My African-American Studies seminar met at my home for class today; we discussed the historical roots of southern/black dishes, and how they came to fruition during the early points of slavery. Janette cooked a mean dish of fried chicken, collard greens with turkey bones, cornbread with molasses, mac and cheese, sweet tea, and banana pudding. Students were ready to cut classes and take a nap afterwards. Lots of fun.
I do not hate on Obama, though I wish he centered discussions around poor and homeless populations more. He is okay. I am not a Cornel West type of person. My African-American Studies seminar will explore Obama as a Neo-Booker T. Washington disciple, and less W.E.B. Du Bois with respect to a racial ideological normative that reflects cultural and attitudinal behavior. This is an ancient debate that, unfortunately, has been simplified.
My African-American Studies course spent a day discussing James Cone’s recent work, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, which explores the Negro holocaust in America. He draws a relationship between Christ’s crucifixion on the cross to blacks crucifixion by way of the tree. He notes that during his decades of research, Cone found, incredibly, no sermons, lectures, books or articles by white preachers, evangelists or theologians linking what happened on the cross to what happened on the lynching tree.
The image above denotes boarding school life under the Triple Threat model. If you do not know much about this, I define it in this piece. Criticism has grown regarding what many now call an outdated model. It burns faculty members out, and thus, will become difficult not so much in hiring young teachers, but retaining them. I have enjoyed this life, though it can be lonely as a Southerner far from home. I got a great email from a former student asking about life at a New England boarding school. In responding to that email, I thought it would be a great idea to script a post for this blog. And though not all boarding schools are the same, there are elements that define them. There was a question about Business Insider’s recent article on the 50 most elite boarding schools; I told her it was cool seeing Brooks on that list at number #33, but there were a number of problems with the list. I do not think anyone will dispute the top ten.
I have been fortunate throughout my career to teach some great courses. And, here at Brooks, I get to teach with folks who are brilliant and highly dedicated. During my first four years out of graduate school, when I taught courses in AP European History, AP World History, and World History, I worked to balance the many disruptions that came with teaching high school. Those disruptions, I discovered, were due to schools trying to do too much without proper planning. Then, I got frustrated. Flexibility was not my best part. I did learn to balance my courses, while dealing with changes I could not control. My tenure in Houston was nice in that it seemed as though I taught every freaking course created by God. Again, I had to be flexible. Here at Brooks, expectations are high in terms of rigor, though folks hate that term. I have been very successful at my previous two stops; hence, that is why I am at Brooks. My course load in terms of preps is a bit heavier than usual; however, as noted by my dept. chair when asked about the load, I simply stated: “It is just another walk in the park for me.” Plus, I am teaching courses I have taught before, and wanted to add an African-American Studies elective. I teach four courses this spring. One is a Modern World History survey, a section of AP World History, a section of AP US History, and an African-American Studies seminar. I have a total of 57 students, eight fewer than I had in the fall. My days are not too bad, in that under the current schedule, I feel I have some time to prepare for the courses I teach. My heavy day is on Thursday. And because it is such a heavy day, I am only available to meet with students for an hour. I have allotted a great deal of time to me with students outside of my set office hours. Those times become ever more significant when I start to meet with them individually about research papers and other written work. Yes, we do have classes on Saturday; I teach a fifty-minute session of AP World History and Modern World History. I am in the academic building from 8:15 to 11:30 on Saturday. I do not stick around much, unless I have a meeting with a student. In the fall we have football games on Saturdays, and as the head JV tennis coach, we play matches in the spring. I thought the Saturday thing was going to be difficult, but thus far it is not. But, it does make it tough to travel on weekends. I am usually up early to do some research and marking, while enjoying a cup of coffee.
I have yet to fully determine how boarding school life will fully impact my other academic interest. I have managed to publish three pieces since arriving here; I have delivered two conference papers, and have fully started on two other projects. The key, of course, is balancing my time with other obligations I have here at Brooks School. I am excited to see what papers I will be writing and seminars I will be leading in the near future. As many of you know, I fully believe that part of being a master teacher is the ability to understand current trends in one’s field.
