E.M. Monroe

"I knew, not from memory, but from hope, that there were other models by which to live." Weems


October 2014

Models Monday: Being Like My Mother


This is the church that hides the school that I attended and hated from kindergarten through eighth grade. Although my mother would later claim that she had no idea how much I despised the school, what she doesn’t acknowledge is how little it would’ve mattered. My family worshipped there, the congregation often came to my house for mass in the backyard, and I did well in school and in sports so I knew she would not know, care, or understand my displeasure; boy, those were different times.

My mother’s philosophy of sending me off to school was very different than what my son experiences. My mother dropped me off in the parking lot and assumed I made it inside; my mother never asked me how my day went; she never ever asked me about what I learned; and she never attended any meeting unless it was to collect my report card. My mother paid tuition, bought uniforms, provided lunch, and took me to school so as far as she was concerned, the rest was left to me. Though unstated, it was very clear that I could never ever make her late for work; that I would never do anything in school that would require she leave her job to deal with or talk to any teacher or administrator about me; that if I forgot a book, paper, or project that was just too bad and I would have to suffer the consequences. Despite doing everything within her power to avoid doing anything at the school besides pay tuition and conference with my teachers twice a year for report cards, she would be heartless mad when I brought home something for her to read or sign. Typically, she would snatch the paper from me and then complain that the notice she received was second-hand, mimeographed paper, “can’t they at least give this to me on a clean sheet of paper?” she would fume.

It wasn’t uncommon for most kids I knew to have parents who treated them and their experience in school the same way. Even still, I thought I would have a different attitude about being engaged in my son’s education. When it comes to showing him how to learn, helping him with homework, and actually talking to him, I’m very different from my mother. At the same time, I now fully support her venom towards anything having to do with that school other than paying his tuition, ensuring that he has adequate supplies, and that he is more than prepared for the work. I hate all this 24 hour surveillance you have to deal with in schools these days. My son’s teacher and his principal send so many emails that I wish I could electronically snatch them and turn up my face like my mother did. The emails are rarely substantive. For example, last week, we received four emails from our son’s teacher telling us what was coming-up, how she was going to be doing X, what was no longer going to occur, and that she wanted us to purchase more Kleenex. What’s worse is that everything she puts in these emails is already posted on the electronic software they use to post assignments, grades, and homework. Why send me an email telling me you’re going to be sending textbooks home? When he brings the books home, won’t I know? When I check the software program, it will indicate the assignments you have made so why does this information have to invade every device I own? When I’m not checking that homework software, then I have to check the math practice website, if not that then I’m checking text messages from his principal; it’s annoying.

I don’t know if this is true at most schools, but I feel as though I’m being encouraged to surveil my kid all day. You can actually download apps to your phone for this silly software. For what? Who has time for that? My kid is FIVE, what could he possibly be doing that all the adults around him can’t manage? I also don’t like that my son has come to expect for someone else to tell him how his day went.  I think children should be encouraged to determine for themselves how things went. Although his teacher may have thought Miles had a good day, maybe he didn’t like the encounter he had with another teacher or student? When does he get to learn how to determine his own measure of what’s good? And toss in those stupid notes about “book day” being on Friday, I don’t know if I trust her measure of what counts as a “great day” anyway.

I don’t know if my own mother felt this way, but I also think that schools–at least those housing mostly black children–presume that you need parenting lessons. Thus, ANYTHING the school requires that may be new to this phase of the curriculum, for example, you have to come to a meeting to get the information. Now this isn’t stated, but clearly it’s taking place. After the two hour meeting that I had to sit through during that first meeting, I swore I would never go to another one. My husband felt differently; fine, you go. He comes home one day and said that “we” had missed a meeting, to which I replied, “no, you missed a meeting. I never planned on attending.” Later we learn that at the meeting, parents were “trained” to use this silly surveillance software. Instead of sending the instructions home with the child whose parents did not show, you were supposed to come in and schedule a tutorial session before they would give you the information on how the program works. I understand that some people are not as computer savvy as others, but I don’t fall into that category. I don’t need a lesson on how to type in a web address and create a username and password. So of course, I called and said that I never signed any contract stating that I had to do what my son’s principal tells me to do in order for him to receive full access to the curriculum. The person on the phone at first tried to justify that nonsense but I understood that I was supposed to be chastised for not coming to that meeting and having to admit that was intended to  shame me. I told that man that they would be giving me that information on my terms as I do not work for his boss; moreover, a formal meeting requires a formal agenda. Needless to say, I got the paper the next day. Just today, parents received a text message from the principal telling us when we could come to collect class pictures: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3:00-5:00. Why can’t they just put the damn pictures in the child’s folder? Why do I have to come in, on their time, and collect something that isn’t so precious my son can’t handle it himself?

I fully appreciate my mother’s approach to dealing with teachers and administrators: I didn’t sign-up for Parenting University and I have a life. Whatever Miles’s teacher is being paid it’s certainly not enough. That woman is always at work, logging in to her email account and then telling all recipients that we can “contact her anytime” if we have issues, concerns, or questions. My son is in the first grade! Why would I need to contact this woman with “questions, issues, or concerns?” It’s FIRST GRADE! If I have any concerns regarding my son being mistreated in any way, I’m certainly not going to send an email. This morning, my husband said that we’ll probably be receiving a text message soon telling us that it’s Monday and we should bring our children to school…it really is that ludicrous.


