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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘charter’

First Impressions: How You Say What You Say

Thinking about that charter school for inner city boys where the study of Latin is mandatory…

In my day job I work with folks of various backgrounds, both in terms of education and upbringing. In all walks of my public life I come in contact with an even broader swath of humanity in all regards. I routinely travel up and down the social, economic and educational ladders at work and at play. For the most part, with everyone I meet the language we all speak is English. I live in Cleveland, Ohio, USA after all. Our English, however, is hardly the same.

While we cannot truly escape our origins, as we cannot truly escape our genome, we can choose how we interact in the daily mechanics of society regardless of origin. For better or for worse this begins with how we speak. That old saw, you only get one chance to make a first impression, is especially true when you speak, and especially important because for the most part you can choose not only what you say but also how you say it.

There’s nothing new or striking about this concept, either. You can think of it as verbal situational awareness. You would (hopefully) speak differently to a priest than you would the surfer dude sitting next to you beyond the break. On the phone with the cable company should sound very different I think than on the phone with your BFF. All speech is by definition qualitatively different than a text or an email because speaking implies hearing; speaking and hearing involve the inclusion of inflection, tone, and tempo. Really basic stuff.

Why, then, is it so brutally common to hear such poor English? Poor grammar, improper word usage, a situational tone-deafness? This doesn’t even begin to touch on the concept of working vocabulary (BTW, the person with the largest working vocabulary I’ve ever met is responsible for my  little CrossFit thing). Once upon a time one heard much about “Proper English” or “The Queen’s English.” What happened?

In English we do not have the French equivalent of “Tu” vs. “Vous”. No lazy man’s way to “polite-up” our speech. A certain unearned familiarity is too often presumed. We take way too many liberties with grammar, and frankly we too infrequently make the effort at “polished” English when it’s time to do so. That first impression thing is incredibly affected when you open your mouth to speak, on the up and the down sides. It is equally jarring to hear the word “ineluctable” from a guy in faded jeans and a baseball cap turned backwards (up) as it is to hear “me and Joey are gonna go…” from a guy in a suit and starched collar (down).

The stark reality is that there are no barriers to the “up” version of English. There is no genetic, social, or economic barrier blocking the acquisition of the ability to speak well, and by extension to acquire the situational awareness to know when it is vital to do so. All that is required is the effort to learn that version of English that we know as “proper”, and the effort to learn when. Those young men learning Latin at that charter school are off to a great start. It’s not necessary to speak like this all the time. You can choose to “let your hair down” so to speak–my love for the versatility of the “F-bomb” is well known in certain circles–but a lack of virtuosity in the English domain is a choice.

There are many aspects of a “first impression” over which we may have little control. Don’t choose to let your English be one of them.

Sunday musings 6/8/14

Sunday musings…

1) World Cup. Two pitchers each take no-hitters, shut-outs into the 9th inning.

If no one scores they set up a home run derby.

2) Uniboob. Term heard for the first time in the gym yesterday. Apparently the unfortunate result of either bad design or a bad fit.

Fear the uniboob.

3) Vacuum. Some 40+ years ago a little girl came home from elementary school and asked her Mom why all of their family friends of color were bad people. Turns out the little girls teacher had made disparaging remarks about a picture of a mixed-race couple. Outraged, the Mom promptly started the process of withdrawing her 3 girls from the public schools and placing them…


There really was no “where” around about 1971 or so. No place to send kids if the schools did not line up with a family’s values, or if a kid for whatever reason just didn’t, or couldn’t, fit in. Homeschooling was virtually non-existent, Montessori was in its infancy, and not unlike today most private schools were just beyond the financial capabilities of most families, even if there was a perfect philosophical fit. Outside of the public school system there was essentially a vacuum.

Most folks would have just gritted their teeth, put their collective heads down, and just made the best of the situation, especially given the dearth of options. Uh uh. Not my Mother-in-Law. Nope. With the full support of my Father-in-Law, Sandy took her 3 young daughters (Mrs. bingo is the oldest) and joined maybe 2 dozen families in starting their own school. One that would match their collective values while at the same time providing an environment of collective caring and kindness.

Upattinas was created to fill the vacuum.

It was a pretty free-wheeling place, Upattinas. The “Open Classroom” to the max. Free to choose from the ever-expanding menu of educational theories the founding families chose pretty much everything. Kids who would succeed anywhere were mixed with kids who had no shot to succeed in a traditional school, and the space between those extremes was filled with all the rest of the kids whose parents sought for them an eduction that was directed by the needs of the individual child under the guidance of the founding families. Pretty cool, very unique place.

This weekend Upattinas will celebrate its last commencement. After 40+ years of providing an alternative to those families who had none, Upattinas will close its doors, to live only in the hearts and minds of the families who passed through those doors over the years. How come? Well, the simplest answer is that there is no longer a vacuum, that there are now countless options for parents and children who would be better served by schooling outside the public school system. Homeschooling, internet-based learning, and public/home hybrids are now ubiquitous. Brick and mortar alternative schools like Upattinas could have a place if they became more like, well, something they’re not. More and more effort is now required simply to keep the doors open, effort that once was expended almost entirely on teaching the children. Upattinas could survive in today’s world of bountiful educational choice if it, and its families, chose to compete for a place in what is now an educational market.

That’s not the Upattinas way.

40+ years ago my Mother-in-Law Sandy saw a vacuum in the world of education and she filled it with an alternative. Upattinas became one of the first of the genre known as such, Alternative Schools, dedicated to teaching those who needed something different. Upattinas opened not only the hearts and minds of its children but also the doors to a vastly bigger educational landscape. Sandy’s school has demonstrated that you need not teach every child the same way, need not discard nor disregard any child who did not fit in a traditional slot.

So mourn not the passing of Upattinas. The world is filled with the children, and children of children who were blessed by that group of parents who saw a vacuum and refused to let it remain so. Teachers and doctors and artists and athletes and electricians and carpenters and…well, you get the picture. Each of them, all of them, better versions of themselves than perhaps otherwise, for a stroll through the front door at Upattinas.

The lesson for the rest of us, of course, is to have the vision to see the vacuums in our lives, and the courage to fill them with something better. Having done so, we should be at peace.

Congratulations to my Mother-in Law on filling the vacuum. You won, Sandy! Be at peace.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at June 8, 2014 7:26 AM