Sports & Afternoon Activities
Getting a job at a top tier boarding school requires one to be able and willing to participate in extra curricular activities. So, being smart is not enough, as I have learned. For me, I am fortunate in that I can teach great courses, as well as coach a number of sports. I am driven by the need to be excellent on the field and off of it, as I work hard in developing relationships with my students. This is the case with all of my colleagues. When I went on the market seeking a teaching position, I knew there might be a chance I would have to divorce coaching runners. And as I suspected, here at Brooks they needed an assistant football coach. I love it. In the prep school world, faculty members contribute to school life in terms of residential life, academic life, as well as students’ athletic life. Afternoon activities, however, extend beyond just sports; it means theater, music, and community service, too. Most faculty members coach and/or are active in two of the three seasons. Because Brooks is a part of the Independent School League, there are universal rules. Case in point: a school cannot hire someone to “just be the football coach.”
Residential Life and Advising The vast majority of faculty and administrators live with their families on campus. Many live in apartments built into residential halls. Others live in separate apartments or homes on campus. Dorm faculty help supervise residential life, usually serving 1 – 2 nights of official duty each week and a weekend shift every 4 to 6 weeks. All faculty, whether on campus or not, assist with occasional evening or weekend supervision. This is an aspect that Janette and I most enjoy. On weekends we will cook for Blake House, the residential dorm I am assigned to. It can be challenging at times since I do not live in Blake, but across campus in the Farmhouse, an early 18th century home. It feels that way in the winter. Often we will prepare meals from home and commute them to Blake. We are trying to create a more interesting common room; it is our hope that students in Blake might want to hangout more . As of now, it is not a popular spot due to being outdated. We do invite and cook a meal each month for my advisees, who join us at out our place. We do our best not to talk about classes. I prefer we share things of common interest, such as attending the school play or getting ready for a break. As seen above, I have come to enjoy working with students and advisees throughout the day and night. It has become a family thing. Janette is as part of this as I am. We are having a review session for a scheduled AP US History exam. We ate Janette’s famous chocolate chip cookies.
While marking one of my student’s research papers, I noticed that he cited Henry Luce as an anti-communist source. I asked the student if that name sounded familiar, he said no. I then asked him about Brooks’ School Library. He looked at me strangely with an empty glare. I said that is okay. This is your first year here. Brooks’ library is named Henry Luce III Library; I went on to tell him that Henry Luce, the father, launched and edited Time Magazine. His son, Henry Luce III, graduated from Brooks with the class of 1942 and would later edit the Time Inc.
“My Lord What a Morning” is one of my favorite Negro spirituals. I found myself thinking about this song Thursday after talking to my Mother about the passing of my Grandmother. I keep thinking about her life and what she saw. How I failed to learn more from yet another black woman; she could have taught me more than all the books I have read. I feel my distance daily as I think about what I can learn from my Mother. I need to be with family. I am looking forward to my trip home to Selma, Alabama next week, as I think about the black women who shaped my life. If you do not know this beautiful spiritual, listen to it.There is beauty in those who believe in their God and faith. It is that which offers beauty to a generation of black folks who achieved more than I ever will. This song denotes that.
I finally got this framed picture on the bookshelf in my room. We had a great football season, one that reflected the leadership of our head coach and the dedication provided by our student-athletes. Yes, the picture reversed the 2014 Football wording. I enjoyed working with my fellow coaches and the players I coached.
In front of a vocal home crowd, the Brooks football team defeated Westminster School to earn the Sean Brennan New England Championship Bowl. It was the team’s first NEPSAC bowl win in school history. The game was much tighter than the 31-12 score would indicate. Strong defense and 21 unanswered points allowed Brooks to overcome a 10-12 halftime deficit in route to the final score.
Here is the team picture on our home football field.
This storm has given me time to read Toni Morrisons’s A Mercy for an African-American Literature course I am taking at Harvard this spring. The imagery in this work is deep and the narrative is clean. I am not done yet, but should finish it by tomorrow. This storm has forced me to move at a snail pace with my spring courses; I will finish constructing my syllabi and course outlines and assignments today. Having a clear plan is key, particularly with AP courses. We start almost a month later than many schools, and we teach a January Term course which furthers the unique challenges of meeting the AP objectives. Above is my home desk with everything needed to get my courses done.
