Tuesday, August 31, 2010

the week so far

Anna made it home safe, with a long list of non-catastrophic travel mishaps. This was all easier with her here.

You can tell you're settled in Chile when the Mandarin teacher at school (who's Chinese) can no longer understand your Spanish because of your Chilean accent.

1-B today decided to reach into territory normally occupied by 1-G, with a similar but seemingly spontaneous refusal to do the choral repetition when I said anything. Still burned out from 1-G yesterday, I stopped and sat for a minute, and we talked briefly. Unlike 1-G, they were able to communicate that they're bored with the routine, and to the extent they listened to what I said, they were surprised to learn that the exercises I'm willing to try with them are severely limited by their behavior.

Teenagers are idiots.

I said I'd try and do something else, and they said they'd behave for it, and we got at least a little bit done with the lesson I had. I was incredibly happy to see 1-C afterward, which is virtually trouble-free. They also learn so fast and so well that I can hold the reins pretty loose with them, which feels nice. I gave them candy at the end of class just to say "Thank you" for being awesome.

(Of course, that led to them begging for another piece, which I refused, but Sonia G. actually offered to buy some, which was just sort of weird. It's a kind of candy called Frugele, and it is incredibly delicious, but it's shocking how it reduces students to begging like starving street urchins.)

There's a teacher protest on Thursday! I was pretty pleased with myself for being able to pick that out of the union president's speech before confirming it with my friend Sara. Classes stop at 10am so the teachers can go protest in the street, which means I don't have any classes. I'll go skulk around downtown and take pictures from a safe distance and try to avoid getting hit with water cannons.

Another day.

Monday, August 30, 2010

that's enough of that.

1-G crossed some lines today by, among other things, refusing to talk. You'll recall that our last class (2 weeks ago!) was more than a little problematic. This may have been their retaliation for my writing up the girl who took stuff off my desk, which turned out to summon one of her parents to come chat with the school staff about it. When I started doing the choral repetition, one of the usual ringleaders (Bruno, Exequiel, Nicolas, or one of the Javieras) would say "Sssh!" and then when it was their turn to talk, they stayed silent. Anyone who crossed the picket line (by repeating what I said) got booed.

That lasted about 10 minutes, and then when class finally got going, there were 5 or 6 kids who just kept being disruptive. I put one of them outside for a little while, wrote names on the board, but they kept being uncooperative. Finally I said (with lots of silence and pauses):
Look, this is a communicative English class. I can't actually do anything if you don't participate. We can do something else, like sit in silence and write stuff down. I realize it's the last class on Monday. It's hard for everybody. But if we do the work, we can leave early. Otherwise, we stay the whole time.
That split the instigators right down the middle, with Bruno and Exequiel saying "Okay, let's do the class." Things got better still when I finally sent one of the Javieras to the inspector, but it was still a mess.

The more I think about their behavior, the more annoyed I am. It feels a little self-promoting or something, but honestly, I put a lot of energy into teaching them. I work really hard to give them chances to change their behavior, and to treat them as individuals and take the time to help them learn. So this level of disrespect really bugs me.

I have a plan. I'm changing the rules, just for them.
They don't get any more chances.

If they disrupt the class, they give me their cell phones and they sit outside the classroom. If they fail to do either of those things, or if they don't stay outside the classroom, I send them to the inspector.

I may preface this new policy by making them do some impossible, boring task that's more like what they have to do outside my class.

Either way...enough of their bullshit.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

no, seriously, I meant "slower."

I don't make national or cultural generalizations lightly, and in truth I don't find a ton of things I'm willing to say about "Chileans." I will say that they're generally extremely friendly and family-oriented, more reserved than their various Latin American colleagues, and they take a deep joy in sharing with others that I've never seen before.

They also don't listen.

Most humans have trouble with listening. What happens is that our conversations actually happen in our minds, and instead of really listening to the person in front of us, what they say passes through our internal translator made up of who we think they are. This is how someone says "I feel like you don't enjoy going to the opera with me," and we later remember them saying "I'm really disappointed in you that you don't like going to the opera, and I think it shows that you don't like me that much." Then we compound the problem by reacting to what we heard instead to what they said--"Dammit, how can she think I don't like her? Don't I do all these things to show it?"--and then we feel sulky and unappreciated, and on it goes.

Meanwhile, the other person is probably having a conversation completely different from what you're having, and you're both going insane. Let's call these "imaginary conversations."

This is all normal, and happens even between people who know each other well and who know the phenomenon. In Chile, the culture is monolithic enough that it often seems like there's an imaginary conversation shared by all Chileans, and specific conversations are just brief departures from it, like fish jumping out of the water and then continuing downstream. If you're Chilean, this is all very natural. For a foreigner, though, they're often not actually listening to what you're saying, and just continuing with their customary imaginary conversation.

One great example is asking people to speak slower: they don't. It goes like this (today's example):
Chilean: [incomprehensible blur of Spanish words]
Chris: Can you repeat that more slowly?
Chilean: [nodding] Ah, ya. [repeats self, at least as fast as the first time]
Or this conversation that I also had today:
Chilean: Are you Chilean?
Chris: [stunned] Uh, no, I'm American.
Chilean: Really? You understood everything. And you speak really well.
Chris: Oh, thanks, but I actually only understand about fifty percent of what people say.
Chilean: Nah, you manage really well.
I'm not entirely sure what happened there, but deep listening was not part of it. To be fair, it was after aikido class, and I do understand more of aikido, because I have enough training to complement what I can understand of the language. Plus, words associated with aikido were the only thing I studied before I came.

I wonder if people actually think I'm Chilean, and how they see me that way. I must appear to be a blue-eyed, white, hearing-impaired Chilean with a speech impediment.

[UPDATE: Anna informs me that the word for this is a "high-context culture," where there is so much shared knowledge in the culture that the words actually spoken in conversation don't carry as much of the information as we're used to in the U.S.]

Friday, August 27, 2010

cold, like snowboarding.

Whether it was because Anna was there or because Student X was missing, the little bastards in 1-B were fantastic today. Also, last time she was here they chanted "UN BESO! UN BESO!" and this time it was "ONE KISS! ONE KISS!". Not something I taught them, but hey, I'll take it.

They did call me out for lying to them last time about whether Anna was my girlfriend. I wish I knew how to say, in Spanish, "It's because I knew you little ******s would waste ten shouting minutes of class time on sexual innuendo and trying to get me to kiss her, just like you're doing now," but I had to settle for something simple and polite. Which they didn't listen to, because hey, it's just a teacher talking, it can't be that important.

