Current/Recent Reading List

19 May 2009

Slackness As A Form of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

So last evening was "Graduation Project" night, the end-of-semester event wherein seniors stand in front of adult judges, in front of often-hastily-prepared tri-fold cardboard displays, and strain to speak for at least five minutes on the "product" they worked on all semester which relates to their research paper. Since this grueling night is always scheduled on Mondays - once in deep, dark December and once in beautiful May - among the things it produces are grumpy, tired teachers for the rest of the week.

Last night was the first time I'd been tapped as a judge of the presentations and "products" (which can consist of anything from volunteer time to actually creating or constructing something), and five of the six seniors we graded did just fine. There was, however, the sixth, whose paper and project were ostensibly on "The Effects of Racial Profiling on the Educations of Minorities." Yes, the young man doing this project was black. From what I could tell, he was intelligent, had the ability to be an effective speaker/presenter, and had an engaging personality. He was well-groomed, polite, and neatly dressed. And his project was...well... crap.

What he was supposed to have done was visit two elementary schools, one predominantly white and one black, help teach second-grade classes about something or other (he never was clear on what), and observe how students were engaged with, punished, etc. by teachers and administrators. What he actually did, it seems, is only go to the latter school and help the teacher pass out papers and line the kids up for recess. When asked what evidence he saw of racial profiling at the school, he told about seeing some black and white kids pushing a boy on the playground and calling him a "Mexican". On his tri-fold he had a few pictures from his classroom visit, somewhat random quotes and questions pasted on at slanted angles, and two print outs of surveys. One of these purported to show the rates of gang activity among different races (why?), and the other showed the disparity in rates of suspensions between blacks and whites in five states (not including NC), and Long Island (?). Suffice to say, this was not a coherent or impressive effort.

As judges, we were to decide how well he supported his argument, and what quality of work he did. As you might have guessed, we judged him as below standard. As you might also have guessed, the three of us are white. There was much conjecture as to what the kid might attribute his failure to.

Oh, we profiled all right. We profiled for "kids who slack off until the last minute on the most important assignment of their senior year." Not a race, but a common species, it seems.

02 May 2009

Me, The Boy, and The Boss

"This is our kingdom of days."
-Bruce Springsteen, Kingdom of Days

If you've listended to Bruce Springsteen's latest album, Working on a Dream, you may have noticed a running theme that threads it's way even through the mostly upbeat, winsome feel of the album: our days on earth are numbered, and we must do the best we can with them. Yes, laughter and love can abound in them. But know that they are numbered. Probably the first ten times I heard "The Last Carnival", Bruce's tribute song to fallen friend and band member Danny Federici, I literally wept somewhere along the way. Our days are numbered indeed.

The story of my first encounters with the music, and the phenomenon, of Bruce Springsteen is rather pedestrian by standards of so many of his fans. As with much of the country, I got hooked on The Boss's music in the spring/summer of 1984 as soon as "Dancing In The Dark" hit the airwaves, and Born in the USA hit the record stores. This was the summer between my eighth and ninth grade years, a time for feeling so grown up and yet so overwhelmed by what was coming. I bought the cassette of the album, and listened to it non-stop for months. It was a heady combination for an introverted teenager ready to pop out of his own skin: guitars, backbeat, the masculine tone of the songs, intelligent lyrics, the dark edges, the stories the songs told. I distinctly remember the summer ritual of having my walkman with me everytime I went out to ride my bike, and everytime I went to bed, the cassette playing over and over (I still have that cassette, by the way). All this would have made me a laughingstock among most of my peers, who considered Bruce weak water compared to their Kiss's/Iron Maidens/Jimi Hendrix's, so I pretty much kept it to myself. But I was hooked.

Years later I realized that for many Bruce purists the album was a source of derision, but it was my introduction to the man. Of course, within the next year or so I had found Born to Run in the cassette bargain bin at K-Mart, and had saved up Christmas money to by the Live 1975-1985 album, which opened up whole new Springsteenian worlds for me, all of them equally compelling. 25 years later I'm still listening, still a fan, even through the uneven albums of the 90's and the Boss's occasional uneven political statements. One of my wife's many good points is that she has always been a Bruce fan as well, and I've found several friends over the years with whom I can bond over Bruce. I neither have the breadth or depth of Springsteen knowledge/experience that a couple of these friends of mine have (friends Brad and Phil, for instance have - I believe- seen every Bruce show ever in the state of NC!), and I've only seen Bruce live twice, though those were two of the most unbelievable experiences of my life, celebrations as much as concerts.

I first played Born in the USA for the boy when he was three, thinking it would be a nice intro to rock and roll for him, and of course openly hoping he would take to it. He did, and we've been raising a little Boss fan ever since.

When word of the new tour came around, it occured to me (perhaps prophetically, perhaps not) that, with one bandmate already fallen, this could be the last time around for 59 year-old Bruce and his crew, and that maybe, just maybe I should go. Unfortunately, Wyfe begged off, as she just doesn't like concerts anymore, plus she knew she would perhaps not have the energy for it at this point in the pregnancy. The thought occured to me, fleetingly, that I should take the boy... but, he's too young, it would be too long, etc. Still, in the wake of the Bruce Superbowl appearance, he had been saying, "I wish I could see Bruce Springsteen sometime." After friend Brad told me about the numbers of children who trekked to Bruce shows with their (rapidly) aging parents on the last tour, well... you can pretty much guess the rest of the story.

So, tonight in Greensboro, child earplugs in tow, the boy and I will be sitting on the lower level, yelling, screaming, bobbing our heads up and down, and air-guitaring, spending our evening with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, a father and son sharing a place in time which will seem, for a few hours, like a place out of time. On this side of heaven, our "Kingdom of Days" are what we have, and we'll share a little piece of that kingdom tonight with a man whose given both of us, now, so much joy.