Monday, November 23, 2015

Reflections on a Decade of Teaching as an Openly-Radical Punk

The August 2015 Teaching Resistance column in MaximumRockNRoll (MRR) features some real talk and reflection on a decade of teaching kids in a Title-1 (highly economically impoverished) School in Greenville, South Carolina. It is by Ryan GVSC, whose written ruminations on being a politically-radical, openly punk teacher have been a major influence on the editorial policy of this column. Other than being a teacher, he plays in LOW COTTON, RUBRICS, and many other bands, and he does the excellent zine EYESORE. He recently relocated to Salt Lake City from Greenville, can help with booking bands in SLC, and will take people out for tacos or cook them food if they are traveling through. You can reach Ryan by snail mail at 1225 W. Indiana, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Didn’t you know everyone is a fuckin’ cop? We police each other without looking at what mess our own hands have drawn or what our feet have trampled into the house. For the need to be heard, the need to be unchained, to mask our hands worn from frail attacks and feeble attempts at defiance, needs to rationalize, needs that take precedence over realities of the day… Each of which could be acknowledged by open communication and pacing our thoughts, but we’re programed to constantly be in flight mode. Stone and wood replaced with gossip and half-truth… We can fight until the sun goes down and a new pile of shit is ready for us to dig through in the morning; but we’ll never find ourselves because of what others push unto us and how we never truly give no fucks.

It’s nearly August; teachers probably shouldn’t be focused on much more than unpaid meetings, reflection for improvement and mornings sipping coffee Google searching ideas for the next year. I examine the dirt in the mirror for the first time this summer out of necessity, a mid-summer team meeting; lines of stale sweat have gathered between the wrinkles on my forehead, my hands resemble a calloused leather glove and the scents of the summer prevail. Mountain swimming holes and hopped pools carry their own hairstyle banner. Accomplishment is to run fingers across my skin and end up with waxy black cylinders of grime. A time well spent is cut off shirts fading from black to tan to red, as is the soil. Dusk is when I prepare myself to begin thinking about going to bed on time and begin to acknowledge my bad-habits that are not allowed by my alarm clock. It is always a challenge to eradicate the word fuck from my vocabulary after a summer of passionate self-deprecation. Time to thrift a new wardrobe. The worn holes in the five pairs of pants I wore on repeat from last year are no longer passable for these people; legs tapered with bike grease and pockets stained with dry erase marker and some leftover pizza I slammed during field day. It’s a shame I can’t just serve who needs it. Then I could wear shorts everyday and explain the stupid tattoos that cover my body, a true open house. I’d present myself as I appear in my mind, fluid, but I cannot. The public work environment, professionalism, self-privileging, yet culturally dry, parents will never allow self-expression in South Carolina. Why should they look beyond themselves? You only get smaller with a worldview where I come from… Maybe that’s how the Southerner flees self-harm in this mosquito stained shit hole. I was told once in college “I’d never trust a gay man to teach my kids.” The comment remained unchallenged in this University class of 15. Teeth clenched, neck sweating and legs bouncing; I remained silent as well. Why would I want to out myself in the beloved shit hole? What did I have to gain when I could lose it all? My thoughts often: “Just got to get through.” Figured I’d take on that SLC Punk mentality; better a tool in the system than a piece of shit outside of it. Remnants of this philosophy bear witness in my yearly welcome letter as it lists church as a top priority. So mysterious even cracked gossip punks even think I live for the lord. Could I have been regarded the same without fronting religious believe for all these years? Gem on the buckle of the bible belt, Greenville, South Carolina…. Would you regard me an “all-star” if you really knew me? Would you allow me to write nearly any grant I wanted for my school if you knew what my true intent was? I’m just gonna keep tucking in my shirt and smiling because I’m getting away with it; using numbers to write grants to the FDA, local garden club, Target, etc, etc, etc for free local food to be given away, books, gardens, bikes, community improvement; I’ve been awarded over 50k for things I knew my people needed by using simple numbers and compound sentences. Making that greedy green work for your kids, on my terms. Teaching kids there is more than one format for expression. Like a rattlesnake waiting on a fallen tree over a creek… It’s easy to win when a path is only one-way and your meal has to pass.

