by Neil Gaiman
|Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never
Say “please” before you open the latch,
walk down the path.
A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted
as a knocker,
do not touch it; it will bite your fingers.
Walk through the house. Take nothing. Eat
However, if any creature tells you that it hungers,
If it tells you that it is dirty,
If it cries to you that it hurts,
if you can,
ease its pain.
The deep well you walk past leads to Winter’s
there is another land at the bottom of it.
If you turn around here,
you can walk back, safely;
you will lose no face. I will think no less of you.
The trees are old. Eyes peer from the under-
Beneath a twisted oak sits an old woman. She
may ask for something;
give it to her. She
will point the way to the castle.
Inside it are three princesses.
Do not trust the youngest. Walk on.
In the clearing beyond the castle the twelve
months sit about a fire,
warming their feet, exchanging tales.
They may do favors for you, if you are polite.
You may pick strawberries in December’s frost.
Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where
you are going.
The river can be crossed by the ferry. The ferry-
man will take you.
(The answer to his question is this:
If he hands the oar to his passenger, he will be free to
leave the boat.
Only tell him this from a safe distance.)
Remember: that giants sleep too soundly; that
witches are often betrayed by their appetites;
dragons have one soft spot, somewhere, always;
hearts can be well-hidden,
and you betray them with your tongue.
Know that diamonds and roses
are as uncomfortable when they tumble from
one’s lips as toads and frogs:
colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.
Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped
to help you in their turn.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
When you come back, return the way you came.
Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.
Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall).
Ride the silver fish (you will not drown).
Ride the grey wolf (hold tightly to his fur).
why it will not stand.
you will recognize it, although it will seem
much smaller than you remember.
Walk up the path, and through the garden gate
you never saw before but once.
And then go home. Or make a home.
I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this, so perhaps my colleagues, you will let me know your thoughts.
A new student transferred to my class a few weeks ago. Nothing unusual about this: we get new students all the time: current enrollment is over 850 students, 7&8th grade now. Just these past two weeks I’ve gotten two or three new students: shameful that I don’t know exactly? Yes. I agree. One of them has gang-related expulsion issues. I haven’t met her yet. Another has truancy issues. Haven’t met her yet either. Another quietly slipped in, barely said hello, and hasn’t said a word since. But I’m trying.
But one has made quite an impression on me. He’s engaging, outspoken, and takes up a lot of oxygen in the room. Not a problem. “Classroom Management” is one of those teacher catch-all phrases that can mean anything from “everyone has their head down and is doing their worksheets” to “the room isn’t on fire.”
He and I got off to perhaps a rocky start, not so much on my part: I let him know immediately how I expected the culture of my classroom to be, to feel, and even though he didn’t know me, he would have to believe in the actions of the other students that I have his best interest at heart, and to give me time, not judge me, but be respectful. At one point, I guess he was being disruptive, and I have my mother’s and grandmother’s “skill” of “resetting a room,” — just letting everyone know, right there and then, what is happening, what should stop happening, and where we are going: a student told the disruptive one, “Oh, Mrs. Love just put you in CHECK!”
Student decides he likes me–and if you teach, you know how critical this is to promote any learning. And if you teach at a high-risk school, you know it’s as important as say, floors or oxygen. He is much taller than I am (I am almost 5’9″) and he greets me during passing time with a hearty side-hug and a “What up my N________!?”
There may be a different reaction from any given teacher. My reaction was, first, “Did he just say what I thought he said?” to , “Huh, better address that one soon!”
I wasn’t offended though. I know he meant it affectionately. The power of a word, owning it, saying it, is huge. But I would never consider, using this racial epithet in any context, unless it was a read aloud of Mice and Men, or Huckleberry Finn. And even then it would feel chalky in my mouth. I explained to this student the next morning (while he was being processed by another teacher for disruptions), about my views on this word, that I know he didn’t mean it to be disrespectful, but from my upbringing and values, couldn’t put a mere “pass” on it, because people died fighting for civil rights, and the dignity to be addressed as a human. If one person doesn’t have their rights, no one does.
But my little talk doesn’t make racism go away.