Anna took some video, which I'll upload soon, and pointed out a lot of cool things about how much better I am at teaching and how much the kids have learned, and how much more comfortable they are when pronouncing English. As she put it, "They seem to understand that there are English sounds to make English words, instead of using Spanish sounds." On the videos I also get to see more of their reactions than I can when I'm teaching. Verdict: I'm pretty funny and they like my class.

We had a near-injury during a game of Slap. I put two chairs in the middle of the room, and one student from each team takes a turn. I say a word, and they run up and hit the picture on the board. While I am often awed by the destructive power of Chilean teenagers, today we had the smaller girl hit the larger girl with a full-on body check to keep her from reaching the board first. The larger girl bounced off the wall onto the floor, tripping the smaller girl so they both ended up in a laughing pile on the ground. We, uh, lost focus for a few minutes. (No major injuries. Smaller girl has a sore knee and a scrape on her leg.)

One of the words they learned was "snowboarding" (we did Hobbies), which I'd pointed out to them is a lot like "snowing," which we learned last time. At the end of class, with a mixed English-Spanish discussion about who Anna was, someone asked if we were in love. I translated and and Anna said, "No, I don't like you." I made my sad face.

(During the whole "ONE KISS!" nonsense, Anna had been talking to Juan next to her, who was pulling out everything he'd learned to have a conversation with her: "Where are you from?" "How old are you?". When I said Anna didn't like me, he alarmedly leaned over to her and said "False?". SO CUTE.)

Raquel, one of the girls who often Will Not Shut Up, but who likes English and is more willing to talk than most, said, "Teacher! You two...no sentimiento [warm feeling]...you, uh, cold! Like snowboarding."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

back on topic: right, I'm in Chile.

I've been posting lots of Prop 8 rants lately. Partly this is because of all the recent juicy news, and the opportunity for me to sink my mind into some interesting-yet-accessible legal stuff. Also, though, it's been a rough couple of months, and it's a way for me to escape that's slightly more creative than watching TV. I realize it's probably not what you're here for, because you're likely my friend and you likely already agree with me, and you'd rather read about how I'm doing and what life here is like. I'll try to focus more on that.

Today I went to my first English Network (Red de Ingles) meeting, a gathering of the local Chilean English teachers. We're encouraged to go to these, although the one here in Valparaiso only started recently: this is the third meeting, and the first that anyone gave me the date and time for. They wanted me to talk about my experience teaching here. There weren't any more details than that, but I do have a lot to say on that topic, so I wasn't worried.

First up was some woman from some organization talking about the SIMCE standardized test that Chilean students will be taking in October. It's a shortened version of the Test of English for International Communication, and the students are probably going to do very poorly, if they can be persuaded to bother taking it at all. The teachers were all raising eyebrows and sharing mutters of incredulity. In a country with functional English education, it's probably a perfectly reasonable test. In Chile...well, when Cambridge University surveyed Chilean students' English levels, they had 5 levels, from Basic to Advanced. They had to add 2 levels below Basic to produce meaningful results, because 67% of students fell into the Basic level.

Next up turned out to be Stephanie, a WorldTeach volunteer from the 4-month program. She didn't have a lot to say, I think in large part because she's only been in Chile for a month, and in her classroom for a week. She's also a decade younger than me, and not everyone has my big mouth.

Next post: my turn!

rant rant ranty rant

If you've known me long enough, I may have vented at you about the American right's lack of principles. They show this mostly through their language: if they were to say "We're reactionaries who think gays and minorities are inferior and we want to rewrite the world to reflect a mythical period of moral perfection from the late 50s," I could respect them, but instead they claim to be conservative. They're the ones with solid, unshakeable principles; it's us lily-livered, egghead, elitist, intellectual, bleeding-heart liberals who change our beliefs at the drop of a hat in pursuit of our true goal of a bloated government freeing everyone from the need to work.

(Or something. I'm not really clear. Right-wingers are often mumbling about socialism and "statism" and how leftists want to grow government at all costs. In their world, it seems the Department of Defense is not a government agency, and "I think everyone should have food, shelter, and health care, and the government has critical and sometimes limited roles to play in making that happen" is not a clear enough declaration of belief. Too many commas, maybe.)

Anyway, here's two juicy examples.
  • The Republican war on the constitution. This is just the stuff Republicans want to repeal or change; it'd be another long list to talk about the stuff they perverted and degraded during Bush II's reign of destruction. (To be fair, Obama isn't pulling enough of it back, but at least we've returned to paying lip service.)
  • Homophobe fan club Focus on the Family applauds the Wisconsin Attorney General for refusing to defend domestic partnerships, then a year later (to the day) excoriates the California Attorney General for refusing to defend Proposition 8.
As a bonus feature, a Talking Points Memo reader sent them this:

Why, oh why do conservatives over and over again demonstrate little to no empathy for their fellow man until they themselves are humbled? And even then... their empathy is limited only to those in their own predicament.

Take Dick Cheney (please). This man is quite tolerant of homosexuality (for a Republican), because he has a gay daughter. But in every other way, he is almost the definition of a hard-liner in both foreign and domestic affairs: pro SS privatization; anti-social safety net; and pro-torture.

Rush Limbaugh is infamous for the harsh things he said about drug users... until he was discovered to be one himself. Perhaps now he has the good sense not to talk about drug enforcement... but does anyone believe that Rush's experience and expensive rehab made him in any other way a gentler, more considerate person?

And now there's Duke Cunningham [sent to prison for corruption] who has suddenly become a bleeding-heart on prison conditions and the criminal justice system.

The full post uses more confrontational language than I would choose (I often feel like that's really saying something) but doesn't have a bad point.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

more details on my Prop 8 questions

Shannon Minter, the actual lawyer they got to answer people's Prop 8 trial questions, responded in more detail to the stuff I asked, about the previous case law around gay marriage that all went unmentioned in Judge Walker's decision. His response to my question directly:
It is true there are a bunch of older state cases upholding marriage bans-as well as a handful of more recent ones (sadly, the New York Court of Appeals, the Maryland Court of Appeals, and the Washington Supreme Court). But Judge Walker is not bound by any state court decisions. There are very few federal cases considering the validity of marriage bans-and virtually none decided by the federal courts of appeal. In a nutshell, Judge Walker had to decide the questions presented to him without relying on an binding precedent that is directly on point, because there isn't any. He did the right thing by presenting his reasoning about the legal issues presented. It would not have served any purpose for him to spell out why he disagreed with the reasoning in other cases that were not binding on him in the first place.
So, there it is. Here's his response to someone else on a similar topic:

I think Baker v Nelson is a real red herring being waved around by the other side in a desperate attempt to recover some lost media ground after Judge Walker's amazing decision! In 1971, the MN Supreme Court upheld MN's marriage ban. The gay couple who brought the case asked SCOTUS to review the decision. At that time, the Supreme Court HAD to take any case that presented a federal constitutional question. In 1972, the Supreme Court denied the case on the ground that it did not present a substantial federal question. But a heck of a lot has changed since then! in 1972, the supreme court had not yet held that laws that discriminate against women were subject to a heightened level of review. The court had not struck down Colorado's anti-gay ballot initiative in Romer, or held that individuals have a protected right to be in a same-sex relationship in Lawrence. So much has changed that any precedential value that Baker v. Nelson has, is exceedingly small. And in any case, the question presented by the Prop 8 case is a new one not considered in Baker: can the people of a state first permit a group to enjoy a fundamental right, and then take that right away based on a bare desire to send the message that the group is inferior?

