Sunday Soliloquy: Grassroots Elitism

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Sitting in church today, as I wrote a draft of a recommendation letter for a former student, I couldn’t p but think about a simple, sad, and salient fact: “I am elitist.” It’s not a an adjective that I wear proudly. However, it is one that I have grappled with continuously from high school when I really and truly became aware of the issues of being elitist. While I have grown and changed over the course of the six-seven years since then, it is, perhaps, the biggest and longest lasting block to my “WOKE” journey. It is one that I continue to struggle with.

So what is elitism anyway? Well, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, for something or someone to be elitist they must: “believe that some things [usually of great societal importance] should be controlled or owned only by the richest or best educated people.” The same dictionary also extends the definition to include things that are limited only to those with who have “special interests or abilities”. Inherent to these definitions of elitist and elitism are the idea that those “worthy” are better than those who are not. The pure and total “us vs. them” dichotomy.

Currently,  I am a pragmatic “elitist”.  I do not believe that wealthy people are inherently better or should control the most important resources. I only somewhat believe that the “proven” or “most intelligent” or “educated” should control the most important resources. I do however, believe that until we can totally and fully re-create our society and separate equality and worth from education and employment, there are some people that are more worthy to rule or run things than others. Where I diverge even more from elitist is that I believe this “right to rule” or “right to control” is extremely situational. There are instances where a thirty year veteran of a company should “control” its direction, and there are others where innovative ideas and work ethic should be the determining factor. Even more beneficial would be, logically, that a diversity of talents, skill-sets, and experiences manage and run said company. However, I have not always had these viewpoints.

As a younger man, a boy if you will, I wanted heavily to believe in the power of intelligence and education to transform my realities. I am not, and was not, a “poor” person. Regardless of the fact that my mother teetered between the true middle class, the lower middle class, and the working class during my childhood, the cultural capital in my household was always middle class minded. We owned our home. We financed to own our vehicles. Education was the primary goal and focus. Very little money was spent on entertainment and extremities (this is where middle class mindset meets working class money). I was never a cool kid. I couldn’t dance. I wasn’t very athletic (I little leagued soccer and baseball but never really played or practiced in the offseason). As a result of these facts, I was often out of the social loop in school and in church. Especially in church. I modeled an elitist mindset where the less educationally focused youth at my church were less worthy than I because I cared about school AND I was good at it. These bitter feelings of being left out might’ve fully hardened if not for my ironically elite college education at PENN, which showed me that humanity and worth had nothing to do with academic and life success.

Now why do I still say that I am elitist when at best, I only accept elitism as a short-term stop gap? Simply because old habits die hard. Simply because when I consider the environment that so many people create for our students, I can’t help but believe that I, or someone with a similar mindset or focus, could make long-term change. Simply because as a defense mechanism I push students with “potential” much harder and much farther than I push those that seem more resigned to their fate. Is it because I feel like there is no helping them? There are definitely some who may think that is true. However, I feel that it is because I am pragmatic. Possibly to a fault.

As a teacher I have roughly 145 hours of instruction with my students in a 10 month school year. There are many philosophies about pushing and teaching to your students, but the one that has seemed to resonate the most in my short time at my school site is teaching to the upper middle. This has worked better because the “struggling” students still get an idea of what comes next, the “upper middle” students are sufficiently challenged,  and the highest students aren’t totally disengaged; everyone has room to wiggle and maneuver. The downside of this is that there will be students that won’t wiggle for a number of reasons, and as an inexperienced teacher, differentiation is something that I am still learning and acquiring. I admit to being elitist because to a certain extent I am allowing new status quos to work. I am rewarding students that push and make the attempt and setting them up as those “worthy of my time and of my consideration”. I wish I didn’t, but because of where I am, I am stuck in this mire.

I’ll stop here. Though many of my soliloquys have been a little more focused than this one, I hope that it is clear that I am very conflicted about this. Expect this topic to come back up in the next few months and years as I continue to grow and learn and adjust. Have a great week and remember that the phrase ‘stay WOKE” is alluding to a process. It is a continuous journey and not a destination.

Peace,

Rafi

 

 

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Sunday Soliloquy: The Beginning

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I was initially planning on writing today about Jordan Peele’s excellent film “Get Out”, which I saw for the second time this past Friday. But in conversation with my friend ChiChi, I realized that the well for that piece is much deeper than I would have time for this week. So, expect that to come soon.

Instead of writing about “Get Out”, I’d like to talk about beginnings. The accepted definition of the word/term is: the point in time or space at which something starts (Google). That this is what the term means is rarely up to contention or debate; today I’d like to discuss the actual content of that definition for the word “beginning”.

The primary contention is how we actually define the start. Commonly, people note the start of a cold by sneezes, stuffy noses, sore throats, or intense coughs. For me personally, I usually notice that I have become sick when I get a scratchy or sore throat. However, that isn’t the beginning of the cold. This is merely the beginning of my conscious awareness that I have “come down with something”. It is not the beginning of my sickness.

