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Showing posts from 2013

Privilege! Or, ew, haoles.

I’ve never thought of myself as a racist—I believe in equality and diversity and I see the beauty of all ethnicities... I speak lots of languages, I’ve been to lots of countries, eat all kinds of cuisines, read storybooks from all cultures—sheesh, I’ve even got a fancy degree that says “anthropology” on it, someplace.I don’t harbor a secret aversion to any group of people, I don’t tell racist jokes, and I call people out on it if they do. I’m an all-around PC gal.
But living in Hawaii, I get to confront the truth about my past racist behavior. It’s uncomfortable. So I thought I’d share. Because discomfort loves disclosure. (Somebody should embroider that on something. Maybe a hospital gown with an open back.)
The thing with my life in Hawaii is that, over here, for the first time in my life as an American in America, I’m not a member of the majority ethnicity (which here is mixed!) or the majority culture (Local!) and I don’t speak the standard dialect of English (Pidgin!)—at least n…

The Five Paragraph Essay

At this moment, children across the United States are gazing at posters of hamburgers, counting on their own five fingers, sketching outlines studded with roman numerals and dots and dashes. Why? to try and construct that keystone achievement of the public school classroom: the five paragraph essay. We teachers natter on about Thesis Statements! And Topic Sentences! And Supporting Proof! As if these are universal truths—divine principles like Faith, Hope, and Charity; Maiden, Mother, and Crone; John, Paul and Ringo. We cling to this five paragraph lifeboat like it can calm the waters, guide us to shore, take us to new realms. But is it all just tinkling brass—form without substance? Is the five-paragraph essay really the essential first tool for organizing thought on paper?
Poetry doesn’t have a thesis statement. Gerard Manley Hopkins didn’t need to say, “Eh hem. This poem will be about the variegation of life and how that diversity reflects the joyfulness of our connection with our …

Everything I Knew About Claudia Brown

Sunday, September 8, 2013 I first heard of Claudia Brown when I was about 8 weeks pregnant and nauseated by the smell of oxygen. I had already had one extremely disappointing visit with an Ob-Gyn out in Waimea (grimy carpets, dead-eyed nurses, and a dismissive and distractingly attractive male gynecologist). I was taking my toddler for a walk along our little gravel road to see the horses (don’t breathe: horse-sweat, hay, grass, animal hair, poop) and feed them papayas (don’t breathe: too pungent, too fleshy, with an overripe kerosene off-gas). We ran into our neighbor and her leaping and spinning three year old, who was tanned to mahogany and naked except for a tutu.The little girl pointed at her mom’s watermelon-sized belly. “HIS NAME IS POPCORN!” We chatted about birth and doctors and midwives, I told her how much I had loved the midwife-run birth center on the Big Island and how unimpressive my visit to the Ob-Gyn had been. She said, “Oh, you’ll love Claudia,” and dashed home for a…

Last Day of School Goodbyes

Today was the last day of school-- we departed in a cloud of copper-grey dust and skin-parching heat. The long-suffering principals chummed the waters and had last-day-of-school cake and ice-cream, instantly melting onto the kids' laps, running down their forearms, then printed with dust in the ensuing sugar frenzy.  As the last of the kids cleared out, peeling off one by one with grandparents and moms, sweating workmen bashed the porches off of the portable buildings, dismantling steps from under the kids' feet, throwing 2x4s into banging piles.


The elementary school classrooms have been packing up and clearing out: the portables are being hauled away this afternoon. So the kids, in the growing voggy heat, have been rattling around empty rooms-- smears of kid-high hand grime revealed, posters curled on the floor, kids sitting below empty backpack hooks and sweating, sweating, sweating. Kids disgorged from the school bus without backpacks or lunches, then left sitting on grimy…

How to Raise Kids Who Will Be Readers

By the time I meet my students in the 7th grade, they are already either readers or non-readers. It's easy to tell them apart. When I tell the class they can borrow any of my books, any time, the readers go goggle eyed and attack the shelves. The flip through books, they critically examine the covers, they find favorite and familiar authors, and read the blurb on the back. They recognize books from movies, and they have no problem finding a stack to check out.

The non-readers aren't sure how books work. They will read a word or two on the cover and maybe look at the picture. They don't open the books, or read the back or the subtitles. They are stumped. They cannot operate books-- they don't understand the technology.

What's the difference between these readers and non-readers? What happens in their lives before the point they enter my English classroom? It's nothing big, or hard, or expensive. It requires no expertise or tutoring or grueling work to shape thes…

Keia Makahiki! This Year!