You’ve possibly guessed it by now, I’ve taught in a highly diversified and low income area for nearly a decade; 99% poverty rate and a school that has a P.O.C. administration an that pressure’s made me rather neurotic. Of course the socially motivated teacher will make it through a few years, but rigor, procedures and militancy prevail within my work environment. Unfortunately, the students from this school bring in negativity from their neighborhoods. They are taught fear, they are taught hate, they are taught to compare, unsupervised YouTube and T.V. do not aide in building a young healthy mind. Imagine when this negativity is inherited by an “educator”. Love through control. Communication through negative consequence. Anger at a child. Gavel shattering over simple offenses. This the state of the South East American Title-1 School. I thought because I was in their shoes as a child, I’d prevail. And seemingly I did, but it costs me so much in my mind at times… Anger, frustration, depression, failure.

You end up policed; even on the job. But fuck it; it’s not about me. Considering who IS important, the children… Think about who exactly is teaching our children…. Sadly in GV, SC it was primarily college football watchin’ fast food eating rednecks or people so clueless they thought curry was an exotic dance. People that consider hiking an extreme sport, gardening a waste of time and the ability to rationalize and organize information a talent. People who believe in mass produced role models. You know those, too unreachable, uninspired, and unrealistic for our kids to even think about reaching for. Have you heard of Ruby Payne? This is a major education “guru” that essentially equates being in poverty to having a low-self image and morality… This is the classist doctrine taught in American colleges of education.

At this point, I’ve got a Bachelor’s in Education, a Master’s in curriculum and am working on a Ph.D. in educational research which all means a great big NOTHING; teacher preparation in this country is complete bullshit. I’ve learned nothing, read zero books on education, and spent a lot of the government’s money. Half paying attention to every expert, analyst and administrator. Really though, you should see some of the garbage I turn in as “work”. Assignments that follow guidelines much more paralleling something that would suit a checklist for a credit card application rather than an activity that challenges you to push your thinking and ideas forward. We are prepared to regurgitate someone else’s half-thought through ideas based on research funded by your favorite American corporate interest. Because of course you need Apple technologies to learn and the state happens to love funding it. How could we ever do without it??? SERVE THE HIVE. We are not prepared for the amount of social work we are required and with general comparative statistics between student-teacher socio-economic status, most teachers haven’t experienced, let alone acknowledged, many of the issues (child abuse, poverty, immigration, drug abuse, etc) that they paid to serve and sort out. Issues double when our state standards are the equivalent of identifying the difference between the ocean and sea; and another quarter of the population protests the Common Core standards because “they take freedum frum the states”. I mean some teachers actually agree with high stakes testing. A test provided by ETS; a company that has been proven classist and racially bias…. SAT? ACT? ETC?

The general teacher is not educated enough on general topics to become an enriching components to person’s life. The industrialized education system prevails in teacher colleges and I’d assume most colleges. Teachers matter, but nobody cares about them and at fault is the classic chicken v. egg conundrum. Leaving us with distain throughout.

So what is the answer? Depression. What is the solution? Apocalypse. Both are plausible, but I’m lucky my door shuts to my classroom when I’m ready to get my teach on. Because if we lose hope we lose it all. In my world you save one, you save yourself. WE need capable, organic, wise people teaching our kids. We need bottom to the top so they see the whole spectrum without judgment. This is fighting back versus forgetting. This is feet on the ground, hands on deck, first wave assault and while we get soiled and infected from the trenches; we know that for some we deliver the world; dropping bombs for freedom. And we can be our own medics by screaming at the top of our lungs and pounding out noise.

We need you to get serious about changing the world.

From experience, I can sense the shell-shocked kid from a hellhole called home. The kid that needs an example of non-tradition. Punk will never save a life, adversely more often than not it leads to contributing to the delinquency of a minor; what can save a life is the education punk can at times provide. This education provides is worldview. This education builds patience. This education devalues what is not important; non-descript reviews, hip shit, image… a waste of time if you ask me. I’m a Nat Geo subscriber anyway. I don’t skate the punk rock pipe dream any longer. This is merely a means to utilize music for the mission. Put it down; preach away, this is direct assistive action boring full force with an assertive, honest and extreme message. --Ryan GVSC

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