Similarly, as a teacher, I can often note the beginning of discord and disruption when, to put it frankly, the post-work chatter (or pre-work chatter, or during work chatter) starts. However, the beginning of the chatter is never when it becomes audible to me or the students. This is again, the beginning of me noticing that there is chatter. Even when I can hear a few students, that is the beginning of me noticing, that is not the beginning of the chatter.

The point that I want to address by being so anal about true beginnings is that everything, from our bodies to our classrooms to our country and culture is a macro that is composed of several micros. Our body is a macro-organism comprised of thousands (millions? I haven’t take biology since high school) of micro-organisms, which are comprised of micro-particles and components. My classroom is a macrocosm comprised of tens of students who are effectively the micro-organisms of that environment. The comparisons continue and continue. Often by the time that we note there is a change or dysfunction, we are too late to prevent all of the symptoms. Why? Because we aren’t reacting to the beginning of the disorder or the dysfunction, we’re reacting to the initial symptoms or signs of that breakdown.

Now, I’m not here to find answers to this non-issue. Until science advances even more, we won’t be able to detect the true beginning of colds and other illnesses. This soliloquy in particular isn’t about a solution. It’s simply about mindset. Instead of focusing on when you noticed something, especially in reflection, focus on the time that preceded the event itself. You might not peg down the true beginning, but you will, with time and practice, discern more effective means of “nipping the problem in the bud”.

This isn’t an all-the-time thing. There are times when you want to let life breathe, but this is an effective mindset to have. For the future, you may be more prepared to prevent the problem to begin with. And that my friends, is how successful people continue to get better.

That’s all for now, hope y’all have a good week,

 

Peace

Rafi

Sunday Soliloquy: Ball is Life

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Growing up I was pretty much the least athletic person around. I’m naturally uncoordinated (I struggle to even spell coordination), I’ve got very low spatial intelligence, and my body control is also very low.

I gave up on being halfway decent at most sports at a very early age…though I held out on football because I could still tackle effectively (when I could catch the ballhandler). Yet, seven years after playing my last game of recreational football, I’ve developed an intense interest in the sport of basketball.

Not football, which I at least played in street form from middle to high school; not baseball, which I at least played in Little League; not volleyball, which was my favorite sport as a young adult, but basketball. A game that I quit playing remotely seriously in elementary school, when I embarrassed myself in P.E (a very common occurrence actually). Thanks to video games, I’ve become a big fan of basketball. And I’m committed to actually learning how to play.

Now, why is this realization important? Why is it on my mind at 9 pm on a Sunday when I should be stuffing my eyes with “The Walking Dead”? Two hours ago I thought about how absurd I was for the past two months. I’m still thinking about it.

My 23 year old mind was convinced that I wasn’t too late. I could pick up the game. Get in shape. Work my butt off for two hours a day for two years. Get another bachelor’s degree so I could tryout for an NCAA team, and then I could compete and play a college basketball career. Two hours ago, I was finally able to pull the final remnants of that clear fantasy out of my brain.

I’m naturally unathletic. Naturally uncoordinated. Low spatial intelligence. Very little body control. If I rewound my life to age 1, kept a basketball in my hand, pushed younger me to keep jumping, and was able to develop a true love and passion for playing basketball at a high level, it MIGHT be possible that I’d play third string at a bottom tier college. MIGHT. Even that’s unlikely.

There are definitely paths that would allow me to be more athletic, more coordinated, and to have more spatial intelligence and body control. Comfort and experience are the bedrock foundations of success, and if you spend enough time doing something, it’s unlikely that you won’t be at least better than the average person. However,  to be frank with myself, that’s not me.

Instead of playing basketball for a D1, top tier basketball college, I studied at a top tier University. Instead of spending hours working on my jump shot, I spent hours working on critical and analytical thinking. I can get hooked on basketball now, and fawn over all of the potential opportunities I might’ve had, or I can get involved with the sport now in a capacity that aligns more with my talents and my skillsets. At the end of the day, I’ve developed a love for basketball. That love might help me get into shape, might help me develop a stronger social network; in fact, it might even lead me to a career or a job opportunity. However, it won’t lead me to playing on a team during March Madness or onto a professional team any day. As cool as it would be, that isn’t and won’t be my reality.

But I am now committed to finding a way to make ball a bigger part of my life. Right now it’s via video game, but who knows what the future has in store? Only time will tell.

Have a great week!

Peace,

Rafi

 

Sunday Soliloquy: For the Future

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This one will be very short.

I’ve been dealing with various problems that essentially boil down to egos. Everyone, myself included, feels like they’re doing the right thing. Our plan and our decision is going to make the best outcomes. They will lead us to the place that we wanted to go. No one else’s. Only mine.

Something that I’m learning and re-learning this year, is that even with more open communication, value differences still lead to clashes and conflicts. I try not to lash out with my emotions, and I make a concentrated effort to make logical decisions, especially when it involves other people. However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll escape every situation without awkward, annoying, or harsh moments.

