Segregation Surprise?: How Public and Charter Schools Have (Always) Failed

On social media, I witnessed charter advocates try to justify the exact failures Andre Perry unmasks in his Charter school leaders are complicit with segregation, and it’s hurting their movement, where he concludes:

Make no mistake, segregated schools of the past and present are a result of horrible policy choices that most people are willing to accept. There is a reason that after more than 20 years, the research is mixed on charter schools. Schools in black and brown communities were built on broken foundations — i.e., segregation. By not addressing segregation, reformers are turning off the stove when the house is going up in flames.

Perry was having none of it, the apologists’ dissembling, but was far more patient and willing to engage this nonsense than I.

I also have no energy left to revisit this again, except to point out that finding it surprising that both traditional public schools and charter schools are failing the most vulnerable populations of students—often black, brown, poor, speakers of home languages other than English, and having special needs—requires being willfully ignorant of decades of evidence.

And thus, what the rabid edureformers have willfully ignored for quite some time:

Made in America: Segregation by Design

Segregation and Charter Schools: A Reader

Public School, Charter Choice: More Segregation by Design

Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam

Racial segregation returns to US schools, 60 years after the Supreme Court banned it

Education Reform in the New Jim Crow Era

As Perry confronts, edureformers are embodiments of one of the most powerful warnings from James Baldwin:

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Women’s Voices: A Reader

Fear of the Female Voice, Sarah Gailey

This story is a great summary of the cultural fear of female voices. In a society where men hold power, the most powerful thing a woman can do is to have influence over men. The idea of a member of an oppressed class influencing the powerful is fundamentally threatening to the existing order of society, because it puts some degree of power into the hands of those oppressed people. So, when the Sirens sing and Odysseus can’t resist being drawn in by their song, the reader sees an epic hero displaying a rare weakness: these women are so potent and dangerous that they can bring down a figure as powerful as Odysseus.

This is just one example of a significant theme in Greek mythology. Sirens appear in several different stories from Greek myth, and those stories all reflect and reinforce our societal terror of the influence of women on powerful men.

Truth Matters, Roxane Gay

Words matter. The truth matters. It is incomprehensible that this needs to be said, but this needs to be said. Donald Trump has long been a liar. Mendacity is as familiar to him as breathing. When he was simply a bloviating reality television star, his lies were easy to dismiss because he was simply a man with a bad tan, a bad toupee, and bad business acumen. Then he was running for president. His lies mattered more but were somewhat easy to dismiss because politicians lie. Now, though, Trump is the president of the United States. He is supposed to represent not only the minority of people who voted him into office but the rest of America, too. He is supposed to represent the United States throughout the world. He is shamefully inadequate for what his office demands. There is so much money cannot buy.

When Trump lies, it cannot be dismissed, no matter how frequently he does indeed lie about everything. He lies about his predecessor Barack Obama. He lies about the size of crowds who come to see him speak. He lies about his taxes. He lies about former opponent Hillary Clinton. He lies about the FBI, the environment, healthcare, America’s standing in the world, foreign policy, the economy, what he thinks, what he believes, and even what he says. The frequency and scope of his lies are such that we could easily be numbed to it all but words matter. The truth matters. Most of us still recognize that.

A year in fucking men, Joana Ramiro

You see, I met a lot of men this year. Many of them I wanted for a night, some I came to want terribly, with more than just my body. But all the men I met this year, those who lied with me and those who merely held me close, the ones whose affectations I came to know and the ones who flashed through my life, those I gave my body to and those I gave my all, all of them I cared about.

Women fuck. And they like it too. Our enjoyment doesn’t have to stand in direct opposition to how much we cared for the men we fucked, much like the reverse isn’t true either.

If in the second half of the 20th century the West fought for free love and the uncoupling of sex from its romantic associations, the first half of the 21st century might be about learning how to understand sex as nonetheless a profoundly binding act between us and others. A human act, if not the most human act of all.

This Moment Isn’t (Just) About Sex, Rebecca Traister

But in the midst of our great national calculus, in which we are determining what punishments fit which sexual crimes, it’s possible that we’re missing the bigger picture altogether: that this is not, at its heart, about sex at all — or at least not wholly. What it’s really about is work, and women’s equality in the workplace, and more broadly, about the rot at the core of our power structures that makes it harder for women to do work because the whole thing is tipped toward men.

