Glad to see that at least some of you decided to continue,
At my age — and that of my spouse Leaves on the Current — plans for the future have to be adjustable. Given the target date of next January to move, it would be impossible for me to continye teaching at my current school beyond this June, so around Thanksgiving I had notified the administration this would be my last year. I wanted to give them as much time as possible to find a quality replacement. But for reasons I will not go into at this point, Leaves decided around Christmas that she might want to work for another 6 months. Please note ‘ “might”. I reached out to my principal. They have not yet hired my replacement — in fact, my position is not even officially posted. But they have explored the possibility with at least two strong candidates, and if they can find a quality replacement they feel they need to move forward. However, depending upon enrollment it is possible they might be able to offer me a part-time position teaching two or three sections. And what is interesting is that the candidates tend to be people focusing on History, and three of my classes are Government (all three Honors sections). It is quite possible they may want me back for one more year to cover all or two of those, although I will not know perhaps until May, when a number of things are known — enrollment, who if anyone they have been able to hire, whether anyone else in the department is leaving, who in the department may want to teach government in the current environment. So our plans have to remain somewhat indefinite, at least for a few more months. I would not want to teach 5 (this semester) or 6 (last semester) classes again, but two or three would be fine, and with my wife continuing to work it would provide us a further financial margin.
Thoughts on teaching government in the current times — for the start of the new Semester I decided to explore something for my students to consider. I shared five clips from the 1961 film Judgment at Nuremberg, providing some historical context for the time in which it was set, and the issues that is was attempting to raise. I shared some connections I have (having known both someone who translated for the US Army at Nuremberg trials of lesser Nazi figure and also someone who was eventually deported for things he had done in Rumania as a then Naz sympathizer, about which he had lied at immigration. I asked my students to consider the following questions:
What should I do when I see a conflict between my sense of morality and ethics and the law of my country?
What should I do when what my country demands in terms of loyalty violates my sense of ethics and morality?
How much am I willing to risk by sticking to my sense of ethics and morality?
We discussed what they wrote, and I pushed them further with additional questions. Let’s say it was challenging them to consider what they might confront. Even if they were willing to risk greatly or totally for their ethics and morality, how much were they willing to risk if there was a threat to someone close to them, a spouse or a child or a parent, for example? I reminded them that while as a Quaker I would not use violence to protect myself I was prepared to kill to protect those entrusted to my care, which includes even my 6’6” 270 pound All-Met defensive lineman who has a free ride to Ohio State.
This is part of why I teach government, but I include it in other courses like US History and Psychology as well. I want students to think about the implications of words and actions, those of others to be sure, but also their own, and to recognize that life often presents us with conflicts among our values and hard choices. I do so in the context of the curricular material, to be sure, but in all subjects I try to connect it to the world in which we live and events about which they may already be aware, such as the recent spate of mass shootings or the horrors of what happened in Memphis or how the world should react to the atrocities being committed by Putin’s Russia in Ukraine.
I recognize that I will miss engaging with young people on topics like this, helping them to grow intellectually to be sure, but also to consider their ethics and morality, their obligations beyond family to the society in which we live, and to the wider world.
I share my own failings and the challenges I encounter or have encountered in the past. That tends to make me both more reflective and a bit more tolerant of the kinds of issues adolescent males can confront.
I am a liberal, and realize I want more time to reflect on what that means for me. In part because of my Jewish heritage I have ever since I can remember been sensitive to discrimination of all kinds. I have also since before I was ten had an inclination to challenge, to ask “why” when I did not understand and to continue challenging if the answers I was offered did not make sense to me.
That does not mean that my life does not present contractions. After all, I have wandered through multiple religious identities, I had an orientation towards Quakers but enlisted in the Marines in 1965 because I felt I had an obligation to serve (and did not want to be doing so with those forced to serve by the draft).
Despite reading a lot of literature that pointed towards the notions of “self-reliance” and “the self-made man” I always questioned both, because I could not avoid seeing the inter-connectedness of people, even if on first examination they seemed very different on things like race, religion, national heritage, gender, sexuality,etc. I have lived in predominantly gay neighborhoods, I was active in Civil Rights from my teens, I had a brilliant mother who experienced discrimination because she was female, young (graduated from HS at 14, Cornell at 18, Columbia Law 2nd in her class at 21), and was the child of an immigrant mother who never lost the accent shaped by Polish and Yiddish.
All this for decades has shaped my words and my actions, as imperfect as they have been. I have almost always been willing to speak out and speak up on behalf of others.
