An Open Letter to Premier Doug Ford

Foreword for those reading: As I explain below, I will be engaging in a day of silence on Thursday as a form of protest. This action is a response to the government’s directive that families may now exempt their children from Health lessons that deal with 2SLGBTQ+ realities. While this does nothing to prevent us as teachers from having those conversations outside of Health, this is transparent bigotry at its most blatant.

If you feel the same way, please consider sharing this post with others and joining me on Thursday the 21st in silence.

I would also like it to be made very clear that the Peel District School Board has no choice in the matter, and within its inalienable responsibilities to the Ministry, is doing everything it can to ensure that 2SLGBTQ+ realities remain represented in our classrooms. Further, this letter is not related to any ongoing collective bargaining.

Below is my letter to our esteemed Premier. Thank you for reading, and for your support.


Dear Premier Ford,

On Thursday, I will not speak.

This week, families in the Peel District School Board – and undoubtedly many other School Boards across the province – will be informed that this year, under certain conditions, they will have the legal right to exempt their children from discussions of gender and sexuality-diverse people, and the realities they experience. Though thankfully limited in scope, allowable only in the context of the Health and Physical Education curriculum, this decision remains a loud, heartless message to all of us. As such, I feel compelled to return it.

I am a teacher. I am also gay. More importantly, I am out and proud. Every single one of my students hears my story, and my school board has always supported me. I do this because the existence of my identity, my life, and my family is not negotiable. Neither are the lives and realities of the students and families I am privileged to work with, including those who may be gay, or trans, or anything else.

In short, we exist.

I realize that this simple truth may represent an inconvenience to you. Clearly, your government and ministry value our children who are gay or trans far less than those children who are not. In fact, they must be quite threatening indeed, for you to attempt to quarantine the very mention of their identity inside the classroom. I’m genuinely sorry you feel that way, though I’m grateful that this attempt you are making, in your contempt and fear, to erase and silence those kids is undercut by those of us who refuse to be erased.

However, just this once, I’ve decided that I’ll give you what you want. You want our silence; for one day, I will grant it to you. This Thursday, Peel schools and families will be informed of their newly-given right to occasionally ignore the human rights of others. On that day, borrowing inspiration from the Day of Silence, I will not speak a single word. I will let my silence speak for me. I expect that to my students, whom I cherish and whom have heard me tell my story, my silence will speak volumes greater than any words I could possibly say. But regardless, since you want that silence so badly, for one day, it’s yours.

That is as generous as I can be. After that, knowing how much you would take from me if you could, I will give you nothing else. I am part of a community that is vibrant, strong, proud, and full of love; a community that is represented in every single institution in this country, including our classrooms; a community that exists, lives, THRIVES, and will not stop for the sake of your convenience, or the comfort of those who are threatened by our reality.

Our children deserve better. WE deserve better. So please enjoy my silence on Thursday, because after that, nothing is going to shut me up.

Most sincerely,

Kyle J. McGiverin

#NotAllFlamingos – or, The Culture Problem.

I keep noticing a weird trend. And, for once, it isn’t just on social media or Reddit – I’m noticing it in random conversations, as well as discussions I’m getting drawn into. This trend, in short, is this: we, as a people, are raging hypocrites.

And in other news, the sky continues to be blue and bears are hibernating in the winter.

But I find it interesting all the same, and what interests me is what we choose to be hypocritical about – in this case, we have an odd duality as a society on our response to sweeping generalizations of character. And it’s quite selfish, I think, and I’m certainly guilty of it myself. What it comes down to is that we are very happy to accept sweeping generalizations about people as long as they aren’t being made about us.

Take, for example, the emergence of the #NotAllMen tag a few years ago. This was in response to the rapid (though extremely delayed) recognition in our society of the victimization of women, and the statistics on assaults (sexually motivated or otherwise). The original movement was a response to the complacent attitude that has been emerging regarding the status of women in North America – in other words, the idea that we don’t need feminism anymore, and that the status of women’s rights in our nook of the world is peachy keen.

(There’s a lot more detail to where this came from that I’m not including here, but bear with me.)

So, threatened by this, we started seeing that tag above. #NotAllMen. As in, not all men assault women, not all men abuse male privilege, and so on and so forth. And meanwhile, those on the other side of the fence were scratching their heads and going “when did we say it was all men?”

It’s interesting how, when we’re dealing with anything controversial, we feel this need to firmly divide ourselves into two separate, clearly distinct camps, especially when it’s completely unnecessary.

But then, the unfortunate truth is that the #NotAllMen people did have a legitimate complaint in one particular corner, because there were some people accusing all men.

Can we do nothing in moderation? Seriously. As the Grand High Witch said in Roald Dahl’s The Witches, “if you are vonting a steak, you do not cook the whole cow.”

In fact, we’ve been seeing this in the political strife between #BlackLivesMatter and the police. On one side you have people crying, “All cops are racist!” and then on the other you have people shouting back, “Cops aren’t racist at all!” and then you have those sensible heads in the middle (on both sides) going, “uh, maybe the truth of the matter is around here somewhere.”

See, here’s my take on it: I don’t think a lot of us understand the difference between “All X” and “The Culture of X.” Hence, we are faced with The Culture Problem.

I’ll use an example here from my own experience (that several of my friends have heard me use before). I belong to several cultures of people, which applies to my intersecting experiences within my own society. These cultures include: people who are white, people who are male, people who are cisgender, people who are gay, and so on. These intersect in different ways – I am white, I am a white male, I am a cisgender male, I am white and gay – many permutations, all with different overlapping experiences.

I hope you are with me so far, because this took me a long time to understand.

So, let’s take all those subcultures I just mentioned and lump them together. I am a white cis gay man. As such, I belong to that particular subculture as a whole: white, cis, gay men, and in particular, white, cis, gay men who live in Toronto.

For the sake of simplicity, I shall refer to members of this subgroup as Flamingos (not that I think any of us could last long standing on one foot after a night on the town).

I’ll be blunt: I have many reasons to dislike the Flamingo subculture.

Flamingos, as a culture, have a disquieting history of being racist, transphobic, exclusive, and have this nasty habit of playing up the status of victim, to the point where some of them are convinced that they totally understand racism because they’ve experienced homophobia.

Now, if there happened to be a Flamingo reading this, it’s quite possible that he would be privately raging at me right now, because maybe all those problems don’t apply to him personally, and how dare this guy accuse all Flamingos of being racists and so on. He also probably resents the term Flamingo to begin with, but that’s beside the point.

However, notice that not once did I say “all Flamingos.” I said that these are problems of the culture of Flamingos, notably of the North American big city variety. And I didn’t say all because I don’t believe that this problem is shared by all Flamingos; I, myself, am a Flamingo by definition, and these are problems I do my best to avoid.

So, with that established, here’s the sticking point. If what I just described doesn’t fit me at all, my instinct might well be to say so, loud and clear. #NotAllFlamingos and all that. “Maybe that’s what some Flamingos are like,” I might say, “but not me.”

And this is where it all falls down. This is where we get into disagreements that are just about impossible to resolve, because nobody seems to have the same answer to this most important of questions: how much responsibility should one accept for the culture they belong to?

Let’s face facts: I’m not perfect. As much as I am conscious of the efforts I make not to demonstrate the problematic aspects of the culture I belong to, sometimes I do anyway. But nobody expects perfection (well, okay, some do, but that’s another problem entirely). The true test of my character isn’t in whether or not I make a mistake, but rather, how I respond to being informed of the mistake.

This spills over into the whole Flamingo thing, because when Bubba gets irate about the problematic aspects of the culture of Flamingos, I have a few choices I can make. I can deny all responsibility (#NotAllFlamingos) and make it Bubba’s problem for blaming everyone’s problems on me. Or, alternatively, I can accept that, as much as I dislike those aspects of Flamingo culture, I’m still a part of that culture, and I can at least validate, if not fully take responsibility for, Bubba’s reality.

This last step (which I admittedly still struggle with) is at the heart, I think, of all these Us vs. Them problems: nobody wants to be blamed. Nobody wants to shoulder, even for a moment, the thought of being responsible for our own culture. But then, if we don’t, and they don’t…who will?

