Monthly Archives: February 2012

Bad Day

Yesterday was, to say the least, a bad day.  First of all, I caught some students cheating quite blatantly.  Our student handbook has a very specific punishment for a cheating offense.  When I took the issue to my principal and expected that he would back me up on the issue, he instead informed me that it was my fault because apparently I am unable to keep control in my class.  This is a man, who refuses to back up his teachers and each time we take him an issue, he turns it around on us.  It is never the student fault, it is always the fault of the teacher.  We do what we can to control our classes.  I try to create a good learning environment. Similar to this blog, my classroom is a fun (sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes very serious) approach to education.  Apparently, I am unable to tell a joke in the classroom, or attempt to make the subjects I teach fun and interesting because it leads to the students not understanding that cheating is wrong. How, I do not know?

Instead of the principal backing me, I felt like I was thrown under a bus.  I was berated by him for over an hour, part of that in front of students, making me look like a fool.  To say that I am furious, is an understatement.  I have attempted to address the problem with academic dishonesty with him in the past and been rebuffed.  I guess, I should not have expected more from him, though I did.  Instead of being a teacher who is attempting to make the school a better place, I feel like a scolded child.  The children feel triumphant because they are not going to have to deal with the full punishment that is accorded to them.  Why can’t people understand the value of an education?  Cheating is wrong; end of story, or at least it should be the end of it.  I was proved wrong about that yesterday.

I can only hope that this principal will only be at our school for the rest of the year at the most, and we can truly have a fresh start next year.

Sorry about the bitching.  Thank you for reading.

Teach Me

By Donald (Grady) Davidson

Teach me, old World, your passion of slow change,
    Your calm of stars, watching the turn of earth,
Patient of man, and never thinking strange
    The mad red crash of each new system’s birth.

Teach me, for I would know your beauty’s way
    That waits and changes with each changing sun,
No dawn so fair but promises a day
    Of other perfectness than men have won.

Teach me, old World, not as vain men have taught,
    —Unpatient song, nor words of hollow brass,
Nor men’s dismay whose powerfullest thought
    Is woe that they and worlds alike must pass.

Nothing I learn by any mortal rule;
Teach me, old World, I would not be man’s fool.

from The Fugitive, 1922

Donald (Grady) Davidson

Poet Donald (Grady) Davidson was born in Tennessee and was a member of both the Fugitive and Agrarian groups at Vanderbilt University. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Vanderbilt University and remained at the University his entire professional career (1920 – 1968) teaching English. In addition to being a teacher, Davidson enjoyed an international reputation as a poet, essayist, novelist, and critic. His first book of poems, The Outland Piper, was published in 1924. From 1931-1967 he spent his summers teaching at Bread Loaf School of English in Ripton, Vermont. He served in the military during World War I May 1917- June 1919. In June of 1918 he married Theresa Sherrer, a legal scholar and artist. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, American Folklore Society, American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, South Atlantic Modern Language Association, and the Tennessee Federation for Constitutional Government.

James Baldwin

February is Black History Month, and I can’t believe that I have not blogged at all about gay black men. I hope that this post will make up a little for it. As a gay man in the South, there were not a lot of resources out there to help me come to terms with my homosexuality. So, I did the only thing that I could (the Internet was a very new resource at the time and not something that I had access to very often) so I did the next best thing, I read everything I could find. To search for something to read, I went to Barnes & Noble to find any books on being gay. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, was one of two books that I found. The other was Nightswimmer by Joseph Olshan. This was my first attempt at trying to understand. Both of these books still hold a special place in my heart. However, in honor of Black History Month, I want to talk about James Baldwin.

James Baldwin’s novels include Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), probably his most famous book, Giovanni’s Room (1956), and Another Country (1962), about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. As an openly gay man, he became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

Although he spent a great deal of his life abroad, James Baldwin always remained a quintessentially American writer. Whether he was working in Paris or Istanbul, he never ceased to reflect on his experience as a black man in white America. In numerous essays, novels, plays, and public speeches, the eloquent voice of James Baldwin spoke of the pain and struggle of black Americans and the saving power of brotherhood.

James Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924. The oldest of nine children, he grew up in poverty, developing a troubled relationship with his strict, religious father. As a child, he cast about for a way to escape his circumstances. As he recalls, “I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.” By the time he was fourteen, Baldwin was spending much of his time in libraries and had found his passion for writing.

