Saturday, November 18, 2017


I have a business event to attend in Studio City. My sojourns to the Valley are infrequent. And weird. I know the streets. Some familiar landmarks remain. The deco DWP building on Laurel Canyon. The Oakwood School on Moorpark with a huge banner touting the annual fund raising drive. Dupar's. But Quigley's Five and Dime, Maxxon's Drugs and Joseph Magnin are long gone. When I grew up, most of the residential streets didn't have sidewalks. Until I was about ten, Fulton Avenue was a rustic country lane. Now all is concrete and crammed with dense traffic. Acres of huge condos with an occasional vestige of low slung Valley ranch houses dotted between them. The confluence of intimate familiarity and eerie strangeness overwhelm me. The fraught Valley reminds me not only that I still frequently feel like a fake adult but also how much closer I am to the end than the beginning.

My dad, as I've remembered here far too many times, held my kids on has lap. He'd tell them about seeing an airplane for the first time and watching as his neighborhood movie theater was converted for sound. Then, he'd ponder how new wonders would change the boys' lives. The bittersweetness of my dad's excitement for what was in store for his grandchildren coupled with the certainty of his own inevitable and encroaching doom wafts around me as I drive these familiar strange streets of my childhood.

My last piece expresses compassion for Louie CK. I can imagine a world without Louie, but Al Franken? Really? I'm sure we're just at the part that is circumcised from the iceberg. I've been thinking about why it's so different with people that I like. Louie CK, Mark Helprin and now Al, come to mind. All three if not entirely full-throatedly, have admitted culpability. But they were just doing what guys do. Young Liberal Arts Spuds is shocked at the lewd comments made by warehouse workers. It is a much bigger deal for him than it is for me. How good that an evil I've just taken in stride is so glaringly unacceptable to the younger generation. The accused who don't deny their actions or impugn their accusers are catalysts for a major moral recalibration that we're witnessing.

Cosby, Weinstein, Roy Moore are black and white cases. Many of the allegations that are breaking news are more nuanced. While sexual abuse is never acceptable, it is only recently that it is being considered as far from the norm. We are all looking at this differently now. Having taken a moment to confront the ramifications, of even the most subtle sex/power move, many of us of a certain age are having an “Aha!” moment. “It was wrong. I see it now so clearly but I didn't get it at the time as this behavior was essentially normalized.” I think that a lot of men are having a very painful “Come to Jesus” moment, even if their victims don't go public. The conversation nevertheless, is an important one, but needs to include the proffer of forgiveness. The flaunting of money and power as an entitlement to hanky panky dates back thousands of years. Given that this is a largely unquestioned norm for generations I believe that 2018 might be a year of amnesty for abusers to take stock of their actions and reach out to victims, acknowledge what it has finally dawned on us is despicable behavior, and make efforts towards atonement.

To be eligible for parole an inmate must behave properly and express contrition. When you do some good time and have thought about the consequences of your behavior and owned your guilt, you're released, having paid a debt to society. Those who don't obfuscate and squirm but accept their role in shaping our cultural destiny should be permitted back into the fold.

The Valley sojourn is for a luncheon of stock footage librarians, an annual event I've attended for nearly half of my life. Most of the people I e-mail with regularly and chat with one the phone once in a while. We see each other age from one year to the next. We're grateful for name tags. And rue, this year, the lack of open bar. Waze takes me, via an interesting city street route, from my Studio City lunch to the other life I lead, my school Workgroup, meeting at Washington and Crenshaw in 42 minutes.

There is a race for assembly in my district and we receive a negative campaign mailer. The candidate, Luis Lopez quotes his opponent Wendy Carillo as saying something to the effect that teachers are mostly behind the times technology-wise and too burned out to be effective. Lopez interprets this as an insult to teachers but it wins this teacher's vote. For the opponent. Fairly, I will note that my classroom is equipped with two laptops and a projector that I can switch back and forth from a computer and an overhead. Having easy access to Google images is a great tool. My classroom has Internet but only for staff. When I play phone games with students it depletes their data plans. I feel bad but they love the games so much and already the new class, having played once, is bugging me to play some more. I've informed the technical person that the bulb on the projector is dim and there has been no replacement. We have to turn off a light. Still, it is a great improvement from my previous teaching situation.

