“Ruining America”: Classism

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I read an interesting blog article a few weeks ago, and I lost the URL. Sorry about that!

From what I understood, the author was essentially trying to make the case that the upper middle-class has protected itself from outsiders by creating a culture that makes those who are not familiar with it feel like they don’t measure up. To avoid shame and embarrassment, those who don’t “belong” to the upper middle-class retreat to safer, more familiar grounds.

I heard reference last April to the idea that we are living in a shame culture — a culture that bestows a sense of worth based on how well you are liked and accepted, or in other words, how well you conform to society’s norms.

I have felt this frequently in my life, and I am still struggling to embrace being an outlier. I grew up in farming country, and I feel most comfortable around “salt-of-the-earth” people. However, life has taken me on a journey that has led to a master’s degree and suburban living. I struggle with what appears to be an over-emphasis on appearance and owning “status symbols” in suburban culture. But, I have adopted many other habits and patterns found in suburban life. In the end, I don’t really fit in with either group.

In my opinion, the problem isn’t the upper middle-class.  This idea of culture and belonging to a group extend as far back as we can trace the history of people. The tendency to mistrust and exclude those who don’t belong goes back just as far.

So What Do We Do About It?

The serenity prayer mentions accepting the things we cannot change and courageously changing what we can. I doubt that we will ever change this quirk in human nature. We are wired to want the familiar.

We can, however, decide how we will react:

  1. Walk away. Sometimes, belonging isn’t worth the effort, and there is no shame in taking the time to evaluate whether or not you truly want to be part of a particular group. Every person has a right to choose their friends.
  2. Fake it until you make it. The truth about culture is that it is simply a set of learned behaviors. Go to places where you can read a book and people watch at the same time. Look up things on the internet that you don’t understand. Watch trends on social media. Show up at open social events, be friendly, and make new acquaintances. Learn what this particular culture values and why. Eventually, you will feel comfortable in your environment, and you will have the friends you seek.
  3. Embrace being an outlier. While this is the hardest route, this is the only way to be part of a group and stay true to your nature. It does mean that you will not be readily accepted and that some may never accept you at all. It also means that you need to show a little tact and “give in” on things like dress and grooming when it doesn’t violate a personal (or moral) code.

In the end, there are no easy answers to being human. It’s a nice idea that everybody loves everybody, but it’s not a realistic goal. Just trying to get everyone to agree on what it means to love everybody would be impossible.

So, in the end, let us accept with grace the things that we cannot change, and courageously change those things that are truly worth the effort.

Change is in the Air

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Some who have read this blog or know me personally  are aware that I submitted my letter of resignation as a teacher on May 1, 2017. Since that time, I have been trying to “decide what I want to be when I grow up.”

In the next few weeks, I will be making that announcement. I’m sure there will be a few more announcements as I put all of the plans in place. As I do, I realize that I’m having to completely change my perception of who I am. I’m also going to be making a few changes to this blog.

Anyone Else Frightened?

Change isn’t comfortable. The things that we have always known and the things that we have always done become our comfort zone. They become to us like that favorite stuffed animal or blanket that we carried around as toddlers. It doesn’t matter how filthy and nasty it gets — it’s what we turn to for comfort and security.

As far as this blog is concerned, the changes won’t be that big. I’m mostly going to be working through a process of claifying my purpose for this blog’s existence, solidifying the message, and (hopefully) making it a little more interactive.

As for me? Well, let’s just say I hope I’m holding on to my hat tightly! I’m trying to convince myself that I’m ready to get rid of my worn-out, dirty “lovie” and move into the world with more wisdom, maturity, and confidence than I have in the past.

What Did They Learn?

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This coming week marks the last week of my teaching career. It is doubtful that I will ever go back. I might work as a substitute teacher for a while, but it really seems to be a matter of completely moving on to a new career.

I am both scared and excited. I’m also feeling very nostalgic. I have given my best as a music educator for sixteen years, and I have to wonder why I have been so passionate. What did I really hope to do for my kids? It’s unrealistic to believe that I have created thousands of future professional musicians. In fact, most of the children that have come through my classes in elementary school won’t even continue music in to middle school. Few will be able to read music as adults. Have a really accomplished anything?

  1. I have respected and loved children, and most of them know it. Even in the best of schools, children can have hard lives. Sometimes, a bad day leaves a lasting impression on the best of kids. I have learned, as I have matured as a teacher, that children are doing the best that they know how to do. In elementary school, if kids are messing up, it’s because their brain made a poor decision — not that they wanted to be bad. That means that kindness and teaching are going to go farther than harsh punishment ever would. Kids need to know, from the earliest ages, that they have worth, that they deserve respect, and that they are amazing. I have filled countless buckets in 16 years, and that’s a powerful legacy.
  2. I have modeled that people can have lots of hobbies and interests. Sometimes, people (even adults) think that the only things that I know and love revolve around the world of music. I’ve shared with them my love of running, learning, and enjoying life. I’ve also had the opporunity to teach and model that choosing one thing and not choosing another is ok. Many of my kids had never considered this.
  3. I’ve made mistakes ok. Learning is a process. We tell ourselves and we tell kids that mistakes are ok and part of the learning process, but then we never act like it. What do the kids really learn? Even with bad choices in behavior, I’ve made sure that mistakes are not scary moments, but chances to learn. I’ve tried to make taking risks and trying new things a regular part of what we do.
  4. I’ve tried to lead by example that life is an adventure. I hope, that in the end, my lasting legacy to the children I’ve taught is a sense that there is a lot to see, do, and learn in life — and that life, overall, is fun. I hope they’ve learned to be a little bit like Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. I hope that they will take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!

It’s interesting that, as I close out my teaching career, these are the things I want most for my students. Sure, I’d love to think that a handful of my former students eventually go on to become professional musicians. I hope that they all carry some love of music with them throughout their lives. Even so, those aren’t the most important lessons to give to my students.

No, I hope I gave them a chance to start a little further ahead of the game than I was able to start. I want them to feel the freedom that comes when one is not chained by logical fallacies and emotional hang-ups. I want them to be the best unique individual that they can become.