A QUESTION ON NUANCE

“A good intention, with a bad approach, often leads to a poor result.”
Thomas Edison

 

“When are you getting your vaccination shot?” My wife asked early last week.

“I don’t know. Sometime soon.”

“Why haven’t you already gotten it? What are you waiting for?”, she testily responded.

“I don’t know. Just been busy with other things. I’ll get it this week.”

“You’re not turning into one of “them’ are you?”, she asked half-jokingly.

“No. I’m not turning into one of “them”. I’m one of “those”. You know, those lazy people that just haven’t figured out when and where. You gotta remember I’ve been out and about since the beginning. Taking precautions, but still going about business. I’ll get it this week.” (which I did btw)

The conversation was a lighthearted one about a heavy subject. It was also a glimpse into how we process and hold conversations about public policy. Gone are the days when there was any kind of nuance involved. Instead, we demand adherence to one manifest or another.

This morning I was reading an article in the Washington Post about the podcast “Rhinestones and Cocaine”, created by the son of country singer David Allen Coe, which seeks to give an honest history of country music. Coe launched his first season to critical acclaim in 2017 but is just now releasing season two. Insisting on doing everything himself, and refusing to cash in on his success has resulted in a labor of love at times feeling like a burden. Hmmm…that sounds familiar.

Coe refuses to cut corners and as a result, his episodes tend to run long. The second episode of Season 2, with the working title of “Owen — Ice Cream,” clocks in at 124 minutes and 14,318 words. Elizabeth Cook, the singer, and Sirius XM Outlaw Country station host. sums up why this is important, “Nobody has the patience for nuance, the patience for long term. But he’s insisting on it. That the details are important. I grew up steeped in this culture, I’ve played the Opry hundreds of times, and the episode he did on Loretta Lynn — oh my gosh, I had no idea.”

Details are important, and collecting them should take as long as it takes. Brevity shouldn’t trump thoroughness.

This past weekend, I started an advanced copy of a new book about the history of the legendary New York comedy club the Comedy Celler – Don’t Appauld. Either Laugh Or Don’t.  Per the book’s jacket,

Andrew Hankinson speaks to the Cellar’s owner, comedians, and audience members, using interviews, emails, podcasts, letters, text messages, and previously private documents to create a conversation about who gets to speak and what they get to say, and why. Moving backwards in time from Louis CK’s downfall to when Manny Dworman used to host folk singers including Bob Dylan, this is about a comedy club, but it’s also about the widening cultural chasm.

While only a few pages into the book, I read with interest the conversations around Louis C.K and whether he should be allowed to still take the stage in the wake of his sexual harassment issues. In case, you are not familiar, Louis has admitted to behavior that he initially thought “was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first”, he’s gone on to express remorse stating, “the power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly”. As a result of his actions, many thought he should no longer be allowed on stage at the Comedy Cellar who’s owner continued to book him.

An action that raised much criticism, with many people accusing him of creating an unsafe place for women comics to perform. An argument that comedian Bonnie McFarlane pushes back on, arguing that the stage is probably the safest place for Louis to be, as he’s unlikely to repeat past behavior in public. She also defends club owner Noam Dworman, arguing that by putting CK on stage, he’s not endorsing him but rather adhering to a personal belief system where all voices deserve to be heard. I can relate, as it’s a belief system I share.

McFarlane goes on to offer a viewpoint where perhaps all of this is part of Louis C.K’s penance. “Now he gets to feel like what it is to be a female comic. Like people kind of hate you when you get up there. You’ve got to really prove yourself. You can’t do too much sexual stuff, you know? You know it’s like, ‘Oh look at you not having the easiest…Just get up there and be funny Louis,’ That’s what comics love to say. ‘Just get up there and be funny.’ Well, now you know what it’s like to have baggage.”

And argument not without merit. By letting all voices into the conversation, you are hearing the nuances that go into an issue. You are also recognizing the potential for natural evolution as circumstances change.

