Over the decade of playing World of Warcraft ™ I’ve run across a few allusions to other works in literature, music, and the arts. For fun (!) I thought I’d do some research into how many allusions appear in Azeroth.
In a region called Bastion, which is full of angels and paragons, (it’s a little creepy, quite frankly), one of the NPC dialogues is “clear skies, full hearts, can’t lose” which I immediately recognized as a Friday Night Lights line, though I haven’t seen a single episode. I’m not a football person. How did I know it was from that show? Because popular culture exacts a toll. One of my colleagues used it on T-shirts or something for students. We know things in the moment because it’s collectively shared or shoved. I think of the groundlings in Shakespeare’s audience chatting around the village wells sharing one-liners and bawdy jokes from the plays. It was entertainment. And I realized most stories and series I watch are based on Bible stories. No one can convince me that Better Call Saul isn’t grounded in Cain and Abel. And I’m not even a Christian church person.
And I need to think more about this. Recently, #DisruptTexts was attacked. That aggression will not stand, man. I’m thinking of the disingenuous argument that people won’t know where ideas, references or allusions come from unless we muddle through language that’s over 500 years old. Yes, novels that continue to be taught do provide a cultural reference point. But whose culture? What reference point? Yeah, you know who. Allow me some time to ponder this, and work with some amazing women I know.
If you saw what some Libertarians, White Supremacists, Trolls, write about teachers–that their jobs are ridiculous, outdated, and students can learn everything they need to know from Khan Academy and YouTube, and that our professional expertise and ability to find relevancy and context with our students, help them understand and apply the process of critical thinking skills, weigh facts, opinions, truth and biases to draw their own conclusions based on logic and personal values. When we do this well, it’s powerful. And perhaps it is that expertise and knowledge that frightens many, including some teachers. Unfortunately, many teachers still uphold white supremacy, colonialism, and other harmful, violent practices. And, though I will never understand it fully, many voted for the current president and would do so again. But at this writing he’s in the hospital right now, Sunday, October 4, 2020, with the virus he called a hoax.
But this is about teaching Ayn Rand’s works Whatever you may think about her writing, her opinions, etc., I ask: please do the background knowledge and current scholarly research into the consequences of her work. I provide a few articles to read and consider.
The new age of Ayn Rand: how she won over Trump and Silicon Valley
It is a timely decision because Rand, who died in 1982 and was alternately ridiculed and revered throughout her lifetime, is having a moment. Long the poster girl of a particularly hardcore brand of free-market fundamentalism – the advocate of a philosophy she called “the virtue of selfishness” – Rand has always had acolytes in the conservative political classes. The Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, is so committed a Randian, he was famous for giving every new member of his staff a copy of Rand’s gargantuan novel, Atlas Shrugged (along with Freidrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom). The story, oft-repeated, that his colleague in the US Senate, Rand Paul, owes his first name to his father Ron’s adulation of Ayn (it rhymes with “mine”) turns out to be apocryphal, but Paul describes himself as a fan all the same.
The Fountainhead was serially rejected and published to ambivalent reviews, but it became a word-of-mouth hit. Over the coming years, a cult following arose around Rand (as well as something very close to an actual cult among her inner circle, known, no doubt ironically, as the Collective). Her works struck a chord with a particular kind of reader: adolescent, male and thirsting for an ideology brimming with moral certainty. As the New Yorker said in 2009: “Most readers make their first and last trip to Galt’s Gulch – the hidden-valley paradise of born-again capitalists featured in Atlas Shrugged, its solid-gold dollar sign standing like a maypole – sometime between leaving Middle-earth and packing for college.”
What Happens When You Take Ayn Rand Seriously?
The core of Rand’s philosophy — which also constitutes the overarching theme of her novels — is that unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive. This, she believed, is the ultimate expression of human nature, the guiding principle by which one ought to live one’s life. The fly in the ointment of Rand’s philosophical “objectivism” is the plain fact that humans have a tendency to cooperate and to look out for each other, as noted by many anthropologists who study hunter-gatherers.
In other words, we are more social and connected than some would like to believe.
