Black music, white teacher: an apology owed

Mance Lipscomb, via Morehead State Public Radio

We  favor blues musicians without testosterone, without teeth, without sight, without color.

Black women, androgynous white men, and old Black men are safer. Old, scratchy vinyl recordings are safer. But we shy away from the Black man in his prime.

The blues are easy to play poorly yet sound good to white ears. The Stones made a living on this.


I was playing Robert Johnson as the seniors strolled into class on Friday. I’ve gotten in the habit of playing music as the day starts, and Robert Johnson was the morning headliner.

Robert Johnson, photo via NYT

The third marking period started a few days ago. The class just had their first quiz. Most failed, not unexpected given it was the first quiz for seniors that did not count. Senioritis has kicked in.

So I sang an off-the-cuff blues piece about senioritis backed by a harmonica riff lifted off YouTube.

And now I realize this was a mistake.

So tomorrow I will start class with an apology. Not for playing Robert Johnson, a fierce blues man who died far too young. Not for singing, though that may warrant a separate kind of apology.

I will apologize for my lack of respect. Using that art form at that moment to entertain students was wrong. It felt off at the moment, but I wasn’t sure why. I thank Justin of objective opinions for his kind reminder.

(Yes, I will still sing and play the blues by myself for myself–but I cannot share what I do not own.)

Whale poop and public education

I know what folks will pay for this.
I also know what it’s worth.
Two very different things….

I have a chunk of ambergris, found it years ago, and while briefly tempted to sell it, am grateful now I kept it.

It was sitting right on the edge of the bay just north of Lincoln Avenue. It wasn’t much to look at, and I am not sure what possessed me to pick it up. Even then I almost tossed it back into the bay.

I mostly forget about it, but now and again I walk through a cloud of its molecules and get briefly taken to, well, not sure where, some vague place of immeasurable joy.

Not immense.
Immeasurable.

In the literal sense.

Delaware Bay, North Cape May

You cannot measure the pleasure, the joy, the presence of the herenow that lump of aged whale shit brings me. It apparently has the same effect on others, why else would anyone offer thousands of dollars for a slab of shite?

The big data junkies among us might argue that all things are measurable, and I supposed you could take pre- and post-ambergris exposure levels of my serum oxytocin and plot them over time, but that becomes impractical, and it’s not important anyway..

Turns out measuring some pretty important things in education are impractical, too. Brilliant writing. Unorthodox but rational thinking. Sense of public duty. Joy. Ability to observe subtle details. Flexibility when confronted with new ideas. Empathy.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is horseshoe-crab.jpg
The light of sunset through the shell of a horseshoe crab. [Photo credit: Leslie Doyle]

When our ability to measure outcomes trumps our choices of which outcomes matter, we’ve stripped “public” from education.

Nagasaki

On August 9, 1945, just over 2 1/2 pounds of plutonium was converted to energy 1650 feet over Nagasaki.

Two and a half pounds–about the weight of a 28 week premature newborn baby.

Yosuke Yamahata, A Japanese army photographer, took this picture the day after the Fat Man fell over Nagasaki.

More of Mr. Yamahata’s photography can be seen here.