Short But Sweet: “Turning the Tables”

Ever sigh and say, “I wish I could teach poetry but I … a) can’t find anything good, or b) don’t have the time.”? This occasional series of posts will focus on specific poems that I like and have even used that I find to be both engaging and amazing.

I was out last week and assigned my advanced English classes a packet of poems with questions for analysis.  All the poems were of fairly recent vintage and deliberately came from a wide variety of sources that weren’t the usual suspects.  One of them was called “Turning the Tables” and was written by Joel Dias-Porter aka DJ Renegade:

Turning the Tables
(for Eardrum)

First hold the needle
like a lover’s hand
Lower it slowly
let it tongue
the record’s ear
Then cultivate
the sweet beats
blooming in the valley
of the groove
Laugh at folks
that make requests
What chef would let
the diners determine
Which entrees
make up the menu?
Young boys
think it’s about
flashy flicks
of the wrist
But it’s about filling the floor
with the manic
language of dance
About knowing the beat
of every record
like a mama knows
her child’s cries
Nobody cares
how fast you scratch
Cuz it ain’t about
soothing any itch
It’s about how many hairstyles
are still standing
At the end of the night.*

This poem is flat-out amazing and it can be found in an equally amazing collection of poetry called The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, which I picked up because I recognized the name of one of the editors, Nate Marshall, from Louder Than a Bomb, the 2010 documentary about spoken word poetry.  The questions that accompanied the poem were as follows:

  1. What is the setting of this poem?
  2. Why would he compare himself to a chef?
  3. This is a free verse poem, which means it’s consciously without rhyme and meter.  However, he still seems to give it a sense of rhythm and flow.  How does he do that and how would you describe it?
  4. What do you like about this poem?

At best, I’d say these questions range from very basic to slightly analytical, and I’m not sure that I entirely do the poem justice.  Like I said, this was one of several poems in a packet for sub work that usually has to be straightforward, although we did talk briefly about the poem the next class.  Anyway, I was grading the packets the other day and the responses to question #1 stood out:

  • A gala
  • A fancy restaurant
  • An ’80s diner
  • In the past, like the 1950s.

Very few of my students actually answered that this was in a club, or seemed to realize that the main character (as it is) of the poem is a deejay (yunno, even though “DJ” is part of the poet’s pseudonym).  In fact, one student identified records as being from the “late 1800s/1900s.”

I let all of that slide because I honestly wound up laughing as I was reading those answers.  I never realized how far removed from the idea of a deejay spinning records in a club is from my students’ lives.  Sure, I teach in a district that is quite rural in places and the predominant flavor of music among the student body is country, but based on the amount of hip hop and rap I hear blaring from car stereos in the student parking lot and the amount in which they are connected to the world and popular culture via the cell phones to which they are umbilically attached, I assumed they had at least some idea of the poem’s setting.

Of course, when you assume … and I apparently did–although, an “’80s Diner?”  Is that like The Max from Saved By the Bell?  I mean, I grew up in the ’80s and ate at plenty of diners.  They were pretty much like diners we have today except with a slightly more pastel color scheme.

Anyway, instead of spending the rest of this post ragging on the kids these days for their lack of cultural knowledge, I’ll highlight two things I learned from this.  First, there is a reason why we will dive into poetry and really try to get deep within it, even though most poems are not very long.  There’s so much imagery in this poem that a few questions on a worksheet (when you have a sub) don’t do it nearly enough justice.  The poem also has its own feel, one that is nearly tangible.  Plus, it clues you, the reader, into a culture or scene that’s outside your realm and gives you a taste of that, which is so hard to do in so few words.

Second, it continues to prove the point I’ve made more than once, which is that there is nothing wrong with assigning reading.  I see post after post about letting kids do what they want when it comes to reading, as if dropping a book in their lap and telling them we’re going to discuss it is like putting a chain around their neck (no, really, I’ve seen the metaphor in use on Twitter) and while you should always be able to read what you want to read, if you never branch out of one genre or step away from one particular author, your view is going to be so narrow, you’ll never actually experience much of anything.  Part of my job as an English teacher is to broaden literary horizons, which is why I go for genres and authors they may not be familiar with.  I want them to grow as readers, and if I can’t give them the opportunity to see what’s out there beyond the YA or manga shelves at the library, then I’m not doing it right.