All righty, then.

(UPDATE: More stuff relevant to my questions, in this response to an anti-equality op-ed by Edwin Meese.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

okay, that was adorable

The Prop 8 Trial Tracker folks got an actual lawyer to answer people's questions about the trial. I'm not entirely satisfied with his answer about Baker v. Nelson and other prior decisions--he dodged significantly--but the short version is "it was 38 years ago, it was a summary dismissal rather than an actual decision, and there have been a lot of decisions since then supporting gay rights and tearing down gender discrimination." We'll see, then.

Theoretically I had four classes today. Yesterday I sent Marcela a text message asking if we would split the classes like normal today, and she said "Yes"; but in fact, my latter two classes, 1-H and 1-G, were taking the test that somehow they didn't take with the other Monday classes last week. This happens a lot, where it doesn't seem to occur to her that it makes a difference to my level of preparation whether I have to actually teach the class or not. From talking to her and other teachers, I think that Chilean teachers do not do "lesson planning" as I have been taught to recognize it. My sense is that they teach by explaining things, so they just have the material they're going to explain, and how they're going to explain it. Students, for their part, are not in the habit of thinking "Oh, the teacher is talking, this might be something I should pay attention to," so an ordinary class would consist of teachers talking and students ignoring them.

One of my kids from 1-J, pregnant until a couple of days ago, brought her newborn in to visit her friends and teachers. SO TINY. She gave him to me to hold and I carried him around the classroom, eyes wide open. He was convulsing periodically, which Anna tells me is what newborns do before they get the hang of pooping: they try clenching everything, not yet used to having to clench some muscles and relax others. Did I mention SO TINY?

Because I found out 5 minutes beforehand that 1-H was testing instead of having a class, my room was still arranged in a U, so I told them to move the seats into the testing configuration (sort of grid-like, with lots of space in between chairs). Then I told them again, that they could move the seats while I wrote their vocabulary words on the board. I started writing, and heard chairs dutifully moving behind me.

I turned around, and they had moved all of their seats into a single clump in the middle of the room, with just an inch in between them. They sat there, smiling, as though I might actually start handing out the tests.

They were checking for a reaction, so I milked it a bit, with half-smiles and pauses. Finally I said, "I don't tell you guys this often enough, but...I love all of you."

Then it took 10 minutes to get them moved, but sucking up test time was their problem, not mine.

They're a sweet-tempered bunch. I like them.

wishing I could mix it up a little

Anna got me hooked on Scandinavia and the World, which is a fine, fine webcomic about international stereotypes and viewpoints. I'm still waiting for an emblematic-but-not-prurient one to send to Mom.

I've been trying to do some slightly different things with teaching: I have a few exercises that have worked really well, but the kids would like to do something different, and I wouldn't mind either. Unfortunately, every time I go and look at lists of ESL exercises, it highlights what an incredibly restricted environment I'm working in. I feel like Mister Negativity every time I read an exercise and see why it won't work...
  • It's like pulling teeth to get the kids to stand up and move around. Not worth it, except for very limited exercises.
  • I see them once a week or less.
  • The educational culture doesn't expect a whole lot from them, by American standards. They do more for me, but not a lot more.
And I'm struck by how 30 minutes is too little for our communicative teaching style, but 60 minutes is too long. 45 minutes would be just right. I have 60.

I might actually try a writing exercise soon, just for something else to do.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

settling in

Anna's here! It's nice. Although apparently girls don't like it when they say they're still hungry and then you make oinking noises at them? I'm not sure why. Anna took it in stride, but the three girls at the table from UC Davis seemed to dislike me on her behalf.

We're at Hostal Caracol again, which is much nicer than my house, and a comfortable place to be away. We don't have much planned for the week: I still have to work, though many of my fellow teachers were surprised I didn't ask for some or all of the week off. It hadn't occurred to me that was possible, but since all of my classes were canceled last week, and Oscar is convinced there will be a month-long teacher strike at some point, I feel like I shouldn't randomly take time off. I'll have a lifetime of not teaching Chilean students after this, so I feel like I should keep on doing what I came for.

It's nice to relax and have someone to pet my head again.

Friday, August 20, 2010

teachers' unions: failure in action

Marginal Revolution pointed out that the L.A. Times has taken the extraordinary step of analyzing student performance data on 6,000 L.A. Unified School District teachers, and then releasing it. LAUSD could have done this, but (rightly) feared a union fight.

The union leader has called for a boycott of the Times.

Performance on standardized tests isn't a perfect metric, but it's the one we've got and it seems pretty clear that it's a lot better than nothing.

Publicly releasing individual data on 6,000 teachers is a little dodgy. But the thing is, this shouldn't be the Times's job. When you organize a union, you're taking some of the power of monitoring the workers away from management, who are usually incentivized to abuse that power. The tradeoff is that the union itself accepts the obligation of that monitoring: the union makes sure its members do sufficiently high-quality work.

Here is where teachers' unions have utterly failed. They've succeeded in keeping teachers from being fired, but in the process eviscerated the fundamental teaching mission of helping students to learn stuff. They can rant all they want about the unfairness of the modern educational reform movement and how it's an "assault" on the teaching profession, but that movement, and now the Times, is doing what the unions should have done decades ago and have refused to do: provide accountability for the quality of its members' work.

The unions had their chance and they blew it. Time's up.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

the accidental nuclear option

On Tuesday there was a localized student stoppage: the third-years barricaded themselves in some classrooms all day. I wasn't up to extracting the details at the time.

It turns out they were protesting the teaching styles of three teachers, women in their 60s who have all been here at least 30 years. Apparently they move through the material too fast (or talk too fast, or both, I'm not sure), and at least one of them often teaches while seated, because she's in her 60s and standing up while talking 40 hours a week is hard.

The school's director did not provide a satisfying response quickly enough, so the students called some higher authority from the Ministry of Education, who came to the school and summarily fired the three teachers, without any review or hearing. (To answer the obvious question: no, that's not legal in Chile, either.)