On Sunday, writer Peter Greene shared an article written by Elizabeth Spiers entitled My New Band Is: The Indoctrinated Rich. The article is written as pushback to NY Times writer Bari Weiss for publishing a letter written by a rich white father to his daughter’s private school before withdrawing her due to objections over the increased usage of Critical Race Theory in the school’s curriculum. Instead of focusing on the father’s arguments and where he might be wrong, Spiers quickly frames an “us” vs “them” argument,

But this column is not about Bari Weiss in particular; it’s about the parents whose grievances she’s presenting. They all have a problem with what they consider to be liberal overreach in schools, and particularly modern forms of addressing issues of race and equity, especially when they manifest in things like anti-racism training and deploy terminology that seems overly academic and abstract.

The broad strokes painted in just that one paragraph serve to lay out just who should be involved in the conversation and who shouldn’t. The rest of the article further draws the lines as to what kind of people disagree with the changes in curriculum and policy. What is said, while remaining unsaid is, to be careful in asking your questions and pushing back, lest you become one of…them.

It’s a trap we find ourselves falling into more and more. You have to take an all or nothing on every subject. It’s impossible to admit that Donald Trump might have been objectable to you, but still give credit for setting up the US for COVID vaccinations. Or to admit that you didn’t vote for President Biden, but he’s doing a pretty good job. Everything has to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

To where is this more evidenced than in the conversation about curriculum influenced by Critical Race Theory. You are either all in or your part of the problem. Nuance is lost.

This is further evidenced when Spiers writes,

I suspect what’s actually happening here is that Gutmann’s daughter is coming home and discussing things about race in a way that makes Gutmann uncomfortable because he’s never been confronted with these ideas himself, he feels personally attacked, and he doesn’t understand the vocabulary, so he over-focuses on the things that feel alien to him, which is anything that suggests America is not inherently good, that white people have a societal debt to Black people, and so on, and that this is more about his feelings than his daughter’s education.

Maybe that is what is happening, If so, I would argue that it speaks to a shortcoming of the language. Maybe it’s something else though. Maybe, Dad is experiencing, much like Louis C.K., the burden others bear. It could be something entirely different. But assuming based on socio-economic status is not right for one if it’s not right for others. It all merits a deeper conversation. One not facilitated by creating strawmen that are easily knocked down, and serve to draw a line between “us” and “them”.

That last line is the one that leaves room for the most thought. Because are we not arguing as much over the writer’s feelings as we are the father’s. And in the end, are not both fighting to instill their beliefs in his daughter? Perhaps at the expense of her education? Is this ultimately just another round of the fight over who gets to decide on a child’s education, the parent or the state?

I don’t know, but to sound like a broken record, it’s more evidence of the nuance required in the conversation.

Black writer John McWhorter recently wrote a lengthy piece in a series of pieces about the rise in Critical Race Theory. In it, he pushes back against CRT tenets, and offers his views on what’s behind the theory,

In other words, politics needs a jolt of some gott-damned street!! Yes, this was from a scholar of jurisprudence, and its like was the fount of the idea that for brown people, the old rules don’t matter. Forget (fuck?) civility or even logic (see Delgado above) – it’s all about how you feel, and specifically about how you hate the reigning order. Critical Race Theory tells you that everything is about hierarchy, power, their abuses, and how to not be Caucasian in America is to be akin to the captive oarsman slave straining belowdecks in chains.

Almost anyone sees what a reductive view this is of modern society, even having read their Rousseau or Rawls. We must not be taken in by the fact that this is called “critical,” that it’s about race and that it’s titled a “theory.” It is a fragile, performative ideology, which goes beyond the passages above to explicitly reject linear reasoning, traditional legal theorizing, and even Enlightenment rationalism. We are to favor an idea that an oppressed race’s “story” constitutes truth, in an overarching sense, apart from mere matters of empirical or individual detail.

