What We Lose When We Ban Books (a reblog from Kevin M English)

Kevin English is an English Language Arts educator, school board member, and teaching consultant. He also writes a fantastic blog. This morning he took on the subject of banning books. The impetus for this post is the controversy surrounding a new novel entitled, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. You can read more about that by clicking here. I’m not a fan of banning books, nor am I a fan of limiting the choices students have when reading. I think Kevin is right on here.

What We Lose When We Ban Books

You can follow Kevin on Twitter – @KevinMEnglish

Those who can…

Over the years I’ve had opportunities to sing and perform some of the greatest music ever written with amazing artists and groups in equally amazing venues. They are memories I will treasure the rest of my life and I wouldn’t trade a single one of them. I became a better singer, musician, and individual for those experiences. I also learned many lessons. One of those lessons came quite by surprise and was, in a small way, disappointing. That lesson?

Those who can, cannot necessarily teach.

We’ve all heard that old saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” It is an absurd notion on its face and is insulting to the throngs of great teachers who are most certainly able to do. However, its antithesis, “Those who can, cannot necessarily teach” is very much true. I learned that while performing one of the best known and loved choral works of the twentieth century. I had the good fortune to be selected for a small ensemble performing the work with its composer as conductor. I was thrilled not only to get the chance to sing the piece, but also to meet and work with a composer I deeply admired. I quickly discovered that there is a vast difference between being a gifted choral composer and being an effective choral conductor. He was, to put it bluntly, awful. I still value the experience and, as I already wrote, wouldn’t trade it for the world, but wow! What an eye-opener. And, what a sobering reminder as I embark on this new career as an educator.

I would describe myself as an above average writer. Some have offered higher praise, but I hesitate to congratulate myself too much. I understand grammar and do my best to use it properly. I have a good vocabulary. I know how to craft words and make them easy-to-read, if not enjoyable and informative. I also know how to use both a dictionary and SpellCheck – because everyone has limitations. That’s all well and good, but what if? What if I’m not a good, or at least an
effective teacher? What if I’m like that composer I admired so much whose conducting skills were, at best, rudimentary? I have a terrible fear that I am going to be one of the ones who can do but who cannot teach.

“There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.” ~Robert Frost

apple-bookThose of you who’ve been following this blog long enough know that fear is not something new to me. I’m a naturally fearful person. I have been most of my life. But, this is more. This time my fear involves other people. I am now responsible for making sure that students get a quality education in English Language Arts, Reading, and Writing. I will be teaching students who are at, arguably, some of the most formative years of their education. I know that it was my middle and high school English teachers who helped cement my love of reading and writing. Mrs. Maciel (6th & 8th Grade) and Mrs. Horton (7th Grade) were incredible teachers who brought literature and grammar to life. In high school, Mrs. Landers encouraged my writing by not trying to remake it. They all provided a language foundation upon which all of my other writing and reading skills are built. Their influence cannot be understated. Granted, I don’t expect to be so influential to my students, especially during my first few years. I guess my goal this year would be not to mess them up too much or make them hate English class so much that they never want to read or write another word.

I’ve spent the last week or so gathering my thoughts and reading anything I can get my hands on written by experienced educators. I started out devouring one particular book like it’s the Bible. Then it dawned on me, if all I do is duplicate her classroom, her techniques, and her results, I will fail miserably and my students will suffer. I can’t be her. The truth is, I can’t be any of my teachers, either. I will never be able to dig in to Edgar Allan Poe the way Mrs. Maciel did. I probably won’t teach grammar as methodically as Mrs. Horton did. I don’t expect to ignite inspiration in my students the way Mrs. Landers inspired me. No, I’ll never be all that any of them were and are. The best I can hope for is to use the things they taught me in a way that suits me and helps my students. That terrifies me.

Like so many other things in life, I wish there were a magic pill that would make me a good teacher. I know there’s not. I don’t mind making mistakes because I learned to learn from them. I don’t mind asking questions because that’s how knowledge is acquired. I don’t mind admitting I need help because everyone does. What I do mind is making a student’s day worse or causing undue stress on them and their families. I’m not aiming to be the teacher everyone likes, but I surely don’t want to be the one they dread.

Below my signature line on all of my emails is this quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To know one life has breathed easier because you have lived — this is to have succeeded.” I truly believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that is my purpose for being on this earth. I am here to help folks breathe a little easier. God help me make that a reality in my classroom.

New name, New look, Same ME!

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. ~L. Frank Baum


I like to freshen things up from time to time…

It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious writing about anxiety and depression. Not to say that I’m over it or anything like that, but I’ve sorta moved on from the point where it was a constant in my life. I’m in a good place, for now at least. Because of that, I thought it was time for a new name and a new look to the old blog. I got a nice message from the good folks at WordPress just yesterday congratulating me on the 5th anniversary of this little endeavor. What better way to celebrate than to change everything!! :)

So, now…Welcome to MEtopia: Ramblings of a Redneck Sophisticate!

You can still comment. (Does anybody do that anymore?) You can still “like.” (Does anybody do that anymore?) You can still share. (Did anybody everdo that?) And, I hope you will! That’s it for now. Enjoy your weekend!





Can we stop being excellent now, please?