The students say that wasn't what they wanted, and everyone is now having conversations about how to manage these relationships in an adult and productive way. Oops.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

go for it

If you feel like responding in the comments to a post, please do! Especially if you disagree with me.

I sometimes run into people who shy away from arguing their point with me, probably for a few reasons: I'm, uh, relatively confident, and I'm really good at sounding authoritative about things. Partly it's a fun way to talk and write, but if I learn something new I'll just go sound authoritative about that instead.

Often I feel and speak strongly about things, so it's possible you think my opinions aren't going to change. I do change my mind pretty readily if I'm wrong--one problem is that I usually think my opinions through pretty well, so to start with, I don't think I'm wrong. But sometimes I am! At the very least, when faced with an actual conversation, I move almost immediately from my ranting pronouncements to something more like "Yeah, I can see why you'd see it that way."

"Offended" isn't really something I do. Usually the worst case is that I'll secretly think someone is a benighted ignoramus, and unless it's a politician or journalist, I will never say so.

Living in Northern California (usually), I often feel like I don't get to talk to a lot of reasonable people who disagree with me. Bring it on! I like learning stuff.

communication is a myth

My little brother is only two years younger than me, and every summer there was a quest to find ways to get rid of us find stuff for us to do during the summer days. This was back when cities could afford to offer services, and it turned out that tennis lessons (taught by one of my older brother's friends) worked well for us. It felt sort of familiar, since Mom had played at a club in town for a long time. So we played tennis for however many years.

My family has been lucky enough to spend regular chunks of time on Cape Cod throughout my life, and the house there is a short walk through the woods past the cemetery to a nearby condo development, with a tennis court. It's locked in a cage of split logs and chicken wire, with a combination lock, but the condos are mostly vacation rentals, so anyone will give you the combination, and we'd go and play pretty regularly, especially the summer we were working down there in the mid-90s.

(There, I once played this cute girl, who was one of those overdriven young athletes, with her own cranky Australian coach and everything, who wanted to make sure I'd be "enough of a challenge for her." She beat me, but it was harder than it should have been, and she was extremely frustrated at her inability to beat me faster. Not only am I a halfway decent tennis player, but at the time, I had an uncontrollable forehand with backspin on it, and it was just messing with her head. Now I can control it, and it still messes with people's heads.)

Our tennis excursions came up back home sometime later.
"No one stops you?", Mom asked.
"Yeah, you just walk in and play."
"It's not whites-only?"
I don't come from racist folk, so there was a confused, awkward silence.
"Um...isn't that illegal?"
Mom, of course, meant the traditional dress code--a feature of her tennis experiences, but not ours.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Anna countdown: 3 days.

There was a partial student stoppage today, of just the third-years, followed by the fourth-years. I'm not entirely sure what it was about, because I didn't have the patience to try and communicate with people, but at the very least, there's a teacher they really don't like, and they barricaded themselves inside a classroom to say so. There is also an all-day student protest tomorrow, which is nice since I get to both not get up early, and not teach, neither of which I'm a big fan of this week. I do need a haircut, and a replacement phone, since mine disappeared on the trip home this afternoon.

I went and saw Inception on Sunday. Several of my friends have raved about it, and I wanted to see it before someone spoiled the ending (which is perfectly reasonable to do maybe 4 weeks after theatrical release). It is a fine film, and I recommend it: good acting, good script (mostly), stunning special effects. It's a realized original vision, I guess, and engrossing. I found the lack-of-resolution ending to be unsurprising. I don't think it's a super-shiny amazing thing, but maybe if I were into "let's think about levels of reality" philosophical wankery, rather than a "sit down, shut up, watch your breath, reality will become apparent" spiritual practice, I might find it more compelling.

When I got here I started watching True Blood, which I hadn't gotten around to, and after seeing seasons 2 and 3, I just watched season 1. The characters are incredibly annoying at that stage, but it's nice that they grew out of it. Its civil rights analogies--vampires have just revealed themselves to humanity, and there's a debate about giving them equal rights--wears pretty thin in several spots. For the most part, vampires in the show are, in fact, evil; and while I'm a big fan of equal rights for all, I do think there's a sound moral case for discriminating against your predators.

I've been reading more of the case law around the Prop 8 trial, including the proponents' Motion for Stay Pending Appeal (link has PDF and brief commentary), which is interesting reading. On the one hand, Prop 8's proponents have shown themselves incapable of honesty (since just saying "I think gays are dirty and should be second-class citizens" is no longer a viable argument); on the other, they seem to cite some reasonable possibilities that they have standing to appeal, and there is a nationwide body of court decisions around same-sex marriage that Judge Walker sidestepped in his decision. He seemed to argue from first principles, which is great and all, but not how the system works. I think this has now reached my level of legal ignorance, so I'll just give The Onion the last word.

Good thing Anna will be here soon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

that'd be sad/convenient/awesome.

I hadn't told Oscar I was staying home today. I don't think I would have taught, since Marcela said she was doing a test. I am going in tomorrow, and I don't think I'll be teaching then, either.
"But you're going in tomorrow?"
"Good, you have to go in tomorrow because the strikes are coming. No school for a month."
"Oh? When?"
"We don't have a date?"
"Nope, they just come all of a sudden. So we have to hurry up and get as much done as we can before school stops."
Apparently the solution is to teach the kids more material in less time. I'm not sure that's helping much.

It sounds like there's a student protest on Wednesday. I know a strike's no good for the kids and I'm supposed to be going "Woooo! Teaching! Yeah!", but I'm in a mood these days where I wouldn't mind if the program got canceled and I had to go home. I'd be especially psyched if the strike happened while Anna was visiting, so keep your fingers crossed.

memory lane: cultural sensitivity

Anna countdown: 4 days.

I'm still cranky, and still recovering my strength: staying home from school today, which turns out to be just as well, since Marcela is giving a test. Status quo.

I've been watching the firestorm of protest about the Muslim community center a couple blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, which is a pretty sickening debate for someone who holds the First Amendment as a principle rather than a hidden instruction from the Framers that schools need to teach creationism. It's an obvious step for the GOP: I've said for years that the party's pillars are racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and they've recently been losing on the latter two. A recent CNN/Time poll (pdf) claims that 49% of Americans think gays "have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid," while 68% oppose the mosque.

(Does anyone else remember when (1) men piercing our ears was a big deal, and (2) you couldn't get your right ear pierced because that meant you were gay, and (3) that was bad?)

Anyway, the relevant story.

At Danger, my team named our software releases after drinks, in alphabetical order: Absinthe, Bellini, Cosmopolitan, Daiquiri, Everclear. (I didn't say they were good drinks, and we did pay the price, since the named drink was the primary beverage at the release party .) We got to K, and the logical name was Kamikaze, a potent and tasty get-drunk-fast choice of college students everywhere.