This will be my last semester of full-time teaching of adolescents, the vocation to which I did not come until I was 49. Perhaps next year I will do so on a part-time basis, perhaps not.
In 2019 I had a stroke cause by a 95% blockage in my left-carotid artery. I have perhaps 95% recovered from that but I still have some fine motor deficits — I make far more typing errors, on which I can backspace and correct (as I have done multiple times in writing this post), I often loeave out the first letter of a word when writing comments on a student paper or when writing in the pocket notebooks in which I have recorded observations and reflections since I was in my mid-teens (and I still have most of them). But I cannot “backspace” when I leave out a note when attempting to play the piano, so that is no longer part of my life and the piano with which I had grown up which was the center of our living room for several decades after we closed out my father’s apartment when he went into custodial care has left. I had surgery that successfully cleared the blockage, but as a result my vocal cords no longer close properly, and I can no longer sing. As a result of all these and other medical conditions I tire much more easily, and need more rest — I can no longer function on 5 hours of sleep.
I probably have a life expectancy of around 10 years. My wife is a bit more than that younger than me, and she has now survived 10 years of living with a treatable but so far incurable blood cancer. We do not know who will live longer, but we also know that two of our three rescued cats are not yet two years old and are likely to outlive us both. The other is 14. We both want to give them all the cuddles and attention they want, but we also have to plan for what happens to them when either we are no longer here or if one of is but has to move to custodial care where they cannot follow.
We have much downsizing to do. We know a lot of our furniture will be unnecessary, and we plan to donagte that to someplace that can pass it on to those in need, perhaps refugee families. We can slowly downsize our wardrobes, although their will be far more of that when we get cloer to moving and do not need to keep stuff to dress professionally for our work.
But then there are books. We still have thousands of too many. Over the past six months I have gotten rid of perhaps 1,00o, but we have thousands more plus records, and DVDs, and CDs. Some books we will never read (or read again) or we will have access to online or in libraries. But that also raises another set of issues, which moves me to the idea of bucket lists.
There are books we want to read before we pass on. There is music we want to listen to with attention. There are movies we want to watch, sometimes again, some for the first time, For movies we do not necessarily need to have DVDs given what is available via online. We are reluctant to go to movie theaters because of Covid — my wife is immunity compromised and I have numerous comorbidities.
We hope to go to Italy.
We want more time to spend with extended family,
We want to stay connected with old friends — for example my original class at Haverford has a weekly one hour zoom get-together in which I can rarely participate because it conflict with my teaching,
All this means choices. How much time and energy do I give to addressing issues and causes that matter to me? Also, of what value can my words and actions be? How do I weigh these against my responsibilities to my wife, and to our desires of things we still want to do in our lives?
I do not claim to have answers. Perhaps that is part of why I did the exercise on Judgment at Nuremberg with my students — I wanted to see how they dealt with conflicts perhaps of a different kind but in some fashion raising relevant issues.
I am old, perhaps not yet ancient, but clearly on the downside...
My late father-in-law refused to consider himself “old” and remained fairly vigorous until his death at 90 despite increasing health issues.
I look at Joe Biden, who is 3 ½ years older than me and has himself survived several serious health issues. I am of the opinion that he is more than vigorous enough to do another term after this, and worry that were he not to run for reelection of the bloodbath of a Democratic primary and that were Kamala Harris not to get the nomination that Black women might stay home. But other than this passing remark I do not blog about it because I have come to doubt that my political analysis makes any different to anyone else.
I am aging. I find the world is going by too fast for me to keep up. I am and will remain a liberal.
But am I aging, not fading.
My liberalism, my values, not only remain intact, they are in someways more intense, more important, than at any point in my life.
At Haverford, at the 50th Reunion of your class, you receive a pin which labels you a “Scarlet Sage,”, scarlet and black being the school colors. To be a sage implies one has wisdom. I am not certain that applies to me, although I do have a wealth of experience and memory on which to draw.
This is the first public reflection or commentary I have offered in several months,
I need to decide whether offering political and related commentary is of value to others, whether with decreasing time and energy it is something I should do, or at least do here.
I have not decided.
But Daily Kos has been something of an intellectual home for me for almost two decades. I am planned for school for the next week and half, and am totally current on my grading. I have paid all my bills for the next two weeks. There are no Premier League games to occupy my time today.
Tomorrow Leaves and I will take a drive in the Virginia countryside and then have dinner at an informal country inn that she loves
Today I still have a few household tasks to do, but I had lots of time and after 10 hours of sleep was sufficiently rested to pause, reflect, and wriite.
Hence this post.
Make of it what you will.
and PS - as part of aging I have now regrown my beard.
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