The Short, Unhappy Life of a Libertarian Paradise
The city’s experiment was fascinating because it offered a chance to observe some of the most extreme conservative principles in action in a real-world laboratory. Producers from “60 Minutes” flew out to talk with the town’s leaders. The New York Timesfound a woman in a dark trailer park pawning her flat screen TV to buy a shotgun for protection. “This American Life” did a segment portraying Springs citizens as the ultimate anti-tax zealots, willing to pay $125 in a new “Adopt a Streetlight” program to illuminate their own neighborhoods, but not willing to spend the same to do so for the entire city. “I’ll take care of mine” was the gist of what one council member heard from a resident when she confronted him with this fact.
This is a long piece, and requires a few readings to reach its conclusions, mainly because it’s muddy (like most human endeavors). But it does illustrate an experiment of Libertarian ideals that would make Ayn Rand rise from the grave, and then go back in again when she sees what a failure it is.
Libertarianism, in my husband’s words, doesn’t scale. That’s it. And my words: it produces an immaturity and failure to actualize into adulthood. And if we teachers want this for our students, and insist on teaching Ayn Rand, please provide multiple viewpoints that demonstrate how it doesn’t work. Everyone of us likes to think we’re the hero of our own story, we’re in control, and we are independent. And there’s nothing wrong that until we forget there are 8 billion others. It’s misspent energy at best, and destruction at worst.
A few months ago, I made this book talk video and posted it on YouTube. I confess, I did try to find out how to pronounce words correctly, but I still goofed up.
And yesterday I received an email correcting me on a few points:
I added the email text to the video, and kept the original video because I want to share this with students this next school year. This is how we learn. One of my plans for my own learning this summer is to read more and reflect on Indigenous peoples in North America. Monise Seward and I were going to do this. I feel behind in my progress, but will show myself a little grace–I put it on my calendar for this weekend, and will continue to grow.
In the meantime, I feel so much gratitude to this teacher for helping me.
These educators shape my practice, keep me accountable, and provide the resources and inspiration we can all use in keeping us sustained, accountable, and growing. Their generosity is unsurpassed. These are teachers I’ve met in the virtual world that have included me in direct, collaborative projects.
Monise Seward: Monise is THE go-to educator for all things math, special education, and just all-around amazing. She supports students first. She invited me to work on curating resources this summer, and I don’t want to let her down. You can find her on Twitter: @MoniseLSeward
Alicia Blankenship–caring, resourceful, and generous:
Larry Ferlazzo: though I’ve followed his work for years, since becoming an EL teacher his work is holds greater value for my practice. https://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/ Follow his work: I am wondering if he has a clone somewhere because his work and energy is boundless!
Holly Stein and Kim Norton: two of my writing project teachers, and very dear friends. I’m still working on that book, ladies.
#ProjectLit: becoming a community leader in #ProjectLit, started by Jarred Amato, which provided me with the opportunities to meet Jason Reynolds, introduce me to Mrs. Hall, and many other teachers who share a passion for books that our students want to read.
It’s hard to express the joy of finding others to work with, share, create, who inspire, and show me grace and love. And since this series is “White People Homework” I am asking white teachers who grumble, complain, and disparage “those students” I would feel pity for you if you weren’t harming children. But alas, I don’t. I’m not that generous. But if you’re feeling sad, hateful, and discouraged, there are others out there who show and share love and generosity. You can have those gifts, too. But you must let go of that ignorant hate first. It’s your choice.
We can’t do this work alone. And I’ve recognized that if I’m not “the” teacher that connects with a student, I know that there will be one for them along the way. I don’t want to be “the one” anyway — truly. I want all of us to provide each child we teach and in our care to be respected, model self-respect, and supported. And just like children need different supports, so do adults. How one colleague begins their anti-racism work and their place on the journey toward an equitable, just society may look different for each of us. This is Part 1 of some of the educators who’ve influenced, inspired, and become an integral part of my community.
Here are some of the educators doing this work, and they can help you on your journey:
Jess Lifshitz approaches anti-racism work with humility and great love. And don’t be fooled; she is a powerful and amazing educator.
John Spencer has been a friend of mine for years. I trust his voice and his work.
Tom Rademacher is direct, no-nonsense and will help you with direct, honest conversation about anti-racism work. I cannot recommend his book, It Won’t Be Easy, enough.
Any progress I’ve made towards anti-racism has been because of Black, Indigenous, and POC work and scholarship. I do my best to cite and amplify those voices that have been meaningful to me, but could be better.
