Tag Archives: literature

The Colors of To Kill A Mockingbird

Screenshot of To Kill a Mockingbird(an America...
Screenshot of To Kill a Mockingbird(an American movie issued in 1962) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year since I began teaching, my students and I read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee together. They reluctantly open it and groan because after the first page, they almost unanimously claim confusion and therefore annoyance.

By the third chapter, they’re excited, irritated, laughing out loud, and angry. They love reading with a southern accent and can’t believe I’m letting them read a book with so many bad words in it.

That is, until we get to the “N” word, which everyone nervously reads or skips over. We always read a great opinion piece about the “N” word written by Leonard Pitts Jr. first, but that’s not the most controversial part of the book, at least not to my students or me.

The part they struggle with is the whole reason for the novel’s title To Kill A Mockingbird. They want to know why Tom Robinson’s found guilty and ultimately killed. Tom Robinson’s the black man accused of rape, but the evidence clearly shows it was impossible for him to do this. The jury comprised of white farmers remains unfair.

This year, a new element will enter into the inevitable discussion about change—What about Trayvon Martin?

The jury composed of six women appeared very different. The stories changed. Different characters. But, not different colors. There are the colors: it’s all still in black and white.

And, when that question comes:  What about Trayvon Martin?

Suddenly, this room full of lackadaisical sixth graders will boom with anger and upset. And, what will I say?

Nothing.

No, not really, but yes, nothing, in the sense that I won’t give my opinion. I’ll have to let them read news stories and perhaps bring in articles themselves. But, ultimately, it will be up to them to decide what happened.

Mine? I act as a guide, just like with my own children, when they say the whole world is against Trayvon and black people, I say, I’m not sure about that.

Look at the jury, look at what happened, look at the facts, how are things different? How has the law changed? What can we do to change something like this in the future?

Should Zimmerman have had a gun?

Why did Trayvon beat him?

Would Zimmerman be alive and Trayvon be on trial if Zimmerman hadn’t shot him?

What if they were both black?

What if they were both white?

These are questions I don’t think any of us can completely answer. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to answer this. I struggle with this.

I hate guns and in To Kill A Mockingbird my students learn how much the main character’s father and the lawyer defending Tom Robinson, Atticus Finch, hates them too. He teaches us to walk in someone else’s shoes and to be kind to our enemies.

When Atticus encounters Mrs. Dubose, a decaying hateful woman who likes to call him a “Nigger lover” for defending Tom Robinson, Atticus removes his hat and tells her she looks like a picture. His daughter, Scout says, “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird with sixth graders, but now, I know I have to.

I do believe times have changed, but how? What’s changed? Are we better or did we just learn how to play a different game? What kind of game are we playing? Did we just change the rules and create illusions?

I’m not sure, but I know my sixth graders will spend time this year trying to figure it out.

Written by Lisa Chesser

Advertisements

Our Education God: The Test

Teachers often share many similarities with the students they admonish, chastise, chase, change, and ultimately love like a mother who spends her days doing the same. Because we’re together so much of the time and essentially trapped in the same environment, teachers want to escape just as much as students do, especially at this time of year. We also tend to mimic each other and think alike.

Since mid-April, we’ve been testing and I feel like a caged animal, so do my students. They’re wild, then angry, then tired, then irritated, then they start the cycle all over again.

Angry Student
Angry Student

I’m pretty much the same. I have no energy at the end of the day and I’m dreaming of that final day of school like never before.

See, I’ve been teaching for a while and the more years that pass the more I question the relevance of the Test, the more I think about it, and the more I hate it.

Backward Steps

I always walk backward to my own experience with tests. I was the kid who panicked, stayed up all night, worried so much so that I often bombed the Test, but ironically enough in a relaxed environment, if you never mentioned the word Test, I could answer any question perfectly.

I eventually got over it because I wanted to go to college and after bombing my first SAT, I knew I needed to figure out how to handle this.

So, I taught myself how to take a test.

Put any test in front of me, give me a minimal amount of time to study for it, and I’ll score well.

I had none of the handbooks, trade books, test-prep books, and didn’t use any “tips” to get me through it.

I found that if I treated a test mathematically and thought in a similar way to this imaginary person who created it, then I could defeat it. I practiced a lot, and it paid off. I plan to take the GRE soon and know that I’ll have to buy one of the test-prep books to review information that’s been filed away in those dark cabinets inside my brain. However, I also know I’ll not only pass it, I’ll do well on it. I proved that to myself.

Worshipping the Test

When I teach students how to take standardized Tests or any Test for that matter, I point out these basics to them and then we practice. I don’t rely on tips. We use some standard ones, practice using them, discard some, and return to others.