I got to thinking the other day: there is something kind of cool about walking across campus on a Saturday morning, with a cup of coffee in hand, as the snow landed. I spent time drafting student comments for my American Jesus students, and organizing my spring syllabus for my African-American Studies course. That was an okay kind of snow, as you can see from my office window. We have had very little snow this winter. But as one can see below, the winter gods have had a change of thought; we cancelled classes for tomorrow, our first day of the spring term, as we completed our winter term. I am not sure what to make of my VERY first blizzard. We are facing over 24 inches of snow and wind speeds at 60 mph.
I spend a bit of time in my United States History and African-American Studies course talking about the greatness of Malcolm X. I do contend that by his death he had not fully reasoned with his anger, but instead, moved past it toward a conclusion of racial reconciliation. I will admit that I admire Malcolm X — not so much for his early views on segregation and a violent revolution, but for his change; it was his change and the power he held that scared many black nationalist Muslims. While presenting at a seminar in the Dallas area many years ago, I came across this street: N. Malcolm X BLVD.
As always, I could not help but notice that many schools and streets named after black civil rights leaders are located on the lower socioeconomic side of cities — the black side, whereas it is not unusual to find schools such as Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson located in black communities, too… but one does not see too many schools named after King in the upper side of communities.
After Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington D.C., Malcolm X would state — as noted:
The Negroes were out there in the streets. They were talking about how they were going to march on Washington…. That they were going to march on Washington, march on the senate, march on the White House, march on Congress, and tie it up, bring it to a halt, not let the government proceed. They even said they were going out to the airport and lay down on the runway and not let any airplanes land. I’m telling you what they said. That was revolution. That was revolution. That was the black revolution.
Malcolm X was able to capture the ears of many blacks who grew frustrated with America’s lack of political and economic progress. Moreover, with that heighten sense for change, King started to see his voice silenced within the black community. The recent film Selma showcased this well. However, earlier king would write in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
“You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”
King was aware of the challenge Malcolm X and other black nationalist groups presented; his voice was soft and passive, though he was a powerful and articulate speaker. Blacks’ sense of Christianity was one of division. Why follow a church and a God that allows such hatred to take place — many contended. King feared the evils of materialism and comfort as many who made up the black bourgeoisie became comfortable with their status in life. As I stated before, today the black middle class is far more conservative than many realize.
The debate over true liberalism among blacks still exist. I have found the black middle class to be far more conservative and less active towards civil rights and social policy of late. I am concerned that the black bourgeoisie is willing to shift its focus away from the liberalism that put them in their position. I believe integration is vital to a liberal society as noted by my neighborhood, friends, and place of employment; however, I do not think the black middle class should play the conservative card that carries with it values, attitudes, and behaviors that do not represent progress for all minority groups. Sure 93% of blacks vote in a solid block for the Democratic Party, but that block is not as tight as it used to be. Also, blacks should be mindful of American plutocracy, a norm that usurps progress and works against the aims of egalitarianism.
Here is the Brooks Gay Straight Alliance workshop for Unity Day tomorrow: FROM BYSTANDER TO ALLY: A CHALLENGE TO BROOKS: Participants will enjoy lively discussion about the legal and ethical limitations of free speech by debating the Sonoma County Superior Court Case, Rice v. Gans-Rugebregt. They will reflect on personal experiences to understand the difference between impact and intention of our language choices, and explore what it takes to move from being a passive bystander to an active ally role. Three workshops will be offered with a maximum number of 12-15 students/session.
Professor Edward Blum traveled to Brooks School to work with my American Jesus class. Blum, noted historian on topics of race and religion, is one of those people who inspires me. We spend hours talking about our teaching, research and writing, and books we are reading. It is like bringing a historical conference to me. Further, my students are intrigued by the diverse setting. I have devoted my adult life to becoming a better teacher and scholar. Blum motivates me to find the time to do the research, which allows me to be a better teacher. Thus, I am spending today reviewing my archival notes and categorizing them in my data base.
I will be delivering a faculty presentation to perspective Brooks families this weekend for “A Day at Brooks,” which is hosted by the admissions department. My session went exceptionally well last year, thus I was asked to give another presentation on behalf of the history department. In front of a jam-packed room last year, I engaged families as though they were a student in my class. I will give a session titled “The Teaching of Point of View in US History” this Saturday. Folks are in for a stimulating treat. Below you can see part of the agenda. You might be able to spot my session.