Models Monday: E-Depravity

In this Friday, Oct. 3, 2014 photograph, audience members react as members of the Sayreville Board of Education hold a press conference at the Selover School in South Amboy, N.J., to address a hazing incident that "went too far" and is at the center of the investigation into the Sayreville War Memorial High School football team. On Monday, Oct. 6, 2014 school superintendent Richard Labbe said the Sayreville War Memorial High School football season has been canceled amid allegations of harassment, intimidation and bullying among players. (APPhoto/ Home News Tribune, Mark R. Sullivan) On Friday October 3,,2014 Photo: Mark R. Sullivan/Home News Tribune/AP
In this Friday, Oct. 3, 2014 photograph, audience members react as members of the Sayreville Board of Education hold a press conference at the Selover School in South Amboy, N.J., to address a hazing incident that “went too far” and is at the center of the investigation into the Sayreville War Memorial High School football team. On Monday, Oct. 6, 2014 school superintendent Richard Labbe said the Sayreville War Memorial High School football season has been canceled amid allegations of harassment, intimidation and bullying among players. (APPhoto/ Home News Tribune, Mark R. Sullivan) On Friday October 3,,2014 Photo: Mark R. Sullivan/Home News Tribune/AP

This caption says it all: The people pictured are crying and clearly disturbed because the football season was canceled, not because some players sexually violated others. Sayreville students are equally disturbed. According to The New York TimesSayreville High School students are tweeting their virulent rejection of the decision to cancel the football season. One 16-year-old female student wrote that venom against first-year students had increased: “If freshmen thought we hated them before we sure as hell hate them now.” In this same article, the Times reports that “[a]nother girl posted a picture of two trash bins, saying it was a real picture of the freshman football team.” Such electronic depravity or “e-depravity” reminds me so much of the angry mobs that attacked black children in the 1950s:

This venom has significant consequences for the psyche, the soul, and the bodies of those who have come under attack. In the aftermath of the backlash at Sayreville, one freshman on the football team told the Times that he “wanted to shoot [himself].” I hope the town, the adults, and the students believe this child because he wouldn’t be the first child to kill himself after having e-rocks hurled at him in cyberspace.

R.I.P. Tyler Clementi and all the others who took their own lives because an ugly, mean spirited, mob using the internet and new technology were persistent in their efforts to kill them.

Dream Defenders


The Dream Defenders describes their mission on their website in this way:

“The Dream Defenders develop the next generation of radical leaders to realize and exercise our independent collective power; building alternative systems and organizing to disrupt the structures that oppress our communities.”

These young people are impressive! Have you seen their latest video “Vest or Vote?” If not, check it out:

The Dream Defenders have tapped into new ways of using social media to identify, frame, and present old problems in thoughtful and moving ways. They’ve turned the tables on “It’s Morning Again in America” and “Willie Horton” for the purpose of social justice and not domination.

Models Monday: Precision


Definite, specific, and concrete language has gone out of favor these days. Many young people I know use the expression, “I feel some type-a way about that,” to convey something but it’s never clear to me what way they’re feeling. “What ‘type-a way” do you mean? Feel? Think? The vagueness currently embraced often acts in complicity with this country’s obsession with sanitizing the violence it perpetuates. “Bullying” has become one of the chief terms used as a substitute for tormenting, intimidating, taunting, and threatening the lives of those perceived as vulnerable. “Bullying” connotes the actions and behavior of children and possibly teenagers who intimidate and physically, mentally, and abuse those in their peer group. When the NFL investigator Ted Wells concluded evidence of “bullying” in the Miami Dolphins locker room, I thought it absurd. Richie Incognito tormented and terrorized Jonathan Martin with racial epithets and following through on such racist logic, Incognito insisted that he and Martin were friends; like one of the family–his good and faithful servant.

When I first read about the heinous acts of seven players on the Sayersville War Memorial High School football team in New Jersey, the term initially used to describe upperclassmen groping, holding down at least one boy and penetrating him with their fingers and then into the victim’s mouth “bullying,” I found it insulting to the victims. Those boys weren’t merely bullied or hazed–the other term of choice–they were RAPED! Perhaps understanding these crimes as “bullying” explains the frustration of parents who strongly oppose the Superintendent’s decision to cancel the Bombers football season. Some parents claimed that punishing the team because of the actions of seven players was unfair to the innocent ones. Apparently, such violence had become a part of the culture of that locker room so I think it is reasonable that this entire culture needs to bear the weight of or at least come to terms with their role in maintaining this perverse ecosystem–this Hobbesian state of nature. Maybe those “innocent” team members need to spend time working to create a civil, ethical, and empathetic environment supportive of all those children and parents who must be greatly suffering as a result of a cultural ethos that supports rape culture at their school.

In addition to “bullying,” the term “incident,” also has me reeling. Thus, when Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, “incident” was the term often used to describe the slaying of this unarmed child. George Zimmerman’s lethal shooting of Trayvon Martin also falls under the title of “incident.” The deadly force police officers used against Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis, Vonderictt Myers, Ervin Jefferson, Malissa Williams and Tim Russell (137 shots), Kendrec McDade, and Kimani Gray–just to name a few–have all been described as “incidents.” When it comes to precision these day, I’m beginning to trust cartoon artists more than journalists. These cartoons are very clear:

Cartoon artists appear to value precision far more than journalists. Instead of being vague and abstruse like journalists and politicians, these artists, cartoon artists, are clear, direct, and precise in their witness.

Models Monday: Glamour and Inhumanity

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