We are working on re-writing competencies and promotional tests. There is a morning group and an evening group and stuff is being cobbled together higglety pigglety. We are replacing a battery created over twenty years ago. There is a paper test taken with a Scantron form. There is no consideration of digital natives which now comprise the lion's share of our population. I fantasize about my own list of competencies, evaluating and promoting students for reaching specific milestones instead of administering six tests within a 13 week trimester. No matter how much I assure them, the tests make students nervous and makes it challenging to lower their affective filter to promote language acquisition. The current curriculum fails to allow any wiggle room. Spanish speaking students rarely encounter forms without Spanish versions yet we work a lot on filling out forms. Many students use digital translators and acquire vocabulary at sonic speed. But ESL is “one size fits all,” and doesn't account for what the students themselves bring to the table. I'd love to teach a curriculum that acknowledges the big digital shake up. Like offering some electives so students can better tailor their own experience.

The tentative new competencies are just an abbreviated version of the old. There is no digital literacy component. We will still teach how to write a note to tell your boss that you need time off instead of how to send a cogent text message. The new promotional tests are being assembled by eliminating particularly bad items on the original. The three part test will remain a three part test and the assessment instrument is largely unchanged. We match up items on a sample test with the numbers from the original competencies which are bad copies of spreadsheets in a five point font. None of my committee mates knows how to print the spreadsheet in a larger font. My kids rag on me consonantly about digital ineptitude. There are actually a handful of teachers at my school who are way more savvy than I am but with the rank and file I still feel pretty Geek Squad. I am in the median age wise on the faculty. A handful of the youngest teachers are in their forties, another, my age plus or minus 5, is like me a new hire. I don't know why there are no younger teachers. One of my coworkers is surprised and skeptical when I indicate that all of the students have Smartphones. Every student in my class for both terms has one. For the most part, lessons with a digital component are better received and enrich the learning process for a thirteen week session where we are most testing on material that we haven't had time to teach. I appreciate the commitment to improving antiquated course outlines and evaluation instruments but I am disappointment that there is little consideration of the present and none for the future.

I'm already in love with the new class which is so large that the custodian has to drag in more chairs every night. There are two Ethiopian students who I use to keep the rest of them from prattling away in Spanish. I give them each a welcome bag with a name tag lanyard, a “Welcome to Layne's ESL class,” pencil, a little booklet about the books and apps we use, some questions to answer and tell me about themselves and a piece of candy. I take photos of all of them and print them out. We mount them in frames on which they neatly write their name, favorite color and birthdate. Most of them don't listen or watch when I demonstrate how to write their favorite color in the same colored ink. I make them erase and find the right gel pen and we tack the final version on my newly installed bulletin board.

The composition of this class is a bit different. In addition to the Ethiopians, there are two recently arrived Cubans. It is interesting to watch them interact with their fellow Spanish speakers. Like the last class,the men are gardeners, construction workers and janitors. There are also a lot more women than last year. A couple of the women are cooks, cashiers and there's a parking attendant. Most of them are housekeepers. There are a bunch of young women that are quick and smart. For the first time, the three top winner's of the online phone game are women. I do a couple of lessons gushing about Thanksgiving. They aren't really enthusiastic. The men will mostly have an unpaid day or probably two, of work. The women will work their butts off assisting their employers.

My sons are returning for Thanksgiving. It is the first time we've had the holiday all together in a number of years. I often lie in bed and think about my dilettantism and the little I have to show for it. Struggling to run one of the last family businesses in a field that's now mostly fully automated and multinational and feeling satisfied when the personal attention, mom and pop vibe pays off. And devastated when a company tells me that they can license the same material for half the price from one of my Walmart-like competitors. Returning to teaching after a 20 year sabbatical provides astounding fulfillment, but also hopelessness at a mire of bureaucracy seemingly designed to hobble students and instructors with a morass of paperwork and meaningless tests. Teacher. Small business owner. It's too late for a reset and I am immersed in two professions that provide satisfying relationships and for the most part bring out the best in me. But there are road blocks at every turn that leave these choices in constant question.

The kids sometimes go days without contacting me. They are making their own lives and perhaps it will be many years again when all four of us are together for Thanksgiving. I speak to both of them for menu consultation and to remind them to allow extra airport arrival time for the most busy travel days of the year. For all the Mom stuff I lay on these two young adults, both are buoyant in anticipation of a few days at home. There's not a lot of certitude about my life's direction and while intellectually I know it's futile and destructive, I do a lot of “If only I'd...” Being with Himself and the two spawn is the only time when the doubt and regret fully subside. And I happily trade all my self recrimination for this one facet of my life that is purely right and for which I am immeasurably thankful.

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