Wednesday, November 05, 2008

NOTES ON POLITICS AND KINDERGARTEN



Well, the Satanist Muslim cat is out of the bag. The American people provided this generation with the spectacle of one of the most impressive voter turnouts in a century for a presidential election that could hardly be mistaken for anything other than a rousing call for change. For many African-American voters of a certain age, and those of every color who have built their lives around adherence to the basic tenets of civil rights in this country, it may have seemed that a day like this would never come. But for just as many younger African-Americans interviewed coming out of polling places and into the celebratory night last evening, their awareness of the historical reality of what kind of hindrance the color of their skin has been for those that came before them did little to temper the difficulty they had understanding how such a world could have existed and operated, so apparently different is the one they live in today. The election of Barack Obama is an indication of that difference, a marker of the reality of true possibility that does not exclude the awareness of how many entrenched, institutionalized attitudes are left to be enlightened. Those who are so excited about Obama’s historic win (myself included) would be well advised to temper expectations of the effects of some magic Obamaesque wand that will be put to use against overt racism, a crumbling economy, and the management of two expensive, deadly wars, one of them pointless as well. But it is hard to begrudge anyone the sense that we’ve seen something important and historic in the past 24 hours, experienced a sea change in the body politic that more accurately reflects the personal politics of many voters, Republican and Democrat, than have very many elections past. It is a moment on which to speculate, but more accurately build upon the opportunities that have been afforded us through the electoral system.


Sorry, but I just couldn't publish a picture of that woman...

Why, even the conservative radio talk-show host Al Rantel, whom I listened to in the shower this morning, was talking conciliation. This man, who has been harshly critical of both the Clinton and Bush administrations in the past, is to my ear one of the more fair-minded voices on a Los Angeles AM radio frequency (790 KABC) which the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Larry Elder and Tammy Bruce call home. Rantel was able to see the forest for the trees this morning. He called for “the haters” to examine fairly Obama’s words and actions in the next couple of years and join in working together with a true rainbow coalition of voters to help Obama to begin fulfilling some of the promise of his candidacy, not to undermine it before it even begins. Is this kind of reaching across the gap possible? It would be, from my perspective, had John McCain won. Most of the people I’ve talked to never held much animosity for McCain, outside the general perception that he would extend the war in Iraq indefinitely. Most of the hesitation I’ve personally felt toward a McCain presidency was mired in questions about his health, and those questions would have been moot had he chosen (or had chosen for him) a running mate for whom I could have held an ounce of respect or confidence. But the prospect of the shockingly inept weirdo Sarah Palin being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office and that oh-so-tempting button was just too overwhelming. What looked like a crafty, typically cynical play by the Republican Party to steal Obama’s thunder (gender trumps race, right?) and get a big push by the People/Us Weekly contingency got exposed for what it was—a shell game on the national stage in which, thankfully, a majority of American voters followed the rotten egg under the cup, exposed it and tossed it to the curb.


But maybe the most immediately gratifying thing for me about the Obama win is thinking about these bigots, closeted and out in the open, who have been including me in strings of anti-Obama e-mails leading up to the election. Their missives are always couched in language that reflects their level-headed, heartfelt concern about Obama and his ties to Muslim terrorists (well, with a name like O-BOMB-a, right?!), the Muslim faith (well, with a middle name like Hussein, right?!), and how this insidiously charismatic man, the color of whose skin is, naturally, of no concern at all, will surely lead our nation away from the righteous Christian faith it has claimed to have been based in since its inception and down the primrose path toward pagan idolatry, the formation of terrorist cells in your neighborhood and, perhaps most vile of all, race-mixing-- you know he’s half white, right?! (One can only chalk it up to a failure of imagination that these clowns managed to miss the opportunity to raise our hackles about Obama’s grooming habits based on his undoubtedly demon-inspired initials.) To think of these fretting cowards having to face up to a truly new world where Barack Obama is undeniably their president is satisfying indeed. It’s also frightening—from this kind of thinly-veiled fear can often blossom the true fruits of hate. But if the election of Barack Obama can signal a change in a country whose history is littered with the corpses of people of all colors whose lives were taken in the name of God and American sovereignty, then maybe there’s room for change in those who still hold out the fears that have otherwise been so effectively diminished by this current generation of voters.

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The tree, the spider web and the “Kindergarten Votes!” sign are my contributions to the hallway decorations at R. D. White Elementary School in Glendale, California for Election 2008

I spent Election Day in bed, listening to the returns on TV as they clanged around in my fever-wracked head and got all mixed up with the howls coming straight out of my aching, constricted musculature. This was my body saying, “Okay, enough.” I’m in the final week of my first six-week leg of student teaching, and as I was teaching my lesson yesterday morning (my last kindergarten observation by my supervisor too, so there was even extra added pressure there) I started to feel rundown. At lunch my supervising teacher, the one in whose classroom I have been working since early September, took a look at me and thankfully sent me on my merry way. But before I did, I was able to turn my own voting into a teachable experience for my kindergarten kids. It just so happens that the elementary school where I teach also doubles as my polling place. So round about 11:00 a.m. we all trudged down to the auditorium where the kids got to watch Mr. C. cast his vote for Rock Obama, as he is widely known in the primary grades, and against a ballot measure that would call in question the right to gay marriage in the state of California, a measure which, unfortunately, did not ride the coattails of the state’s Obama endorsement. (The measure was approved by about a four-percent margin.) The election has been a lot of fun for us in class this year—the kindergarten teaching team even set up an election in which the wee ones were able to cast their own votes and encourage the kids to get familiar with being involved in the process. (Results: Obama, 86 votes, McCain, 26 votes, and four ballots disqualified when the voter decided to check off both boxes.)

After all this, it was time for me to shut down for a while. I haven’t been sick in bed for quite a while, but I’m not surprised that it happened during this fairly rigorous schedule which I find myself in as I complete my journey to become a teacher. The amount of work required in school, coupled with the amount of work I have to do just to bring in a fraction of the amount of money I’m used to at my day job, finally caught up with me yesterday. But it’s been a grand journey so far, and as I close out my time in kindergarten I thought I’d show off a couple of pictures and offer special thanks to kindergarten teachers extraordinaire Beth Hank, Teresa Peplow, Bonnie Lewis, Mariena Jacobs, Heather O’Dell, Pam Andrissani and fellow student teacher Kathryn Nishibayashi—these folks have offered me nothing but friendship, support and cogent criticism which I can take directly back to the classroom the next day (or the next minute, sometimes) and directly improve my teaching skills. But most of all, I offer my gratitude to my supervising teacher, Dotti Soghomonian, who has never let our friendship (she was kindergarten teacher to both of my daughters) get in the way of being the best, most constructive advisor I could ever hope for. There have been days I’ve walked out of school thinking I was in over my head, but Dotti never let me forget her confidence in my skills and my ability to relate to the children, and because of that I have been able to come back in the next day, regain my footing and keep on truckin’. My experience in her classroom has me seriously considering a career in kindergarten, which I would have never thought about before. And if I end up with a tenth of her skill as an effective, empathetic, concerned and proactive teacher, then I will have a grand second-half career in teaching indeed. Thanks, Dotti.

Here’s a look at the classroom under the guidance of Mr. C.:


Halloween day: Dotti’s costume was a big hit; unfortunately, I could think of nothing to wear and ended up, as you can see, in my street clothes…


Mr. C seizes the occurrence of some actual fall-like weather outside to teach the class about clouds (For Jonathan Lapper and anyone else concerned, note the absence of the baseball cap)

7 comments:

Larry Aydlette said...

I love seeing those pics of you teaching school, Dennis. Proud of ya, man!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Larry. I only have a week left in that class, and moving on is going to be difficult.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Thanks for the no cap pic! I can get on with my life now.

Kathryn said...

Yay for "Rock" Obama!

I'll miss you down the hall in Kinderworld!(and I'm totally with you on the "never woulda considered a teaching career in Kinder before this" bit.... we're lucky we work with such amazing people!)

Schuyler Chapman said...

Dennis, many days late, just want to say I really enjoyed this post when I read it last week. I find myself (a teacher now too) really appreciating narratives about the profession more and more, and yours is nicely done.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Schuyler. I have something else coming up in a similar vein that I think (hope) you'll appreciate too. And after only six weeks in kindergarten, I have got a couple of hilarious stories to tell about these little folks that I don't think I'll ever forget!

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