Ultimately, I don’t know what the answer is, but I am fairly confident that #NotAllFlamingos isn’t it. The society I live in gains nothing when members of a culture refuse to acknowledge their own responsibility for, and influence over, the problems perpetuated by that culture – especially those cultures who sit in a position of privilege. Put bluntly, ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away, nor does blaming it on a few bad apples.

It occurs to me that I never cleared up what I meant when I mentioned hypocrisy, so here it is: the people most likely to make broad, sweeping and unjust generalizations about other groups of people are the most likely ones to parrot the #NotAll tagline, and that is a hypocrisy unlike any other, in my book. I get this one a lot when I hear people talk about Millennials, because for some reason it’s perfectly okay to paint a wide swath of people with the problem-with-your-generation brush. I’ve been told that my generation is entitled and that we expect jobs and homes to be handed to us like candy, and then, when I reminded this person that it wasn’t the Millennials that over-stressed the importance of a university degree or burned down the housing market, I was – surprise! – rebuked for over-generalizing.

I’m really not entirely sure what my point is, when it’s all said and done, except that I wish more people understood the difference between “all Flamingos” and “the culture of Flamingos.” I think I’ve come a long way in understanding that when someone complains about white people, they aren’t necessarily talking about me, and that regardless, I still need to pay attention, because that is the culture I belong to. I wish we could all do that, from both sides: recognize that a culture can have its problematic elements without  condemning (or defending) every member of it at once.

I don’t think I’ll hold my breath, though.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go practice standing on one foot. #NotAllFlamingos can do that, y’know.

There’s A Reason I Can’t Shut Up On Twitter Today

In my short few years as a teacher, I’ve had the unquestionable privilege of seeing many, many amazing things.

This is the part where I really should be waxing poetic about what those things are – and the writer in me is furious that I don’t seem to quite have the words in my head right now to do it – but that is a part I’m going to skip for now. It’s after midnight and I’m tired.

…and I might possibly have been playing The Sims 2 for rather longer than is strictly necessary.

But anyway, regardless of the undoubtedly beautiful and moving things that I could be writing and am not, I will write about why anyone who follows my Twitter feed might have wanted to slap me over the last 24 hours. Incidentally, Twitter is not something I’ve really taken to before now, not the way many of my colleagues have (my principal is one of them and it is very entertaining). But I’ve been watching it from the sidelines and always almost, but not quite, gotten it. There was a part of me that understood the Twitterverse, but also a part of me that didn’t quite see why it was a big deal.

But (so it goes) I realized this week that I should probably become more active on Twitter. And the timing worked out, because today I was a part of something life-changing.

At least, for me. And, I imagine, for many of the participants.

For those not in the know, today I was at Sheridan attending a Peel Board event called the YANA MPP Conference (the long title for that would be the You Are Not Alone Make Peel Proud Conference or something along those lines…I think). This has been a yearly event for high school students from across the PDSB, who come and participate in workshops, meet one another, and just generally have an amazing time surrounded by like-minded peers. This year, for the first time, the conference was opened up to middle school students, and the committee/brains behind the operation wasn’t sure just how many middle-schoolers to expect.

And, well, we got like 170. Which was about three times the number that had been anticipated.

These middle school students got to yak with an LGBTQ youth panel, do a super awesome workshop, meet and greet and mingle with students their age from across the board, and dance the afternoon away in the building’s lobby, all while covered in rainbow bling and surrounded by middle school peers happily and confidently being their straight, gay, bi, lesbian, pansexual, transgender, nonbinary and genderfluid selves.

Like…

What.

WHAT.

This is, to put it bluntly, something that would have made my brain explode when I was 12 and struggling to figure out exactly what I was. It was the early 2000’s, massive progress in our society had been made with respect to gay rights, and we still weren’t talking about it at school yet. I thought I was alone in the universe. And yet, here we are, some decade and a half later, and I’m wading through a sea of confident, diverse, jubilant kids who are proud, and strong, and, and…empowered.

I am not ashamed to admit that I spent quite a bit of the day positively green with envy. Of course, I was such an awkward, socially-inept child at the age of 12 that it might not even have made a difference, but…what if, you know?

But here’s the kicker. Sure, that all would have made my brain explode, except that there’s one other thing about these kids that puts them in an entirely different league that my past self: they are informed. 

When I was 12, I couldn’t even tell you what gay was, let alone the vast majority of the things I heard out of kids’ mouths today. Middle schoolers in all the workshop rooms were busy talking about gender non-binary this, and aromantic that, and gender identity vs. gender expression and alternative pronouns and dimensions of privilege and intersectionality–

I mean, damn. These kids are so smart. They have a deep, thorough awareness – understanding – of ideas and concepts and truths that I had only just begun to grasp in my mid-twenties. They’ve had the freedom to explore themselves, to explore others, to explore a world of realities and learn how to empathize with them. They’ve come out the other end wise beyond their years, and all because they have been given the opportunity to be authentic and truthful to themselves.

Kind of bittersweet, isn’t it?

I can only really speak for myself, but I looked around me today and I had to take a moment and just…grieve, a little. Not for the kids around me, but for the one I used to be. I imagined what would have happened if I could have experienced even a tiny piece, back then, of what I saw today. Or even if teachers in those days had been willing to talk about it. Anything that might have left me with the impression that it wasn’t just me.

But then, on the other hand, the vast majority of my time was spent simply drinking in the celebration of life and love that I was privileged enough to witness today. I watched kids from entirely different schools, kids who had never even met one another, join hands and dance. I saw kids who might normally be frightened or shy of speaking in front of large groups confidently raise their hands and share their stories. It was nothing short of magical.

And so I couldn’t shut up about it. I had to celebrate it for the sake of the 12-year-old I used to be, who is still stuck somewhere in my head with his face pressed up against the window, longing to come back for just this one day.

Ultimately, I’m at peace with the fact that those are years I’ll never get back, and I’m also at peace knowing that the experiences I did have when I was younger have done their part to shape me into the person I am now, which, to be frank, is a person I’m quite happy to be. But, thinking about it, it does help me see what my own life must look like to someone who came from the generation before me, or the one before that. While I watched these kids live in a moment my younger self never would, I forgot that I am out, queer, and proud, and these facts are not threatening my job, where I work with children every day – in fact, I’m able to work with like-minded peers, professionals, supported by the bureaucracy of our day, making magic like this happen. That was me, living in a moment that some of my dearest friends, who landed in this world a generation or two before I did, never would. Not at my age. Not at this stage of their lives.

I understood that logically, from the outside, but I never really…felt that until today.

So I grieved a little inside, the same way some members of earlier generations grieved their own missed opportunities when same-sex marriage was legalized, or even when homosexuality was decriminalized, or any number of the umpteen thousand milestones we’ve passed on this road (with many, many more to go). But outside, beyond those little moments of grief, the celebration – yes, including Twitter – was my catharsis.

So anyway.

I find myself at the logical conclusion of this rambling, disorganized post without a single idea of a strong and eloquent ending. So, you don’t get. But the kids reminded me today that being my authentic self is the most important part.

And right now my authentic self is saying “perfect, eloquent endings are for suckers. Go to bed, you fool.”

Thanks, kids.

 

A Post About My Book

Why? Why not, I say!

I drove to school today realizing that I haven’t been keeping up my online presence, and a lot’s been going on. So, in lieu of anything of substance to blog about, I figured I’d update this here blog with the status of something very dear to my heart these days: Wyvern.

For anyone who didn’t know (or didn’t see the thing in the sidebar), I’ve spent the last few years writing, editing, and now publishing my first novel, which is entitled Wyvern – Book 1: The Coin. There have been a few notable milestones along this road thus far, so let’s break it down, shall we?

The E-Book

This has actually been out for a few months now, on a few different platforms. For more info, and to actually go and buy the thing, pop on over to www.wyvernnovel.com!

The Print Book

As you can tell by the photo, this is the exciting part.
16177713_10101098655089090_1618219122116909789_o

This is a photo of the one copy that currently exists, but within a few days that should change. The first 100 prints of Wyvern will hopefully be ready by the end of this week – which means that my Kickstarter backers will be happier with me, because those are the copies they will get!

A couple of months down the road, there will be an additional print, and those copies will be the first commercially-available print copies of Wyvern!

It’s very exciting stuff, all told. Not gonna lie, holding that print  version in my hand was…weird. In a good way. Never mind the years of work that have gone into this project. Holding it in my hand made it feel much more real.

More information will follow (eventually) on where these print copies will be available, but the plan is in motion!

Special Edition

The above copy will not include the many illustrations that Toby Medeiros has been so very busy creating, which is a tad unfortunate but was a time-related necessity. That said, he is still hard at work, and those illustrations will be released with a Special Edition copy of Wyvern which will hopefully be available before the end of the year. Not only will this include Toby’s fantastic artwork, but it will also include bonus content including historical information on the setting of the book, maps, and other tidbits and special pieces that aren’t in the original. Keep your eyes open for it!

 

That’s about all for now. Again, a completely self-serving post, but hey, this is my blog. It’s probably already pretty self-serving.

Overall, I’m hoping to get myself more active online, so feel free to follow my Twitter:@TheMisterKyle – and if I haven’t tweeted in a while, be all like, “hey Kyle! Tweet something!”

Peace and love, all.

The “Honour Roll” is a stupid, stupid thing.

I sit here, deciding which members of my class are to be chosen for recognition at an Awards Assembly, which is wonderful. The kids I’m choosing for these honours are deserving, and I am exceedingly proud of them.

And then I get to that section where I have to list all the Honour Roll recipients from my class. There are several, and they have certainly earned the grades that they were given in order to be on the Honour Roll in the first place. And for that, for the effort they put in and the natural gifts they brought to the table, I am proud of them.

I have no quibble with the students earning their place on the Honour Roll. I just hate that it’s a thing to begin with.

It isn’t just the Honour Roll I hate, really; it’s our entire obsession as an educational system with reducing the complex and fantastic children we are blessed to spend our time with to individual numbers that represent very, very little of them as learners, or as people. It’s bad enough that we as teachers have to go through and give them these Godawful numbers to begin with, and it is certainly bad enough that the kids and the families treat these numbers like the Holy Grail of academic credibility and success, frequently ignoring the written comments entirely.

(And no, I’m not just salty because of the hours and hours and hours I spend writing those comments. I swear.)

It’s bad enough that this is the way our system works when we get right down to brass tacks. I put up with that because it is my responsibility as a teacher to do so, and because I am duty-bound to put numbers on paper that, despite my best efforts, are destined to give an onlooker a horrifically skewed and inaccurate vision of my students. I hate that I have to do it, but I do it, because that’s what I have to do.

But this stupid Honour Roll.

I suppose I really shouldn’t write a blog post when I’m angry, but every time this comes up I find myself, at best, irritated. I write these names down and I think to myself: many of these are kids I would be giving awards to, anyway, if I were able. But then I look down the rest of my list, at the ones who didn’t make the required cut of seven marks at “A” level or higher, and zero marks at a “C” or lower, and I think to myself: where is the Honour Roll for them?

See, here’s the thing: the Honour Roll ostensibly rewards academic success and effort by honouring those students who put in the time and dedication to be strong students. The criteria for this assessment is high grades.

This is problematic on so very many levels.

The fact is that, for various reasons, grades are not a foolproof indicator of any of the above – grades are not necessarily an indicator of hard work, time or dedication, mostly because of all the factors and variables that go into those grades being what they are. Let’s have a look at some of those factors:

  • Family situation.
  • Socioeconomic status.
  • Learning or intellectual disabilities.
  • Students’ built-in strengths and weaknesses.
  • Students’ natural ‘fit’ with the school system. 
  • The biases of the teachers. 
  • Varying understandings of what an ‘A’ means.

There are dozens more, but these are the big ones. We award kids places on the Honour Roll as if they control how many A’s they get, when in reality, they often don’t. They have a measure of control over the effort they invest as a student, and when they come up against their challenges as learners, they have a measure of control over their efforts to meet and rise above these challenges, but a student is not often fully in control of their grades.

And we reward this obnoxious contest of luck and privilege.

But wait, Kyle, come the voices of several folks with whom I have had this discussion. Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t it good that we take time out to recognize the accomplishments of those who did work hard for the grades they received?

Yes, of course it is. It’s very important. It’s very important that I recognize the accomplishments of my student who started the year with straight C’s all across the board and ended the year with more B’s than C’s. Working hard for grades doesn’t just mean getting A’s. But that’s not what this imaginary, argumentative person was saying.

I’m being callous here, I know, so let me zip back a little and respond to the intended question. It is, yes, important that we acknowledge the work and the efforts of those students who did end up with a stellar and A-filled report card. On that, though, I always find myself thinking the same few things.

First, we already reward those students all the time. Those are the students who are volunteering to answer questions, getting praise for their excellent work on their tasks or projects, enjoying a companionable relationship with their teachers and… oh, right: getting to go home with A’s all over their report cards. 

The system is already rigged to reward those students, the ones who don’t cause trouble, the ones who stand out, the ones who make themselves noticed. And this is a good thing. That is the kind of behaviour we want to reward. In fact, we do use other awards to recognize those kinds of successes. We just haven’t gone the rest of the way and knocked off the stupid Honour Roll. Using grades as the only criteria is simply not the right way to go about rewarding students.

Second, and to repeat my point from above, lots of those students don’t make the honour roll. Some of them are just lucky. Some actually have no community spirit, no drive or determination to go above and beyond their own comfort zones or expand their limits. I do not think we should be rewarding students who set their sights on that “A” and think about nothing else, because that isn’t learning.

My biggest issue overall, though, with the Honour Roll, is that it isn’t really an award for academic achievement. The Honour Roll is an award for being better suited to our narrow, one-size-fits-all school system. It rewards students whose natural talents and inclinations give them a higher chance of success in a suffocating, factory-model system of education that is overwhelmingly biased towards those kids who can sit still and be quiet.

I, for one, don’t think we should be rewarding that. Not when we have so many other measures of success. If we want to keep the Honour Roll, we need to change our understanding of how someone is qualified to be a part of it. We need to scrap the token “Most Improved Student” nonsense and integrate that sensibility into the Honour Roll. We need an Honour Roll that exists completely independent of grades. We should not have any awards in our school system that reward grades, given that in our society, the grades themselves already act as awards and already unilaterally open doors forward into higher education and even career success. We don’t need extra awards for grades. We need to stop giving them out.

I could go on and on about this, but I feel like I’ve said enough here. I’m going to go now, and hand my list of Honour Roll winners over to my school’s office manager, and then I’m going to do my best to forget the stupid list exists.

 

Why teachers aren’t actually real people.

I was sorely tempted to title this post “Go ahead and fire me” but I thought that might be a little too inflammatory. Still, as I wandered along Facebook while vainly trying not to be on Facebook and get the bleep back to work, a brief discussion point I saw got me thinking. This happens a tad too much for my liking.

Anyway, the question was this: is it okay to give your kid’s teacher alcohol, or a gift card to a liquor store – and would teachers be comfortable accepting it?

My answer is obviously yes (Go ahead! Fire me!) but the question itself raised a few other questions. I knew while answering that question that in the wrong crowd, my yes answer would be considered controversial, or even inappropriate, which got me thinking about why.

The obvious answer is that kids aren’t supposed to know that teachers drink alcohol. Isn’t it sad, though, that that’s an “obvious” answer? Or that this would be considered common sense?

Have a look at this picture:

1915-rules-for-teachers-e1379271057692
Every time one of my female colleagues gets on my nerves, I contemplate putting it on their desk. Fortunately, my self-preservation instincts are better than that.

What a lovely set of handcuffs this was, huh? I’d nope out at the scrubbing the floor and starting the fire. There’s another version from another year that says male teachers are allowed one evening a week “for courting purposes,” and every time I think about it I get an entertaining mental image of this conversation taking place:

MAN: Pardon me, miss, but it is my intention to court you.

WOMAN: Thank you, but I decline.

MAN: I insist, my dear.