The suits on the third floor heard about it, and sent a rare dictum downstairs that we had to change the name. Why? Danger's hardware was made by the Japanese company Sharp, and kamikaze in Japanese is not a drink.

No one likes mandates from the suits (because they're almost always wrong), and in Danger's autonomous engineering department, this produced a lot of grumbling. I had the unpopular (and disagreed-with) opinion that it was actually a fine decision. The suits' job was to manage our partner relationships, and Japan, to put it generously, is still processing its World War 2 experience. As Americans, full of indelible arrogance and optimism and living in the world's most powerful nation, it's often hard for us to imagine a long-running, deeply-held sore spot, especially now that no one claims we could have won in Vietnam if only we'd tried harder.

But the sign at the border going from Chile into Argentina says "The Falklands are Argentine!", and Bolivia is still pissed at Chile for leaving Bolivia landlocked after their war 125 years ago.

At any rate, I was sad to not call it "Kamikaze," but it seemed like a fine choice to change it. Unlike Muslims in New York City, we don't actually have a First Amendment right to name our software releases whatever we want.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

aikido place #4: finally.

It only took me four months, but I found a place to train that's less than 2.5 hours from my house! It doesn't have a name, exactly, and the website is delightfully nonspecific, but the teacher is Jorge, a 4th dan from Argentina. He's really nice, and the classes talk about movement and blending and relaxation and everything (among other concepts completely absent from the Iwama places I went to).

It sounds like Jorge may end up being Aikikai Chile's representive in Region V, because there just isn't anyone else: it looks like it's all the Aiki Shu Ren association of Iwama style. Jorge finds this amusing, because he's been away from Aikikai for a couple decades, practicing Ki aikido, tai chi, karate, and a few other things he apparently has black belts in.

Did I mention people there actually move? And they smiled, as though they were enjoying themselves! Madness.

We all seemed to get along well, and I felt like I slotted in pretty well. There was only one other black belt there today, and my style is similar enough to theirs to be recognizable, and different enough to be interesting. Jorge reminds me of Neville, back at Aikido West, with his smiling commitment to study and his laughing semi-respect of aikido organizations. So, Tuesday and Saturday afternoons, I have a place to go.

As you've no doubt learned from my previous adventures trying to find a dojo, the cultural state of aikido in Chile is weird, at best. Tragic, at worst. Today I got some more detail about the relevant laws, explaining why GFU needed me to have a teaching license from somewhere "for the police" before I could teach there: if you teach a martial art, you still have to be licensed like you did during the dictatorship. And you still have to be licensed by the Army, which explains the certification letter from the Army that I saw in framed in a Brazilian jiu-jitsu dojo earlier in my quest. So any martial art, like aikido, tai chi, iaido, karate--

Oh, did I say "karate"? Sorry. The law carves out exceptions for karate, tae kwon do, judo, and kickboxing, calling them "sports."

To clarify: to teach aikido, which normally focuses on peaceful conflict resolution and is remarkably useless for wanton violence, you need a license from the military. To teach something that involves breaking boards with your bare hands: go to town! No restrictions.

But whatever. Yay!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

knocked off my feet

Anna countdown: almost 7 days.

Yesterday in the early evening I ate something bad--I don't know if it was the pear, or an orange, or just too many oranges. My stomach was already unhappy when I had the big bowl of delicious shellfish soup.

That didn't feel any better, and then a couple hours later my body started healing itself by violently rejecting everything.

There's a strange weakness from food poisoning: I stayed home from school because things Just Aren't Right. It's hard to focus, there's lingering stomachache, and a lack of energy compounded by Monday's Ashtanga Yoga class completely kicking my ass, apparently being my first really moving-around exercise in a month or more.

Still pretty wobbly, but at least I've only got the one class tomorrow.

what is it that changes?

Isn't it funny? The lengths we'll go to, the adventures and challenges we'll launch ourselves into, because we think we'll magically discover something different. But when I got here, and I started meeting those challenges, I discovered I was just me, doing something different. As the book says, the only Zen you find at the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring with you. We meet the events of each moment with exactly the person we were the moment before.

Then, through doing something different, the definition of "me" changes. We discover we can respond differently, some of our abilities grow, others shorten, others just change.


Every culture has its acceptable social lies: we say "I love your sweater" and "Thanks for stopping by" when we think "You paid money for that?" and "I didn't need to see you again, ever." Chile's map of social dishonesty is different from ours: they'll be honest and say "You're gaining weight," but something like "Sure, I'll do that this week" might be honest or might be a way of saying "No."

No matter where you are, you only create a lot of suffering by assuming people are jerking you around, even if it feels that way.

I don't know that I'm more patient or tolerant or anything (especially these days, when I'm fried on the experience). I guess I must be? I have a broader and deeper knowledge of the world and its people. It feels a little like Outward Bound did, where yes, things were hard, and yes, I went past what I thought my limits were...but I did it in a way that was pretty much what I expected. Is it really a limit when it's just something you've never tried? When have I tried something I thought I would actually fail at? Or genuinely scared of?

I think I'm being selective about my memory here. Teaching was terrifying, and there's still an aversion, trying to protect myself from its rawness and exposure. There's still that crisis moment when my kids walking through the door, and no matter how I feel about being here, or whether the day's lesson is any good, there are students in my classroom and it's time to step up and teach as best I can, and I do.

It's possible I'm judging myself with a habitually over-high standard, to minimize myself.


In the wake of the Prop 8 decision I went and re-read summaries of Griswold v. Connecticut (the first to dig a right to privacy out of the Constitution), Roe v. Wade (right of privacy gives the right to have an abortion), and Lawrence v. Texas (right to privacy includes sex).

Now, I do believe we should dig a right to privacy out of somewhere in the Constitution, and these are all really important decisions and I'm glad we have them. Everyone deserves access to contraception, women deserve full rights to make decisions about their bodies (not that Roe gives them that exactly, but whatever), and consenting adults should get to have whatever sex we want. The people who hate those decisions are frankly terrifying, with their violent anti-government and anti-liberal rhetoric, and their actions showing that their truly held principle is that the government should enforce the rules of their sub-sect of Christianity. So I'm okay with being stuck with the rulings.

That said, the legal reasoning is a little...weird. I guess you can blame it on the Ninth Amendment, which says:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
To me, this seems to say pretty clearly that just because there are rights enumerated in the Constitution, that doesn't mean that's all the rights we have. I think the writings of the Founders back this up, but for some reason, it seems to get a narrower reading. But for some reason, courts have thrown up their hands and said "We don't know what this means, so we better not mess with it much." (Any lawyers reading, I'd love some help with understanding it.)