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

I try to help them as much as possible because I know their education god, the Test, will be there as long as they remain in the world of education. It will make judgments on them. It will torment them. It will inflict fear in them. It will never go away until they worship it, until it knows they will kneel down and worship it.

But, there’s one way to bring a master to his or her knees. That’s to master the master, which is why I spend so much time teaching my students how to test.

Now, however, feeling so sick and tired, so broken, so desperate to end this school year, I just want to kick the test, even if it’s kneeling before me and my students.

I want it to die. I hate it for different reasons than the anxiety and fear I felt when I was younger.

It drains students from actually learning.

Instead of spending time learning about the great novelists and their character’s conflicts and struggles then realizing that all these struggles reflect their own, that books are Bibles for kids to value as tools to tackle their own difficulties, students learn that they have to score well on a test or they won’t be appreciated in school. Perhaps they won’t even move to the next grade level. All too often they think of themselves as failures, which I try to change by teaching them how to test. But, that in itself stealthily strips literature, language, mathematics and the written word of their essential value.

The False God and Judgments

Schools know that high scores on tests mean that they look good in any and every way. “That’s a good school,” a parent says to another. “Why?” I ask as a parent, not a teacher. “The scores. They’re ranked one of the best schools (in the state, country, etc.).” How else will people know whether a school is good or not?

Well, to answer that question, I’ll tell you and the Education God: Test.

There are a thousand other ways to compete and show what you know:

Contests

Art

Design

Competitions

Presentations

Portfolios

Projects

It goes on and on.

If the Department of Education hired trained representatives to visit schools and actually observe teachers and students, get to know us, hang around and see what we do, couldn’t the DOE learn and teach a whole lot more than by looking at the results of a multiple choice test?

Not only would the DOE help create more jobs, but it might just do something that no one seems to be able to do by making more tests. It might just improve the educational system.

We’ve been worshipping a false god. We don’t need this god. God should live and breathe inside us, forcing us to hold hands and be gods ourselves.

That’s what our kids need—a helping hand, not something to judge them.

Wild Women and Mad Men: Bite the Change

mouth
mouth (Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

Since Saturday, I’ve been upset and I didn’t want to write about it because I knew it would’ve been unfocused. I also don’t want this to be a place for readers to have to endure endless rants. So, I’ve been reading fellow writers’ posts while attempting to sedate the anger I still feel. But, as I was browsing the blogs I follow in my Reader, I came upon the Daily Prompt: Be the Change. It asks the question:  What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world?

After quelling my initial outrage over a long-awaited yet horribly disappointing Saturday, here’s my answer to this question.

This blog should change every reader’s perspective. What you once thought to be true or real should change because you read about a strange but inspiring moment. You should laugh like a mad man or a wild woman and do something spontaneous. You should find solace in it all because you feel comfortable being different and take pride in yourself even if others won’t ever see it.

In short, this blog should inspire resilience. Without it, you’re doomed.

I write this now, two days later, more clearly and focused, well, because of the prompt and because of the distance from Saturday.

On Saturday, November 10, I got up at 6 a.m. to drive across town to an Idea Expo for teachers. In a fog of fatigue after teaching all week, I told myself this was too important to miss. I did find inspiration in the Superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools Alberto Carvahlo’s well-delivered speech. It garnered a standing ovation from the audience of teachers.

But, that was it.

Fifteen minutes later, I sat in a boxed room with a teacher sharing a lesson on Dracula, one of my favorite classics, which she purportedly teaches to middle-school students. I thought, okay, I’m gonna like her because that’s daring.

But, I didn’t like her.

I wanted to bite her.

Instead, I bit my lip and left for the day. She would be the next speaker for the next presentation, and I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut for that long.

Here’s why. She showed us a sample of the lesson she prepared for her students. She showed us a prompt about horror, which we had to answer. Fair enough, I thought. It was when she asked us what controversy meant that I flinched for the first time. She told us she was modeling the lesson for us. Okay, fine, I’d heard that before. I didn’t like it but okay. Then, she asked for responses, which we gave. After that, she said, if her own students couldn’t answer the prompt, she would let them copy off the student next to them.

I flinched again. I few curse words flew through my mind.

Then, she showed us her list of vocabulary words and said that she didn’t believe in letting students struggle with words because sometimes they mispronounce them. Fine, fair enough. Again, I just needed to give this a chance, give her a chance. She’s a teacher. She deserves my respect.

As she reviewed the list of words, she said, “Aqueese.” Just like that. Aqueese.

I jerked my arm and stabbed my paper with my pen. I shut my packet.