WOMAN: Insist all you like, but you haven’t permission to court me.

MAN: On the contrary, if you would be so kind as to observe this line of my contract, here, you will find that I am well within my rights to do so, as the print states that I am permitted on this night to engage in courting.

WOMAN: Ah, so it does. Well, that changes everything. You may court me all you like, good sir.

MAN: Capital. Where is your companion this evening? We must inform him of this development.

WOMAN: Oh, I’m here alone this evening.

MAN: Why?

WOMAN: For courting purposes.

MAN: Oh, I see. Then I must regretfully take my leave.

WOMAN: Why is that?

MAN: Well, I can hardly be seen with a solitary woman such as yourself who so blatantly seeks the company of men. Good night.

All told, the double standard really hasn’t changed all that much.

Anyway, point being, back in 1915, those rules up there would have been considered “common sense.” The idea of female teachers living the lives they do now would simply have been scandalous, and no doubt would have been a horrific influence on the lives of impressionable and innocent children. A teacher is a role model, and must act like one.

Well, the rules have changed but the way we think is still more or less the same. Because teachers are role models, the things we do (in and out of the classroom) fall under some pretty significant scrutiny. It is important, after all, that children remain protected in the time they spend at school from the evils of the adult world.

… while we teach them to be global citizens and critical thinkers.

Huh.

See, I’m not arguing that teachers are not role models. We are, every single one of us. But what I find problematic is our understanding of how that works and what that means.

Bear in mind as you read that I’m at the middle school level, and I’m pretty much ignoring anything that exists below Grade 6.

Consider this, though: in the journey to become a teacher, we are told several things in no uncertain terms that we will need to remember. We must be referred to by our last names in a respectful manner. We must not be too casual or friendly when we speak to children. We must dress conservatively and formally – men in proper work pants and buttoned shirts, women in modest dresses or blouses or skirts or whatever. And we must be certain that we don’t discuss our personal lives, nor should we ever say, nor imply, that we drink or smoke, or anything else that would be considered adult behaviour. If we have tattoos, we certainly shouldn’t let the kids see them, nor talk about them, and we shouldn’t have piercings anywhere but on our ears. We shouldn’t discuss our personal lives in any regard, certainly not to talk about our partners or families. The list continues, and all these are given and reinforced to us in the name of professionalism.

What a load of patronizing bullhockey.

Let me qualify that statement with a couple of concessions:

  1. Some of the advice is very important and justified. A teacher going into their room and gabbing about how they got so wasted last night that they passed out in a ditch… not a good idea. Going into detail about your love life, talking about your relationship problems, definitely don’t do that. Going to work in filthy, slobby gym clothes, not necessarily the greatest call either. These things, and things along these lines, I get.
  2. A lot of what I’m about to say depends on the teacher. Everyone has a different comfort level. I’m not going to judge anyone for the choices they make for themselves, as long as they’re still in the room for the kids.
  3. Some of these are already not so heavily enforced. Every teacher I know has at some point talked about their families or partner, I haven’t had to dress stiffly formal in years, and the liquor question I referenced earlier was met with resounding approval from everyone involved.

All that being said, though, we still approach teaching with the mentality that we should be sheltering kids from our adult lives in every way possible. In essence, in order to be a professional, it is widely believed that you have to live a bit of a double life.

I think this is enormously problematic.

My career, since partway through my student teaching, has been built on purpose and authenticity. Before I make any of the choices I make, I tend to ask myself the following two questions: do I have a good reason for doing it that puts the kids first, and would I be staying true to myself if I did it? If I have to answer “no” to either or both of those questions, the only things that will get me to do the thing will be a) I am obligated to do it, b) it’s the only option that will work, or c) it’s just the right thing to do.

This line of thinking sometimes puts me at odds with the whole “professional” mindset. Like my name, for example. Anyone who knows me (or inferred it from the name of this blog) knows that I go by “Mr. Kyle.” I’ve done that since I started teaching, and it inevitably surprises people, kids and teachers alike. And I’ve certainly been accused of doing it to “look cool to the kids” or “just to be different,” but I am being honest when I say that neither of those are why I do it (although both are pleasant side-effects, let’s face it). I do it because I don’t really see a reason to go by my last name.

To me, it makes very little sense. I’ve certainly heard the arguments; my favourite is the idea that somehow the kids wouldn’t be able to see me as an authority figure and I wouldn’t be able to get their respect. One, authority should be earned regardless, two, there’s no real evidence to support that argument, and three, more importantly, it’s an artificial authoritative structure (among several) that really only exists inside schools. Teachers are often the only adults in a kid’s life – that aren’t complete strangers – whom they are required to address as Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. anything. If the measure of respect they have for an adult is dependent on calling that adult by their last name, how does that teach them anything about what respect really means?

This is obviously only one example, and I do want to reiterate that I’m talking about this from the perspective of “Rules,” and not a teacher’s own preferences. I have nothing negative to say about teachers who go by their last name because they prefer it for their own reasons.

The bigger picture, though, is that the name thing is only one of several structures, methods and routines that exist in schools for no reason other than being how things are done. It isn’t the fact that teachers go by last names that bothers me, it’s that it generally isn’t even a conversation. Heck, I only keep the “Mr.” out of respect for the wishes of my administration, and I don’t begrudge them that because challenging the structure can have consequences, and my principal shouldn’t have to suffer for the choices I make. The fact that there would be consequences – and there’s no doubt in my mind that there would be – is very troublesome to me.

This is where we get back to the whole Role Model thing, and the question that started this extremely-inadvisable-because-I-have-reports-to-write blog post. Just like with our names, we are encouraged as professionals to take steps to distance our teaching persona from our own authentic selves, and I can’t help coming back to the question of why. And I really don’t have a satisfactory answer, because it’s a layered and complex question. Look at the cases of teachers who have been fired for being seen in a photo online with a glass of wine. It is absolutely, patently absurd that such a thing should happen when a modest photo like that is taken outside of the school and outside of the instructional day. And such events are certainly not unique to teaching. Yet, it continues to happen, and such case studies continue to scare us into submission. And again, I ask why?

Since I can’t answer that question very well, I instead want to do what I always do, and ask why not? Purpose and authenticity.

So I sit down and think about it, and about the decisions I make, and I go right down the list of supposedly “unprofessional” decisions that I am nonetheless completely unashamed of. I thought about typing it all out here, but I’m not writing this post to blow my own horn. The point is, when I track down solid place to ground myself, I come back to what is best for the kids, just like we all should.

The conclusion I came to is that because we so desperately fear the messages we could be sending our students by breaking these rules, we aren’t thinking hard enough about the messages we are sending them by following them. For example:

If people don’t dress or act a certain way, you don’t have to show them respect. This one is actually funny because we in schools preach that we are inclusive and that everybody deserves respect – while at the same time reminding our teachers that those principles don’t apply when we are the subject. Kids can already be harsh and judgemental, and it’s pretty easy for them to be disrespectful without even realizing it. What we’re telling them by being so conservative about their authority figures is that people who aren’t as conservative are not deserving of authority.

The fact is, for all the choices I make, I have never felt disrespected by my students, and I have never felt like I lacked the capacity to keep them safe, educate them, and provide authority. None of those things that I do as a part of my adult life impact my ability to do my job, nor do the clothes I choose to wear, nor the tattoo I have, nor the earring in my right ear, and that is something the kids should understand. In fact, even more bizarre:

Responsibly enjoying things adults are allowed to enjoy makes you a bad role model. The common sense problem here is that – news flash! – their role models at home aren’t guaranteed to have as strict an idea of their own role modeling. If a kid asks their teacher if they drink beer and the teacher says “no, never, drinking alcohol is bad,” that kid is going to walk away going “well, gee, my dad drinks a beer once in a while. Does that make him a bad person?” I don’t know why we would want that. If, on the other hand, the teacher’s answer is, “yeah, once in a while, but never when I’m doing my work as a teacher,” the kid walks away not only knowing it isn’t a huge deal, but also that there’s a time and a place.

(I know I’m oversimplifying here, and that this could be a whole blog post itself, but you get the idea.)

But then, we reflexively give that first answer because:

We don’t trust children to have a conversation about the choices they can make later in life. It’s true that children are impressionable, but we treat them as if the slightest tremor in the illusion of their innocence will send them spiralling off the rails, and that doesn’t give them anywhere near enough credit for their capacity to think. I actually had one of my kids one year tell me that she looked forward to getting drunk for the first time just to see what it was like, and I pretty much said “good for you, as long as you wait until you can do it legally.” Kids know the difference between what they are and are not allowed to do, and unless you’re fantastically incompetent or careless, no kid will end up thinking “well, hey, since my teacher does those things, that means I can do them right now!”

I’m not saying that we should constantly be talking about it or coming at it casually, nor that we should even be making a point of it (I’m sure not going to bring it up out of nowhere), but the fact is, if we avoid the conversation and the questions like the plague, we are passing up chances to help kids understand how to make decisions responsibly. Right now, the responsible choices is “don’t do it,” but guess what? Booze and tattoos are legal once you reach a certain age, and at that point nothing will stop them if they are driven enough to experience it. Their role models are the buffer from which they learn the risks and the possible consequences, as well as what constitutes “responsible” behaviour. It is worth noting that this is the same logic behind sex education, and it’s pretty darn on-point.

But then, just like the occasional logic behind that debate…

If something makes you uncomfortable, it’s better to just not talk about it and pretend it doesn’t exist. This is probably the most dangerous of the things we’re teaching kids by refusing to acknowledge the lives we have outside of the classroom. By leading double lives, we’re telling kids that they should, too. If the intent is to point out that there’s a time and place for everything, my guess is that the stonewalling, two-faced approach is probably missing the mark. As I hinted at earlier, we deprive our kids of the opportunity to learn from our experiences, and whatever they can’t learn from us, you can bet they’re going to learn from other kids, their siblings, or – much more concerning – the Internet. And let’s not be naïve here: the Internet loves alcohol, as much as it loves drugs, and sex, and literally everything else that any up-and-coming young rebel might fantasize about experiencing.

Worse, if the impression I’m trying to give is that I’m some kind of Puritan, that only reinforces the kid’s notion that you can’t grow up to be a happy, successful, functioning adult if you so much as touch alcohol. In the probable event that they actually do – before or after they’re old enough – that’s the kind of inner dialogue that can lead kids to even worse decisions and create serious consequences for mental health. And in the actual moment of dialogue, that isn’t the likely scenario. More likely, they know I’m utterly lying through my teeth, and if a kid gets the impression that you think they’re too stupid to know how things really work, you’re guaranteed to lose their respect.

See, that’s the real thing about middle school kids: they are so done being treated like children and are dying to be treated like people. They have enough realism to know that you’re going to be keeping a lot of things to yourself, but they are aware enough and smart enough to tell when you’re being two-faced.

And again, every single iota of this comes back to purpose. Despite the tone of this whole rant, I’m not advocating that all of my colleagues drop the conventions and do what I do, because that would make me very, very stupid. However, what I would like the whole system to do is step back and think about the reasons for the things we do, and have a nice, long think about what we’re trying to accomplish. We are preparing the kids for a world where they will meet all kinds of people and have all kinds of experiences, and we are encouraging them to be authentic and unique, learn who they are, and pursue the lives they want to have – and yet we as educators are doing the exact opposite, forcing ourselves into the stereotypical caricatures that represent The Way Things Are Done. The system is built to give the kids a one-size-fits-all role model, when we know the real world doesn’t work that way.

So, anyway.

For my part, I’m just going to keep doing what I do (Go ahead! Fire me!) and enjoy myself in my work, because I really, really do love it. But, gee, it would be so nice to break down the towering, intimidating ideal behind the “Role Model.” It would be nice if our society could take a quick reality check and realize that everyone has a life, and to pretend that we don’t, for any reason, is a decision that shouldn’t be made so lightly, or automatically. My personality is what makes me any good at what I do. I wouldn’t let anyone take that away from me.

So if anyone reading this feels like getting me an LCBO gift card, I’m gonna be my authentic self and do nothing to stop you.

Back to reports.

 

 

 

 

It’s okay to believe* being gay is wrong.

EDIT/DISCLAIMER: At the time I wrote this entry, my expectation was only that it would be seen by people connected to me. Since my words have moved beyond that point, I want to include a couple of details that I did not include before.

First, I identify as a cis queer man, I am a middle school teacher, and I actively work with my school board to improve LGBTQ realities within the school system.

Second, my writing of this piece was a product of my own attempts to work through and/or make sense of the Orlando tragedy, and because I spend so much of my life in education, I come to it through the lens of an educator.

Third, the intent of my post is not to advocate a ‘free speech’ mindset; rather, just the opposite.

I realize that some of the content below may come to you as you are also navigating the Orlando tragedy, including people (unlike myself) whose loved ones were connected with what happened. Please know that you have my hopes and sympathy, and I hope that we all get through this one as intact as we can.

Peace and love. –K


This is one of those times where I really don’t know what to do with myself.

Over the weekend, a gunman (who, at least on this blog, shall remain nameless) shot and killed at least 50 people in an Orlando gay nightclub, injuring at least that many others – at least, as far as I understand the story. I’m also led to understand that the shooter himself had some kind of connection to ISIS, although I’m really not sure how true that is.

It’s been a while since something threw my identity into such sharp focus, probably for reasons similar to the Paris effect I wrote about in another post. There is misery for gays all over the world, but it takes an event like this, apparently, to splash cold water on my face and reawaken me to the reality that I’m not as safe in this world as I’d like to be.

And to all those victims and their families, I pass on my deepest condolences and sympathies.

Meanwhile, the discussion around what happened set a few other things in motion up in my obnoxious little brain, and I find myself wanting to talk about those things. This was mostly prompted by Reddit; apparently, when information about the shooter was released (particularly the Islamic connection) Reddit’s /r/news went ahead and shut down pretty much every conversation about Orlando – officially, amid concerns of brigading and hate speech. And I’m really not going to sit here and type about censorship, because that’s a whole other conversation that I’m not too keen to get into.

That said, there’s a trend to these dialogues, at least as far as identity and ideology go. You end up watching people either say horrifically racist things, or take the not-all-Muslims route. It seems so strange to me that we do that – these all-or-nothing black vs. white scenarios, so to speak. The fact is, there are awful people and fantastic people in this world who believe in Islam, in one form or another. That, at least, seems like the common sense scenario.

That isn’t what I really want to talk about, though. In fact, I want to talk about the other side of it. The gay side, if you will. The shooter in this scenario was motivated by homophobia, and that fact has caused reactionists all across North America to decry the supposedly inexorable link between Islam and homophobia. Without context, we blame the ideology for the action. We blame intolerance. We blame a lack of acceptance, a lack of inclusion, a lack of diversity, and we try so hard to change everyone’s minds.

You know what? I think that is our biggest problem: we keep trying to change people’s minds.

I want to put on my teacher hat here and make a point about something. When I discuss LGBTQ realities with my kids – when I come out to them as gay, too – I encounter quite a bit of discomfort and resistance, at least at first. Kids are wary, and quite rightly so, because often I’m talking about things their folks aren’t comfortable with, or things that never get talked about at home. I like that part, I really do, but some kids get uneasy.

That always changes at the point where I say this:

“It’s okay to believe being gay is wrong.”

I had a conversation about this some years ago with a friend of mine who’s gay, and she was shocked that I would say such a thing. “You’re gay!” she said. “How can you tell kids it’s okay to think you’re a terrible person?” It’s a good point, really, because there was a time in my life where I probably would have been just as outraged.

But you know what? It works. 

It doesn’t take too many mental gymnastics to work out why: if I were to tell them that they had to agree with me, that they had to accept my worldview, they would be incredibly threatened. I would be telling them that their parents are wrong, their families are wrong, their very worldview is wrong. There’s no overstating the impact of that. Not to mention I’d probably be in a lot of trouble for criticizing the beliefs of some of the families in my class – and, frankly, it would be really hollow, considering I don’t even agree with that sentiment.