During this early part of his life, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a preacher. Of those teen years, Baldwin recalled, “Those three years in the pulpit — I didn’t realize it then — that is what turned me into a writer, really, dealing with all that anguish and that despair and that beauty.” Many have noted the strong influence of the language of the church on Baldwin’s style, its cadences and tone. Eager to move on, Baldwin knew that if he left the pulpit he must also leave home, so at eighteen he took a job working for the New Jersey railroad.

After working for a short while with the railroad, Baldwin moved to Greenwich Village, where he came into contact with the well-known writer Richard Wright. Baldwin worked for a number of years as a freelance writer, working primarily on book reviews. Though Baldwin had not yet finished a novel, Wright helped to secure him a grant with which he could support himself as a writer in Paris. So, in 1948 Baldwin left for Paris, where he would find enough distance from the American society he grew up in to write about it.

After writing a number of pieces that were published in various magazines, Baldwin went to Switzerland to finish his first novel. Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953, was an autobiographical work about growing up in Harlem. The passion and depth with which he described the struggles of black Americans was unlike anything that had been written. Though not instantly recognized as such, Go Tell It on the Mountain has long been considered an American classic. Throughout the rest of the decade, Baldwin moved from Paris to New York to Istanbul, writing Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Giovanni’s Room (1956). Dealing with taboo themes in both books (interracial relationships and homosexuality, respectively), Baldwin was creating socially relevant and psychologically penetrating literature.

Being abroad gave Baldwin a perspective on his life and a solitary freedom to pursue his craft. “Once you find yourself in another civilization,” he notes, “you’re forced to examine your own.” In a sense, Baldwin’s travels brought him even closer to the social concerns of contemporary America. In the early 1960s, overwhelmed with a responsibility to the times, Baldwin returned to take part in the civil rights movement. Traveling throughout the South, he began work on an explosive work about black identity and the state of racial struggle, The Fire Next Time (1963). For many, Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time were an early and primary voice in the civil rights movement. Though at times criticized for his pacifist stance, Baldwin remained throughout the 1960s an important figure in that struggle.

After the assassinations of his friends Medgar Evers, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, Baldwin returned to France where he worked on a book about the disillusionment of the times, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974). Many responded to the harsh tone of If Beale Street Could Talk with accusations of bitterness. But, even if Baldwin had encapsulated much of the anger of the times in his book, he always remained a constant advocate for universal love and brotherhood. During the last ten years of his life, Baldwin produced a number of important works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and turned to teaching as a new way of connecting with the young. By his death in 1987, James Baldwin had become one of the most important and vocal advocates for equality. From Go Tell It on the Mountain to The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), James Baldwin created works of literary beauty and depth that will remain essential parts of the American canon.

Atypical Sunday

Today was not the typical Sunday.  I got up a little late to go to church this morning, so I hurried to get there.  I was about 2 minutes too late.  Church had already started, and our preacher was leading the singing.  I had noticed that our regular song leader had not left his house yet when I went by, so I had hoped that I would make it before they started.  Apparently, our regular song leader has bronchitis, and so our preacher had stepped in to lead the singing.  It’s a small congregation, so we don’t have enough kids to have Sunday School, but we do start every service with “Jesus Loves Me” for the kids.  As soon as the song was over, our preacher stopped and asked if I wanted to lead the singing today.  I was the song leader before I moved away for graduate school.  I was never very good at it.  I’m just not a loud enough and confident enough of a singer to lead a congregation, let alone a small congregation where every singer counts and there is no musical accompaniment since it is a Church of Christ. Luckily, there was already a song service planned out that I had used the last time I had to be the substitute song leader.  I just wasn’t exactly prepared.  I usually need to get mentally read to sing and make sure that the right tune comes out.  I admit, I faltered a few times today.  I even had to restart “The Old Rugged Cross” because I started it wrong.  Overall, I guess the song service went well.  I did my best. The Bible does say:

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:19 (KJV)

Today, we made a joyful noise only because we did it for the glory of God.  Others may not have agreed that it was a joyful noise, but to me, there is nothing more beautiful than a group of people in a small country church where everyone is singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.