McWhorter’s piece, as aforementioned, is a lengthy and dense one that will frequently make the reader uncomfortable. Do I agree with all of his arguments? No more than I agree with all of the elements of CRT.

Both make me think and should be considered worthy parts of the conversation. I do believe that we have to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of focusing on the people over the ideas. McWhorter makes a particularly salient point when he observes that, ” Those who deign to take on CRT beyond polite quibbles, if they do it where people will really hear it, are dismissed as racists or, if of color, just plain broken, as was black Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy in the wake of a 1989 article.”

It’s funny, we all want critical thinkers, as long as they arrive at our conclusions.

This weekend I came across a satirical Tweet on Twitter. It went like this,

White activists: “Educate yourself. Listen to black voices.”

Me: “I’ve been listening to Thomas Sowell recently, I really like what he has to say abou…”

White activists: “NO, not him. Here, read this book, it’s called White Fragility.”

Equity means that we recognize the nuance in people. Not all Black people view the world through the same lens, any more than all whites share the same view. Or all Trans. Or all Hispanic people. Or all poor people. To define people by the sub-group they belong to instead of based on individual traits does them a disservice. Especially in this day and age where it’s entirely possible to belong to several different sub-groups.

Take my beloved niece, she’s a white lesbian who is as country as they come – loves to hunt, drink whiskey, and chew tobacco. She’s also a member of the military and an EMT. Who’s manifest should she subscribe to? To assign her to a specific demographic is to seriously underestimate her. She is all of that and more, and she’s not the only one.

The curriculum in schools should reflect society’s nuances. Have kids read Mark Twain and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The books The Hate U Give and the Scarlett Letter both contain valuable lessons. Widen the lens of history, instead of narrowing it. Every culture has moments of triumph and moments of shame. Thomas Edison was fond of pointing out that our failures can be every bit as valuable as our successes.

As we continue the quest for equity in our public schools it’s important that we continually recognize that “All”, really does mean “All”. We can’t assume that some students are automatically less needy than others. It’s great that MNPS is adding advocates for Dyslexic students, for too long they have not been inadequately served. But what about Gifted students? Who’s advocating for them and making sure they receive the supports they need.

The lack of adequate funding for schools often leads to the qualifying of needs. There are not enough resources in which to provide for everybody and so we are forced to prioritize. The assumption becomes that because of their innate talent, gifted kids will be fine. And so we focus on those we don’t think we’ll be fine. It’s a false assumption. And one we make all too frequently.

Years ago I served as a director of a summer camp. I was in charge of 12-year-olds. Most of them were white and came from wealthy families. Because of their socio-economic status, I made certain assumptions. Assumptions that proved wrong.

Many of the campers were starved for male attention. Their own fathers tended to be frequently absent due to work. That which was oft assumed to be a sign of privilege often stemmed from a cover-up for shame. A father couldn’t spend time with his child but he could buy them an iPhone. Kids aren’t dumb, they saw through the smoke, and suffered. For me, it was an eye-opening opportunity to learn about the trap of making assumptions.

I’m going to bring that AA book out again. AA teaches us to focus on principles over personalities. Not always an easy proposition. But an essential one.

Equity isn’t achieved by shifting marginalization from one group to another. Equity is one where all individuals arrive at the table with equal footing. It also means sometimes entertaining voices that are the antithesis of your own. Equity shouldn’t be viewed as a means to end discomfort, but rather the opposite. I firmly believe that without discomfort, there is no growth. Growth should be a continual pursuit.

None of us are born with a pipeline to the truth, and all of us seek a means to make sense of it. As McWhorter writes, that’s some of the allure of Critical Race Theory.

Poet Czeslav Miłosz captured that conformity lends an outright sense of pleasure and relief. Who among us doesn’t enjoy a sense of having it all figured out? That rush of joy from solving an algebra problem, that sense of peace from figuring out the overriding reason that a romantic relationship went bust, or even the soothing feeling you get when first noticing that the app you download onto your phone will also pop up on your iPad so that you don’t have to do it twice – to have a sense that all you have to do is push a button and everything falls into place can be a gorgeous thing.