On the other hand, the minute I reassure them that their beliefs are their own and I’m not going to try and take those away, they relax. They feel safe disagreeing with me, and that means the conversation can continue and they will not need to fear being wrong.

Of course, my friend wasn’t quite done with her questions. “But you just gave them carte blanche to harass gay people and make all the gay jokes they want! You just told them, hey, that’s okay because they’re your beliefs!”

No, no I didn’t.

(This, incidentally, is the point I’m working up to.)

What I told them was that they are free to believe whatever they like, and that I can’t tell them their beliefs are wrong. What I then go on to tell them is that there is a difference between beliefs and actions.

Imagine, if you will, that there’s a child named Bob who comes from a family who believes that being tall is wrong, and that tall people are terrible, sinful, perverted people – or whatever have you. Now Bob goes to school, and he might make fun of tall people, insult them, say that he just doesn’t feel comfortable with them, ask not to work with the tall person in class.

Does this sound stupid yet? It should.

We would put an immediate stop to that nonsense, of course, and Bob would be informed, in no uncertain terms, that saying such things about tall people was not acceptable, and that regardless of how he felt, he should be showing respect to those around him.

This was the exact scenario my school played out this year during the Day of Pink assembly, and it resonated with far more people (student and staff alike) than I expected it to, and the reason is that we get so obsessed with changing minds, we forget that half the battle is to change actions. Keeping with the example of Bob, we could all tell him he was wrong until we were blue in the face, and we could tell him that his family’s views are absurd and horrible – and let’s face it, those beliefs would inspire exactly that kind of dialogue for lots of us – but Bob and his family would only dig their heels in deeper.

This is the exact scenario that is causing us so many problems.

Look at our society. We’ve put ourselves in a ridiculous position. We have convinced ourselves that it isn’t enough to change someone’s behaviour; we have to change their mindset. It isn’t enough that someone is respectful and courteous and inclusive in the way they treat, say, black people – we police the way they think.

Now, mind you, changing mindsets are a down-the-road necessity. It’s absolutely important that we have a society that embraces change and learns to accept and consider worldviews that are different from its own. The problem is that our obsession with being right has gotten in the way of the respectful and inclusive behaviour we want.

Let’s come back to my own students. I have had awesome and productive discussions on things like gay marriage, the transgender washroom debate, intersectionality, privilege, even the parallels between racism and homophobia. I have so much fun talking to my kids, able to discuss all kinds of sophisticated things. Never, and I do mean never, have I had a kid who hurled homophobic or transphobic insults. I have had kids share honestly the beliefs of their families, the questions they have, the things they’re uncomfortable talking about. I have even had kids tell me that they’ve changed their minds and decided that they don’t feel the same way their family does.

But I do not get these results by forcing it. Let’s stop pretending we can force people’s minds to change. Let’s focus instead on learning how to disagree. Let’s focus on changing the actions and the words, instead of the minds. Let’s stop attacking people for who they are and instead keep our attention on what they do. Let’s stop pretending that someone’s beliefs and someone’s actions are one and the same thing.

Here’s the plain fact of the matter: if you believe that I’m a horrible, perverted monster who will spend my twisted afterlife burning in the flames of you-know-where, fine. No, really, I’m perfectly okay with that.

As long as I never hear it. As long as when you are in a public space, or online, or wherever you may be, you leave your prejudices at the door and respect people as people.

The fact is that our society has forgotten how to disagree with one another. We are defined by our labels and ideologies, both religious and political. We learn some of these identities and make enormous, inglorious leaps to conclusions, and then, most importantly, we act on those conclusions. We stop listening, we stop communicating, we write people off, we insult and degrade people, and we cut people out, and we say horrible, hateful things about one another.

I’ll tell you a little mini story. Earlier this year, we had a Paint Your Nails day at the school in support of our gay-straight alliance. Three of my students chose not to paint their nails, because they felt it went against their beliefs. I said, “okay.” Then, on Day of Pink, two out of three of those students chose to wear pink shirts.

I asked one of them if that meant he changed his mind about gay people. He said, “no, but nobody deserves to be bullied, right?”

I think he gets it.

So, Orlando. There’s going to be a lot of dialogue about the fact that the gunman was affiliated with ISIS, or whatever, and that has already started to stoke the flames for the anti-Muslim crowd (many of whom are pretty homophobic themselves). Please don’t buy into that. I don’t blame Islam for what happened – I blame the gunman, and I blame the people who refuse to coexist with others. I blame those who take disenfranchised young people and teach them that there is no difference between belief and action.

And to anyone reading this who thinks we gay people are the scum of the Earth, well, go you. You do you, and power to you. Believe what you’re going to believe.

Just… keep it respectful, a’ight?


Post-Edit, 11:12 pm! 

This post has generated quite the response and discussion on Facebook, and I had one particular conversation over there that let me shed a little more light on my philosophy here. I worry that what people are reading is “live and let live,” or “love the sin, hate the sinner,” neither of which would really fit. So, I’ve included below one of my replies in that conversation in order to clarify a couple of things.

Start Transcript: 

As an educator, I am still teaching a belief system, but that belief system is based on the lowest common denominators of human rights and equity as opposed to the core of any single set of values. The minimum that we can expect from any member of our society, I believe, is that everyone has a place in it, and the belief system I’m teaching (in line with Board policy, hooray) is to recognize that everyone has that place in it.

With respect to “love the sin, hate the sinner,” I prefer to think of it as “my rights stop at your nose” – or in other words, you are entitled to your values and may live by your rules, right up until the point that your expression of your rights interferes with my own rights. And there’s a hierarchy to that, of course (ie. two men holding hands can’t be considered an infringement on the rights of a religious person who is uncomfortable with it), but at its core, that is the distinction between my post and the ‘love the sinner’ philosophy. I can “agree to disagree” and still pass judgement, and still impede upon your rights as a person.

Some people will still follow that mentality and quietly continue to judge and spread intolerance, and we’re never going to fix that, except by allowing them into our lives to experience us. The onus is on them to open themselves up to that worldview.

I should be quite clear, though: this does not apply to the advancement of rights protected by law. No human rights battle was ever won by waiting for the other side to be ready. But, again, all of those steps are focused on the behaviour and environment we want, and not on the thoughts and beliefs of the people.

Let me give you an example: until recently, my school board would send home a letter in advance of Day of Pink, informing parents that it was approaching. A committee that I was a part of fought vehemently against this letter, which was sent in order to demonstrate “sensitivity” to those families who remained uncomfortable with the LGBTQ community. This year, those letters stopped, because the Board recognized that the letter prioritized the needs of the oppressor as opposed to the oppressed.

These decisions, and the enactment of laws, don’t require any of those parents to change their minds on the subject – but they do send a strong signal about what is acceptable and what isn’t within our society.

I do, however, teach in a very privileged “first world” classroom setting, though, which is a very, very significant point – this is not a philosophy that right now has the capacity to function on a global (or, heck, even an international) scale. However, in areas like mine where our society has taken leadership on the subject of LGBTQ rights and realities, we now need to responsibly exercise that leadership and demonstrate the capacity to show civility and respect.

Of course amid all this, we forget that there’s still a lot of work left to do (particularly where transgender people are concerned, for example), but I don’t believe that we can afford to turn ourselves around as a consequence of an act of violence such as Orlando. These acts are terrifying, yes, but their intended effect is the exact ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality that has always been under the surface and was brought into sharp relief after 9/11. The more compassion, acceptance, and respect we are able to show right now, particularly to those who would consider us ‘enemies,’ the more damage we do to their credibility.

StudenTale, Part 8: Durty Durty Spidurs!

We return to StudenTale, which as I write this is steadily coming closer to the end. This update includes Muffet, obviously, but in the reality I haven’t had time to write down we’re about to enter New Home. Super exciting guise.

If you missed the other parts, let’s bring you up to speed:

The Human:

  • Name: Thomas
  • XP: 0
  • LV: 1
  • Weapon: Burnt Pan
  • Armour: Stained Apron
  • Currently Located: Hotland, just after the News Report

The Monsters:

  • Toriel: Alive, though initially betrayal-killed.
  • Papyrus: Alive and befriended.
  • Undyne: Alive, not befriended.
  • Alphys: Assisting the Human.
  • Mettaton: News Show completed.

