Category Archives: Shocking disclosures

Bullying: Prologue

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the effect of bullying on kids. I don’t know whether it’s gotten any worse since I was a kid. I do know its consequences have become more apparent, forcing adults to pay more attention to it and make a better effort to intervene when they see it happening. The issue has come up again on my Facebook timeline because a 15-year-old boy in my dad’s hometown committed suicide last month, citing bullying as the reason.

Beginning when I was 7, and continuing for the better end of a decade, I endured near-constant ridicule by my peers.

I don’t think it occurred to me at the time that I was being bullied. In the ’80s and early ’90s, a bully was someone who shoved you down or beat you up. People who called you names weren’t bullies; they were just a pain in the ass. (As a society, we took a while to figure out that sometimes a pain in the ass is a serious injury.)

Admittedly, my ugly-duckling phase was spectacular by any metric, and asking a bunch of immature brats to overlook it would have been a wholly unrealistic request — but regardless of the relative accuracy of their comments, my peers’ tactless behavior left scars, some of which I’m just discovering 20 or 30 years later.

For instance:

I am desperately uncomfortable in social settings that involve large groups.

I rarely trust people when they compliment my appearance — and if I do believe them, my first instinct is to deflect the praise.

I have an extremely self-deprecating sense of humor.

I don’t dance.

I cuss like a sonofabitch.

I would rather chew off my own leg than let anybody see my tears.

That last bit is why I am not particularly looking forward to the project I’m about to do.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a closer look at each of these battle scars — partly to satisfy my own curiosity about the shapes they took, but mostly because I’m sick of hearing about kids closing the book before they get to the good parts, and if the story of how I survived a decade of verbal attacks and grew up to have the world by the tail can keep even one kid from killing himself over somebody else’s bullsh*t, then I need to suck it up and tell that story, even if it means giving up some secrets I’d rather keep.

Stay tuned. We’re finna kill some dragons.


Ask the Hippie: Teacher Pay

Technically, no one asked the hippie this, but it’s a popular question, and it came to mind the other day during a conversation about the relative value of various professions.

Q. Albert Pujols makes $14.5 million a year, and all he does is play baseball. Why aren’t teachers paid the same as professional athletes?

A. This argument comes up every time somebody mentions the subject of teacher pay, and it always makes me cringe, because I live in fear that some cynical politician will hear it and do the obvious.

Unless you honestly want to have another frustrating conversation about merit pay, you probably shouldn’t bring up ballplayers’ salaries. Alfonso Soriano notwithstanding, professional baseball is all about merit pay. If you understand how this concept works in baseball, you have a pretty good idea of why teachers’ unions oppose it.

Albert Pujols makes $14.5 million a year. He also has a lifetime batting average of .328, a .619 slugging percentage, two Gold Gloves, six Silver Sluggers, nine All-Star appearances, and a 10-year average VORP of 86.37. This is the baseball equivalent of walking into a Title I school and getting 95 percent of the kids to score at or above the 97th percentile on their End-of-Instruction tests for ten consecutive years.

Unless you are the Albert Pujols of professional educators, you can’t reasonably ask someone to pay you $14.5 million a year. But even ordinary Major League Baseball players are an elite group. If my numbers are right, at any given moment, the maximum number of MLB players is 1,200 — which means less than 12 percent of all professional baseball players are actually knocking down six figures or more.

With that in mind, what would it look like if teachers were paid like professional athletes?

Let’s pretend you’re a young, unproven teacher, fresh out of college. You’re drafted in the 20th round and sent to single-A. Your starting salary is $850 a month, which works out to $10,200 a year. If you play well, you could be promoted to Double-A ($1,500 a month) or even Triple-A ($2,150 a month), where you’ll still be making less than the current starting salary for teachers in 47 states. But hey — it’s worth it if there’s a chance you could get called up to the majors, where the minimum salary is $414,000, right?

Maybe. But who will be evaluating your performance, how well will they understand what you are trying to accomplish, and what kind of pressure will they be under to keep payroll expenses down? I have a great boss, but what happens if he quits, and his replacement turns out to be the Larry Himes of school administrators? Unlike MLB teams, school districts can’t raise revenue by selling tickets or licensing collectibles with the star player’s face on them, so even if you’re the second coming of Jaime Escalante, you’ll be lucky to get to The Show at all.

Welcome to merit pay, rookie. And quit that sniffling. There’s no crying in baseball.


Ask the Hippie: Artisanal Honey

Q. I saw an ad for something called “artisanal honey.” What is it, and is it worth an extra $15 to $20 a pound?

A. “Artisanal honey” is a misleading term that a handful of beekeepers with questionable scruples are using to take advantage of ignorant snobs who spend way too much time watching the Food Network and way too little time watching the Discovery Channel.

The term artisanal refers to monofloral honey (that is, honey made from the nectar of a single plant species), which is produced by placing a beehive in an area where a particular plant is blooming, then harvesting the honey as soon as the nectar flow ends.

While this practice gives the beekeeper a measure of control over the flavor of the honey — for instance, tupelo honey is very light and mild-tasting, while buckwheat honey is dark and intense — it does not make the beekeeper in question an “artisan.”

The word artisan refers to someone who is skilled at some type of handicraft: baskteweaving, pottery, metalsmithing, cooking, etc. People who render beeswax and use it to make soap or candles are artisans. People who take honey out of a hive and sell it are not artisans. They are simply beekeepers. There is no “art” involved in picking up a hive, putting it on a truck, and driving somewhere. If moving heavy objects made one an artisan, Mayflower Trucking would set up booths at craft shows and Ren fairs.

I hate it when monofloral honey is labeled as “artisanal,” because the term reinforces the false perception that beekeepers make honey. We don’t. We just give our bees a comfortable place to live, try to protect them from predators and parasites, and swipe a little of their honey now and then in exchange for our services.

I don’t have a problem with beekeepers charging more for better honey. If I end up with a frame or two of unusually flavorful honey, I want it to end up in a good home where it will be savored and enjoyed and not just poured over some toddler’s Chicken McNuggets, so I’ll probably charge an extra dollar a pound for it.

I will not, however, attempt to convince the buyer that I am an “artisan” just so I can overinflate the price. Local honey should cost about $4 to $8 a pound, depending on the kind and quality. Any more than that, and you’re probably getting ripped off, no matter how artistic the beekeeper claims to be.


Best. Tattoo. Ever.

I have no idea who this chick is, but she has the greatest tattoo I have ever seen. Seriously: Go look at it.

Also, I am fascinated with her hair. It might just be the angle from which the photo was taken, but she appears to be rockin’ both the Bettie Page bangs and a pretty nice set of dreads-in-progress. If that is the case, she is my new hero, because that is the most creative hairstyle I have ever seen, and she is totally pulling it off.

Her picture makes me wish two things:

1. That I had dark hair and a more exotic appearance so I could get away with Bettie Page bangs and white-girl dreads. (Don’t think I haven’t considered dreadlocks many, many times in the past six months. The more obnoxiously uncooperative my hair becomes under humid conditions, the more tempted I am to stop fighting my split ends — which are a completely intractable force of nature — and hire a good ethnic stylist to help this mess do what it’s been trying to do on its own since I was five. It’s that or move to the Mojave Desert, which Ron has vetoed.)

2. That the school board would one day announce, “Since we’re still flat broke and are probably going to have to continue to dump extra work in your lap without approving any pay raises for teachers, we thought we’d show you some love by amending our woefully outdated dress code to allow tattoos, as long as they don’t scare the children or promote immoral behavior.”

Because my last tattoo — a pair of fireflies I had inked onto my right ankle in honor of my twin nieces, who passed away in infancy — was not particularly well-rendered, and the artist’s unimpressive workmanship has become increasingly apparent over the past four years, I need to hire somebody really good to fix it. Unfortunately, odds are pretty high that the repair is going to involve inking over it with something else, which means it is going to end up much bigger than I’d originally planned.

Given the inspiration for the original tattoo, I think it would be trés appropriate to have it incorporated into a children’s-book illustration (maybe one of Maurice Sendak‘s Wild Things or a couple of Dr. Seuss’s Truffula trees).

This would be doubly apropos if I end up getting my master’s degree in children’s literature, which I am considering.

If my students happen to be reading this, you now know that Ms. Priddy secretly digs alt-couture stuff like dreads and ink. If you find this shocking, it’s probably time to quit sleeping through class….


History lesson

I don’t normally discuss politics on my blog, but an acquaintance has picked up an unfortunate habit of copying me in on his mass distribution list for snotty diatribes denigrating Mexican immigrants, and his most recent offering touched on one of my pet peeves.

Without getting into a long, complicated, and potentially divisive discussion about immigration laws, I want to point out a historical fact that seems to escape most of the anti-immigration crowd:

English is not this country’s native language.

Nothing irritates me any faster than to hear somebody start beating the “welcome to America — now speak English” drum.

English is no more native to this country than Spanish — and both languages found their way to North America through European immigrants who certainly didn’t have green cards.

Anybody who’s worried about immigrants from some other country coming in and mucking up the status quo would do well to remember that if such a thing happened, it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can explain to me why it was OK for Europeans to come in with guns and smallpox and take over an entire continent, brutalizing its inhabitants, stealing their land, and forcing them to speak a language that was not their own, but it’s not OK for Mexican immigrants to come to the United States with empty hands and ask for nothing more than a job — and perhaps a little patience with the fact that they are speaking a language that was imposed on their country by one group of European settlers, while we are speaking a language that was imposed on our country by a different group of European settlers.

Unless you are a full-blooded American Indian, at least some of your ancestors were immigrants who did NOT speak the native language when they came to this country. 

Welcome to America. Now speak Cherokee.


Not-Exactly-Folk Monday

Ron suggested this as a Folk Thursday offering. Acoustic, yes, but even I couldn’t quite stretch the definition of “folk” far enough to make it apply to Aerosmith … so we’ll just have a gratuitous musical interlude on a Monday evening instead.

Would I be a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad, dreadful, wicked, evil, filthy, unrepentant, blazing scarlet Magdalene if I admitted that secretly, deep down, I’m sort of jealous of that harpsichord?