I care, don’t you?

Recently I was at a UCLA 2018 commencement ceremony.

During this process the National Athem was beautifully played. We were told to stand up and put our hand over our heart.

Thinking of the children inconceivably taken from their mothers at the border, I sat.

A few sat. Most of the thousands stood and looked at us sitting as if we were in the wrong. 
And then, that Melanie Trump’s jacket. OMG. 

It’s hard to believe this is really happening. How to stop it? 

Clearly, it’ll take more than sitting

Magic in the classroom


Discipline is not my strong point in after school ceramics: age 6 to 12. I don’t like to do it and I don’t do it often. Truth is I don’t mind a hectic atmosphere as long as all are busily creative. Early on the kids learn the rules, and then it’s a group studio. Kids sit next to who they want to and jabber along to each other side by side, across the table and even down the table a stretch. It can get louder and louder and louder. All in a good humored, fast paced, three ring circus sort of way.

Today, in the midst of what is now a lot of noise, suddenly two of the six fifth graders started playing their recorders together. The notes of a simple song being learned in school, sound like Japanese flute harmonies. Quickly the roar of the classroom stops. Everyone’s listening.

They were tamed by the music.

Two sides of the Coin


Normally, I’m all for meditation. All over it in fact, every morning.

There are “mindfulness” programs in schools, especially inner city ones where all the kids are on the free lunch program and 70% of the kids when asked will answer yes to the question, ” Do you know anyone whose been shot and killed?”
Ditto, for this program in jails. This program is very helpful and successfull. Simply put, it brings in the pause ( the old “count to ten”) before you hit someone on the playground. It’s very helpful. In schools like the ones I teach at, this program is maybe less necessary.

After school art class had been over for a while and I was cleaning up. David was hanging out while I did this. I thought he was waiting for his parent to pick him up. He is lithe and lively and bounced around in his tiny six year old body talking to me as I gathered my tools and such.
Almost done, I checked my list and saw that David was supposed to go to the schools’ after care program so I mention perhaps he should get on down there.

His bouncy body slumps into a giant C as he plunks down in a chair.
“Oh no.”
“What’s wrong? Don’t you like after care? Why not?”
“UGH! They make us Meditate.”
(Feigning indignation I say) “What!? Meditate!? You mean you don’t get to run around with a ball or something? What do they make you do, listen to a bell?” (Knowing they do this)
“Meditation is, well, (groan) it’s hard to explain.”

Making a Flower

I let Justin (1st grade) cut out early to the playground. Ellen (3rd grade) sees this and she wants out early too. I say no doing. Justin can hardly sit still for five minutes let alone 60. He’s two years younger and made to run.
Ellen, two years older, is somber and capable. I want to get at least one more piece out of her before she leaves for the week. We settle on “a flower” I wad up the clay in a certain way and start to show her something I know she can accomplish In the time she has left. After my quick demo, she’s doing her own kind of flower. She’s decided she needs to make a rose and that she needs to make it petal by petal. I explain that we don’t have time for this kind of flower and besides the clay we are using today (drier than usual) is not suited to a rose made petal by petal.
At this point Michael, who is in 2nd grade, chimes in with his opinion. He says a flower is a flower and that you don’t need to get all caught up in the type of flower. I turn my attention to him and gaze into his wider than wide eyes. Michael’s eyes are so big. I stare into them forever and reach the something in me that never goes away. This takes maybe 30 seconds and I turn my attention back to Ellen and let her cut out early.


Finger Prints

In Oakland,to teach after school classes you need to be finger printed. The law is there to protect kids from sex offenders. From kids who might find themselves alone with such a teacher. Even though fingerprints don’t change, they take prints every year in case your criminal record has changed. Irregardless of my moral behavior, I teach a chaotic class of twenty kids in a public area of the school.

This is expensive at $100. a year. The woman in charge of this is inaptly named Angelica. She emails me and gives me a half hour window on a certain day to come down to an unpleasant neighborhood and put my hands on the screen to be recorded. I email back and tell her that I can not come then and ask if I can (please) have this done at a convenient time at my usual place.

I receive no answer for weeks, after which she emails me again with another half hour slot I can’t make. She signs her email “waiting for your response”. I email back as previously. Again, I recieve no response for weeks. When I call I get a swift short recording in almost broken english.

After a month of teaching I start to feel like I really do have to get this yearly request fulfilled as I am supposedly breaking the law, although I’m feeling that I’d have a case to argue otherwise.

I go to my usual place run by a chinese couple. They also speak broken english. The wife is her usual unfriendly self and the husband is warmer and helpful.

There are three people before me in line for this process. Their IDs are mexican passports and they speak no english at all. I translate for them. The woman in charge of this group is beautiful and young; dressed in dark pinks with thick hair easily flopped atop her head. The young man has on one of the best beaded Guadalupe hats I’ve ever seen. I compliment him on it. Initially, I am unsure whether he is her mate or her son but the way she then brushes his hair (also thick) away from his face, tells me that he is her son. The other one is maybe her cousin.

They clean one of the schools. She is carefully handing over three hundred dollars! in cash. The most important part of what she wants to know, and what I am translating, is about the line with the 6 digit government number which will get her a partial reimbursement for this process. It’s only $25 but she is adamant about getting it.

When it is my turn, the wife, in her slightly sour self,  asks me “So, you’re going to be a teacher?”  I say, “I already am a teacher” in a tired way because I am sick of being in a room without windows. “What do you teach?”, she counters dryly.  When I say “ceramics”  she lights up like a bulb. “Really?!  Can you teach me?  Can I make this?”,  she says as she touches a four inch light green ceramic pot housing a small fake tree. “Yes”, and for a few minutes we talk ceramics and it is the first time I have seen her look alive in all the years I’ve been there.

Then I go with him into the closet like area with the machine. I am amazed (again) at the comfortable and easy way he takes each finger and rolls it around on the screen. I think of how many hands he has held and how he does it with nothing extra and it is somehow actually enjoyable.

When I get home, I scan and send the fingerprints and form to Angelica.

Five minutes later I get three emails from her. The first two are auto-response explanations about how is she out of the office until some unforseen time. The third one is actually from her. She says that under no circumstamnces whatsoever will they accept fingerprints done anywhere else but the Oakland Unified School District office and that she is there from 8 to 5 every day and that I need to come down there, pay again, and have them done again.

She is waiting for my response.

She won’t get one.

Real Life. School Supplies

There is a difference between Office Max and Office Depot. Office Max has cooler folder designs. I went back again to get more.
A latina with her small daughter (and small son and husband) is asking us people behind her in line something intensely. I am thinking maybe she doesn’t have enough money to finish the sale and am ready to contribute. But no, that isn’t it. So I ask her in Spanish and she answers in Spanish but I still don’t get it. Either do the other people in line. Then, with the two languages now all-mixed-up and lots of (very important) hand gestures, I get it.
The folders (which she is buying for her daughter’s school) are $0.01 each (that’s one cent) but there is a limit of 5 per customer so she has enough money for the whole school which is like $5. and she is needing people to help her 5 cents at a time. We all of course help now that we understand the situation but there’s only 4 of us in line. Is she going to be there all day, I wonder. I give her some bills also. “For the cause” I say.
I am thinking WTF which is what I usually think about any situation involving public school, and ask her in Spanish the name of her daughter’s school.  “Ascend” she says, “in Oakland”.

With a mother like that, those kids can possibly go places, even with school as bad as it is.