The softened shibboleth for "abortion is wrong" on the Right is often "I believe Roe was wrongly decided." There's no denying it's a sort of a tangle, which leaves me in the awkward position of saying "You might be right, except your preferred outcome is INSANE." Unfortunately, that level of honesty is perilous in a discussion with people who only see absolutes.

you guys are braver than me

Yesterday morning, I rather sharply insisted to the assembled grandparents that no, I'd already had bread for breakfast, no, I'm not hungry, no, I don't want any fish. (Saying "I don't want any food" here doesn't carry the weight it does back home.)

I looked back over the past 24 hours and realized I'd also used my Spanish to smooth out classroom flow, help with classroom management, kill some time at the end of class by chatting with the kids, discover my early class was canceled due to a student protest (no one would have told me), and keep from having to eat too much food.

I can barely imagine how annoying this experience must be if you don't speak the language.

Prop 8: on the other side

I hopped over to TheNextRight.com and RedState.com (not giving them any links, sorry) to see if conservatives were freaking out about the Prop 8 decision. The Next Right didn't mention it at all--they are, or were when I was reading more regularly, trying to create a sane American conservatism not based on retrograde culture war and massive tax breaks for billionaires. Well, not based on culture war, anyway.

RedState had a few pieces on the decision, of which I read the two longer ones (hereand here): wrong, sometimes in subtle ways, but to their credit, they both managed to write two pages without mentioning that the judge was gay (something the defense declined to contest at any point in the proceedings). And the comments were relatively moderate, free of suggestions for armed rebellion, and with some clear peer pressure to keep the nuttiness down. This surprised me, and not only because American conservatism is a cesspool of fear-driven reactionary polemic divorced from reality. RedState's founder, Erick Erickson, called retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter a "goat f*&king child molester" on Twitter, and that's a representative sample of his discourse.

The columns themselves have a lot of tricky fallacies (which usually amount to "Of course gay marriage is wrong, it's GAY MARRIAGE"), but the comments are more striking, and match conservative views of law and government over the past many years.

The recurring theme is a profound misunderstanding, which seems nearly deliberate, of what's in the Constitution, why it's there, what "rights" are, how the government works. See, for example, this classic Onion article.
  • "Free speech" suits the needs of the moment. Sarah Palin referred to media criticism of her as a violation of her free speech rights, and opponents of marriage equality seem to think their "First Amendment rights" including preventing gays from getting married. The honest idea of the First Amendment as supporting, say, free speech, or religion--you know, for everyone--seems less important.
  • Selective reading: one commenter said that California already treats everyone equally, because everyone has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex. The decision specifically notes that that for gays and lesbians, that's the same as not having a right to marry, and the fundamental right in question is to marry the person of your choice.
  • One comment, which I now can't find, said something like "Yes, but where's the constitutional harm?". As though the decision didn't address that in the first 3 pages and spend the remaining 135 explaining it.
  • The commenters seem very upset that one man nullified the will of 7 million California voters. One more leftist commenter responded, "Yes, those 7 million voters enacted an unconstitutional statute." I imagine if the voters of California voted some right-to-abortion law that a judge overturned, they'd be fine with it.
They seem not to understand that this was the chance to litigate this. The state declined to defend Prop 8: the proponents themselves stepped in to provide the defense, and they did an awful job, because they were holding a logically indefensible position. Most of their expert witnesses were withdrawn before trial, for no stated reason, and one of the remaining two was determined to be partly unqualified as an expert, and the other was deemed wholly unreliable because he's not an expert in anything. This was the time to throw your cards down: you think gays marrying will somehow damage heterosexual marriages? Prove it. Think straight couples are better parents than gay couples? Prove it. There was no shortage of money or fanaticism on the proponents' side, but they had a full trial in open court to prove every lie and stereotype they'd been spreading about homosexuals, and all that happened is they disproved their own points. Here's the scale of the failure:
At oral argument on proponents’ motion for summary judgment, the court posed to proponents’ counsel the assumption that “the state’s interest in marriage is procreative” and inquired how permitting same-sex marriage impairs or adversely affects that interest. Counsel replied that the inquiry was “not the legally relevant question,” but when pressed for an answer, counsel replied: “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.”
That's a bad answer to be coming from a lawyer. Especially if it's your lawyer.

There may be a twist in the epilogue: this article wonders how much farther the case can actually get: if California doesn't appeal the decision, Prop 8 proponents may not have standing to drive the appeal, since they weren't originally the defendants and only stepped in to cover for the state. And really, who's going to be able to show they've been harmed by another group of strangers being able to marry? Comedy!

Monday, August 9, 2010

calling a time-out

I stopped class with 1-G today. The speaking exercise was getting sort of disordered, which is normal for them, but a couple other things happened.

A major part of my classroom management is a corner of the board that has three boxes, with one, two, and three frownie-faces in them. That last one also says "Inspector," the last step on Ye Olde Ladder of Consequences. The inspectoria is the school's disciplinary arm, and because this is a select school, the inspectores have a certain amount of power that they don't necessarily have elsewhere--too much disciplinary trouble and they'll be kicked out of a school they tried reasonably hard to get into. Kids usually take the board reasonably seriously, especially if they're one step away from getting booted instead of two.

As happens occasionally, one girl went and erased her name off the board. It's one of those signs of the lack of hierarchy and authority in schools. I'm not sure what they're hoping will happen, but I just kick them up to the next box.

Then I noticed that another girl, instead of holding one index card, was holding a stack: she'd taken the cards for the next exercise off my table. She also didn't give them back immediately, like a really obnoxious child (which, for this particular moment, she was).

Clearly we all needed to have a chat. I had everyone sit down, and I thought for a minute, and then sat on my table. This is unusual, and gets everyone's attention.
"Okay. I don't know exactly how it is here in Chile, but in North America, taking someone's stuff is disrespectful. Here, too?"
Nods and murmurs.
"Good. Now, do you guys know why I have that box in the corner of the board? Why I don't just send you to the Inspector immediately?"
"To write down who's bad?"
"Hmm. Not exactly."
Bruno speaks. Bruno, who's usually a step away from the Inspector, every class. Last week he came up to me after class, looked me in the eyes, and shook my hand, and he's done it since, every time I see him in the hall.
"To give us an opportunity."
"That's right. To give you a chance. Now, all these activities we do are ways for you guys to practice and use English. The way English is taught here--"
"It's really bad."
"Right. You don't learn a lot of English in your classes here?" Nods and murmurs. "That's why I'm here. To help you guys practice so you can learn. A lot of you say 'I can't, I can't,' but I know you can, because I gave you a test and I talked to each one of you, and I'm really proud of all of you and everything you worked hard to learn. Think you can keep going with class?"
Nods and murmurs.
And off we went.