I became a Stuart Scott fan in the early 1990s; he owned a style that attracted not only brothers such as myself to the Sports Center screen, but white people too. He paid his dues and worked to reach the apex of his profession; however, in doing so, Scott took a great deal of criticism for the style he owned. When he arrived at ESPN, he stated that he wanted to be himself. This does not mean he wanted to represent his employer, ESPN, in a poor fashion; it meant that when they hired a black man, they were getting just that. Scott, who had arrived at the pinnacle of his profession, stated that he was more than a black face on the screen; he was first a professional. Further, he stated that his race meant that he was shaped in a different fashion from that of his white colleagues at the Entertainment Sports Network. ESPN was quick in grasping the complexity of Scott, his diversity, and the many wonderful things he offered.
Rather than telling Scott to act more white, they celebrated his style and diversity. They applauded his differences and rewarded him for 21 years. Scott returned the gratitude by staying loyal to ESPN. Over the span of 21 years, I watched a number of anchors transition from the network. That was not the case for Scott, who kept his style and thanked ESPN for its support. I still recall the criticism the University of North Carolina received for inviting Scott to be their commencement speaker. In a sense, he was not conservative enough; he was not white enough; he was too “street” for a school of UNC’s stature. Through all of this, ESPN stuck with Scott and defended his diversity. Keep in mind that he graduated from UNC at Chapel Hill.
I believe school leaders and communities can take a great deal from ESPN and its long marriage to Scott; in an age when people of color leave schools due to countless acts of micro aggressions, ESPN walked beside Scott for 21 years. Many minority faculty members and school administrators discuss the hiring and retention of people of color in two terms: comfort and fit; however, this can mean different things to schools and minority faculty members. I have found that minority faculty members offer a different voice on matters of socioeconomic status, race, and perspectives regarding historical narratives. This can and often is met with resistance. Schools should welcome the whole picture of diversity. It should not be a black face masked under the guise of whiteness. It must look and feel real; if not, students and communities are not getting diversity. They are getting comfort. It is important that all faculty members and students believe in the overarching mission of their institution, but institutions must be willing to take the risk of “real diversity.”
As noted in the work by Pearl Rock Kane, The Excellence of Color,
People of color, be they African-American, Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern or whatever ethnic group, have spent years discovering their roots, developing a keen pride in their heritage, and accepting who they are. So don’t expect the current crop of prospective faculty to fit into your conservative profile. Many of them will not, and, frankly, I don’t think they should even try! Is that shocking? Is that unacceptable to you and your clientele? Then, perhaps, diversity is really not for you. If a turban or a dashiki pants suit offends, then so will diversity! Diversity by definition implies that the status quo will be upset.
I am dedicating this post to the late Stuart Scott. I am and will be among one of your many fans. They will be talking about you in journalism and media classes for years to come. We all recall hearinh him say,”You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”
Hannah Storm on Stuart Scott:
I discussed this topic some in a recent essay I drafted for a publication titled From Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas to Ferguson’s Michael Brown: The Reality of Indignant Forces in Post-Racial America. I touched on this topic mildly, but since gangs were not the theme of my paper, it lacked a great deal of depth. The video below is fantastic as it notes this way of life is a dead end. One is either killed by a fellow gang member, by another gang member, by a cop, or will spend the rest of his/her life in fear or jail. Rap culture and Hollywood have romanticized this life style. White kids, Asian kids, etc are caught up in this false lie. The video points to the fact that gang related violence and murder are at new lows thanks to intervention programs by community groups and former gang members. Above: I am a Blood for a Halloween dress up day on campus. As I stated to folks on campus, there are 35,000 Bloods throughout the USA. Thus, there is no way I would leave campus in this outfit. The video below is a great historical take on this matter. See video on their history: The pervasiveness of this lifestyle is now embedded in popular culture, as seen in a season five episode of the popular animated show, South Park. Like the coolness of being from the hood, white kids in the suburb of South Park can participate without fearing the consequences. …yet as noted in the above video, gang life extended beyond urban borders. The image below shows gang members skiing in Aspen, Colorado. The rap group NWA talked about street life and police brutality. I do not think they were seeking to romanticize the life as much as they wanted to profit off of the image. Further, due to LAPD attempt at cracking down on gang violence, groups such as NWA felt it was important to respond to the brutality that followed the crack down. See their hit video here: