Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Teaching as the Performance Art of Engagement

It's been a while since I thought about it, but a reader recently reminded me of and inquired about a blog post from 2010 in which I opined about "Teachers as Performers." After twenty-eight years in the classroom, I'd say I now realize the key is not just performance or entertainment, but the art of engagement. If the teacher creates an engaging lesson that is tailored to the students sitting in front of him or her, then the "entertaining" quality can take many different forms. Despite my introverted loner nature, I am on stage in class most of the time, and my teaching generally has pretty high energy or intensity. However, over the years as I've noted the downside to that for students who don't quite "get" me, I've actually tried to approach each and every year with the goal of being the "kinder and gentler" Mr. Mazenko.

For me, the performance aspect became my shtick early in my career, and it seemed almost necessary and certainly more comfortable to do it that way. That high intensity approach probably has much to do with my first job out of college -- teaching English as a second language in a private language school in Taiwan. Though I trained to be a high school literature and writing teacher, I was teaching elementary school kids, and even kindergarten for a year, in Taiwan. The fun, engaging performance style connected with the kids who were learning English because they had no choice. The rather rigid, or "canned," curriculum was centered on games and activities as well. The school and the parents liked that high energy approach.

After five years teaching in cram schools in the evening, I returned to the States and taught middle school for a couple years at a Catholic school in the city of Chicago before transitioning to high school in a middle class suburban district. And, at each stop along the way, I just found a performance approach seemed to equal engagement. In all honesty, I now realize I may have been overestimating the engagement level, especially when I consider the insight that "too often school is a place where kids go to watch adults work." I also had a great mentor who once advised me to make sure I don't "become a caricature of myself." Reflecting on these ideas is helpful. We do need to be "on" quite a bit, but it's important to remember we can also be human beings and be vulnerable. Otherwise, it's easy to burn out.

Reflection is the key. Be thoughtful about what you do every day, and ultimately be true to yourself and what your style of engagement is; for at then end of the bell, the only important consideration is whatever works. Just teach kids. Not just content. Not only skills. Teach the kids.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Krista Kafer's "Pro-Mask" Column actually makes things worse

In Sunday's Denver Post Krista Kafer, a Republican columnist for the paper and former talk show host, offered her advice on masks and COVID19: "Want to Convince Me to Wear a Mask?" Beyond the obvious that no one should have to convince anyone of the practice, as the CDC and basically the entire medical community, as well as many business leaders, have already made the case pretty clear, Kafer's premise held promise but ultimately falls flat. Kafer, a part-time rhetoric teacher at Colorado Christian College, offers advice on the art of persuasion, as she criticizes the apparently "not nice enough" approach of pro-mask voices and advocates like Democratic governor Jared Polis.
Kafer appears to offer reasoned criticism of the wrong way to persuade reluctant mask wearers, and in her view she is using a sarcastic and ironic tone to present what she mistakenly believes to be a positive pro-mask piece of commentary. Sadly, the professor and former radio host actually downplays the seriousness of the pandemic and rising COVID19 rates, subversively validates the irresponsible behavior of mask resisters, and justifies risky and aloof thinking that put us all at risk. In doing so, she basically ensures the pandemic and related economic disaster will persist and worsen.

Everyone wants this crisis to end, and while uncertainty remains, there are some areas where we can find common ground and help our communities. We can all agree the key to re-opening schools, restoring jobs, and reviving the economy is controlling or ending the pandemic. The key to managing the pandemic is slowing the spread of Covid19. And the key to slowing the spread is consistent mask wearing, regular social distancing, and choosing to be Safer At Home when possible.

While Kafer’s criticisms of Governor Polis and others who chastise, shame, or scare people may be valid, she unfortunately fails to solve the problem or assist efforts to reduce infection. Since many people won't listen to him, we actually need her and GOP leaders like Cory Gardner and Patrick Neville to help. If the President asked, his supporters would do it. If he'd lead, they'd follow. Why can't Ms. Kafer and the GOP get this? She could have used her platform to encourage people to do better – instead she justified their decision to make things worse.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Joe Biden should name first ever All Female Cabinet

Joe Biden will choose a female running mate soon, and when he wins in November, we will have the country's first ever female Vice-President (and maybe four short years from the first female President). It's a choice that is long overdue, especially when it's the norm around the world, including less, ahem, progressive countries than ours.

I fully support and have advocated for decades that the United States needs more female political leaders. It just makes sense, even if we discount the idea that "the women are smarter." So, I've often told the female students in my classes and clubs that they should simply stop voting for men. Just start electing more women at every level. And, granted, I fully understand that beliefs and stances on the issues should drive the decision, first and foremost. No one should choose a candidate just because she's a women. For example, I would never vote for candidates like Michele Bachmann or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And, for pretty much the same reasons. But there plenty of qualified and dynamic female legislators and executives, and when all things are equal, choose the woman.

To that end, Joe Biden should not stop at naming a female running mate: he should name an all female cabinet. And Biden should do so immediately, even before the election, at the same time he announces his VP. After the VP pick, he should release the list of his dream team with all the awesome women he's planning to invite to help him lead. Here are some of my picks:

VP - Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)

Sec of State - Nancy Pelosi (CA)

Sec of Treasury - Elizabeth Warren (MA)

Sec of Defense - Tammy Duckworth (IL)

Sec of Justice -  Kamala Harris (CA)

Sec of Commerce - Amy Klobuchar (MN)

Sec of Agriculture - Debbie Stabenow (MI)

Sec of Interior - Gina Riamondo (RI)

Sec of Education - Michele Obama

Sec of Labor - Gretchen Whitmer (MI)

Sec of Homeland Security - Susan Collins (ME)

Sec of Transportation - Nikki Haley (SC)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

David Lee Roth, The Marine Corps response to COVID, & the Leadership We Need

"I sure wish our country had taken a Marine Corps approach to Covid."

That was the answer from Diamond Dave, David Lee Roth, former frontman of Van Halen and an ever-evolving artist whose latest work is an ongoing series of paintings and sketches that he calls his "performance therapy" when he was asked about our response to the pandemic.

A Marine Corps approach. Exactly. Everyone together, singularly focused on the mission. Working as a unit until the enemy is defeated. And leaving no man behind. 

A Marine Corps approach. A Moon Shot. A Marshall Plan. A Patton-esque campaign. A coordinated, deeply funded, strategical and scorched earth assault on this existential crisis and threat. It was a "Day That Will Live in Infamy" moment. It was an "all for one and one for all" challenge. It was "all hands on deck" situation. It was a War Time President opportunity. It was "win one for the Gipper" scene. It was a challenge and an opportunity for greatness. It was Rudy and W. standing on the rubble in lower Manhattan with bullhorns pledging resilience and triumph. 

And the irony is not lost on me that the current President of the United States was singularly focused on re-election, and the response that would have guaranteed another four years is the one he would never choose. Rather than a "we've got to get the economy growing again to win the support of the people" approach, it would have and should have been a "full faith and resources of the White House and the federal government to meet and defeat this challenge" policy. That would have sealed the fate of November, 2020. And he missed it. And we bear the brunt of his ignorance.

And, sadly, while he and his family and sycophants could never see the truth and opportunity, I am so profoundly disappointed in the Republican leadership who could have stepped up. At any time. It was something that a Mitt Romney or a John Kasich or a Joe Biden or a Barack Obama would so instinctively and easily done. 

The Marine Corps approach. Good point. Who knew Diamond Dave would have the answer. The question is who's willing to lead?

Semper Fi.

Friday, July 10, 2020

No Tax Returns? No Debate.

There is simply no reason for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to participate in a debate against the current president. Nothing new or good or helpful can come to Biden or the Democrats from engaging in a debate. The last election proved that, and hopefully, for the good of the Republic, Joe Biden and his people realize or figure this out. The debate is already happening as it is, every day playing out on television and on social media. The election is really a referendum on the current president and his past four years in office. Americans simply have to decide if they want four more years of him.

But, if there were to be a debate, Joe Biden should establish one simple condition:  the President must release his tax returns for the past six years well in advance of the debate. There is no legitimate reason they aren't already public record. Half the country is definitely interested in them. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the president has no special privilege to maintain their privacy, and it's certain they will be accessed by the New York Attorney General, if not also the House of Republicans, soon. So, if the Republicans want a debate between the two, they must convince the President to release the returns. And thanks to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times for proposing this idea.

Otherwise there will be no debate between the two, and Joe Biden should simply arrange with the networks to make himself available to their staff for an hour or two of discussion of all the issues and questions they would normally raise in a debate. Biden's debate is with the American public and can be smoothly and effectively handled through the network media.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Guns & the risk of senseless irreversible tragedy

"Expect to see another rise in gun sales."

That was libertarian Republican writer David Harsanyi of the National Review, and formerly of The Federalist and The Denver Post. That sort of commentary saddens and troubles me, even as I understand the point he is making. Harsanyi's comment was responding to the violence and vandalism that came out of the George Floyd/Black Lives Matters protests in numerous cities across the county, including Denver where David and I live. Basically, he's implying that our neighbors seeing destruction near their part of town will inevitably feel like they must arm themselves against raging mobs that are sure to take over the cities and suburbs.

That's troubling to say the least, and the nation saw that mindset in action later in a ritzy private neighborhood of St. Louis' Central West End, when attorney Mark McKlosky and his wife pointed their AR-15 rifle and handgun at protesters who were marching to the mayor's house. The images of people on the verge of irreversible tragedy fascinated social media and the infotainment world for about fifteen minutes, and I couldn't help but wonder if the extreme views of people like Harsanyi and McKlosky are firmly rooted in the belief that property damage must or should be countered with deadly force. Basically, if someone vandalizes your home, would you kill them?

I don't own a gun, though I grew up around them and respect the right to possess them. However, I also fully support regulation of firearms, including mandatory training, licensing, and registration of all guns. And I do worry about people who would instinctively grab a gun to "defend themselves" in too many non-lethal situation. I carry pepper spray and have for a long time, ever since I was attacked by a loose neighborhood dog, and because I live in an area with high coyote and wildlife activity. My local police recommended it, and it gives me a reasonable and non-deadly defense against the potential threats I may face. Granted, if someone breaks into my house to assault and kill me or my family, a can of pepper spray may not stop them and standing on my lawn like Rambo McKlosky would be more of a deterrent. But I don't think that's the appropriate mindset for the type of civilized society in which I grew up.

The margin for error and senseless tragedy is too thin for people to feel like they must have a gun as the primary way to protect themselves. And there are too many collateral issues that also increase America's preventable tragedy epidemic. Not only do we know that America has a strange gun fetish and a gun violence problem, but there is reason to believe that "the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic could worsen our gun problem.

So, when I hear observations like Harsanyi's, I simply feel sad for who we've become and are becoming, and I'm troubled that an astute and reasoned thinker/writer like David believes such comments and views are the way to go.