Last Time on StudenTale:

  • We hugged Vulkin (ouch).
  • We starred in Mettaton’s cooking show.
  • We saw Flowey disappear back into the ground.
  • We played matchmaker for a pair of Royal Guards.
  • We starred in Mettaton’s news report.

Now, on to Part 8!

Brisky: “We’re in Hotland.”

Metta: “That’s where I live.”

Cow: “I’m not surprised Metta lives in HOTland.”

We begin having just reported on a dog that exists somewhere and successfully defused several bombs. As far as I was aware at this point, the kids (the ones who hadn’t already played it, anyway) had not yet caught on that it was all a big act – in fact I don’t think they even noticed that the timer for defusing all the bombs goes slower and slower the closer you get to 1.

I felt pretty smug for having noticed that on my first go.

Regardless, it was now time for us to continue through Hotland and make our way through the next set of puzzles. We went through and into a room with dozens and dozens of arrow-vents, which Ghost noticed made us do a little midair pirouette, and Papaya successfully directed–

Ghost: “360!”

–us to–

Ghost: “360!”

–the top–

Ghost: “360!”

–of the room. Along our way we had second encounters with Tsunderplane…

Brisky: “Tsunderplane is so much like me.”

Potato: “Why are you even?”

…and Vulkin…

Potato: “Hug the volcano!”

VULKIN: “I does my best!”

Brisky: “Much grammar.”

Cow: “Vulkin needs to learn to grammar.”

but eventually found our way to the first puzzle, up to the north.

This puzzle took absolutely forever.

Seriously, we went through about four or five different monkeys trying to get through it. Nothing got written down because everyone was staring at the screen trying to figure out how to get through the puzzle.

Nobody ever said we were brilliant at this game, okay?

When we did finally succeed at that puzzle – partly due to sheer luck and a bit of my own subtle intervention – we left the room and walked past the two new diamond-headed monsters who had appeared outside, and who shared their favourite Mettaton Moments.TM

Brisky: “Is it just me, or does the one on the right look like he has the same sweater as Thomas?”

Cow: “That’s a bit creepy.”

Potato: “A BIT creepy?!”

Ghost: “We know it’s a kid because it’s wearing a striped shirt!”

Naturally on our way down to the second puzzle, we were called by Alphys, who gave us a long spiel about Mew Mew Kissy Cutie, and asked us if we wanted to watch with her after all this was over.

Papaya: “YES.”

Metta: “Oh, precious.”

Brisky: “PAPAYA, THAT’S US.”

Papaya: “It totally is.”

Brisky: “Mew Mew 2 was still better though.”

We did, of course, stop to smell the cactus flowers on our way back.

Metta: “Aw.”

Ghost: “That’s nice.”

Brisky: “And suddenly, FLOWEY.”

Baymax: “NO.”

Potato: “You never know.”

Aside from a small mishap with an arrow not actually being there–

Me: “Take me to the right!”

MKA: “Uh… go right!” (There is no arrow to step on)

Everyone: Laughter

Ghost: “You need to just, like, GO.”

–we made it across without much incident and wandered into the spider’s lair. I like to imagine Muffet is actuallly theLittle Miss Muffet, and the spider who sat down beside her was actually a radioactive spider like in Spider-Man and it mutated her. And now she’s queen of all the spiders and rules in the underground and traded her curds and whey in for tea and baked goods.

I’m certain I’m not the first person to imagine this.

Anyway. We entered the spider lair.

Baymax: “Oh, no.”

MKA: “Ohhh.”

Potato: “Oh dear.”

Cow: “Webs.”

MUFFET: “I heard they like to tear [spiders’] legs off!”

Shaco: “No, that’s cockroaches.”

Ghost: (As the music starts) “Oh my god. SPIDER DANCE!”

(I swear, this is the honest-to-Gord truth, most of the kids got up and started doing the Spider Dance. Turns out it looks a lot like the Harlem Shake.)

Potato: “Do we still have the donut? We don’t? We don’t have anything?”

Brisky: “Aw.”

BigMac: “Fight her!”

Potato (Holding Monkey): “Act!”

BigMac: “Aw.”

Shortly after that exchange, Ghost – who was still in the middle of Spider Dancing – got called up to the keyboard, with the dubious honour of having the high score, to play the Muffet fight.

I give you some context only so that you can imagine this in your head: the student in question is of Indian descent, which would be completely of no consequence at all, except that as he was playing through this fight, he kept saying the following thing over and over again, in a very thick, exaggerated Indian accent:

“DIRTY DIRTY SPIDERS!!”

This was partly due to the panicked nature of the fight, and partly due to the fact that he’s a showboat to begin with, but regardless, it quickly became the theme of the fight as he frantically dodged all the spiders and croissants and whatever else Muffet throws at you. And then, of course, there was her little pet.

Baymax: “What is that?! That’s not a cupcake!”

CreamFace: “Do you know the muffin man? He’s my uncle.”

Metta: “If this were real I’d eat her attack.”

Cow: “The itsy bitsy spider climbs up to KILL US ALL.”

Ghost: “AAAAAAGHHHHH!!”

Aside from the very last cupcake encounter – during which I was called on to swoop in and very narrowly save the day – Ghost did pretty well as he went through the encounter with Muffet, and we left her behind, and walked right along into Mettaton’s grand finale.

(I’m going to interrupt here to add something: I record their voices on my phone when I do this so I can go back and pick up some things that were said that I might have missed, and technically, we stopped for the day after the Muffet fight. So I started a new recording in the next session. I just opened that up now to listen, and the first thing I heard was BigMac saying…

BigMac: “Hello all you people who read this on Reddit.”

…in the creepiest voice I’ve ever heard. So, Reddit, consider yourselves warned: BigMac is coming for you in your sleep.)

Having saved, we had to walk back through the spider lair.

Ghost: “No, no, no, no.”

Potato: “It’s okay, Ghost.”

Ghost: “No more dirty, dirty, spiders. No more.”

(I might have scarred him a little.)

On the other side, we observed a poster advertising Mettaton’s dramatic tale of star-cross’d lovers.

Metta: “Mettaton.”

Potato: “Sounds like Hunger Games.”

Ghost: “This feels very shady.”

So, of course, we had to go and watch the show. And all its… frills.

Brisky: “THE FEELS.”

Ghost: “Much heart.”

BigMac: “Don’t let go, Jack!”

Ghost: “I’m already dating Papyrus.”

Brisky: “This is a shojo anime now.”

*(Someone please tell me what that means. I don’t even know if I’ve spelled it right.)

And then we fell down–

Ghost: Extremely entertainingly high-pitched scream

–and Papaya, with the high score, was called up to face the next of Mettaton’s dastardly challenges, which many of you were looking forward to ever since Part 2: The Dreaded Tile Maze!

Ghost: Extremely entertainingly high-pitched scream

Most others: Giant groan

Papaya: “Oh god, not this.”

Brisky: “Good luck, Papaya!”

Ghost: “Alright, now we need a paper! Somebody!”

METTATON: “Didn’t we see this puzzle about a hundred rooms ago?”

Everyone: Shifty eyes

Angus: “Nooo…”

BigMac: “Nah, we didn’t see it.”

METTATON: “Then I won’t bother repeating them!”

BigMac: “No. I hate you.”

Papaya: “Oh, yay…”

Papaya tried valiantly, but, uh… let’s just put it this way: if this puzzle were a dollar, she did not even earn 25 cents before time ran out.

Ghost: “Huh? What happened?”

Papaya: “No…! Save me…! Etc.”

BigMac: “But he’s too HOT. Ha. Get it?*

Crickets chrip

Flames draw nearer

Cow: “Getting hot in here…”

Shaco and two others: “Dun dun dun…”

METTATON: Robotic cough

Half the room: Cough like they have polio

ALPHYS: “I’m hacking into the firewall!”

Brisky and BigMac and Angus: “Ha, firewall.”

Potato: “Even Mettaton’s rocket flame is pink.”