The word was acquiesce.

I make a lot of mistakes. I encourage my students to correct me if I misspell something on the board. I’m a writer, so I know how misspellings happen. But, if I’m teaching pronunciation then I’d better get it right. If I’m teaching spelling and I suck at it, I’d better study those words or admit my weakness.

It was too much to bear. I grew up loving literature so much that I passed my days in the library. I skipped science class, not to go to the beach, but because I snuck into the library to read. I lived inside these books, and she had proceeded to mutilate what I loved.

English: Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York.
English: Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, I left.

I walked to Starbucks and listened to Billie Holiday belt out her piping-hot tunes. I pretended none of this just happened and settled into the sounds around me.

But, the anger lingered.

The fumes gathered and swirled.

I looked at my own children and myself as a child. So many teachers had disappointed me the way this woman did that day. So many teachers have handed my children misinformation on a silver platter and lauded themselves while doing it.

I could and can only think:  Resilience. Laugh out loud, relentless resilience.

The only regret I have is that I didn’t speak my mind. In an effort to be polite, to tame the fire in my belly, I bit my tongue.

And, in honor of Dracula, I should have bit her.

Mission Accomplished

In the last post about Writer’s Bloq, I had announced I’d deliver snippets about the Kickstarter campaign all week long. But, by the next day, Writer’s Bloq met the goal of raising $15,000.

Their Bloqparty Tour begins in Massachusetts then winds through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C., and right on over to New York. You can find out more information at http://www.writersbloq.eventbrite.com/

There’s this piece of me that aches at the thought of missing out on these events.

Mission Accomplished

If I weren’t shackled to my husband and kids in Miami, I’d be making plans to journey to at least one. So, to all of you who enjoy the freedom that I don’t, take a moment for yourself and click your way into a writer’s haven.

There will be plenty of art, drinks, literary mingling, and more.

Writers Rejecting Rejection

Writers everywhere feel as if they’ve taken a shot to the heart when rejection hits. These particular bullets miss by an inch leaving a wound so deep that it never really heals. This week I’m going to post bits and pieces of a campaign worth discovering. Check out the video below.

Nayia Moysidis, the founder and CEO of Writer’s Bloq, not only helped me figure out how to patch up my wounds but how to fight back. For more information link on to my post titled https://bravesmartbold.com/2012/09/15/a-tribute-to-the-katniss-of-the-writers-revolution/ or click on Writer’s Bloq and  the Kickstarter campaign.

A Tribute to the Katniss of the Writer’s Revolution

The mission:  Helping great writers get discovered.

If you have a story to tell, a blog, a short story, a novel, a fierce desire to write, then you need to find Writer’s Bloq and  the Kickstarter campaign. Because it’s only the beginning of the journey, this is an incredible opportunity for writers everywhere to join and find a place for their talent to be seen and heard.

The founder and CEO of Writer’s Bloq, Nayia Moysidis, embodies a spirit of blemished ferocity in the form of love. She refuses to buckle under the pressure of defeat—a very real, crushing reality for all writers at some point in their lives.

She started Writer’s Bloq after being rejected or, in more accurate terms, ignored 89 times.

Her hair pulled back into a long braid, her intensity alive, she speaks with the skill of a confident leader. Her power lies in her compassion. She understands and identifies with those who follow her. They follow her because they trust her. They follow her because she’s one of them:  A writer.

Writer’s Bloq launched a Kickstarter campaign on August 22, 2012. Writer’s Bloq has seven days left to meet its goal in order to raise $15,000 so its team of writers can begin their Bloqparty Tour and promote their quarterly and their novels. They have raised $13,353. You can learn more about it by clicking on their Kickstarter campaign.

A writer reads her work at a BloqParty.
Photo courtesy Nayia Moysidis.

Writer’s Bloq isn’t just a writer’s showcase. It’s a home for writers to connect and draw attention their work in a way only a true hero can deliver. At the Bloqparty gatherings, writers meet up with industry professionals who have the opportunity to greet them in person, to give a voice to their words that might otherwise go unheard.

Nayia leads as Katniss does. Nayia braves the sorrows of talented writers being threatened with extinction.  She’s the leader of a writing revolution because she embraces the fear inching through the publishing industry. A fear, if ignored, could become a reality.

She found a solution to a problem that’s grown into an epidemic, the kind that kills a writer’s basic instinct, to write and be published. Her solution means that writers don’t have to do what I did many years ago.

A place for your work.

Inspiration Remembered

One of the main reasons I began this blog stems from this young, fiery soul. I had met Nayia Moysidis through friends and had gotten an email about her blog http://www.nayiaisms.com/.