Sexual assault is one symptom of that imbalance, but it is not the only one. The can-opener here — the sharp point that pierced the aluminum that had sealed all this glop in — was indeed a story about a man, Harvey Weinstein, who committed professional harm that was also terrible sexual violence. And yes, many of the stories that have poured forth since — from James Toback’s unsolicited ejaculations, to the playwright Israel Horovitz’s alleged forced encounters with much younger women — have turned on nonconsensual contact, violent physical and sexual threat, the stuff of sex crimes. But even those tales — the ones about rape and assault — have been told by accusers who first interacted with these men in hopes of finding professional opportunity, who were looking not for flirtation or dates, but for work. And they have reported — they have taken care to clearly lay out — the impact of the sexual violence not just on their emotional well-being, not just on their bodies, but on their careers, on their place in the public sphere.

Teaching Writing as Journey, Not Destination

You’d think after thirty-four years of teaching writing at both the high school and college levels, I would have a pretty firm handle on everything.

You’d think that, maybe, but not me.

On the last class session of my first-year writing seminars this semester, I asked my students what has worked and not worked over the course of four or so months. They were amazing in what they shared, and as a result, I am now redesigning significantly both my schedule and the time spent on many of my practices.

Their feedback, thankfully, was mostly positive—as this student shared in her final reflection that is colored with a bit of hyperbole:

I will never use any of the writing techniques that I was taught all four years of high school. My high school teachers failed me as a college writer. I am grateful that I got Dr. Thomas as a teacher considering that he was very willing to help you and was understanding that we are freshman and will make many mistakes. Talking to my friends outside of my class who have writing seminars this semester their professors expected them to know everything that needed to make them a strong college writer.

Confirming the gap between how students view writing after high school and the expectations of academic writing for undergraduates and scholars, her feedback also speaks to a truism about learning to write and learning to teach writing: both are journeys, and not destinations.

Here, I want to discuss the patterns expressed by my two seminars, and consider briefly how that will impact my practice in future first-year writing and other writing-intensive courses. Their feedback included the following:

  • Students emphasized the effectiveness of professor/student essay conferencing. I have at the college level greatly adjusted how I respond to essays compared to my previous career teaching high school English (note that now I have about 24 first-year students over two courses that meet M, W, F, and my high school load was 100-125 students over five classes that met M-F). I have all essays submitted as electronic Word files, and I then offer some track change edits/revisions and include comments. However, I now provide very brief, and never exhaustive, feedback on these drafts, and instead require students to conference (at least once after the first final draft submitted and my feedback returned) so we can discuss the essay and create a revision plan. I have always felt this is more effective so when these two seminars overwhelming confirmed the power of conferences, I am now planning more class time dedicated to conferencing since requiring additional out-of-class conferences, they said, would be burdensome (scheduling these now are a bit of a challenge).
  • However, students noted peer-conferencing was less effective as currently implemented. My standard process has been to have students bring hard copies of their first final essay submission on the due date (the electronic version is due by email attachment before that class session) in order to have peer-conferencing in class. These students felt this process was not effective, and instead, want peer feedback after my feedback. I have always struggled with peer conferencing, and this means I have work left to do.
  • Students recognized the value of writing teachers sharing their own writing as models for student writing. One of the most conscientious students shared quickly in our debrief that she appreciated my sharing my writing and talking through what and how I write in order to model for them how to draft their essays. The other students were enthusiastic in agreement, and I feel this was a strong endorsement of the power of teaching writing as a writer. While I am happy with this part of my teaching, I think I can increase the intentionality of this approach—sharing an ongoing draft of a piece, for example, instead of all final pieces.
  • Students valued writing workshop time in class because they could interact immediately with the professor while drafting. My course daily schedule and overarching course pattern tend toward the first half of the course being more traditional (class lessons and discussion, especially reading like a writer with mentor texts), and then the second half includes quite a few class sessions devoted to workshop time for students to draft, research, read, conference, etc., during the class hour. Although I have always valued workshop time for students, the expectations, especially at the college level, that class is about professor-oriented and content-based instruction still weigh on my own consideration about effective use of class time. These students confirmed the value of workshop time in class, noting especially having me there to help.
  • Students appreciated a composition course remaining primarily focused on learning to write and not on content acquisition and traditional practices such as taking tests. A problem for the first-year writing seminars at my university, since switching away from more traditional composition courses anchored in the English department, has been professors outside of English teaching the writing seminar as an introductory disciplinary content course. When talking with their first-year peers in other first-year writing seminars, my students came to appreciate the writing focus of my courses—mentioning, for example, that other students have been taking tests and involved in other activities (such as very narrowly prompted essays) more common in disciplinary content courses.
  • Students asked for more class sessions dedicated to brainstorming for every essay assigned. One definite improvement I will incorporate is providing a more structured class session for brainstorming of all four essays. This set of students noted they very much benefitted from the one intense brainstorm session for the cited scholarly essay, and added that they felt this process would have been effective for all of the assignments.
  • Students both appreciated and struggled with choice in types of essays and topics. I have been a strong proponent and practitioner of allowing students choice in both the kinds of essays they write and their topics. The problem I have encountered teaching college students at an academically selective college is that these students prefer prompt-driven writing, and most of their experiences have been absent any choice. An on-going goal for my practice remains how to help students build the writer’s toolbox necessary for being capable of the choice they deserve as scholars and writers.
  • Students admitted that drafting, and required drafts, were helpful for improving the quality of their essays and thinking. One of the most shocking lessons I have learned with my current university students is their resistance to drafting. But that resistance is grounded not in any sort of laziness or even procrastination (although they bring the procrastination-still-allows-A’s habit from high school); it is mostly their fear of turning in work, in their words, “that isn’t perfect yet.” Because I employ a minimum requirements approach (instead of traditional grades) that emphasizes drafting, most of my students do comply with those minimum expectations; however, far fewer students embrace the unlimited opportunity for drafting essays that would certainly improve their grades and improve them as writers. While I have been fairly successful with students drafting as required, I must continue to find strategies for helping them appreciate drafting more fully (I will touch on this below).
  • Students viewed feedback on their drafts positively and appreciated prompt replies and thorough feedback. The same student I quoted above also embraced one of the foundational jokes of all the classes I teach: I tell students if I do not respond immediately to an email (or text) or if they do not have their essays returned in less than one day of submission, I didn’t receive the email, text, or essay—or I am dead. There is a scene in the film version of Mosquito Coast in which the Harrison Ford character is whipping up the locals in the land he has bought, noting that he wants them to work hard but he will always be working harder. That is a teacher commitment I have always worked by. While I have learned to temper the amount of feedback I offer (but still have some tone problems), I remain prompt in how I respond to students and their work. Students respond well to my standards for myself by embodying higher standards for themselves.

Not directly addressed by my students’ feedback, I have an additional broad concern that I plan to address as I revise these seminars. My minimum requirement technique meets some of my instructional goals, but it fails at helping students develop their own sense of the quality of their work and their deserved grades (which I must assign despite not grading throughout the semester).

I have long rejected rubrics, but I also do appreciate the need for teachers at all levels to make expectations clear for students—both in how the teacher states explicit expectations and how students identify their own expectations.

“Minimum” seems to be less effective for the population of students I teach (the “do all this or fail” is a a deficit approach and does not really match the aspiration of high-achieving students who are mostly in courses for the A).

This is quite tentative, but here are some initial thoughts on how to help students understand the A/B divide in the quality of their essays and their overall course grade:

  • A work: Participating by choice in multiple drafts and conferences beyond the minimum requirements; essay form and content that is nuanced, sophisticated, and well developed (typically more narrow than broad); a high level demonstrated for selecting and incorporating source material in a wide variety of citation formats; submitting work as assigned and meeting due dates (except for illness, etc.); attending and participating in class-based discussion, lessons, and workshops; completing assigned and choice reading of course texts and mentor texts in ways that contribute to class discussions and original writing.
  • B work: Submitting drafts and attending conferences as detailed by the minimum requirements; essay form and content that is solid and distinct from high school writing (typically more narrow than broad); a basic college level demonstrated for selecting and incorporating source material in a wide variety of citation formats; submitting work as assigned and meeting most due dates; attending and participating in class-based discussion, lessons, and workshops; completing assigned and choice reading of texts and mentor texts in ways that contribute to class discussions and original writing.