Fast forward to the Absolutely True read aloud. We get to the chapter where Junior talks about the rules of fisticuffs (try explaining that one) and the GIANT WHITE BOY’S most extreme racist joke*. And then try to explain why the joke is so offensive. Sherman Alexie first eases the reader into this with the use of the school’s Indian mascot. Some of the students smirk at this, but most do not. I stop and illustrate: “What if our school had a Mexican wearing a sombrero, taking a nap under a cactus?” (Most Hispanic students laugh). Or, an African American mascot standing out in a cotton field? Or a overweight white lady wearing polyester pants with a big jar of mayonnaise?
The *joke is so offensive because it dehumanizes. We talked about why, when Junior punches the racist student, the student just looks hurt, and dismissive. Every student answered it was because the GIANT WHITE BOY was scared of Junior, or Junior was crazy. Not one of them saw that it was because the white kids saw Junior as less than human, less than worthy of his attention.
I won’t be hypocritical here either. I think it’s funny when in “Raising Arizona” a mean-spirited and ignorant character tells a off-color Polish joke to a Polish polish officer. I appreciate when humorists do crafted satire to show how ridiculous stereotypes can be. And how could I be mad when student sincerely greets me with his warmest version of hello?
It just means that I will take those opportunities to explain why. That’s the right thing to do.
During second period, everyday, like a call to prayer, are the morning announcements.
Having first period as my planning time this year means that by the time second period starts, that’s my first class of the day, and when the show really begins. The lunch menu is dutifully announced, and although I would much prefer to hear “Today’s lunch choices are a filet mignon with a mushroom wine sauce, and lemon meringue pie, alas, these are never the offerings. Today is Friday. There will be a fillet-of-fish sandwich (was that something that swam in the ocean at one point?) and clam chowder.
Now, I like really good clam chowder. This is not that. It’s gummy, gluey, and gooey.
But I’m not complaining about the soup: I am remarking on the fact that public school cafeterias still serve fish on Fridays, a tradition from my elementary school days (insert, Mrs. Love, you look like you’re 27! —thank you my silly and well-meaning students, thank you…) While being served fish on Fridays, and I hated “fish” back then, not knowing what dungeness or Maryland crab feasts meant, or the ecstasy of lobster tails, shrimp, mahi mahi, etc., I asked my parents, “Why did the cafeteria serve fish on every single blazing Friday?” “It’s because Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays.”
I’m not really sure to this day what we “were,” — I have a baptismal certificate from the Methodist church, and my paternal grandfather scoffed at me when I thought of changing to Episcopalian (my humble grandfather thought it was for “rich people”). I know the Catholic traditions seemed completely mystfying at the time, and it wasn’t until college where a very dear friend took me to mass, where I awkwardly sat out the wine/wafer communion phase, that I had any exposure to this brand of faith.
Still really didn’t explain the fish thing.
Something about sacrifice, giving up something better as a punishment, etc. As far as I could tell, I was being forced to sacrifice and was being punished, too. Unfair.
Fast forward: What do we expect our students to compromise on, to ‘give up?’
Budgets are slashed. Nutrition is questionable. Resources are frayed. And I’m not really sure why I’m writing about clam chowder. Is it a metaphor for ancient, antiquated school traditions that have no real or current relevance in our country today? What hold-overs do we live under that are unseen to us and to our students? (Trust me — they never once questioned why there is clam chowder and fish sandwiches every single Friday.)
I don’t know. It just struck me as odd, to honor one faith in a serving of fish and not necessarily others. Yes, there are “vegetarian” choices for those students whose faiths prevent them from eating anything with a face or family. Tolerance and cultural demands seem as distant as my plastic lunch tray with fish, too.
Something else that sparked my interest: “How to Get Into a Crowded High School?” http://kuow.org/program.php?id=22899
And the simple question: Why not make all schools as good as Garfield goes unanswered.
That’s tough to swallow.
“This,” said Galaad, “is the sword of Balmung, forged by Wayland Smith in the dawn times. Its twin is Flamberge. Who wears it is unconquerable in war, and invincible in battle. Who wears it is incapable of a cowardly act or an ignoble one. Set in its pommel is the sardonyx Bircone, which protects its possessor from poison slipped in wine or ale, and from the treachery of friends.”
“Chivalry” by Neil Gaiman