For the love of god, please stop saying these five things

“Islamophobic/Homophobic/Transphobic, etc.”

A phobia is a very serious condition; it’s an extreme and irrational fear of a thing or a situation. If you actually had homophobia, you’d scream and run as if your hair were on fire every time you heard a lisp. If you were actually Islamophobic, the mere thought of Ramadan would make you vomit and you’d dive under your car rather than catch a glimpse of a hijab, even if you were faked out by an old babushka with a head scarf. People with phobias contemplate (and sometimes commit) suicide as an alternative to whatever their irrational fear is. I’ve never heard of anyone who hanged themselves because there were gays somewhere outside. It’s wildly inaccurate to use the word “phobia” in this way.

I’m not playing semantics. Some people are disgusted by Muslims, homosexuals, and/or trans people.  Some worry about security, some are scared about encroachment on their own culture, some are bigoted and ignorant, some have legitimate concerns about how to move forward as a society in a way that affords everyone dignity. Some people say things for shock value, and some people are earnest, but awkward and offensive in their questions or comments. The problem with using “phobic” – besides being over-the-top incorrect – is that by using that word you’ve made a decision to not attempt to understand where the other person is coming from, and to instead paint them with the “mentally ill” (or stupid/evil) brush. You’re not attempting to understand the problem as it is, you’re certainly not trying to fix the problem, and instead are using an unintelligent shorthand to position yourself as morally superior. Using the word “phobia” in this way is as helpful as it is accurate.

 “You have to give respect to get respect.”

No you don’t. You most likely need to give courtesy to get courtesy, and you ought to be polite (at least to most people, most of the time) – and I think that’s what people mean when they say, “If you don’t respect me, I don’t respect you.” Or when teachers or police demand “respect” what they really mean is, “Do as I say when I say it because of the power bestowed upon me by the crown.”

Respect means, “A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” So what you’re saying is, “You have to admire me, so then I can admire you; but if you don’t admire me, I won’t admire you.” Or, another way to say it: “Tell me I’m pretty and I’ll tell you you’re pretty, but if you don’t tell me I’m pretty then I won’t tell you you’re pretty.”  Please, please stop saying dumb shit like this. Admire people who deserve your admiration, carve yourself into the type of person whom others will admire, and just be polite to everyone else.

“Literally.”

“Literally” means “actually.” It does not mean “figuratively” – in fact, it’s the opposite of figurative. Please stop saying literally when you mean figuratively. It’s annoying and I literally won’t respect you.

“-gate”

There was one Watergate scandal, and it was 45-some-odd years ago.

“School shootings are on the rise.”

This is a completely innumerate thing to say.

the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000. And since the 1990s, shootings at schools have been getting less common.

It’s impossible to claim a trend with fidelity with such small numbers. For example:

  • in the 2008-2009 school year, 17 students out of ~56 million enrolled k-12 in the United States were murdered at school (with guns or otherwise)
  • 2009 – 2010, 19 out of ~56 million students were murdered
  • 2010 – 2011, 11 out of ~56 million students were murdered

So would you say that there was an increase in at-school-murders from 2009 to 2010, and a sharp drop in 2011? Or would you say that the difference between two billionths of a percentage point is negligible?

I’ll be fair and recognize that even one school shooting is too many, and the fact that they happen at all should give us pause. I think we should talk about school shootings, and I also think it’s reasonable to link the existence of school shootings to the dramatic rise of suicide among almost every demographic, including children, in America (something that actually does have statistical significance). We have a huge problem with nihilism, narcissism, hopelessness, and disconnection – ten percent of Americans are on (in my opinion, extremely dangerous) anti-depressant medication. We have a happiness and satisfaction problem that is linked to the over-medication, rise in suicide, and which I’m sure we could link back to school shootings.

The challenge is that a school shooting is emotional – it’s children being slaughtered in the same type of place where you likely send your kids everyday. A 1 in  614 million chance might still seem too risky when you’re talking about your own kids. Fair enough – I’m a huge advocate of homeschooling, anyway. However, my concern with saying innumerate things based on emotion is that we’re skirting the real issues: things like suicide, depression, and over-medication, all issues that are many, many times more likely to effect you and your child.

To whom it may concern at NYSED and the Board of Regents

TO: New York State Education Department

CC: Board of Regents

To whom it may concern,

There is no need to stand on ceremony – below you will find a short list of grievances:

  1. Two days ago (June 13th, 2017) I proctored an exam for English as a New Language (ENL) students until 8:30 at night. They had been taking exams since 8:30 in the morning. I didn’t take common core math, but I still know that’s 12 hours of coloring in bubbles and completing other people’s idea of an authentic assessment. I say again: ENL students were taking paper-and-pen standardized tests for 12 hours straight, in a language other than their own, with graduation on the line (I’ve had, in the past, proctored from 8:30am until past midnight). If the students fail, they will be sentenced to another year of school. For perspective: if a parent were to homeschool their adult son or daughter, and forced them to sit and do an activity of the parent’s choosing for 12 to 16 hours, then made a decision whether or not that child could leave the house and go to college based on the outcome of this arbitrary assessment, then you would take the CPS call seriously. Consider this grievance my CPS call on you.
  2. Requiring students to take these tests fits the definition of bullying, that is, the use of superior power or influence to force someone to do something they don’t want to do. In the case of the latest Common Core English Regents, specifically Part 2 (the argument essay), students were prompted to agree or disagree with this statement: Should school recess be structured play? Students then had four texts to read and were instructed to use three out of four of these texts to support their position for or against structured play during recess. Three out of four of these texts were biased towards structured recess, and the text that supported unstructured recess was the shortest of the four. Students were bullied into taking this test, and pushed towards putting into writing that they’d prefer their only free time in the day to be commandeered by adults. Students are told what to do with their minds and their bodies all day long, with the exception of recess. Students have no opportunity to make decisions for themselves, not even to use the bathroom, without the leave of a teacher, and now they are being threatened with not graduating if they don’t write down, and cite with evidence, that they want even less control over their own destiny. This is the equivalent of an oversized bully pushing a smaller kid’s face in the dirt and threatening not to stop until they write, in blue or black ink and with proper citations, why this is for their own good.

I have a suggestion for the argument essay on next year’s English Regents: Is it ever ethical to break the rules? The infringement on individual sovereignty can only go so far and last for so long before the people eventually fight back, and I have the sense that this time is soon.

I also feel that it would take very little for students to win against you – one or two sets of five students or more will withdraw from school, form groups, put themselves through their own courses of study, and be accepted to any college a traditional High School graduate would be accepted, probably in less time and definitely with a better set of experiences. Once the community starts to see that this is possible, more students will withdraw, and your system will become unsustainable.   

Please know that I write this with love in my heart.

Sincerely,

Brian Huskie

National Board Certified Teacher, AYA/English Language Arts