Words are very important to me. When I write, I write carefully and thoughtfully. I am intentional about the words I choose. When I first learned about three months ago that a teaching position might be available for me, I began thinking about a personal mission statement for this new career. Since words are so important to me I wanted to take my time writing the ones which would best convey my intentions as an educator. In an effort to better understand the goal of a mission statement I started looking at ones which already exist. I looked at the mission statements of Fortune 500 companies, of non-profit organizations, of colleges and universities, of school districts, and various other institutions and organizations. I can sum up my assessment of most of them in one word:


Disappointed doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings about the vast majority of the mission statements I read.  I was aghast. How is it possible that so many people in so many different roles in so many organizations could produce so many words that mean absolutely nothing? I read some of the worst multiple times and still hadn’t the faintest clue what they meant. They were full of industry jargon, marketing-ese, and public relations hogwash. I would challenge any person on the street to read any one of those mission statements and determine a) what they meant, and b) what the organization actually did. Yet, through all of that useless nonsense ran a common thread. It was an almost unanimous  goal and high ideal to which those companies, organizations, institutions, and people aspired. That ideal goal: “excellence.”

ex·cel·lence  [ek-suh-luhns]

1. the fact or state of excelling; superiority; eminence: his excellence in mathematics. 

2. an excellent quality or feature: Use of herbs is one of the excellences of French cuisine. 

3. ( usually initial capital letter ) excellency (  def 1 ) .

No matter what its geography in a sentence, or how many times it appears, a meaningful word surrounded by blather is rendered meaningless. That has unfortunately happened to EXCELLENCE. I can’t tell you how many times I saw it in those mission statements, nor can I cite statistics regarding its frequency of use. What I can tell you is that, just like a song that is overplayed on the radio, a word that is overused and misused loses its power and effectiveness for the reader, and in the case of mission statements, the participants in the mission.

I read one mission statement which so profoundly intrigued me that I went to the organization’s web site. There I found excellence spread like cow manure on concrete. There was a whole lot of stink and not one sprout growing. They had the departments of: organizational excellence, relational excellence, executive excellence, service excellence, and initiative excellence. I looked around on the web site for a while and never once found a Department of Barf Bag Excellence. Not to be outdone, I found a church whose departments included: congregational excellence, pastoral excellence, missional excellence…oh, must I go on? Seriously, though, what do any of those labels even mean?

Excellence, like so many other words I could list, has become a buzzword. It is a word that cubicle cruisers in marketing departments (or, should I say, Departments of Branding Excellence) stick in literature about their companies that gets people’s attention and makes them think someone in that organization actually cares about their product(s). The problem is that it doesn’t…mean…ANYTHING. They strive for excellence. They pursue excellence. They promote excellence. But, they never actually become excellent.

stop-signCan we stop being excellent now? Please. Can’t we just make the best products, cook the best food, provide the best service, or educate the next generation to the best of our ability? What good is a mission statement if the words that make it up mean nothing? The answer: not any good at all.

If I was told I could do only one thing as an educator I would instill in my students a sense of care for words and their meanings. Language is, arguably, the single most important development in human history. Language/words, both spoken and written, convey the entirety of human existence. Our thoughts, our emotions, our experiences, our history, our ethics, morals, and values are all shared through language. Why then are we so frivolous with the words we choose? When we speak, let us speak with clarity of meaning. When we write, let us write being mindful of purpose.

And, let’s stop being so damned excellent!

Know Thyself

In her book, “Writing to Change the World,” Mary Pipher has a chapter entitled, Know Thyself. In it she talks about how important it is for writers to know who they are and where they come from. She offers a short poem there called, “I Am From,” and suggests that her readers do the same. In an attempt to better understand where I come from and, hopefully, become a better writer, I have accepted that assignment. This was more difficult than I imagined it would be. There are a lot of things that make me who I am and choosing only a few of them was not easy. I guess that’s part of the point, though. Sometimes we view ourselves in a one-dimensional way and we forget that there is much more that makes us who we are than what we can see in a mirror. So, whether you’re an aspiring writer or not, I would challenge you to think about where you’re from, too.

I am from…

I am from Tom and Suzi.
From Barbara, Gene, Virgil, and Lilian.
I am from divorce and remarriage.
From half-siblings and stepparents.
I am from Mammy and Sister’s house on High Street.
And from our little apartment overlooking Pioneer Drive.

I am from the city and the country.
From boulevards and back roads.
I am from Sister’s camelias and roses.
From Mammy’s bluebonnets and marigolds.
I am from huge oak trees in a big yard.
And from a few potted plants on an upstairs balcony.

I am from Methodists and Baptists.
From Church of Christ and no church at all.
I am from Reagan Revolutionaries.
From New Deal Democrats.
I am from preachers and Sunday School teachers.
And from a gospel piano player who taught me to play, too.

I am from Country and Western.
From Southern Gospel and High Church Hymns.
I am from Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms.
From Herb Alpert and Henry Mancini.
I am from radios, eight tracks, and cassettes.
From CD’s and MP3′s.

I am from green beans and new potatoes.
From Mammy’s salmon patties and hot water cornbread.
I am from Sister’s 1234 Cake.
From Aunt Daisy’s Chocolate pie.
I am from Mom’s chicken enchiladas and stuffed manicotti.
And from peanut butter and jelly on good old white bread.

I am from sultry summer nights chasing fireflies in the yard.
From the sound of crickets, locusts, hoot owls, and raging spring storms.
I am from Friday Night Football and Saturday morning cartoons.
From Sunday afternoon wrestling and, “be quiet my story is on.”
I am from unconditional love and unbearable loss.
From memories of words I should’ve said and deeds left undone.

I am German, English, Scotch, Irish, and American Indian.
I am an artist, a writer, a thinker, and a lover of words.
I am a worrier.
I am a dreamer.
I am a helper.

I am my father’s absence and my mother’s endurance.
I am my sister’s energy and zest for life.
I am my nieces’ beautiful spirits.

I am my faults, my failures, my fears.
I am my desire to overcome them all.
I am not lost.
I am here.
I am known from the foundations of the earth.
I am loved.

I am all of these things and all of the other things.
I am more than the sum of them.
I am me.