Mrs. LaQuisha Hall — it would be a challenge to find an educator as generous as she.
He walked up to my desk at the end of class, looked at me and said, Mrs. Hall, you are truly one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.” I was in awe… just out of nowhere. I told him I wished I had captured that. He said, “I’ll say it again because I mean it.” 😢 #mrshallscholarspic.twitter.com/qzkMjuNb7c
In a Facebook group whose mission is to discuss anti-racism and equity issues (one of about a thousand of these groups) a member asked if it’s “okay to compliment an accent.”
My short answer was “no.” She was not satisfied with this. I told her I would research it further, but my first response comes from being an ELA/ELL teacher, and complimenting someone’s accent or dialect may make them feel singled out, “other” ness. It may discourage students who speak one or more languages other than English, and while they’re working on English will feel self-conscious.
And I am wondering why I am still so irked. Why wasn’t it enough for me to say “no?” The reason is because when a white person doesn’t get the answer they want, it takes a trajectory of time (confirmation bias strength) and friction (cognitive dissonance). She wanted to continue her behavior. I get it. I still like to tell students they’re amazing, beautiful, smart, loyal friends, courageous, and creative. When we’ve done pop-up toasts as a class and they need to speak to/about other students, it’s my honor to help them find ways to compliment one another that’s healthy, loving and profound.
Note: even the word “microaggression” sounds like “small racism.” They’re aggressions.
We’re not a football family in our house. And like many areas of fandom, it’s okay–no judgment on those who love football, and as far as we know we aren’t judged by others. Wouldn’t matter. So forgive me for not knowing who Emmanuel Acho is. Turns out, he’s pretty amazing! And I am so grateful for other media formats who bring people such as him into my life and help me learn.
And I am an ELA/ELL teacher; however, full disclosure, I was not an English major in college. Most of what I learned about mechanics, style guides, and conventions I relearned and created lessons while teaching. My next question is what are the current grammarians and style guide writers determining about the capitalization of Black and White. Here’s what I’ve found:
The National Association of Black Journalists does not capitalize Black in its publications, including the NABJ Style Guide. Many of the terms related to Black and White people in The Diversity Style Guide come from 100 Questions & Answers About African Americans. The team that put together that guide decided to capitalize Black and White, according to editor Joe Grimm. After much research and consideration, the editor of The Diversity Style Guide elected to capitalize Black and White when used in a racial context, but most would say it’s not incorrect to lowercase those words.
However, when words labeling an entire people are at the root of a language dispute, that’s reason enough to seek direction outside of our usual resources, especially if the resources are outdated. If your editorial directive is to call people what they want to be called—including names, pronouns, and labels—then look to Black media outlets like Ebony and Essence for accepted usage and avoid overriding their terminology. By capitalizing black and white, we also make necessary distinctions between color and race—black hair and Black hair—similar to distinguishing between native and Native. Don’t wait for your style guide to catch up, because it’s waiting for you to demonstrate sufficient usage.
We believe that it is important to call attention to White as a race as a way to understand and give voice to how Whiteness functions in our social and political institutions and our communities. Moreover, the detachment of “White” as a proper noun allows White people to sit out of conversations about race and removes accountability from White people’s and White institutions’ involvement in racism. We are also reckoning with the threatening implications of capitalizing “W” in “White,” often used by White supremacists, to establish White racial dominance. The violence of capitalizing White in this context makes us grapple with the history of how Whiteness has functioned and thrived in the United States; acknowledging that, yes, White people have had power and still hold power in this country. While we condemn those who capitalize “W” for the sake of evoking violence, we intentionally capitalize “White” in part to invite people, and ourselves, to think deeply about the ways Whiteness survives—and is supported both explicitly and implicitly.
Language is powerful, and oftentimes I think ELA teachers don’t teach the true power of capitalization, punctuation and syntax. Because it “wasn’t on the test” we spent the past 14 years teaching to a test that uses excerpts like out-of-context entrails on an autopsy slab. I am going to call on my other experts on history and language to ask their thoughts. I will and do capitalize Black when referring to race, and have been using lower case “w” for white people. My instinctual response was because capitalizing the “w” felt like a nod for white supremacy. However, CSSP makes a strong case. (No pun intended.) Language is ever-evolving and shifting, sometimes for honest, descriptive and precise communication and sometimes for nefarious and subtextual racist communication. This article was written in 2015 by the Columbia Journalism Review: I think we can all agree that we need to be mindful of language and do our best to stay current and mind the impact.
And also, ELA teachers, be especially mindful of your use of Martin Luther King’s, Jr. works.
Every “y’all lost us with the word ‘defund,’” go read A Letter from A Birmingham Jail.
Every “y’all lost us with the word ‘abolition,’ go read some Sojourner Truth & Frederick Douglass.
It is possible-and necessary- to evolve on these things.
Literally. Go read.
— brittany packnett cunningham does not do remixes. (@MsPackyetti) June 14, 2020
AP has changed its writing style guide to capitalize the “b” in the term Black when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context, weighing in on a hotly debated issue. https://t.co/yeigYh9GWU
I’ve just signed a petition about this bridge to dignity as seen in SELMA. It is named after a KKK grand wizard and confederate warlord. Edmund Pettus Bridge should be the John Lewis Bridge. Named for a hero. Not a murderer. Join this call. It’s past due. https://t.co/EZqu7ic0bU
Bree Newsome climbed up a flagpole and took down the racist, Confederate flag of South Carolina in 2015. I was teaching 7th grade Humanities that year, and her actions were shared with my students.
Newsome’s move, for many, was nothing short of cathartic. Weeks before, white supremacist Dylann Roof gunned down nine parishioners and injured three more during Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The day before Newsome climbed the flagpole, former President Barack Obama gave a moving eulogy for South Carolina state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the shooting’s victims, in which he called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds, describing it as “a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.”
The debate over whether or not to take down statues of the Confederacy began to heat up, and information and background history of when and why those statues were erected shared, but still the debate waged on. And nothing was done. We forgot about this work.
Just this past week, a mother of one of my favorite people, and she is a loving, Christian woman who is on his side, loves his bravery and voice, and shares his convictions, stepped out in one way –she believes the taking down of the statues is a form of censorship. Now, I am sensitive to the word ‘censorship.’ (This morning a colleague said, unequivocally, that “racist texts need and should be burned.” She didn’t cite specific works. She said it would be an anti-fa act. I said it is also a fascist act. One of the paradoxes of our times. But the book burning post is for another day.)
Instead of debating or making a case whether or not taking down statues is censorship, I had this epiphany this morning, and I am going to explore further. It came to me while listening to the news about Britain putting barricades around statues to protect them from protestors:
I do not know everything about history. I know quite little, actually, and this lack of knowledge affords me this opportunity to think about the statues and monuments I’ve encountered. If I see a statue of a man on horseback dressed in military gear, I assume he’s a famous person who has performed some act of bravery. The statue is shorthand and communicates an agreed-upon statement. If there is a statue of someone that means they did something worth getting a statue for. Right? I mean, we don’t honor horrible people, do we? We honor brave, kind, intelligent, worthy people who save lives, heal others, tell stories, or share a greater gift with the rest of humanity, right? There are statues that are works of art, fountains, monuments, that bring beauty and joy. But think: when looking at them, what assumptions do we make?
When we see Confederate military statues, or statues such as James Marion Sims, we assume heroic deeds. And that is where the true censorship happens. It happens when the voices of those enslaved, tortured, harmed, killed and exploited are silenced. The censorship happens when we don’t know whose land we’re on. And in the cruel legacy of Sims, medical students still think BIPOC don’t feel pain the same way white people do. Still. To THIS DAY. Or what treacherous and heinous acts they performed. If we do keep colonizers, slave owners, and religious zealots statues present, why not put up a huge sign that tells the whole story? Would you have known what Sims did if you just walked through the park, saw his statue, and went about your merry way? Or Columbus? Would you have known about the Taino he slaughtered? If we’re going to keep Christopher Columbus status should we put the hands of the slaughtered around his neck? And how is Georgia planning on blasting off Stone Mountain? (Look it up.) Because that one is large and horrifying.
Now, of course, I would prefer that the statues just come down. Go in a museum basement somewhere. Or melted down and made into beautiful bells and chimes. For every statue that’s taken down, if we need to replace them we have thousands waiting who truly did do wonderful things. Brave things. Acts of courage and generosity. People half-joke about putting up statues of Dolly Parton. What about Harriet Tubman? What about Ida B. Wells?
And I wouldn’t mind seeing his work in every city across this nation: