Friday, December 30, 2011

Rush to judgments

I went to Austin over Christmas to escape my problems, but the irony is that we really can't escape our problems--not really. Sometimes, we can only be reminded that all human beings experience pain and loss. No individual is crying alone. We all shed tears.
As a teacher, I'm far from wealthy, and I always pursue the better position while simultaneously pursuing my dream of becoming a well-respected author. At times, my lack of funds depresses me, but I'm quickly reminded that other people have suffered more profoundly than have I. My mother is the reason for my balance, I think. She always reminded me that I wasn't hungry and that I was educated. Growing up in the 1920s and 1930s and formed my mother in positive ways. She remembered poverty and never advanced as far in her education as she could have because she had to work. Education had been her dream for me, her only daughter, and I pursued three degrees--often begrudgingly. My mother often reminded me about her life as a young woman, working in a cracker factory in her teens (she'd hate that I wrote this) and then advancing as a prized employee in Reiner's Jewelry Store. Her life was never easy. All of her siblings died before she did. Three of her brothers were young men when Fate took them. Three of them were in World War II, and their lives inspired me to write Love at War, on and Amazon. Through every trial, my mother maintained her buoyancy and pride. She also had a giving spirit and never judged others. I can only hope I've followed her example.
As a resident of New Orleans, I have encountered the homeless and dispossessed. While I was in Austin, I saw people in the same condition. It is easy for us to judge these less fortunate people, labeling them as lazy or stupid. Of course, some homeless people are chronically unemployed, but many are simply "down on their luck." Some suffer from addictions, and still others are victims of mental illness. There but for the grace of God go I.
Those persons who simply need temporary help often find employment and go on with their lives; some, of course, will die as victims. Again, it's easy for us to judge, but judge we do. I teach at a school that requires service to the community, but in the past, the administration has discouraged service to the people needing it the most. Heaven forbid the students see people with rotten teeth, people who mumble or stare, and people who aren't quite clean. Consequently, most service is limited to assisting the middle class, people who are the less needy. As a result, the students too often harbor prejudicial attitudes toward needy people--even when they seek to help them.
The students are not the only ones harboring condescending attitudes. I know of one well-heeled woman who told her classroom of equally well-heeled students that she was leaving the school to teach little "African babies." Sweet God, has she watched Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express once too often? The children she would be teaching were primarily "African-American," not "African." How condescending could she be? Does she really hope to be successful teaching children she holds in such contempt? Her comments made me wonder if I've ever sounded so intolerant or clueless. This is the season for resolutions, and I promise that I will try my best not to judge others. Any tragedy can result in our being homeless or mentally unstable. There but for the grace of God. . .


  1. As a teacher too, I find that entitlement is a huge part of my job. Students feel that they are entitled to good grades without working, parents feel they are entitled to telling me how to run my classroom and administration has forgotten what it is like in the classroom. Being a teacher is a thankless job unless you count the love of those children.

    People just don't understand the complexity of teaching. They see the summer's off and think that it is glorified babysitting. Our society has changed the profession of teaching in such a challenging way.

    Thanks for sharing your insights. I wish you the best for next year.

  2. So true, Viola. There but for the grace of God go we. We take so much for granted and know so little. Best wishes for the new year.

  3. Lovely, Viola. Wishing you all the best for 2012.

    Joy, Prosperity and mostly Peace,
    @ketadiablo - Twitter

  4. Thank you for the kind comments. May all of us have a prosperous New Year!

  5. Viola, lovely post. My mom moved to Hawaii. I think of her there in that place of healing, and I'm grateful. 2012 is going to bring with it some marvelous changes.

  6. You've got it just right, Viola. As another former teacher, I've seen bigotry in (hopefully) all its forms, and the one you hold up is sad, but typical.
    At one point, I thought I was done with teaching because nobody seemed to care that I did all in my power for them. Then one day a shy little girl student came up to me and pushed a note into my jacket pocket. It was three days before I read it, and the school year was over. She said she'd been ready to kill herself until something I said in class made her take another look at herself. That, in itself, was worth the decades of thankless teaching I endured.
    We have no idea how many lives we've been fortunate enough to touch in some way. For that I'm thankful.
    Pat Dale

  7. As another former teacher, I endorse everything you say, Viola. I also agree with Pat that we really have no way of knowing how many lives we have touched, hopefully for the better.

  8. I wasn't there, but the comment your friend made didn't seem all that bad to me. It seems her service was the issue, not her comment. She left a comfortable position to do a service, but you judge her service as being less fit because you took offense at her words. Isn't that judging? Again, I wasn't there, so I can't know.

    I come from a humble background, in the extreme sense of the word, and am still the only member of my family to reach a level of education beyond high school. When I went to school, teachers taught, they did not do social projects ... and they were not forced to be part of someone else's concept of social engineering. I had good teachers and I had bad ones, but none tried to change my views on social issues, or judge me for anything except the work I turned in. I think that has changed, and I believe we have lost a great deal in the process of making teachers political.

    My views might rub many the wrong way, but I still enjoyed your post. BTW, I love Austin, too, and would have settled there if (1) the taxes weren't so darn high and (2) the traffic weren't in eternal gridlock.

  9. James, I'm not saying teachers should be "political," but I do think that if you teach in a school that is "religious" and promotes "social justice," you shouldn't be hypocritical about it. Besides, I know this woman and her family. They profess to be religious, but her husband has said some people "don't deserve a home." Of course, he quickly said he'd "misspoken," but that comment soured meon that family in general. I'm not judging. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I don't like people who profess to help others for their own glorification. I firmly believe that if you do something for charity, you shouldn't toot your own horn. As you probably figure out, I'm very political, more so than some of my very conservative colleagues, but I don't force my views on anyone. The school where I currently teach, however, is a religious school. Supposedly, the people who send their kids there are of the same mindset. Of course, not all are. Many, in fact, simply send their kids there for the education and as a means of avoiding certain issues in public schools.

  10. Nice post. I share your views, Viola, and am glad to find people willing to look beyond the surface before judging others. "There but for the grace of god" is right. Thank you.

  11. So very true, Viola. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I wish more people were as attuned. Wishing you a beautiful New Year.

    hugs, Kari Thomas,

  12. Wonderful post, Viola. I loved hearing about your mother, and I didn't get the impression you were being judgmental at all.