When I read her blog, I chuckled. I read another post and cried. I read another and thought, “I used to share her passion for writing.”

So, right before bed when I was supposed to be too tired to think, the thoughts rushed around blocking my desire to sleep, so much so that I started writing again. And, I haven’t stopped since.

Yet, what I discovered was startling and sickening. I found that I’d become a good writer, not much different than I was 20 years ago, but I had nothing much to show for it. Okay, I had a resume with Publications Specialist on it and I could announce Award-Winning teacher with confidence. That was nice. But, I couldn’t proudly say, “I’m a seasoned writer because I’ve written this, this, and this.” I had worked in the publishing industry but I had created work for other people, most of whom either openly or insidiously claimed the work as their own.

I had been rejected as much or more than Nayia, so I packed away my dreams and slipped them under the bed. I became a very practical, very acceptable person, my true power sedated.

The worst part was that I had sold myself short. I had accepted my rejection as a truth instead of a reality.

To write this, as a writer, is even more painful than saying it out loud because when I say it, I usually contort my face and alter it or I say it as a source of twisted inspiration to those preparing for the beginning of their journey. It’s never truthful because it hurts too much.

I started out writing passionately and with a desire to change the world like so many artists. I did write. I have written. I have created, but I didn’t do it with the bravery I know I should have, the bravery I could have.

The Good Fight

So now, I support, love, and cheer for those who do what I didn’t. And, I do what I didn’t with trepidation. I say trepidation because after so many years of telling myself that I can’t do something, it’s hard to break that pattern.

If you don’t talk, if you don’t write, if you don’t take those chances that feel as if you’re stepping out onto a tightrope, you’ll just coast or even worse, you’ll just wander and wonder (yes, the spelling was intentional).

If the Katniss of this writing revolution existed then, I would’ve wanted to follow her. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. She refuses to accept the stinging reality that only a handful of writers becomes published authors and that the majority of those who self-publish find little success.

Nayia fights the good fight, uniting writer with agent, writer with publisher, writer with an industry that itself wanders around lost and confused about where to look and how to construct a new path.

Her success ensures victory for all writers and for all those who honor the written word because she embraces the bitter, the wounded, and the lost then gathers the ripe and the ready to fight.

So, find her, read her, then support her and the writers of Writer’s Bloq and the Kickstarter campaign. Join them. Become one of them. It’s only the beginning of the journey.

Written by Lisa Chesser

Related articles

To all the writers, artists, and colorful characters:

You are all crazy-wonderful artists, but you know this already.
Because I teach fulltime and I’m obviously a mom, I’ve tried to reply to every comment, but it takes time. I’ve also tried to explore your blogs and follow some of them. But, that also takes time just like writing, at least for me.
For me, writing is a challenge because of time. It’s the one thing that consistently runs ahead then behind me, sometimes around me, like a wicked two year old. I wrote this challenge on torn spiral notebook paper and sticky notes as thoughts occurred to me throughout the days.
However, by meeting the Daily Post Challenge, I learned to catch up with this wicked two year old and keep it around long enough to play a game or two.

Freshly Pressed, WooHoo!

So, to all the wonderful writers, artists, small business owners, and colorful characters who liked and commented on this blog, I’ll be clicking my way through your blogs into next week and beyond. I want to know everything about you and support you the way you supported me. If I don’t find you, please find me again so we can reconnect. When I tried to click back to some of you, I couldn’t find your address or I got a prompt that your WordPress address didn’t exist any longer.
As far as following me, I promise to write and do it well. I write to breathe to sleep to wake to sing to love. I had forgotten how much I missed it until I started writing again. I had given it up to be a wife and raise my children. I changed careers to schedule my life around my family. Then, I wrote a story and published it two years ago. And, I haven’t been able to escape the need to write since.
I plan to post personally hand-crafted stories and profiles about great, often disguised as ordinary, people and moments we often don’t notice or acknowledge. I will write about the bizarre and the ordinary that make life so fabulous and sometimes terrible. I will bare my soul without making you feel like you wasted your time here. I might ask some of you to allow me to interview you.
I hope to discover, share, and teach you what I know and where I found it.
I may share some great stories I read about heroes, inspirational moments, or anything brave, smart and bold. I might reblog some of your amazing stories, art, poetry, etc. But, I promise to keep it interesting and make it worthwhile.
To the powers that be at WordPress and Cheri Lucas, thank you for taking notice. I’ve loved every second of it and plan to get Freshly Pressed 
again.
So everyone, please keep reading, commenting, and enjoying.
Love,
Lisa Chesser