Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Degradation of Democracy

 For as long as I have taught classes on government and politics, I have taught my students that in a democracy citizens get the government that they deserve.  What I mean by that is that democracy requires cultivation.  There must be active participation of the citizens.  To function well, those citizens must do their part - they must try to be informed; they have to ask hard questions and search for real answers.  They must be prepared to reject the lies and deceptions of charlatans.  It’s not easy and it’s made frustrating by politics, the grab for power that all participants in the process sometimes engage in.  But the work to cultivate democracy must happen.  Failure of the citizens to do that work results in the degradation of democracy.  When that happens, the work to restore democracy becomes harder still because the citizens have lost the habits of good citizenship.

I thought of this as I watched the disaster that was Tuesday night’s presidential debate.  It was a real-time display of the shame our republic has become.  To be sure, at the heart of our current crisis is Donald Trump.  He cares only for himself, a fact made apparent over and over since he began his bid for the presidency.  That he has been enabled by a political party so eager to grab power that they are willfully blind to the damage they’ve done to the republic makes the situation much worse.    

On Tuesday night, Joe Biden lost his way more than I would have liked.  The yelling and shouting over one another in a time supposedly devoted to a serious conversation about our national path forward was disgraceful and further proof of the crisis we are in.  A candidate would have to be superhuman not to take the bait from Trump.  But even in the midst of it, Biden persistently regrouped, and sometimes acted like a responsible leader, redirecting the conversation to the needs of his fellow Americans.  It couldn’t have been easy to do; it certainly wasn’t easy to watch.

At the close of the night, as the president of all Americans refused to condemn white supremacy, it felt as if we had achieved a new national low.  In the midst of a series of national crises, including a pandemic he has deliberately and cruelly mismanaged, Donald Trump did what is no longer the unthinkable: he blew the racist dog whistle that he used when he first launched his malevolent ambitions.  This time it was less a whistle than it was a siren.

And so here we are, at a national low point willfully brought on by a man who lied when he swore to uphold our Constitution and the imperfect democratic republic that it created.  Trump is in it for himself and that could ruin us all.  We are in a crisis: a crisis of democracy, a crisis of conscience, and if the president succeeds in persuading his supporters that voting is flawed despite ample evidence that it is not, our low-grade Constitutional crisis will blow up with a fevered roar.  

There is a remedy and it can be found in the citizens.  We must actively participate; we must cast our ballots and we must follow that vote by putting in the hard work to cultivate our democracy.  We must recognize and believe that the whole of this nation is greater than its parts.  I have always believed that we have this power within us. I know the obstacles ahead but still I live in hope.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Path Ahead

Lately, my favorite pictures to make with my phone are ones with a path at the center.  

It’s like my subconscious is cheering us on as we venture into the unknown.

I’ve worked very hard to remind myself to live in and appreciate the here and now.  These days. I’m able look toward the future’s uncertainty with a sense that new and manageable challenges await.  That’s a good thing, I believe.

Monday, September 28, 2020

A Good Day

T and I took a day over the weekend to go to one of our favorite places and stop by some farm stands along the way.  We came home in possession of a variety of Fall squashes and a jug of fresh apple cider.  Better than that, we came home relaxed.  We had a picnic at our favorite place up north and found that someone had left a smidge of sidewalk chalk on the table.  We put the chalk to good use.

The blue sky at Jenny Jump Park is nearly always a special shade of lovely.  The day was warm but we've had some cold nights and leaves are just starting to change.  As September merges into October, I am grateful for days like this; a reminder to relax my mind and find space to simply be.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Dogwood Mornings

Every morning I stand in the back windows of my house and admire the dogwood tree.  These days, it’s looking decidedly like Fall truly is on the horizon.

When October arrives next week, I’ll choose a day for a weekly dogwood picture.  Fall is lovely in the backyard and these days, I embrace all the beauty that I can find.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Porch Season

Weekday mornings on the porch have come to a rather abrupt halt this week.  It’s not the cool weather that ended the habit, instead it’s the darkness of the mornings.  We’ve reached the point in the season when the sun rises past 6:45 and even with the porch lights switched on, it’s just too dark for my 52 year old eyes to read comfortably.

I can sit out in the afternoons and on weekend mornings but the writing is clear —— the porch season is coming to a close.  Most years, I accept trading my time on the front porch at the close of the season as part of the happy transition to Fall and then Winter - the cozy seasons, if you will - but this year it’s hard to say goodbye.

I think that’s a side effect of life in a pandemic.  I am worried about what happens with Covid-19 when we are all cooped up indoors. I feel safe at home and even at school we all fully intend to keep the windows open.  But the uncertainty about Winter and this dreadful disease is certainly ever-present.