*A quick note:  I tried to recreate the formatting of the poem as found in the collection, but apparently WordPress doesn’t like it when you do that.  My apologies to the writer; any misrepresentation is unintentional.


The Changing Conversation That Shouldn’t Be Changing

I was on my planning period yesterday and took a moment to load up the front page of The Washington Post.  Right there was the headline “Key Elements of Rolling Stone’s U-Va. Gang Rape Allegations in Doubt.”  You’ve probably heard about the article by now, but if you haven’t, it goes into detail about the partial retraction that Rolling Stone issued to their recent article about rape at The University of Virginia, which has made huge headlines where I live and across the country.  Will Dana’s Rolling Stone retraction reads as follows:

To Our Readers:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone’s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

Will Dana
Managing Editor

I showed both to a colleague who had been discussing the RS article with his seniors and we had a conversation about how this is an excellent way to demonstrate why fact-checking and corroborating is so important in not just journalism but any factual writing that involves research.  He said that his students had been pretty mature in their discussion of the original article, saying that they acknowledged how horrific the crime committed was and why talking about rape and trying to do something about it was important, but how the original RS article was not as balanced as it should have been.  I’m curious to see what they say on Monday.

This is frustrating because it’s a teachable moment but it’s not a teachable moment I necessarily want.  Our culture has a tendency to be very black and white about stories like this.  If even a small fact is found to be untrue, there are people (whom usually are found in comments sections) who dismiss an entire story outright, calling it “bullshit.”  Rape is a crime that goes largely unreported for a number of reasons, among them being that rape victims are stigmatized as “asking for it” because of the way they were dressed or how they were drinking; furthermore, a number of rape victims know their rapists and are afraid of them as well as the rapists’ friends and are threatened with violence if they go to the police.  Now, you have a nationally reported rape story that has several inaccuracies and the jerks in the room are already prattling on about her not telling the truth.  As a result of all of this, I’m frustrated.  Just so frustrated.

So what can we get out of this?

1. A conversation about journalism.  Setting aside the horror of the crime for a moment, I wonder what Rolling Stone expected.  It’s hard to have a story this graphic and this damning of an institution like UVA published without it being picked up and investigated further by other media outlets, especially the Post, a publication that, at least in the time I’ve been reading it, seems to have it in for UVA for some reason (perhaps because it’s not the University of Maryland).  Furthermore, one would have thought that an article like this would be thoroughly fact-checked.  It goes back to what I tell my students when they do research, especially on controversial topics:  always back up your sources with other sources.  If a fact or story seems like it might be exaggerated, then back it up using another source of information.  So, objectively speaking, both of these articles are worth looking at for how they are written, the mistakes made, and why it’s important to be aware of those mistakes.

2. A conversation about identity and motivation.  So what did motivate “Jackie” to tell the story the way she did?  What exactly did happen that night?  Not to be flip, but doesn’t this sound like it could be the next season of Serial?  Simply saying that her motivation was “attention” when it comes to this story is just as bad as dismissing the entire story by saying “It’s all bullshit.”  Something obviously happened to her, or at least there’s something that caused her to tell the story to Rolling Stone and it can’t just be that she “wanted attention.”  Was she so traumatized that she misconstrued the facts of the evening?  Was she telling the truth but changing some of the facts around because she was protecting someone?  Is she mentally ill and if so should we be having a conversation about mental illness in addition to a conversation about rape?  This story continues to be worth investigating not because “Jackie” should be completely discredited and then smeared, but because there’s a deep discussion about psychology that can take place.

3. A conversation about rape.  No matter the veracity of all the facts in the RS article, we still need to talk about rape.  Don’t think it’s a problem?  Look at the infographic in this Mother Jones article.   My friend Tracy posted this Huffington Post article from February to Facebook last night:  “Why Are So Many Boys Leaving High School Thinking Rape is Funny?”  It sums up one of the roots of the problem and I have to say that if we’re not talking about it in some way, then we’re also the root of the problem.  I know this blog gets all of ten readers and therefore what I have to say won’t resonate with anyone, but a while back when the #gamergate controversy was at its height, I wondered aloud where the #edchat was about #gamergate.  Last week, when the RS article went live, I wondered aloud again why my Thought Leaders weren’t talking about it.  I’m still wondering.  I honestly don’t care about talking about differentiated instruction or about how Innovative Educators need certain resources when they present to crowds and get paid more than I do in a month for an hour’s work.  I care more about whether or not my students will feel safe when going out to a social function, especially ones in college where mom and dad are far away.

I’d ask my Thought Leaders about rape, but they’re not talking

Last night, I had the privilege to be on a Twitter chat about Ferguson (h/t to @JessLifTeach).  It wasn’t the only tweetchat about the topic by any means, and I was glad to see a group of teachers talking about what they can do to talk to or teach their students about what has been going on.  Ferguson has come up a little bit, but it’s taken a back seat to a recent Rolling Stone article about rape at the University of Virginia.  This makes sense because we’re just north of Charlottesville.

If you haven’t read the Rolling Stone piece, it’s pretty grisy: a  first-year at UVA was gang-raped at a fraternity party by several fraternity brothers as part of some sort of disgusting initiation ritual.  This story is in addition another story on Jezebel about one student raping several girls and his victims basically being bullied out of school as a result.

#edchat yesterday was asking who the Thought Leaders are in education, a conversation that’s not only incredibly Orwellian in its concept but is an illustration of how Connected Educators are as out of touch with the real world as they say teachers are.

And of course, we aren’t.  We’re reading the news and talking about the news when we get the chance and doing our best to answer questions our students may have.  The problem is that it’s tough to answer those questions and talk about the story without fear of reprisal.  When a student brings up a hot, controversial topic and you want to talk about it with them, your head is bombarded with a mine field’s worth of thoughts.  Trust me, I’ve been there.  My advanced sophomores and I got into a heated discussion about the teaching of evolution a few years ago and two of them felt the need to go to guidance and say that I was “making them feel uncomfortable.”

So when someone, even an honors student, approaches the topic, I do my best to encourage the conversation but the entire time I’m thinking, “How do I stay neutral?  How do I not offend anyone in the room?  How do I keep this conversation civil?  How can I fit this into the curriculum?  How does this not turn into an angry parent phone call at the end of the day?”

Even if I did have a constructive conversation about rape with my students, it wouldn’t be enough.  What’s described in the articles is a cultural problem where boys of privilege are allowed to behave abhorrently and are excused for their behavior.  It’s wrapped up in victim blaming or worse, “tradition,” and it means that girls and women who are sexually assaulted are continuously afraid to tell anyone what happened to them.  And why would they?  They’re crying rape and ruining the lives of those “really nice boys.”  So I need to take a conversation about rape with students beyond a few minutes in my classroom.  How?

The classic response would be an assembly where you get a motivational speaker to come in and talk about why this is wrong.  You could even get news coverage for it.  It worked when that guy came and talked about bullying, didn’t it?  If that sounds cynical it’s because it is.  Those never work because every teenager in the room can see right through it.  Sure, some may come out with a slightly better perspective, but most will turn it into a joke and life will go on.  What’s needed is something along the lines of an actual curriculum.

That, however, is easier said than done.  Too many states have strict abstinence-only sex education policies and would probably rather bury their heads in the sand than acknowledge that: a) teenagers have sex and b) teenagers need to be taught and need to discuss responsible and correct behavior when it comes to sex.  I’m lucky that I had a fairly thorough education about sex, although I could nitpick it apart as well.  What I have seen in my teaching career isn’t very good and I can imagine that if we began to introduce the topic of rape it would become so quickly politicized that it would be shelved to eventually be abandoned and budgetary reasons would be the justification.  Or maybe that’s just my cynical view of things.

When we get back from Thanksgiving, my advanced classes and I will be looking at several essays and short stories that have something to do with the concept of identity and that will be the perfect opportunity to further the conversation.  But I’m frustrated when I see the award-winning Innovative and Connected Thought Leader Educators blabbing on about the same topics, ones that could stand to be put aside for another week or two.  You cannot possibly be wrapped up in your own sense of self-importance that you ignore what’s going on, can you?  If that’s the case, I don’t want to hear anyone tell teachers they need to make their classes “relevant.”

Snark aside, this issue will not go away and if it does it is because we ignored it away.  Changing our attitude and our culture toward rape is going to be difficult and will probably take years, but if we’re really concerned for the safety of our students, we owe it to ourselves to try.



Why we need to talk and keep talking about #GamerGate

I figured if I was going to post a picture of video games, I’d kick it old school. Photo by Kari Sullivan. Used under cc license.

I originally thought about starting this post off with an apology. The #GamerGate controversy has been going on for a while at this point and I had yet to post about it. Furthermore, when I saw a few other bloggers writing posts about it, I had a passing thought of, “Well, then it’s covered” and went back to grading papers, planning lessons, or whatever it is that I was doing. Then I read John Spencer’s recent post as well as the comments on the post and realized that was the wrong approach, too.

Both John and Audrey Watters approached the issue succinctly and eloquently and I encourage anyone reading this post to read those two posts first. But put simply, the issues at hand are those of the threats made against Anita Sarkeesian, who has been not just criticized for her series of videos, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” but received rape and death threats as well as cancelled a speaking engagement at a university because extra security couldn’t be provided when someone threatened a mass shooting due to Utah’s concealed-carry laws.

Audrey and John both call out the educational technology community for their silence and rightfully so, pointing out how it’s an issue that goes beyond the niche of gamers, especially at a time when “Gamification” is still an edu-buzzword and online learning platforms are being marketed to children as young as preschool.

Audrey’s post does not have comments (at least not ones I could find), but John’s does and they are typical of the type of anonymous trolling this issue has been receiving. A quick sample (Note: they’re all anonymous, so I’m not sure if they are one person or many people):

Maybe the edutech circles aren’t talking about it because they know its not a big deal outside of the militant feminist circles.

The writer wants to take away “neutral spaces” on the internet so they can be policed by an authority. fascism? I’d love to see the objective research done on that. Basically you want to push an agenda without recourse.

Advocating censorship in the guise of concern, the girls I knew never needed to be babied.

You admit that you’re not a gamer so why are you writing about something you don’t even understand?

Some of these completely miss the point of John’s post and others are trying to deflect from the issue. He was questioning why Important Connected Educators and Education Social Media Icons were not addressing this when it clearly is an issue that hits home with a number of students; furthermore, not saying anything about it shows that they are living in an #edtech bubble wherein being online is a happy place where ideas are free to flow without consequence or repercussion.

All is well. Move along. Nothing to see here.

And like I said at the top of this post, I was silent on this until I read John’s post and thought about a few things:

1. Anita Sarkeesian has been dealing with this for two years and has not backed down. When she was seeking funding for her series of videos via Kickstarter, the Kickstarter campaign was similarly trolled and similar threats were made. I actually wrote about it back then in a post called “When the Authentic Audience is a Hostile Audience.” And I’m not saying that to promote my own stuff, but to point out that the whole controversy surrounding Sarkeesian and #GamerGate is not brand new, nor was it ever brand new.

2. While I’m not a gamer myself, I’m a geek. A comic and pop culture geek, to be exact. A month and a half ago, I attended the Baltimore Comic-Con and while the convention was awesome and a great atmosphere, the organizers of the con felt the need to clearly post a policy that read “Cosplay Is Not Consent.” This is in response to stories out of quite a number of comic conventions where women who have dressed up in superhero costumes have found themselves sexually harassed (or worse).

3. On Saturday, while I was getting ready for dinner, the local news here in Charlottesville tweeted that a press conference would be held at 5:30 to discuss a body found on a farm south of town and how that related to missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. While an announcement has been made that the Graham investigation is now a death investigation, a suspect is in custody (and has been indicted on a separate sexual assault and attempted murder in Fairfax County), as of this writing the police have not announced the results of lab tests that are currently being run on the body.

So wait, if #GamerGate has to do with video games, why am I bringing up cosplay and Hannah Graham? They’re not connected, are they?

Or are they?

Table any discussion you’d like to have about ethics in video game journalism or the specific video games and tropes that Sarkeesian is talking about in her video series. Both are topics that are worth the discussion and whether or not Sarkeesian is right about what she’s saying in terms of women and entertainment can be debated; in fact, I’m sure she’d welcome a civil debate.

But let’s make one thing clear: rape threats are not civil debate. Threats of violence are not civil debate. Death threats are not civil debate. Sarkeesian is not being “too sensitive” and neither are any of the other bloggers or tweeters who have shared their disgust with the way she’s been treated and threatened.

Of course, I’m not the first person to say this, so why did I finally write this post? Because when I watched John’s post go down in the flames of trolls, I realized that it doesn’t matter if I’m being timely or relevant here; it matters that I’m opening my mouth.

I am a man who is currently raising a boy. I want that boy to grow up to be a strong man who treats his fellow human beings with respect. I do not want him to see an inequality between men and women because I do not believe in inequality between men and women–don’t get me wrong, it certainly exists in our society, but I refuse to contribute to or perpetuate it. I want him to know that violence against anyone is wrong and that rape is a horrible, disgusting, vile act and that to be the better man means not to be the louder man but to be the smarter man, to speak with intelligence and understanding, act with respect and empathy, and give help to those who need it.

And that is the conversation we need to be having in the Connected Educator circles. How do you teach young boys and men not to grow up to make rape threats against a woman because she has said something they don’t like? How do you teach them that just because she has a different anatomical makeup it doesn’t mean she is weaker or somehow lesser? How do you teach them that because she’s wearing a certain outfit, it doesn’t mean that she “wants it?”

When are we going to have that #edchat? When are Innovative Educators everywhere going to talk about that? When are the Education Social Media Icons going to stand up, look around and say, “This is wrong and we need to talk about it?”

I am writing this to add my voice to the myriad others who have said the same thing. And when this post goes down in flames, I will continue to say what I’m saying and I will try and pass the baton to someone else who will write the same thing.

And I want them to do the same.

And I want the next person to do the same.

And the next.

And the next.

This is not a news cycle. This will not end. If it’s not #GamerGate, it’s a football team in Ohio. If it’s not cosplay, it’s a coed in Charlottesville. And it’s bullshit.

This is supposed to be a community and clearly there is a segment of the community that feels that it is not being heard, that it is being ignored, or maybe even worse. Be a true community. Make the next #edchat about this topic and this topic alone. No putting it up for a vote against the usual topics of professional development or formative assessment or teacher dress code (and no, I don’t want to suggest a topic or moderate myself–you should be doing it without me writing about it, that’s my point). You want to truly be an Innovative Educator? Go online and interrupt the bumper sticker sayings that people retweet at an expotential rate with a serious discussion of how to talk to our fellow teachers and our students about what goes on. You want to be an Educational Social Media Icon? Make that the topic of your next widely read, Bammy-nominated blog post. You want to stand for Student Voice? Spend an hour chatting about how you are helping your fellow students overcome bigotry, misogyny, harrassment, threats, and violence.

Take this issue head on. Take it and don’t stop. Shout down the trolls. Encourage, help, and support those who feel victimized, whether it be online or in the hallways at school to stand up for themselves. If you don’t, you’re as out of touch with students as you claim teachers are.

The Sound of Silence

Brian JohnsonSo we recently had a seminar in class for the tail end of my “Reading 9/11” unit, which has been a pretty solid unit in the past and has been a great way to introduce and explore the idea that there are multiple ways of looking at a single event, and that different sources of information have their advantages and disadvantages.  It’s a little bit of media studies mixed in with literary analysis (bonus: introduction of the idea that literary analysis can be applied to non-fiction) and history.  The seminar is your basic “everyone sits in a circle and we have a discussion” format, with me serving as moderator; furthermore, since it’s usually the first such discussion of the year, I don’t even grade it.  I just figure we’ll talk, you know?

If it’s going well, all I’m doing is making sure that everyone is being heard and nobody is talking over one another.  Ideas are shared, insights are gained, and we have a pretty good time.  When these don’t go well, it’s long, awkward silences punctuated by the occasional comment, one that’s usually obvious, that shows that not only did the class not do the assigned reading but that they can’t even fake their way through it.  It is the very definition of the oxymoron “deafening silence.”

Having set the expectation that I’m simply going to ask a few questions to get the ball rolling and that most of the discussion should be my students, I ask the question or questions and when nobody answers, I just sit back in my chair and look around the room, watching them look at each other as if they’re trying to figure out who actually did the work and is going to jump in and save them from the awkwardness that is taking place.  Then, I’m quiet for some more, letting them feel how brutal such long, awkward silences can be.   After enough time has passed, I’ll repeat the question or rephrase it or follow it up a little and see if that helps.  That’s usually when I get the “I’m not prepared but I’ll say something really obvious to save face” answer from someone, to which I reply, “Well, we know that … can you be more specific/can you go deeper/can you explain why?” or any other question that basically calls that particular bluff.

At the end of the class period, I usually comment on how the rest of the seminars for the year are student run, really don’t involve me talking (I literally sit in the back of the room and say nothing for most of the class, chiming in only toward the end with questions I thought of during the discussion), are for a grade, and while I’m used to long periods of awkward silence in class their classmates who will be running those seminars are not.  I probably sound a little disappointed, but I don’t get angry or make some grand speech about expecting more from honors students or the value of academics–those speeches never work anyway.  Then I do my usual personal debrief.

After this latest one, I started doing my usual debriefing and kept thinking about what I had done wrong and began making a mental list of all of my inadequacies as an educator.  I shouldn’t have forced students to read and talk about what they read.  I should have let them write the lesson plans.  I shouldn’t have expected they would be interested in the topic or the pieces we read just because I was.  The activity was not authentic enough.  I should have brought in an expert (which I’m obviously not).  I shouldn’t have asked questions I already knew the answers to. I  should have used technology.  I should have had them tweet instead of talk.

I went outside and talked to a couple of colleagues between classes.  Then, I had an epiphany:  I need to stop thinking like an Educator and start thinking like a teacher.

So, planning rolled around and before I moved on to making copies and grading papers, I gave the seminar another thought and instead of launching into an internal blog post about the nature of the educational system in the 21st Century and my role as an Educator, I thought about what might need adjusting.  I wrote a few notes on my lesson plans and then stowed them away for when I cover these concepts again and for when I plan next year’s classes.  It was easy, it was quick, and I walked away feeling less stressed than before.

Why such a mental shift?  Well, thinking like an Educator, I have found, is more detrimental than I’d originally thought because thinking like an Educator is a “none of the credit, all of the blame” mentality.  To think like an educator, you have to buy into the idea that the lack of excitement in the class during a failed seminar is all your fault and has nothing to do, say, with anyone else being unprepared.   It is a complete and utter shredding of your self-confidence.

When I think like a teacher, the solutions come quicker and easier.  I am not “blameless” in any regard and I do not consider myself infallible or to have a monopoly on knowledge and information; I can simply look at the situation more objectively and can adjust and readjust more quickly, even in the moment.  I remember that it’s okay to be sure of myself, it’s okay to consider myself an expert on a topic, and it’s okay that I have knowledge and that I know the answers to some of the questions I am asking.

And I also remember that it’s okay to have some silence every once in a while.

L’Absinthe du 21e Siècle

L’Absinthe by Edward Degas, which is permanently housed in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. Image via Wikipedia.

I spent the weekend in Chicago with my wife celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. While we were out to dinner one night at a very nice restaurant, I noticed that the young woman seated at the table next to us was texting. Maybe it was because we’d spent the previous day at the Art Institute of Chicago, but I immediately thought about how she looked like a modern day version of Edward Degas’ L’Absinthe.

Dressed in nice clothes, she texted away, unaware of the world around her while those off to her right looked elsewhere and chatted. On our way out of the restaurant, I noticed that her table’s food had come and that she was eating and engaged in conversation, but that prior moment of disengagement was pretty telling. It could have come out of sheer boredom and I guess I should be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I have to say that there are times when I do honestly worry about our culture’s increasing need to be “on” something all the time.

It’s not like I’m immune to this. As much as I tried to avoid it this weekend, I still spent some time in my hotel’s lobby mooching the free wifi and checking my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I didn’t post much–writing posts via Kindle can be a pain–but I did sense the pressure to have fun and show it off that a weekend like this can bring, as if my weekend or vacation wouldn’t be good enough because I took pictures for myself and didn’t share them with an authentic audience.

And I realize this makes me sound old and behind the times and that I should stop worrying about screen time and embrace changing technology and how the students I see on a regular basis live their lives and interact with the world.

But I so wanted the girl in that restaurant to take advantage of that lull in her evening by avoiding her phone, looking up, and taking in the atmosphere of what was a nice restaurant, and it made me wonder where we draw the line between embracing the technology that connects all of us and enabling a bad habit. Eventually, as the generation I’m teaching grows up, the cream will rise as it always does. And while I have no proof for this, I wonder if when the cream of this generation rises, if it will be those who know that documenting and interacting during every given moment wasn’t all it was cracked up to be (and yes, I realize that my being a yearbook adviser makes that statement a tad ironic). That aside from being born with certain advantages to begin with, the knew and were also taught about moderation, about observation, about contemplation, about examination, and about … well, living deliberately, I guess.