Jesus' parable about a king who decides that a debt of ten thousand bags of gold simply no longer exists, do they complain about how that's going to burden the taxpayers or wreck the kingdom's economy? Is there supposed to be something fundamentally different about money in the modern world? (Also, the guy who has that debt canceled and then goes and harasses someone who owes him a hundred silver coins totally reminds me of Derek Chauvin.)
Many have correctly pointed out that this forgiveness is only a short-term band-aid solution, without seeming to notice that Biden has also announced multiple no-brainer reforms to the loan system itself that will make it screw borrowers over and ruin their lives substantially less in the future - like, for example, by not constantly adding interest to the principal and charging interest on that so the debt grows faster than it can be paid. It's a start. I mean, in some developed countries college education is free (yes, I know that means it's funded by taxes) because governments recognize that having educated citizens is in their own best interest. Educated citizens are far less likely to actively oppose common-sense public health guidelines during a global pandemic or try to overturn election results to keep the racist troglodyte they worship in power, to name just a couple of hypothetical examples.
Anyway, I'm considering a few school options and hoping to pay for the MFA the same way I paid for my MA, by teaching, but I won't say yet what those options are because I probably wrote something very offensive once and I don't need someone sharing it with them and telling them not to admit me.
Following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly violating the dress code, protesters all over Iran have risen up against their horrible theocratic government. I wish them the best. I took two graduate courses from a delightful Iranian woman. I never inquired about her religious or political beliefs, but based on her rainbow stickers, androgynous suit coats, and faculty position in a university English department, I guessed that she wouldn't get along very well with the regime back home. On one occasion we watched a documentary she'd worked on about how Iranian women have had to leave their traditional domestic spheres to work in textile factories because their husbands are lazy, and then we met the director over Zoom and I asked him if this had led to any broader changes around gender roles in Iranian society, being very careful not to so much as imply the obvious fact that gender roles in Iranian society are irredeemably sexist because good folklorists aren't supposed to judge other cultures like that. So anyway, I hope current events lead sooner than later to the deaths or exiles of the religious fundamentalists in charge of the country. Maybe Ukraine's army can help out after they finish driving Putin to suicide.
I substituted at a preschool on Monday, and I wish I could just do that for every assignment because it was a blast. (Of course I checked beforehand to verify that I was only filling in for an aide and wouldn't be responsible for everything.) On the whole, the kids were much better behaved than some second grade classes I could mention. One kid in the second class screamed bloody murder for the two-thirds of the time that he wasn't sleeping, but I think that was a reasonable reaction to being abandoned by his parents in a strange place full of strange people for the first time in his life. When I arrived, the first teacher was like "A dude! We never have dudes!" Then she asked about my teaching experience, and I may or may not have imagined the look of horror on her face when I said two years at the college level and three weeks substituting, but I did fine because kids love me. They enjoyed scaring me with rubber ants and spiders, and then while I cowered on the floor this little girl that I hadn't yet interacted with at all walked over and sat on my lap, and I was just blown away by the innocence and trust behind that gesture, innocence and trust that unfortunately have no place in the real world.
Wednesday was the twentieth anniversary of my participation in a Red Grammer concert with my fourth grade music class. We practiced one of his songs for a few weeks and then performed it with him. My parents bought one of his CDs, Hello World, and it was in frequent rotation on long car trips. When I found this autographed concert flyer at my parents' house last year, I had no memory of the particular song I had practiced and sung. Because I'm neurotically obsessed with dates and I missed the nineteenth anniversary, I waited until the twentieth anniversary to look it up and be nostalgic. I still don't remember practicing or singing it.
The song in question:
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.