Just as my students should come to embrace writing as a journey, I discover every time I teach writing that, yes, teaching writing is also a journey and not a destination.

I have much left to do.

The Vulnerable Are Expendable in the Free Market

…[T]hey all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 282)

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-37

I am driving my deceased father’s truck, the bed loaded with toys and my grandson in the extended cab, to Goodwill before dropping off my grandson to be watched while I go to my mother’s former assisted living facility to remove all of her things, mostly clothes and her recliner.

My mother is lying in the hospital oncology wing with, as we are just informed, hours or days to live.

Since my one sudden hard cry the morning the doctor told me on the phone about my mother’s cancer, I have been mostly numb, or empty, functioning through, along with my nephews, the necessary burden of managing my mother’s affairs as her body gradually shuts down.

As I leave her things crammed into two large black trash bags beside the recliner separated into two parts, I have a near-moment of tears as I pause to look into the living area of her house, the home I lived in from the age of 10 into my early 20s. My nephews have cleaned the area to an eerie tidiness that never existed when the house was lived in.

The finality of that tidiness, that emptiness, that none of us would ever live there again—this rekindled the sadness that has been resting beneath the necessary resignation that allows the living to navigate the dying.

My mother actually left us when she suffered a stroke about six months ago—with this day just one week from my mother’s birthday, a woman born on Friday the 13th.

Over that half year, she has been nearly in constant poor health, in and out of hospitals. And if possible, our experiences with the current healthcare system and the inexcusably inadequate Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance charade have been nearly as low a level of hell as being told my mother has stage 4, incurable, cancer.

To add insult to injury, these experiences with my parents’ failing health and their dying has coincided with a Republican-led federal government working furiously to dismantle the anemic Affordable Care Act, demonized as Obamacare, mostly with claims that the free market would be better suited to care for the vulnerable in our country that shamelessly waves flags and calls itself a Christian nation.

Of course, those making these claims and creating laws and policy all are wealthy and have all the essentials that their laws and policies deny everyone else, especially the vulnerable:

[M[ore than 80% of the officially poor are either children, elderly, disabled, students, or the involuntarily unemployed (while the majority of the remaining officially poor are carers or working people who didn’t face an unemployment spell). I bring up these 80%+ because these are the classic categories of people that are considered vulnerable populations in capitalist economies. These are the categories of people that all welfare states target resources to in one form or another, the good ones very heavily.

I believe my parents represent a fair claim that in the free market, being sick and dying are extremely (and unnecessarily) expensive, and if you happen to not have the capital, being sick and dying are incredibly undignified experiences no person really deserves.

To survive her stroke, my mother was airlifted to a nearby larger hospital, a life-saving transfer costing tens of thousands of dollars. That life-and-death moment involved doctors and family having to discuss and calculate the insurance implications, ones that linger for months since the second hospital, unlike the first, no longer accepts my mother’s supplemental policy.

That hellish (and unnecessary) scenario has repeated itself multiple times since then: my father’s death beside my mother in a rehabilitation facility, my mother being forcibly discharged from that facility and denied the high-level rehab her doctors requested, my mother being placed in assisted living, and then the multiple hospital stays leading up to her now lying in Hospice.

My mother’s death will come similar to my father’s—with only a few thousand dollars to her name.

White and working class, my parents grew up and graduated in the idealized 1950s, married in 1960, and gave birth to their obligatory two children in 1961 and 1962. They were the embodiment of aspirational, reaching hard and often for the white-washed American Dream without a hint of skepticism, without any recognition that promise was never really being extended to people not like them.

Dad worked his ass off, and mom raised me and my sister until we were in elementary school, when she re-entered the work force herself. All of that good old American work ethic was aimed at buying the largest lot at a new golf course just north of my hometown where they eventually built their dream home; it cost less in 1971 than the first Honda Accord I bought new, but that house also has more square footage than the home I own now—although my annual salary among the professional class my parents only dreamed about (and lived vicariously through) is many times more than my father’s best annual income.

My parents were politically conservative like much of the South in the latter half of the twentieth century, and therefore, I lived through Watergate, for example, in a household where my parents routinely ranted against the liberal media and felt compassion for the Dan Rather-crucified Richard Nixon.

And for all of their adult and married lives, my parents worked, my father grinding himself into an early grave, I believe. Both also smoked, as people did then, and for my mother, those 3+-packs a day were certainly the root of her dying breaths being taken in the coming days.

And what have my parents reaped for being obedient soldiers for the free market and the American Way? Truly awful final days on this planet because healthcare is a nightmare and the insurance maze is worse than anything Dante could have imagined.

My parents voted solidly Republican their entire lives, and were very much like the white majority that elected Trump. Like those deplorables, that ideological commitment eroded virtually every aspect of their dignity as their grew old and unhealthy.

Yet, this government that they hated, voted against, is all that sustained them toward the end, through publicly funded programs—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.

My nephews and I have been scrambling over these six months to protect and preserve their dignity, if not their lives, but it has been an exhausting fight—one that people in the medical field shake their heads about, powerless it seems, and one that people in the insurance game on the distant other ends of phone calls simply just don’t give a damn about.

For all my parents’ faults, and there were many, I can’t imagine they deserve this, being among the vulnerable in the U.S. who are expendable in the free market because they passed their time to be productive.

The vulnerable, you see, in a free market always become the faces of takers, and no market likes takers who no longer produce.

That market was free, in fact, to squeeze the lives out of my parents and then toss them aside when nothing was left.

It is here I must add—imagine how this is amplified, magnified for others among the vulnerable who do not enjoy the privileges my parents had, being white and achieving a pretty solid middle-class living during the golden years of their productive lives.

Yes, my parents suffered the Libertarian delusion that their material achievements were mostly their hard work and solid character, but despite that delusion, they did work hard, and they did deserve better at the end.

Because almost everyone deserves better than the Social Darwinism of the free market; children do, the infirm do, the elderly do, carers do, the working poor do, and even the lazy and the meek do simply by being human.

The problem? This is the sentiment of a socialist, a humanist, and (here is the Big Reveal) Jesus Christ himself.

Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. we won’t be having any of that bullshit; you know, respecting the basic human dignity of every living being.

Nope, we are all about the middle finger to the vulnerable who don’t have the common decency to pull on their bootstraps and all that.

Yes, We Teach English, But What Is It? (Or Better Yet, What Should It Be?)

Throughout her long career, Lou LaBrant consistently confronted and defined the profession and field often simply called “English.”

Her work appeared regularly in major journals for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), where she was president in the 1950s. But her tour-de-force volume on teaching English appeared in 1951, We Teach English, which I reconsider in the November 2017 English Journal.

Having taught high school English for 18 years and now preparing future English teachers as well as teaching first-year writing for an on-going 16 years, I am often guided by one moment in the early years of teaching high school when a student had reached her limit of frustration with my English class.

In mid-class, this student blurted out: “When are we going to do English? All we do is read and write!”

This sophomore had been through junior high a straight-A student in English, grades primarily built on traditional aspects of English classes—vocabulary tests and grammar tests.

While that moment was three decades ago, I see little evidence that her definition of what counts as “English” remains robust among many people, including English teachers.

In 2017, defining English, I believe, remains a problem that should be resolved by re-imagining the course itself.

Let me note here, however, that the greatest burden on the teaching of English is that the course too often carries disproportionate demands when compared to other courses; English tends to be a core course at all levels, but it also is expected to teach (primarily or even exclusively) literacy skills needed in all courses and disciplines.

With that caveat, I also believe we too often fail to examine the nuanced differences among teaching literacy (reading, writing, speaking, listening), teaching literature (as a field), and teaching composition/writing (possibly the most marginalized field among the disciplines).

Any and all three of these can be and often are simply lumped under “English,” and these courses are routinely taught by “English teachers/professors” as if the expertise to teach each is somehow generic or simply of the same kind.

In K-12 education, this broad demand is excessive, and unfair to both teachers and their students. Higher education remains careless about just who has the expertise to teach composition/writing, but is hyper-attentive to the field of literature (consider the narrowness of expertise among English faculty, and thus, what courses they feel qualified to teach).

On the last class of my first-year writing seminars this semester, I asked students to consider what has worked and not worked during the course in the context of understanding that the course was a composition/writing seminar. Much of the semester had been devoted to deprogramming these students from thinking the class was English and from the narrow, and often misleading, habits they had formed by learning to write (and analyze text) almost exclusively in high school English courses (such as Advanced Placement).

One notable comment from a student was that she appreciated my using my own writing to model for them how to write their essays, adding she had never had any teacher do this before.

The point here is that teaching composition/writing requires both the expertise of being a writer and the expertise of pedagogy (teaching)—and this is not lost on students.

My own career is certainly eclectic and multi-disciplinary, but that is a cumulative and on-going effort that is often itself overwhelming. At my core, though, I am a teacher of composition/writing, and after the two class discussions about my first-year seminar, I plan to redesign significantly my daily schedule for the course next fall.

It is in that spirit of reconsidering and redesigning, that I want here to suggest a few ways in which we should likely rethink what it means to teach English:

  • Acknowledge, support, and better appreciate, early literacy educators. Teaching beginning and emerging literacy is complex, and those teaching early literacy need to be better prepared, solely burdened with addressing literacy with much fewer students than is traditionally expected, and better rewarded and appreciated as professionals.
  • Expect all teacher/professors at every level to continue literacy instruction grounded in their disciplines. Literacy is a journey, and not a goal, but as literacy becomes more sophisticated, it also becomes more nuanced and more grounded in the context of that literacy. Reading and writing in history or literature are quite distinct from reading and writing in chemistry and economics. As a colleague has perfectly noted, we must rise above believing that any literacy instruction at any age is somehow an inoculation, and thus, students can take Course X and then no other teacher/professor has to address A, B, or C.
  • At the secondary level and in higher education, clarify the distinction between literature courses and composition/writing courses as well as teachers/professors of both. Of all the inane things about formal education, among the most for me is that high school English teachers are routinely asked to teach American literature along with a hundred other standards related to literacy, but I once took an upper-level English course in college on William Butler Yeats—one author, and we really only read a few works by one author. Similarly, my university about a decade ago decided any and all professors can teach first-year writing. All of this is nonsense. We must become more careful and purposeful about the teaching of literature and composition/writing—both of which are important fields that require specialized preparation and then the sort of professional support, conditions, and appreciation that other disciplines receive.

Among friends and acquaintances, I am often still introduced as an English teacher, although I haven’t been once since 2002.

People often cringe and mumble something about needing to watch how they speak.

I clarify that I am no longer an English teacher, and that they need not fret over their grammar—but I also want people to know I will always first and foremost consider proudly myself to be an English teacher.

But I also feel just as strongly that there is much work to be done about exactly what that means, and what that should mean for teachers/professors and our students.

Beware the Average White Man

Looking back on my youth, I lived through and enjoyed in pop culture both the Average White Band and The White Shadow—as a teen, without an ounce of critical awareness, and as an average white boy, without a clue of my own blinding privilege.

As I entered college, the Reagan revolution occurred, and I recall vividly being drawn to the allure of reverse racism, the vapid claim that white men were somehow then the victims of a multicultural and gender revolution.

Rapidly approaching 60, I am both ashamed and more fully aware of who I was in my youth—a person I reject entirely but witness daily in teenaged and early adult white guys that I teach. One first-year student just wrote an essay—one I could have written myself at his age—passionately arguing he is not privileged even though every single example he offered (white, male, affluent parents) confirmed his privilege. His argument also bemoaned the “new” definition of privilege, a garbled argument at best, and railed against his belief that those with privilege today are being “criminalized.”

Juxtaposing my youthful ignorance in the cocoon of privilege with this student’s same delusion more than three decades later while the US watches as a parade of powerful and famous (often white) men are exposed for truly inexcusable behavior toward women and girls speaks to a disturbing warning: beware average white men.

Next, I’d like to juxtapose Garrison Keillor to a truism that almost every black person has been told repeatedly in their youth:

For decades, black parents have told their children that in order to succeed despite racial discrimination, they need to be “twice as good”: twice as smart, twice as dependable, twice as talented. (Gillian B. White)

There’s one mantra many black parents drill into their children’s heads throughout their life: be twice as good. It goes that as black folks in America, we’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as our white counterparts. (Britni Danielle)

Work twice as hard to attain half as much—what a horrible way to navigate the world, so pervasive that entire communities teach this to their children.