Unfortunately, it is never as easy as that. Much like we try and design schools in a manner that proposedly makes kids universally  “college and career ready” – as if we could protect them from the variances of the world – we look for simple solutions where none are readily available. Life is messy, it will always be such. The one thing that aids in mitigating that messiness is the rich and diverse relationships we develop along the way.

If everybody in the conversation is saying the same thing it all becomes dull quickly. When I was growing up, there were only 3 television stations. We ran out of things to watch pretty quickly. Today’s kids don’t suffer from that affliction. And neither should our communities.

Adam Grant has a new book out. Grant is the writer of the book, Originals, one of the best business/leadership books I’ve ever read. His newest is called, Think Again, and in it, he extolls the virtues of a” challenge culture”. Let me end this section with a quote from that book,

“We learn more from people who challenge our thought process than those who affirm our conclusions. Strong leaders engage their critics and make themselves stronger. Weak leaders silence their critics and make themselves weaker.”

In this case, all of us should be viewed as leaders of our own future. As such, it might behoove us to have a little less “us” in our conversations, and a little more of “them”.

QUICK HITS

I know that it sounds ridiculous, considering that the last school year has been mired in an international pandemic, but MNPS teachers are still getting non-renewed. And not all of them for worthy reasons. If you are a teacher facing non-renewal make sure you know your rights. MNEA is offering some valuable guidance.

If you follow education issues then you likely follow Diane Ravitch. Ravitch underwent surgery this morning. Here’s an update from the National Public Education Foundation, “We’re happy to let you know that Diane’s surgery went well. Although it was more complicated than expected, she is on course to make a full recovery.” here’s wishing Ms. Ravitch a speedy recovery.

We need to celebrate Overton’s DISTRICT CHAMPIONS Soccer team! This team has the highest GPA of any MNPS high school sports team – 2 of which are the valedictorian and salutatorian. So many awards for these girls on and off the field. Some of the girls – known as the Fab Five – have played together for 6+ years through middle and high school. So impressive on so many levels.

On a less celebratory note. This month, Bellevue Middle School lost a dedicated teacher. Jenny Tygard, daughter of Charlie Tygard, died unexpectedly on April 9. This was a devastating loss for the school and community. Jenny taught at Bellevue Middle for 18 years. In addition to teaching, she coached and worked at athletic events when she wasn’t coaching. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Bellevue community.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a quick look at the results of this week’s poll questions. The first question asked, “How often do you watch school board meetings?” 34% of you admitted to infrequent viewings, but do catch up on Twitter. Tennesseean reporter Megan Mangrum has obviously supplied a valuable service by regularly Tweeting procedures.

The number 2 answer was, “what’s the point”, at 18%. Only 7% of you said you watch every time. Here are the write-in votes,

  • Use to be a great ratchet reality TV, now kinda boring.
  • I’d watch each time if a usable link was on MNPS’s website
  • I watch the replays within the week of the meeting.
  • As many as I can. They talk a lot, but where are the results?
  • I try but it’s BORING
  • I don’t.
  • Not as many as I should

Question 2 asked if you thought a year fraught with a pandemic was the proper time to hand out a teacher of the year award. 38% indicated that you weren’t a fan in any year. While close behind, 27% said it was always a great time to recognize “Rock Stars”. !7% of you thought it was all political anyways. Here are the write-in votes,

  • Off contest, PERIODT! What’s the measure? Not all school or depts. participate 🤔
  • Virtual teachers are totally ignored
  • too often it is rigged
  • all should be recognized, particularly this year

The last question was, how do you grade this year’s state General Assembly. You are clearly not impressed. Nearly 90% of you gave them a failing grade, with only one person awarding an ‘A”. Thank you Shaka Mitchell for your continued readership.

That’s it.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.

 



Categories: Education

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