Moment of Zen: Sleeping In

It has been a long week, nothing bad happened. In fact, it has been a pretty good week. Technically, we were out of school on Monday for Presidents’ Day, but with so much going on this week, it felt much longer than four days.  Last night, I spent the evening with some friends sitting out on the patio talking (and drinking), so I didn’t get my post scheduled last night.  So, I decided that this morning I was going to sleep in…

Gay Marry-Land

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, centre, greets supporters and members of the House of Delegates after the House passed a gay marriage bill in Annapolis, Maryland

Gay marriage is all but legalised in the state of Maryland after the legislature gave its final agreement on Thursday to the law that’s being sent to the governor, who said he expects to sign it sometime this week.

The state senate voted 25-22 for the law. The vote comes less than a week after the House of Delegates barely passed the measure.

Maryland will become the eighth state to allow gay marriage when Governor Martin O’Malley who sponsored the bill signs the legislation. The Democrat made the measure a priority this session after it stalled last year.

Six states allow gay couples to wed Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont as well as the Washington capital district. The governor of Washington signed a bill this month that would make that state the seventh.

Opponents in Maryland have vowed to bring the measure to referendum in November. They will need to gather at least 55,726 valid signatures of Maryland voters to put it on the ballot and can begin collecting names now that the bill has passed both chambers.

Some churches and clergy members have spoken out against the bill, saying it threatens religious freedoms and violates their tradition of defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

“The enormous public outcry that this legislation has generated voiced by Marylanders that span political, racial, social and religious backgrounds demonstrates a clear need to take this issue to a vote of the people,” Maryland Catholic Conference spokeswoman Kathy Dempsey said in a statement. “Every time this issue has been brought to a statewide vote, the people have upheld traditional marriage.”

Leaders at the Human Rights Campaign, a group that joined a coalition of organisations to advocate for the bill, said they expect opponents will gather the required number of signatures.

Senator Allan Kittleman, the only senate Republican to vote in favuor of the legislation, said he is proud of his decision and not concerned about political consequences down the road.

“You don’t worry about politics when you’re dealing with the civil rights issue of your generation,” said Kittleman, R-Howard, the son of the late Senator Robert Kittleman, who was known for civil rights advocacy.

Gay marriage remains on hold in California after opponents petitioned a federal appeals court on Tuesday to review a split decision by three of its judges that struck down a voter-approved measure that limited marriage to a man and woman.

Marriage Equality Ad From Italy

This is refreshing: In a PSA entitled “I Will Marry You,” the Italian LGBT advocacy group Arcigay has no doubt unleashed a finely tuned, almost poetic video on ordinary life and same-sex relationships that looks very much like Australia’s “It’s Time,” which The Advocate called “possibly the most beautiful ad for marriage equality we’ve seen.”

Below, sprinkled with music by Lorenzo ‘Jovanotti’ Cherubini, yellow sunlight and the sound of two men in love flutter all around like snowflakes. In other words, the video might knock your heart out. (via Instinct Magazine)

When I was in Italy conducting research, I actually joined Arcigay because it was the only way to get into the gay bars. It’s a very cool organization, and I think this ad proves just that.

Red-Faced Jazz

A U.K.-based radio station’s programmers are understandably red-faced after they inadvertently aired five minutes of a gay porn soundtrack.

Pink News reports that Jazz FM, which focuses on light jazz, standards and occasional blues numbers, aired a recording of what sounded like “two British men in a mostly wordless, but fairly graphic, exchange” on Sunday.

You can listen to a recording of the broadcast here (WARNING: contains graphic language).

Mike Vitti, the station’s head of programming, has issued a statement apologizing for the gaffe: “Unfortunately we had an unauthorized access to the live feed this evening which resulted in a highly regrettable incident. Please accept our profound and sincere apologies for any offence that may have been caused.”

Mike Vitti, station programme director, said disciplinary action would follow.

A spokesman for the broadcasting regulator Ofcom told that it has “received a small number of complaints and is currently assessing whether the broadcast broke the Broadcasting Code”. If found in breach, broadcasters can receive a fine or the loss of a license although this is thought highly unlikely in this case. wrote that a broadcast assistant was watching pornography while the recorded show was being broadcast and that they accidentally transmitted the audio of the porn to the nation because their microphone was erroneously active.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

I recently made my American Literature students read some of the poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson.  I will admit that I was not terribly familiar with him, but we are studying American poetry, and he was one of the poets.  The poems were fairly short and fairly straightforward, meaning that it would be easy for the kids to interpret.  I read the poems and fell in love with them.  Since then, I have gone back and read a few more of Robinson’s poems, and enjoyed them.  The two poems that we read, sort of resonated with me in a special way.

On December 22, 1869, Edwin Arlington Robinson was born in Head Tide, Maine. His family moved to Gardiner, Maine, in 1870, which renamed “Tilbury Town,” became the backdrop for many of Robinson’s poems.  His poems are sketches about different people in the town.  If you have never read the two poems below, I hope that you will read them now, or if you have read them before, I hope that you will enjoy them all over again.

The first poem is Richard Cory:

Richard Cory
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked,
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich–yes, richer than a king–
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

The two major things in this poem the wealth of Richard Cory and his suicide at the end are not what draws me to this poem.  I am not rich nor do I contemplate suicide.  This poem, which first appeared in The Children of the Night and remains one of Robinson’s most popular poems, recalls the economic depression of 1893. At that time, people could not afford meat and had a diet mainly of bread, often day-old bread selling for less than freshly baked goods. This hard-times experience made the townspeople even more aware of Richard’s difference from them, so much so that they treated him as royalty.  I think what I get out of this poem is how he doesn’t fit in because of something extraordinary about him.  In his case it is his wealth.  In my case, people often see me as smart and don’t often see me as a regular person.  I can tell a dirty joke, drink a beer, and be just as normal as the next person, but sometimes, people see my intelligence and often think, “He’s too smart for me.”  Or maybe because I am gay (or perceived as gay for those who don’t know for sure), people think that I do not enjoy sports, fishing, or other “manly” pursuits.  To truth is, I am just a normal guy who is smart and gay.  Neither of those are the central things about me.  We all have something that distinguishes us, but should that separate us from the crowd.  Maybe sometimes it does, and sometimes we want it to, but all in all, we are just people like everyone else.  Sadly, the people of Tilbury Town did not realize this about Richard Cory.

The other poem is the way I sometimes feel when I am studying particular periods in history.

Miniver Cheevy
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
     Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
     And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
     When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
     Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
     And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
     And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
     That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
     And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
     Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
     Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
     And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediæval grace
     Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought
     But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
     And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
     Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
     And kept on drinking.

We may not take it as far as Miniver Cheevy, but I think all people who study history sometimes feel that they were born in the wrong time.  Then again, there have been very few times in history when it was as acceptable to be gay as it in this day and age, but then again who wouldn’t have loved to witness the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece, or traveled down the canals of Venice when the city was in its full glory, or any number of periods or events in history.  Personally, though I would love to visit those time periods, I like my modern conveniences and air conditioning.  Then again, the Roaring Twenties when I could have possibly partied with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Tallulah Bankhead or sat on the Seine with the Lost Generation or gone to the Cotton Club in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance.  Come to think of it, maybe, I was born out of time. I think I would have loved the 1920s (just not the Great Depression that followed).

How many of you have felt that you were born in the wrong time? Or that people didn’t appreciate you for who you are?

And Now for the Answers…

I hope you enjoyed this Presidents’ Day and that you had fun reviewing some of my posts about gay (or not) presidents.  I also hope that you enjoyed the quiz.  Now it is time to see if you got the answers correct.

1. What is the birth state of the most presidents?
Correct answer: Virginia

2. How many U.S. presidencies have there been?
Correct answer: 44

3. Who was the first president to live in the White House?
Correct answer: John Adams

4. Which is NOT true about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?
Correct answer: He wrote out the address on the back of an envelope on the train to Gettysburg.

5. Fill in the missing words in the president’s oath of office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, —, — and — the Constitution of the United States.”
Correct answer: Preserve, protect and defend

6. True or false: George Washington owned many slaves but decided to free them in his will.
Correct answer: True

7. Who was the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms?
Correct answer: Grover Cleveland

8. Lincoln was virtually unknown in the Republican Party in 1858 when he challenged the powerful U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois. The two debated seven times between July and October of that year. Which is NOT correct?
Correct answer: As a result of the debates, Lincoln beat Douglas but was only in the U.S. Senate for a short time because he beat him again to become president in 1860.

9. Four presidents were assassinated in office, and four others died from other causes. What killed William Henry Harrison?
Correct answer: Pneumonia and pleurisy

10. What was Woodrow Wilson’s nickname?
Correct answer: The Professor

How well did you do?