By Drew Panckeri

Hey Teach!!! – My Pacifist Side Has a Violent Streak a Mile Wide

Published On November 26, 2013 |

Illustration by Drew Panckeri for Paradigm Magazine

Column Written by Jason Finn
Jason Finn, Ed.D., is a former U.S. Fulbright recipient, an author and English teacher of adolescent youth where he crafts lessons full of sublime stupidity with whimsical abandon since 1994.


Well, another school year is upon us. It’s good, part of a cycle of sorts: sun rising later and setting earlier, the leaves falling, students with books and tablets. As usual, the kids are generally eager to learn and once class begins, I feed off the energy they provide. I really live for this stuff. Still, I am quite bothered by the continuing struggles to fund public schools. Are we the only First World country that cuts libraries and school funding first when the going gets tough? It sure seems that way. As of late October, even my son’s school, supposedly one of the best in Pennsylvania and maybe the country, doesn’t have a librarian. The library lights remain dark and the door locked. The principal doesn’t even have a secretary.

Recently, I wrote a poem for one of my classes. We were having a poetry slam and we shared a poem that was inspired by a novel we read in class. Here it is:

Yo check it.

I’m a lover not a fighter. But beware my pacifist side has a violent streak a mile wide. That’s no biggie, for my violent side doesn’t have a pacifist streak but a pacifist vibe.

So, dig this big crux.

Hit me and I just might hug you.

Sling me with insults, rants, racist jive, political mumbo jumbo and all the crap you can fit into a garbage bag and I will recycle all that boo-hoo evil into a garden of action.

Throw me for a loop and I just might go for a ride on your roller-coaster.

Dig me a hole and watch me throw you a bone.

Push me to the edge and I will straighten out and lie down across divides so you can cross to the other side. What? You gonna push me down?

Hell, I will roll up and traverse fields of new ideas and into rivers of sorrow before I flow into a sea of tranquility where calm waves lap onto the shores of discovery.

Speak to me in riddles and I might just sing you a song.

Give me a chance and I will give you a spoon, you heard right, a spoon, so we can scoop up some of this world, a spoonful at a time, for it’s way too big for a pail, yes, way too big for any of us to carry something so heavy.

Get that in your soul.

Guess the novel? Do you care? Maybe not.

Anyway, it’s not important. What is important is the message – take care of each other, tolerance, justice, opportunity, the common good, and a heap of other stuff. What strikes me is these are the themes we teach our children in our school. However, with the current climate in Washington and around the country I often have that empty, gnawing feeling that we have lost the ability to work towards and embrace the common good. We might not always agree. Heck, we often disagree, but there was ability to find the similarities and common goals, instead of searching and accentuating the disagreements. What is more frustrating is that I am surrounded by common sense talk. In the city I live, in my school where I work, on the Internet, TV, well mostly the Daily Show and Corbett Report, recent books like Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error, and other outlets, the talk is the same – “Can you believe the way this country is going? It’s (insert favorite swear) ridiculous.” Still, I feel we are hamsters on a wheel, speaking to the converted in our cage. Where’s the uproar, the rage, the passion?

For goodness sakes, the kids are the future. At least give them a fully supplied school. Nothing speaks more to the effect that you don’t mean shit, then being underfunded. Think of your own home: “Sorry, son, but our bills were a little high this month so we decided to sell your books, medicine and computer, but don’t worry you’ll do fine, we believe in the youth of America. The strong always rise above the rest.”

That’s the problem. We think of education in this country as a competition, a “race to the top”. What school can outscore, outperform another is the quest of the day. Show me the data! What’s the score? Who wins? Nobody and I say game over.

What we truly need is a newfound commitment to the student as a child, as a human being that needs a rich and diverse curriculum. The sciences? Yes. Math? Indeed. The Humanities? Damn straight. Physical Education? Surely. Music? Yeah. To reclaim this democracy we need intelligent, innovative, passionate, well-rounded and empathetic kids. A fully functional school with a deep commitment to providing kids a balanced education so they can make meaningful and profound connections is crucial. This is what it means to be human. The old phrase ‘thou art with me’. One understanding of this statement is you are on my side, supporting me. I, however, take the word ‘art’ meaning ‘to exist’. When we create art we are affirming our existence that, yes, we are alive now but also leaving a remembrance of who I was then. Sometimes, though, art is unnerving and ugly and even scary because it shows us who we truly are and the truth sometimes hurts but this art can also show us how to move forward. All of this art is what truly separates us from other creatures. So, the phrase ‘thou art with me’ means to fully know we exist we, as humans, must create.

Here and now, I state we need a new rallying cry. Not one for more testing. Not one for more competition. Not one for more definitive answers. No. We need a new song. One for less testing. Less competition. And, one for more possibilities, more solutions. More humanity.



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