Keillor is among the newly fallen—though his sin tempered as “improper behavior”—and like Al Franken, Richard Dreyfuss, and Matt Lauer, Keillor’s response is itself a hedge: “The story of his alleged misdeeds is ‘more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard,’ Keillor wrote.”

Among this new normal, these partial admissions among the Left stand in stark contrast to a Republican president elected in the wake of his own profane bragging about being a sexual predator and a Republican senate candidate receiving a standing ovation while visiting a church after being exposed for his own open secret—his predatory habits including girls as young as 14.

Myself white, male, and affluent/privileged in many ways grounded in those first two accidents of my birth—I am deeply burdened by the question that lies before us about the essential nature of men, of whiteness: Can these revelations about how many powerful men are monsters be traced to predispositions of being born a male, to some code engrained in whiteness (even as we know race is a social, not a biological, construct)?

I am afraid of the truth about being male, about the flawed consequences of being a creature driven by testosterone even with the capacity for reason, compassion, and ethical awareness.

I am terrified about the inability to determine cause and effect among the dynamics of being male, white, and powerful—that white men have disproportionate power may allow being white and male to be absolved, may allow us all to decry the corrosive impact of power.

It is that terror that brings me back to Keillor as much more illustrative of the converse of how blacks raise their children—twice as good, half as much: the average white man is allowed to be half as good to attain twice as much.

“I am disappointed in both reviews of Garrison Keillor’s anthology Good Poems (April 2004)—nearly as much as in the anthology itself,” wrote poet Rita Dove in 2005, explaining:

Keillor dedicates his compilation to “all the English Teachers (especially the great ones),” and yet he neglects one of the cardinal guidelines for today’s English curricula—to select material that reflects the multi-faceted fabric of our society. Lake Wobegon’s Norwegian bachelor farmers may have in their youth been deprived of the smorgasbord American culture has become, but I would hope that nowadays even kids from the tiniest hamlets in rural Minnesota are a bit more informed about Walt Whitman’s multitudes than Mr. Keillor’s selection would have us believe. Young minds—hell, all minds—are impressionable, and an anthology overwhelmingly populated by white poets is likely to send the message that only white folks deserve and/or are capable of writing “good poems.”

Dove’s last charge reminds me of religious traditions that suggest God created man in His own image— the sexist language and the arrogance.

Dove’s last charge reminds me of the much smaller scale but none the less arrogant self-aggrandizing of the New Criticism movement—white men with literary power who manufactured standards of great literature both to match the sort of work they created but also to keep the evaluative gaze on the text (and thus, not on the white-male-only club they were creating, and that Keillor shamelessly perpetuated).

Could anyone be more mediocre than Matt Lauer, who earned $25,000,000 a year? Maybe Keillor, the grand patron of mediocrity.

And how does a country elect Barack Obama (twice as hard, half as much) and then Donald Trump—a man who can only aspire to Lauer’s and Keillor’s mediocrity, a man buoyed by his father’s ill-gotten wealth and a culture that allows wealthy white men to excel despite their mediocrity and moral decadence.

Keillor may too easily be swept aside as a mostly harmless minor celebrity, a victim himself of his era when men’s behavior toward women was seen as part of a normal “consensual seduction ritual,” Dreyfuss’s own effort to excuse himself as simply being “the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be.”

Sin’s of the father and all that.

But Keillor represents more than the existential fear all women and girls must fear from all men as potential physical and sexual threats; Keillor is the quintessential average white man who is half as much but reaps twice the benefits on the wave of his privileges.

And yet as the veneer is being peeled back from men as predatory monsters, average white men themselves are desperately asking what if things are going too far, what if all the men guilty of sexual assault and intimidation are held accountable.

Yes, what if? Reckoning is a frightening thing for the guilty, and each time I read about another man hedging for the accused and punished, I am reminded, with some due gender irony, “The lady protests too much, methinks.”

Today the white male student who wrote the ham-fisted essay about privilege conferenced with me about his essay, and I was struck by how even though he is identified as privileged, he is confronted with a different world than I was. In another first-year class, a black young woman came into class upset about Lauer; she immediately said she was disappointed.

Both of those students share a naive view of the world, one shaped by the very average white men afraid of an overdue purging.

Both of those students, I worry, are not really being offered the promises they deserve, and thus, what if all the average white men face their reckoning?

We can hope, I think, and we should.