At times, because of other people’s egos, and because of my own, there are clashes no matter how logical and long-term my focus is. I’d even admit that because I have a very long-term mentality, that creates clashes. Many people prioritize immediate and short-term pleasures in their interactions with others, and my focus generally circumvents, at best, and interferes, at worst, with those priorities. Nevertheless, I don’t adjust that focus unless it is absolutely necessary.

For the sake of the greatest future, whether it be weeks, months, or years away, I try to make decisions that have the most net positive impact. It may be uncomfortable (it often is), but in very few cases has it left me feeling like a true failure.

It’s not easy; it’s not even fun, but it definitely gets the job done.

For the future, you often have to make the unpopular and uncomfortable decision. Spend that extra hour with your children, even when you really need a break. Spend that extra hour in the gym, even when you want to go clubbing. Work with people that challenge you, because they’ll really help you grow.

Have a great week,

Peace,

Rafi

Thoughts on the Address: Trump First Address to Congress

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I wasn’t planning on saying anything publically about President Trump’s recent (very recent) first address to Congress as America’s 45th President. Partially because it is very fresh. Partially because I’ve been trying not to allow the Trumpian elements to rain on my parade, patio, or my person. However, one of the many things that really struck me, and there were many, was his brief statement of support for law enforcement. A major reason why it unsettled me was because of its skewed and, from my perspective, flawed understanding of the goal of law enforcement.

To make things perfectly clear: I fully support the people who risk their lives and their safety for the lives of other people, particularly communities, cities, and nations. From a young age, I’ve internalized and learned to “support the soldiers, criticize the war” and I firmly believe that it is possible to have sympathy for innocent people that are thrown into the crossfire when wars, arrests, and assaults occur, and to have equivalent and relative sympathy for those whose occupation, duty, or mission is to manage and handle wars, arrests, and assaults. I marched in the streets of Philadelphia multiple times, despite the fact that I have family members and childhood friends that are or are related to members of law enforcement. I sympathize with the good and the honest, civilians, officers, soldiers, and people. However, I believe that true justice must be served. Human error may abound because we are flawed, but it must not give people a pass to serve no penalty for deviating from protocol.

In his address tonight, the President stated that “we must work with law enforcement”, I don’t agree with that statement as said. While we do and we must respect and honor those who risk their lives and their safety for us, it is not our responsibility to work with them. It is instead their responsibility to work with us. Police badges across the nation say variations of “to protect and to serve”. As a public servant, police officers must be held to a standard of working with the public to better protect and to better serve them. If people are protesting and petitioning against those who have been hired and sworn to protect us, it is clear that they do not feel heard or listened to. They do not feel worked with.

In my current job I am a teacher. A public servant. As frustrating as it may be at times, it is my job to serve the greater interests of my students. There are protocols and policies that exist and I am required to follow them. However, there are also rules, expectations, and policies that can be changed, created, and enforced based on the greater needs and the true desires of my student population. To exist effectively, the servant must first agree to work with the one who they serve.

As the person hear to protect and to serve, I will listen to what you say, and I will observe, and I will watch to discuss and clarify the greater needs of the people and the communities whom I serve. This isn’t easy work. It takes time and relationship building. It is stressful and it is demanding.

To constantly request people to work with an organization, person, or group, that has consistently shown itself to be accidentally or intentionally oblivious to its true needs is abuse. When poor people and people of color push back against the systems that are failing them, by not listening, by prioritizing larger local press and concerns of wealthier residents and communities over their own, they are not working against these systems. They are pushing and protesting and petitioning so that these systems accurately protect and serve all of the people whom these systems serve. To ask these people, and not these departments, and unions, and individual officers, to work with law enforcement is wildly irresponsible.

There can be a coming together of community and law enforcement. But it starts when the protector, the person who can legally wield arms in a number of manners, and the servant, who can bow to the one they serve and slit their throat in their sleep, makes the full effort to work with the people whom they are sworn to serve and to protect. When it is clear beyond many a doubt that it is in the interest of the whole community, not the white, not the rich, not the upwardly mobile but the whole community, that these organizations exist, then the people who you are asking (or telling with much urgency) to work with law enforcement will do so. Then they will be right. You will be right. Our communities can be right.

However, to ask this of them now, and any moment in time before that symbiotic relationship is forged in a community, is irresponsible and frankly wrong. I want no police officers dead. 99.9% of protestors want the same. If you listen to the infamous song “Fuck the Police”, it lays out exactly why they had problems. It wasn’t because they were being fairly detained. And it surely wasn’t because they were being adequately protected and served. In that song, and in the moment that we live in now, the truth is evident. For many, law enforcement is not protecting and serving the communities that they are sworn to. Until they come with the full and honest intention of doing so, we will not work full heartedly with them. They must make the first effort. Then we will reciprocate.

Sorry for the political fire. It was the most present ember in my mind while watching the aforementioned speech.

I’ll be back Sunday with a legitimate soliloquy.

Peace,

 

Rafi