If I let it, the worry and uncertainty can consume me.  So I make a concerted effort to instead welcome each day and set my worry aside.  Time I spent on the front porch, grateful for the blessings of the green plants and fresh air, certainly helps to ease the worry.  That’s happy!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Doing Hard Things

My second week of hybrid learning school starts today.  When we decided to invite half of the students on campus for each week (the other half learn remotely), I knew that we had selected the hardest of all teaching options.  Last week, as classes got underway, the difficulty of the choice was confirmed.

This week, the students in class last week will be remote and the second crop of students will be present in class.  Some families have opted to be all remote and with those kids mixed in, more than half of each class I teach is off campus each day.  Teaching school with masks and social distancing, with more than half of each class learning remote, is more than exhausting.  It’s also really, really hard.  

Though my classroom is familiar (albeit with plexiglass and desks spaced 6 feet apart), so much of class is different, starting with the tiresome but necessary mask worn while teaching to masked face students in person while the rest of the class chimes in via Zoom.  For years, I’ve taught lessons using an iPad to broadcast notes on the screen.  In hybrid learning, I must choose being seeing the faces of my remote students or broadcasting my notes.  I’ve chosen student faces but that makes the task of teaching students how to take notes much harder.  Lessons take longer and while I don’t feel the pressure to cover material at the same pace as the pre-pandemic world, I’m increasingly aware of what we lose in this method of schooling.

For now, I persevere, aware that there is no other option available.  I relish the laughter and chatter of students doing what middle schoolers do.  I’m also aware of the relative privilege of my students, all of whom have Internet access and a brand-new iPad; most have two devices while they learn remotely.  If it’s hard for us, I can only imagine how much harder it is for teachers whose students have so much less to work with.

But that doesn’t mean my exhaustion isn’t real.  That doesn’t mean my lift isn’t heavy.  Each day I remind myself and then my students that we can do hard things.  And each day we do the hard thing moves us one day closer to a brighter horizon.  

And with that, a new week of hard things begins.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

A Neck Less Burdened

I was in the car Friday evening, half listening to NPR, when the top of the hour headline reported that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away.  I immediately pulled over to catch my breath and confirm the news.  With no confirmation at the New York Times website or even at NPR, I drove home trying to convince myself that I had misheard the headline.   The immediate silence of my phone let me briefly believe it.  But as I pulled into town my phone blew up with texts.  The overwhelmingly sad news was confirmed by each of those dings.

My son.

Then my sister.

And my mother.

Three friends.

It was true.

To say that we’ve lost an icon is to underestimate the value of RBG in the world, but especially in the world of women my age.  I am 52 and though I am well-familiar with sexism, I came of age with opportunities that Justice Ginsburg never had and that her work provided for women like me.  Because of her efforts, I came of age with a neck less burdened by the feet of powerful men.  It was the thing she sought when she appeared before the Super Court as a litigant in 1970s, working tirelessly to give women access to the equal protection of the law promised us all by the 14th amendment.  

It was a goal she continued to work toward when she joined the Supreme Court in 1993, only the second female justice on the Court.

I am grateful to Justice Ginsburg for a lifetime of work on behalf of true equality under the law.  It’s clear that she hoped to serve long enough to be replaced by a Democratic president.  She’s gone and we cannot give her that wish.  But we can honor her lifetime of service and her final wish by fighting harder than ever for a nation of justice for all.  She gave us our chance and the least we can do is work harder than ever to secure it for the next generation.  

Thank you, Justice Ginsburg.  Rest in power.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Bulletin Board Season Opener

My annual bulletin board (which is really more of an inspiration board) is one of my favorite back-to-school traditions.  In all the insanity of planning for our hybrid teaching school year, I considered letting last year’s board hang around.  But I love this tradition and spend all year collecting things for my bulletin board and so last week I set to work on the 2020-2021 bulletin board.

I am glad that I found the time because it makes me happy every day.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dogwood Days

Though I am still wearing flip flops and sitting outside for all my spare moments, Fall is most clearly in the air.  The dogwood leaves are leading the way and they are lovely.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Jenny Jump

Before I returned to meetings at school on August 31,  T and I stole a few hours on that last weekend to visit Jenny Jump State Park, one of our favorite places in New Jersey.

The sky was clear blue and lovely.

The park was its usual quiet, which is always nice to experience when you live in a densely populated state like New Jersey.  It was verdant green, even as the Summer prepares to end.

Just a few hours of rest but it was lovely, a down payment of still and quiet in what is sure to be a busy Fall.