Why Write?

Why Write

I wish I could make it simple, this desire to write down my narrative about who I am now and how I got here. Immediately, I racialize my intent because who I am is a 62 year old white guy who’s taught mostly teachers to be for thirty five years at the same “predominantly white” institution. My institution is located in the second whitest state in the union. I suppose that’s why I’ve approached and then backed away from this task more times than I’d care to mention.

Knowing that I’ve lived in Vermont since 1970, you’d assume my environment didn’t exactly immerse me in the daily work of confrontation and dialogue, reconciliation and transformation that is the work of social justice. Knowing that I’ve lived in Vermont since 1970, you might be interested to know that I ask myself that same question. How useful is my story of how I’ve come to see myself as a small but important participant in this nation’s continuing journey of social justice, a journey to free ourselves from actions and beliefs that serve to diminish parts of our people while lifting up other parts of the great we. “We the people,” we who are the citizens of this democracy in which we live? What meaning might my story have for anyone other than myself? And why should the “anyone other” question be important to me?

I suppose a quite answer to that question is that well, the story is at the very least interesting to me. Self-knowledge, while at least a double edged sword (what if you don’t like what you come up with?!) can be a good thing. And self knowledge for someone who still breaks out in a sticky sweat that the thought of facing a good intellectual confrontation is more than a good thing, at least to understand the sweat. This isn’t a good trait for someone whose spent a good portion of his life surrounded by folks who relish a good intellectual confrontation. So maybe, just maybe, this story is another way in which I’m growing up.

But if the growing up idea is realized, then all and good. Achieving this feeling of having faced that particular demon in my life would be a byproduct to what might be a more important reason for putting these stories to paper. I think there are a lot of “mes” out there. And here, the “me” gets more interesting.

I can imagine that one way of seeing me is to see the me I’ve identified up front, the older white guy. Some messages go along with that. Messages that have to do with power, position, authority, identity. I imagine that I am seen by some “others” as privileged. That I have access to power, that I use that power to my advantage, that I am in fact blind to some of the power that I enjoy, and that in my blindness, I contribute to a system of domination and oppression that keeps me up, whatever and wherever the “up” is, and them “down.” That I am kind of a typical older white guy who teaches his courses in the safety of a tenured position, that I am protected in what I do by the system of which I am a part, and that I am numb to the really important stuff that makes this world good for some and awful for others. Mostly, that I’m blissfully accepting of who I am and what I do. And in that accepting blindness, I’m another white contributor to the social class structure of this country, that through my efforts, that social class structure is strengthened, and though I might decry its existence, my white privilege and associated blindness to the dynamics that hold the class stucture in place makes me worse than suspect. I am just another numbed contributor to problems that tear with greater force these days at the fragile fabric of our democratic society. Hding in the ivory tower, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Well partially, they are right. If that’s the way I am seen, there are plenty of ways you might bring this kind of interpretation to my daily activities.

And partially, they are wrong. It goes without saying , there is much more that goes on in this head and mind and body and spirit than that stereotypical portrait embodies. But how would you know, unless I told the story. How would you know, unless you saw how I think about myself as a social justice activist. How would you know?

So that is the reason I’m finally sitting to write. Writing about the social construction of who I am might urge others to consider their own such construction. My construction, my stories might urge others to consider their own stories, and then to share them with others. That sharing is really important. If we don’t share our stories, than who we are is left up to others’ imaginations. Who we are becomes the who they want us to be. I’m unsatisfied with that position. I’d much rather at this point in my life offer up to others my thoughts and feelings and definite certainties and uncertainties about the who I am so that together, I might re-construct the reality that exists between myself and any number of others who surround me. It is in this reconstruction that forward and communal movement is possible. It is in this reconstruction that the isolation and alienation of one from another on perhaps misperceived sides of the racial divide can be addressed. It is in this reconstruction that perhaps a little more understanding of how we work together to chip away at the class structure in this country might be achieved.

We have to keep reforming this democracy in which we life. If it is truly to be of, for, and by the people, then this person has to get on with it in a way that other people can grasp and understand and place within a much larger set of dynamics that renew democracy, dynamics like freedom, responsibility, and ethical behavior. This country’s founding principles, imperfect though they are, are our great hope, especially as we continue to more defined and differentiated as groups within the democracy. I hold the differentiation process that makes me look around and see people who look, think, and act differently from myself as the first step in a process that achieves a more informed integration of who we are as a people. We understand our commonality only when we embrace our distinctiveness. Maybe ultimately, that’s what this little set of stories is all about.


My stories are also an effort to construct a larger frame through which I understand myself. And when I think about that frame, two ideas come to mind. These are not new ideas to me. The notion of a pre-destined future and living life in the present moment have surely been explored almost as long as philosophers have written of human experience. But understanding “human experience” and understanding “Charlie Rathbone’s experience” are quite different things. Unless I understand myself as connected to the larger truths of human experience, then the disconnection is in fact an alienation. No man is an island. I take that to mean that I am an island unless I understand how I connect to others and give them the opportunity to experience me.

The first idea is the idea that I am only an accumulation of my life’s experience. My future actions result from my history. That who I am today, the actions I take, the feelings I feel, the rationalizations I construct for what I do are in some way pre-destined by what has happened to me across my life’s span. That at this point in my life, I live out a life history that has be set. That my intentionality is not free. That who I will become has been set by who I’ve been. Well, in my sleep states, the idea of predestination pretty accurately defines my behavior. But in my awake states, I choose to be who I’m supposed to be or I choose to be someone different. These decisions vary in degree of difficulty, but they are nonetheless, decisions. I can alter the life path. I can redefine moments in the past or redirect momentum. I know that any alteration or redirection affects others in the world around me, and often that’s the reason for inaction. But when awake, I face the consequences and decide. Like writing this book.

The second idea has to do with living life in the present moment, more particularly how I literally see and understand life in the present moment. Two metaphors help me understand what I’m getting at here. The first comes from those moments in Matrix where the matrix is penetrated. I am fascinated by the idea that what I saw ahead of me on my walk to work this morning, the sidewalk, South Prospect St., piles of snow, and gritty sidewalks finally mostly clear from a break in the cold that has rendered even salt useless, the colors around me, the sounds of the cars, the bikers, the birds, all these sights are (?) three dimensional in that I’m walking into a world that has height, width, and depth. And yet I can imagine it without depth. That what I am seeing and hearing and feeling against my cheeks exists in two dimensions only. I have only to switch my consciousness of it and step through a hole that I render in that fabric to experience a new reality, a new understanding of what is really going on.

So while all the injunctures of Be Here Now still play out in my 60’s informed mind, I also have this visual image of stepping through into another dimension working in my brain. And the idea is freeing to me. I think it helps me literally reframe how I see the moment. It’s a little like collapsing the layers of my life much like Photoshop allows me to compact several layers of a visual image I’m in the process of constructing. The past magically becomes only a moment. And in this moment, I have greater freedom to decide what the next one will be or even how I will see the next one by stepping through one matrix into another.

So I write to understand my moment better by collapsing the layers of my life into a single layer. I’m writing to see the depth of who I am now, at this very moment, and in doing that, to explain the who that I am to others. In thinking about this work as an act of altering my consciousness of the present, I’m inviting others to do the same. Together, we achieve a richer understanding of our moments, and perhaps a more hopeful rendering of our futures.

24 Fall 2005

February 2, 2005 8:53:11 AM

thoughts for the Fall

Class One

establishing up front the social justice idea before heading into the interactive model

tell the story of the bricks, the walls, the cathedral – sunni story – rasputin (no but something like this)

have students write why I want to be a teacher

brainstorm what it means to teach for social justice

use portions of the i have a dream speech

expand the brainstorm

create a definition from this

homework list from writing those reasons that would fall under the sj category

those reasons that would not

any wish to change – another reflection…tied into a reading…pedagogy of the oppressed selections?

Class two – process

then, the interactive model

take time to develop each of the elements (text, context, learner profile, outcomes)

then use the case study of Maria and the little boy to develop this – read and viewed

then, into content about learning.

Message from Allyn and Bacon

So, I’d say what I’m attempting is too complicated. Also, the writing I sent seemed to succeed as a writing sample but did not succeed as a Chapter One. I kind of knew that. I’m curious what Steve meant by ‘short book.” Somewhere I must have indicated that. So more decisions.

I’m going to work on an spn for perhaps two weeks, then maybe get back to this.

Today was kind of a writing bust. Students continue to intrude, a bit. Interview with Jill mid-day on the place of Standards for teacher education in my work. That was interesting. Caused me to think more clearly about what I do and the future of the enterprise in the way I do it. Here’s what I think.

Teacher Education Programs (TEPS), as currently constituted, those positioned largely at IHEs, should cease to exist. The realities that drive current necessities are demographics. From a racialized / ses perspective, ihes have to jump in the fray, dedicate themselves to research based inquiry on actual issues in public school settings, or die. And if I were king of the production lines, I’m make sure it happened. There’s no need for first year teachers to get hammered. And yet they do. More and more, I consider our practice of sending them off without support to be unethical. The way we prepare them mimics a world that doesn’t exist. They go into something quite different. Granted, we’d hope their cognitive systems could make the adjustment. But context free, I don’t think it will happen. Professional learning needs to be situated in places like where first employment will occur. Sure there are degrees of situating. But bottom line is the necessity of contact; enough contact so that the encounter with “difference” is also a process at once familiar and doable for the individual.

What we are doing now, in the way we do it, is quite indefensible. Period.

“Perhaps Interested”

Dear Professor Rathbone: 

This is just a short note to follow-up on our recent communication regarding your proposal for a text “A Primer on Complex Instruction”.  I have received your material and now had an opportunity to review it.  Quite frankly I am impressed with what you have to say and the passion with which you say it.  The material you have presented is quite interesting and I found it enjoyable and instructive to read.

That said, however, this will be a difficult text to write and present the ideas for CI in a way that will want faculty to adopt it as a supplement to their courses.  The title will have to be more compelling and the prose such that an undergraduate will be able to understand and feel competent to apply the principles.  The chapter one you sent is interesting but not really useful as a first chapter of a book where you lay out what CI is and why it would be valuable for a student to learn.

 At this point, I would encourage you to continue your work and develop enough sufficient content to allow us to evaluate it in the market with possible user reviews.  Since you’re planning a short book I suggest you develop at least half the text for our consideration.  I also encourage you to develop a heading structure for each chapter that will allow the reader to better follow the progression of your ideas within the chapter.

 Again, I want to thank you for bringing your ideas to Allyn & Bacon.  I will look forward to hearing from you regarding your future plans.  Please don’t hesitate to contact either Laura Lee or myself if we can be of further help.

Cordially, Steve

Stephen D. Dragin

Executive Editor & Publisher

Allyn & Bacon

Pearson Education

75 Arlington Street

Boston, MA 02116

Ph:  617-848-7216

email:  steve.dragin@ablongman.com

website:  http://www.ablongman.com


Back To Mississippi

from the Vt. Record…

“It was nice to finally see (him) in chains. Friday (the day of the indictment) was a very good day, especially for those seeking justice in Mississippi,” says Ball, an expert on what is considered one of the nation’s most notorious civil rights era crimes and the subject of the 1988 film Mississippi Burning.

The re-opening of the case and the fortuitous timing of the release of his latest book, Murder in Mississippi: U.S. v. Price and the Struggle for Civil Rights (University Press of Kansas), on the 40th anniversary of the murders has positioned Ball as national expert in virtually every major newspaper, on television and in a CourtTV live Internet chat.

Killen is the only person ever charged with murder in the deaths of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, though 18 were tried on federal civil rights violations in 1967. Of the group, Killen was the only one who never did any time for the crimes because of a lone holdout on his jury.

Ball, who arrived at UVM in 1989 as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences after teaching at Mississippi State University, has followed the case most of his life hoping for another trial. But this final chapter in the unfinished story of the deaths of voter registration workers could very easily not have been told until long after Killen, 79, and Ball were gone if not for the order of a federal judge to open a number of files that were previously closed until 2050.

“There’s no question he’s the one,” Ball says. “He got the order from (Ku Klux Klan Wizard) Sam Bowers to kill Schwemer. The other two were killed because they were with him. He was the target because he was so good at civil rights organizing. Everybody knew (Killen) did it. But this was a closed county and a scary place back then. Everybody knew, but no one talked. They knew where the bodies were buried; they knew the property owner; and the sheriffs who were involved.”



by William Ernest Henley; 1849-1903

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate;

I am the captain of my soul.

The Comprehensive

This is an absolutely fascinating read. The interplay of position, awareness of position, reaction and proaction, anger and acceptance, fury and love, all around the lullaby of slumber is so revealing and instructive. Turning the questions to me…

how do I identify

how am I identified

who do I try to please

how do I know myself

where is my fury placed

what is my accommodation

what are the benefits and burdens of this accommodation

how am I moving forward

what accommodations am I making from a place of sleep

what accommodations am I making from a state of awakeness

what is the lullaby I hear

the dream – candle wax, protection, fire angels, laurens, golden candles, meltings, roofs cracking open, the flood of sunlight…protector

We become what we are

by the refusal of that

which others have made us.

Jean Paul Sartre

Sharpening Neero

Continued the serious revision of the neero paper. Basically doing syntax, verb agreement, gum stuff. I’m still wondering how much of what I’m writing qualifies as spn. There are extended paragraphs that are personal, but not necessarily narrative. MKy biggest question at this point is Am I Telling A Story. In some ways, what I’m doing feels like what Pat showed us during the spn class.

Here’s a transitional paragraph I wrote today I really like:

“This is hard work for them, and its hard work for me. It isn’t easy moving against the grain of instruction that predominates in most of their classrooms. I have to keep their interest and they have to trust me that things are going to work out. I have to recognize that I’m not the most important force in their lives and that our classroom work may be way out of phase for what they are being asked to do in their classrooms from week to week. On the other hand, I work with them on things from week to week on interventions that will help them be better manipulators of the group process in their classrooms:

running effective classroom meetings,

playing fun games that also teach collaborative norms,

sharing words of encouragement (vs. praise) that they’ve given their kids,

discussing how they’ve encouraged their kids with each other over email during the week between classes,

adjusting required curricular tasks to take advantage of kids’ multiple abilities,

working towards from success, not failure,

teaching and building collaborative skills,

playing broken squares and other games that show the need for group process,

teaching them how to point out to all the children in a room the special abilities of one child in a room,

and doing thatmin a way that causes the other kids to want to work with the one child.

Every class, for at least some of the class period, we do a lot together that continues to put before them ways to better equalize the status differences that occur naturally among children. Our goal is to figure out how to enhance the academic work that results when kids can more successfully talk and work together about content of academic import.”

I think what I’ll do now that this paper is written is image the narrative arc of the paper. That may help me identify the narrative, focus on spaces in the narrative, and give me insight into where I can edit more story into the text if needed. The paper is really the story of one semester’s course, grounded in my need to affect schoolchildren’s learning.

Neero Paper Draft One Done

Finished the first full draft of the neero paper. It’s wordy, but I like that it’s finished. I’ll take tonight and go over it for “voice.” It will end up being a hybrid, part spn, part qualitative, with some quantitative analysis thrown in for my confirmational comfort. Give this, it’s probably not an spn.

This does raise the issue of when does an spn become something else… just a paper with lots of personal reflection with it. There is probably not enough story in this paper to qualify as an spn. Tho much of it is my reflection of the moment and the backwards glances are definitely spn material, it doesn’t have the feel of an spn quite yet. I am writing about something other than me… . Have to ask Robert about this. He is the expert.