I like my kids.

Also, I appear to have the patience of a saint.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

ouch, he's gonna hate that

On page 63 of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Judge Walker is quoting things in the Finding of Fact to show that the government's interest in supporting marriage is not reliant on procreation. Like this:
"If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is 'no legitimate state interest' for purposes of proscribing that conduct...what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising 'the liberty protected by the Constitution'? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry."
That, of course, is Justice Antonin "Homosexual Agenda" Scalia, dissenting in Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark 2003 ruling which decriminalized all private sex between consenting adults.

Talk about unintended consequences. The original premise alongside Scalia's statement of fact is that gay marriage is too absurd and horrible to contemplate. Now that context has changed, but the statement of fact remains and is still true. Oops.

aikido place #3

The kids' teacher at the institute in Valparaiso somehow got authorization or decided to start doing adult classes, so I tried that on Tuesday. It turned out to be Iwama style again, from the same community as the bad place. Not too surprising, given aikido's stunted growth here.

It wasn't bad. It was me, and this beginner kid, and the instructor. My black belt didn't seem to count for much: as far as the formal etiquette, he acted like I came from a different art entirely. He was dogmatic just like the other guy, but he wasn't a condescending prick about it, which was a nice change. He almost acknowledged that what I was doing might have martial validity. I encouraged this: at one point, he had me do a technique on him to illustrate why I was Doing It Wrong[tm], and he tried a reversal on me--i.e. person A tries to throw person B, and person B does a reversal and throws person A. He did it poorly by my standards (dropping to his knees, among other problems), and simply by dropping my weight a bit, I was standing behind him, with him on his knees, and my arms all free to choke him or mangle his face or whatever.

It was a satisfying moment of communication, a way to cross the language barrier and say, "Just because I'm out of practice and from a style you look down on, please don't infer that it's martially ineffective."

It didn't seem to occur to him that I might be training cautiously with unfamiliar people, in a different style, or that I might be trying not to hurt the much smaller beginner I was training with. It wasn't miserable like the other place, so I guess I could train there, but I started thinking about what I'd be learning there, and if that's really what I want from any kind of training. They don't talk or appear to care about things that are very important in my aikido practice: peaceful conflict resolution, blending rather than clashing, movement, timing. There's just the fetishistic, static practice of the "real" aikido, the stuff O-Sensei really wanted aikido to be. Not that lightweight pansy bullshit he was teaching for the last 20 years of his life--that doesn't count.

Come to think of it, they sound just like the American right-wingnuts, insisting that the founders actually believed whatever the wingnuts believe, whether it's that armed rebellion against the government is awesome (Washington favored peaceful reconciliation) or that America should be governed as a "Christian nation" (despite Jefferson's clearest possible terms to the contrary).

When it comes right down to it, what would I be practicing? I'd be fighting all my well-earned aikido habits, most of which I'm quite happy with, to learn a style which (a) seems to have precious little patience, or respect for my prior training, and (b) I frankly think is kinda crappy along a few different axes.

That all makes yoga and tai chi look pretty good.

(There is yet another possibility over in ViƱa, headed by a non-Iwama 4th dan from Argentina, so I can set myself up for more disappointment by thinking that might work out.)

let's not do this again

Thursday went mostly okay. I booted Danilo from 1-A, and when he started arguing about it, I decided to experiment with shouting at him to leave, another moment of generated anger. While thoughts are completely insubstantial, and our biggest mistake is treating them like they're reality, they still leave traces in our minds, so shouting at Danilo, for lack of a better phrase, left a bad taste in my brain. Yoga helped that evening.

On Fridays I only have 1-B, and it's their last class of the week, and they're usually kind of a pill, and this week wasn't an exception. In a new twist, in addition to the class at large being uncooperative, the three problematic girls pulled out a makeup kit--which I usually ignore, by way of choosing my battles, as long as they keep participating--and then suddenly two of them start moaning "Oh, I cut myself" with quite realistic-looking blood on their wrist and knuckle, respectively.

I brought Scarlett a tissue, which she clapped on the affected area. Javiera, however, wouldn't let me look at her knuckle, so it was obvious it was fake. I'd sort of had enough then, so I got their names and wrote them down in my notebook.
"Teacher, why'd you write our names down?"
"Well, you're hurt, so I should tell the Inspector so they can help you, right?
Dead silence (extremely satisfying) as they look down at their hands.
I kept going with class, and a couple minutes later told them, "If you guys want to stay after class for a few minutes, we can talk, ya?". Jessica started groaning, but Scarlett smacked her on the shoulder, nodded enthusiastically and said in English, "Yes! Yes!". On with class, though I was disappointed enough by the whole thing that like Tuesday, a couple of kids said, "Why does he look sad?".

Near the end of class while waiting for the bell, the three of them were learning from one of the more skilled students how to say "I'm sorry, teacher." It would have been cute if it was sincere.

From a director at Kensington, I learned to call this a "come-to-Jesus." They kept trying to jump to the conclusion that I wasn't going to report them, and they could go home; that's sort of repetitive, but imagine them constantly saying "Okay, so you're gonna erase my name?" and "Great, so we can go?", and me keeping them involved by declining to make a decision.
"Okay, what's up with you guys?"
"It was a joke, teacher."
"No, right now we're talking about why you guys are behaving with a lack of respect for me and for the class."
"It's our last class of the week and we want to go home. We get bored and we just do stuff."
"It's my last class too, but I manage to come here and teach."
"Look, I'm having a bad month. It's hard to live in another country, far away from my girlfriend and my friends, and right now I don't have any patience. I know in my class I ask different things from you than your other classes, but it's been three months and you know what to do. Every class you guys are constantly chatting, and you, Scarlett, last week"--I didn't really have the right words, so I just made bitchy snarling noises--"I tried to talk to you about it, and you weren't interested. Do you guys feel like I treat you with a lack of respect?"
"No! Not at all."
"Then maybe you can act like it. Think you guys can improve?"
"Yes, absolutely."
Reflective pause while I think.
"Okay. I'm not going to report you this time. But we'll see how the month goes. Okay?"
I'm free to drop the hammer on them whenever I want, without needing a single dramatic incident as a reason, so it felt like a good way to handle it.

Also learned: much like "That's what she said," the phrase "I don't need this" means nothing in Spanish.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

down, up

Yesterday was a Teacher Failure Day. Monday was the last day for doing the previous lesson, but I didn't have anything effective put together to move on to: I wanted to do "Family," and I had a big family tree poster, some ideas about using the Simpsons for some of the words, and some questions I wanted to teach the kids. But it turned out to be too abstract and too incoherent for the circumstances, and it ground to a halt, maybe 15 minutes into 1-B's one-hour class.

I'd also stayed up late preparing, so I wasn't rested, and was generally cranky. When I took a minute to stare off into space, one of the girls said quietly to another, "Is he angry?" and the other responded, "He looks sad." Which I was.

So I gave up. I sat on my table with my legs swinging back and forth.
"I'm sorry, guys. This lesson isn't working. I'm kind of disorganized right now. I've been having a bad month. It's hard to be living in a different culture, really far from my friends and communities."
They asked me if I missed my girlfriend (yes), if she was beautiful (yes), and we pretty much just chatted for the hour. Jorge even asked me questions in English as best he could--Jorge, who's a nice kid, but sometimes disruptive enough to be one of the three kids I've ever booted out of the classroom. But except for constantly telling him to shut up, I treat him like everyone else and we have a friendly relationship.

With 1-C, I warned them ahead of time that I thought the lesson might not work, because it didn't do enough to get them talking and using the material I was teaching. 1-C is remarkably calm and focused, so they stuck with it a lot longer, but ultimately I ran up against the lack of a way to get them talking, so it ground to a halt again. This time I did some impromptu stuff with the kids who were talking to me: Sonia, one of the rockstars ("I don't study, I just pay attention") asked how to say trasero in English. It means "butt," but we have enough different words for that that I felt an example was in order.

Now they know what "I like big butts and I cannot lie" means. That felt nicely subversive.

Luckily I just had 1-B and 1-C, and they're relatively focused and not super-spastic, but in order to prevent a repeat today, with 1-G and 1-H who are chatty at best, I decided to just switch gears and do "Weather." It's more or less the same as the "Moods" I did at the beginning of the year: a question ("What's the weather like?"), and then a bunch of vocabulary words they can use for an answer (sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc.). Basically, a lesson I'd already taught, but with different material. I made little flashcards like I did for body parts.

It went great! I wasn't pushing myself as a teacher, and I had a plan for what activities to do, so I could relax. We did lots of repetition in lots of different ways. They learned stuff. Everyone wins. As a bonus, the English Workshop kids didn't show up, sparing me an awkward 45 minutes.

What's dawning on me is that right now I'm an Okay teacher. If I wanted to, with training and practice, I would probably be an Excellent teacher, but right now, I'm pretty sure I'm just middle-of-the-pack.

What I do really, really well is my relationships with the kids. They know that I like them, care about them, and relate to them as individuals. Even if they're a problem for classroom management, I'll stop the group repetition to help them pronounce something right, and I make sure they take their turns practicing. One of the most disruptive, Bruno from 1-G, on Monday came up to me after a particularly push-and-pull class where I almost booted him, smiled, nodded, and shook my hand (and has done it in the hallway a few times since).

That seems worthwhile.

Prop 8 gets mightily overturned

Bye-bye Prop 8! The homophobic cohort schemed and slimed their way into amending California's constitution--which isn't at all difficult, by the way, be careful where you sneeze or you'll amend the state constitution by accident. The lawsuits started flying immediately, but before the "OMG TEH GAY" contingent won a temporary victory, 18,000 gay couples had received marriage licenses. Said contingent immediately violated their promise not to try and have those marriages invalidated. Good work, guys! It must be nice to have a God of love and forgiveness who hates all the same people you do.

Today, however, Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern California District Court--

I'm sorry, I have to interject here with a Wikipedia quote.
Walker's original nomination to the bench by Ronald Reagan in 1987 stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee because of controversy over his representation of the United States Olympic Committee in a lawsuit that prohibited the use of the title "Gay Olympics". Two dozen House Democrats, led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, opposed his nomination because of his alleged "insensitivity" to gays and the poor. Years later, the San Francisco Chronicle noted the irony of this opposition due to Walker's sexual orientation.
Right, so the judge is an openly gay Reagan appointee. Moving on.

The case is Perry v. Schwarzenegger, and here's why it's awesome:
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
Here's the PDF of the full decision. Here's a few more juicy quotes from Talking Points Memo. And here's a CNN bit describing the next steps through the appeals process.

I can see where the Supreme Court wouldn't want to touch this with a ten-foot pole: this would be the defining decision on gay rights. I imagine the Ninth Circuit will let the decision stand, and then the Supreme Court decides whether to hear it or not. If they don't, it becomes binding precedent for the Ninth Circuit, and just strongly advisory for the other twelve circuits (most of which are far more politically conservative than the Ninth). They might not hear it: I can see them not wanting to touch this with a ten-foot pole, and they sometimes like to have conflicting circuit court decisions before they hear an issue.

Who knows? In the meantime, it's a strongly-worded, heartwarming decision.

(UPDATE: FYI, the "God hates all the same people you do" isn't original to me. It's an anecdote from Anne Lamott, who seems to me more quotable than readable..)

it's good to be cared for

Actual conversation between me and Oscar this morning. I'd planned on skipping breakfast, just bringing an apple to school for my 9:30am break. This was about 5 minutes before we usually leave the house.
"Hey! Have some coffee."
"No, thanks."
"Why not?"
"I don't want any."
"Well, have a plate of pasta."
"It's delicious, I made it for Ignacio's lunch. It's warm, I'll make up a plate."
"Let me get you a fork."
"And a napkin. Here you go."
Remember, I have one of the least pushy host families.

Monday, August 2, 2010

happy Monday

The funny thing about feeling sort of burned out (being hopefully at the bottom of whatever adjustment curve you're looking at) is that I have more patience and less attachment to outcomes in the classroom. The activity isn't working? Well, that's fine, let me sit on my table for a second and think about what to do next. 1-G is being themselves to the best of their ability? That's fine, I'll just keep writing names on the board, and they'll learn whatever they can under the circumstances.

It could be better, I guess. I'm taking up precious class time with learning their names at the beginning, which is entirely worthwhile, even if I only remember for the duration of the class, because it helps me with classroom management and personal connection. And I've been taking up time with a review game, and a little bit to make a thank-you video for the people in Massachusetts who donated school supplies. But those don't feel like bad things. Teaching takes both me and the students, and while I feel like other teachers could do better under the circumstances, this is what I've got right now.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

we need to talk

Dear Reader:

I'm cranky these days, I know. It's the fabled low point in the adjustment curve, although, so far as I can tell, it's about the separation from my support systems, and has little to do with being in another culture. It will pass.

But, you, dear Reader! According to Google Analytics, it appears that many of you have been doing things other than reading my blog. Maybe you have "families" or "jobs" or whatever, but my real concern is that your priorities are completely out of alignment. You should be paying attention to me. It's for your own good, really.

You've never been a problem Reader before, so I understand this will be a one-time thing. I'm glad we had this little chat. I look forward to seeing your improved readership in the future!