Cow: “Princess farts.”

METTATON: “Blah blah green tiles blah blah monster.”

Papaya: “I only stepped on two green tiles!”

And then Mettaton attacked us, but Alphys brilliantly intervened by calling us in the middle of the battle again.

Ghost: “You used to call me on my cell phone…”

Yellow Happens

Potato: “Whaaat!”

BigMac: “DIE!”

Ghost: “Pew pew pew!”

BigMac: “This is Star Wars.”

Angus: Hums Star Wars theme

Cow: “But everyone in Star Wars misses except Hans.”

*(As depressing as this is, I swear, the paper in front of me on which they were writing actually says “Hans.” HANS.)

With Mettaton defeated and Alphys feeling accomplished, we continued away from the dastardly puzzle, and up the stairs to MTT Resort – which we will see next time on StudenTale!

Here are the Top 3 High Scores for this session:

  1. Papaya with 17 Points
  2. Ghost with 16 Points
  3. Jokester with 14 Points

And here are the Badge awards for Part 8:

*The Flowey Badge goes to Creamface, who wanted to kill Muffet. *The Blooky Badge goes to MKA, who freaked out and threw the monkey to someone else whenever it was her turn to try at a puzzle. *The Toriel Badge goes to Papaya, who wanted to watch Mew Mew with Alphys. *The Sans Badge goes to Cow, because everyone liked her twist on the Itsy Bitsy Spider song. *The Papyrus Badge goes to Metta, who one-shotted the vent-and-button puzzle from Part 7. *The Undyne Badge goes to Potato, who, during the first puzzle of this part, was constantly calling out directions. *The Mettaton Badge goes to Ghost for his constant dancing, and his colourful and heavily-accented dialogue during the fight with Muffet.

That’s all, folks. Stay tuned for Part 9!

StudenTale, Part 8: COME AT ME, ALPHYS

Aside from how very, very late this is, nothing too special to report, so let’s get rolling!

If you missed the other parts, let’s bring you up to speed:

The Human:

  • Name: Thomas
  • XP: 0
  • LV: 1
  • Weapon: Torn Notebook
  • Armour: Cloudy Glasses
  • Currently Located: Hotland, Laboratory

The Monsters:

  • Toriel: Alive, though initially betrayal-killed.
  • Papyrus: Alive and befriended.
  • Undyne: Alive and befriended.
  • Alphys: Met, and phone upgraded.
  • Mettaton: Quiz show completed.

Last Time on StudenTale:

  • We went back to hang out with Undyne.
  • We successfully befriended Undyne.
  • We met Alphys.
  • We successfully completed Mettaton’s quiz show.
  • We had our phone upgraded by Alphys.

Now, on to Part 7!

Technically speaking, we enter this episode returning from Waterfall with the boatman.

Angus: “Doge boat!”

Shaco: “It’s like a reindeer.”

That’s because, as I said in Part 6, we actually did the quiz show first, and then doubled back to go chill with Undyne.

Regardless of temporal anomalies, we returned to the laboratory and actually had a chance to explore the place, now that the lights were on! And explore we did.

Angus: “Let’s EAT.”

BigMac: “Instant noodles. Yes-s-s.”

BigMac: “Cartoons… Spongebob…?”

Brisky: “ANIME.”

Potato: “Comic books!”

Brisky: “MANGA!!”

GAME: “A hideous android is running to school with toast in its mouth.

Brisky: “SEE?!”

We presently left the lab and headed out into the wilderness – and many, many status updates – of Hotland. The kids unanimously loved the music. Many of them hummed along. At this point something else also occurred to them.

Declare: “Wait, our name is Thomas? I thought it was a girl.”

Me: “Actually, you never find out. Our character is always referred to as ‘they’ or ‘them’.”

Sweaty: “This is why I love this game.”

Angus: “They could be a potato for all we know.”

As we continued along…

  • Alphys realized she forgot to watch Undyne fight us.
  • We gave Vulkin a hug. Ouch.
  • Tsunderplane encountered us totally by accident.

Everyone: “Whoa!”

Brisky: “Baka, it’s not like I love you or anything.”

Metta: “When you have a crush…”

  • We found and equipped the Burnt Pan.

BigMac: “Rich man swag.”

Sweaty: “We can hit people with it.”

Angus: “Wait, what would be different if it wasn’t burnt?”

  • Alphys finally worked up the guts to call us, and then never stopped calling us.
  • We made it through the lasers. Somehow.
  • We proceeded to attempt the block puzzles.

Potato: “Let’s go left first!”

Jokester (Holding Monkey): “Go right!”

Potato: “…”

Brisky: “Look! It’s Grillby’s little sister!”

Freakshow gets the Monkey for the second puzzle.

Sweaty: “Good luck Freakshow!”

Angus: “Just do it!”

Freakshow: “No. No. Let that meme die.”

After I managed to fail miserably at stepping on the arrow at the right time and ended up on the right, then left, then right again, we walked through the imposing doorway and straight into Mettaton’s trap!

BigMac: “I guess that cake will be to die for.”

Potato: “Quick! Run away from the chainsaw!”

Brisky: “I love how Thomas just does not care.”

ALPHYS: “What if someone’s… uh… vegan?

Metta: “Alphys is precious. Protect her at all costs.”

Sweaty: “Wait. If they’re vegan they wouldn’t have eggs or milk either.”

BigMac: “Vegetarian.”

Angus: “Or allergic to humans.”

Declare: “Like Temmie.”

MKA: “HOI!”

Metta: “Oh my god, MTT brand EVERYTHING.”

Angus: “I love chemicals.”

BigMac: “Mettaton’s a meanie.”

At this point, Potato – who had the highest score at the time – was called up to take the wheel of the jetpack. Hilarity ensued, and he succeeded, winning himself a few points for his trouble. I would have included quotes for that, but the majority of it was a whole lot of laughing and screaming and was thus totally unintelligible.

I may or may not have “accidentally” backtracked a little when all was said and done, though…

Potato: “DID YOU JUST SEE THAT.”

Brisky: “Oh my god.”

BigMac: “Was that Flowey??”

Angus: “Good thing Baymax isn’t here today.”

Cow: “Go back again. He might still be there.”

Creamface: “Dammit Flowey.”

Anyway, we ended our session there but picked it back up after the break, when we continued along through Hotland and did some more puzzle solving. But not before meeting Sans at his hot dog stand.

Angus: “Play the whole game with the hot dog on your head.”

Hot dog falls off.

Metta: “That hot dog got #rekt.”

We also ran into Pyrope.

PYROPE: “Heat me up!

BigMac (Holding Monkey): “Cool Down.”

Brisky: “You’re such a jerk.”

Creamface: “Yeah. That’s my job.”

The kids were duly amused by the antics of Alphys, Papyrus and Napstablook as we continued on, snatching up the stained apron along the way, and timing those button presses just right… mostly.

Jokester: “Skeletons don’t even have muscles.”

Shaco: “Muscles don’t even have sunglasses.”

Metta: “I wanna hug Blooky.”

Declare: “Push the switch now! … and now! … and now-what.”

Angus: “Thanks a lot, Alphys.”

BigMac: “Did we even need to press any switches?”

ALPHYS: Does not like Mew Mew 2.

Brisky: “I love Mew Mew 2. How could you say that, Alphys?!”

Ghost: “Open the safe!”

ALPHYS: “Neither kissy nor cutie. 0 stars.

Brisky: “COME AT ME, ALPHYS.”

Metta had the monkey when we got to the switch-and-air-vent puzzle, and she solved it in absolute record time, on the first try, for which she earned herself four points. And then we met the two Royal Guards.

I should point out, at the beginning of this series the existence of the Royal Guards generated some significant controversy among the readers as to how the kids would deal with the romance. Below are the only comments of note.

Papaya: “Look, it’s my OTP.”

BigMac: “Run!”

Angus: “Dem muscles.”

Roar: “Aw! We’re matchmakers now!”

BigMac: “We’re burning with excitement!”

Everyone: GROANNN

They’re scarred for life. Scarred, I tell you.

Anyway.

A couple of screens later, we found ourselves on television again.

Metta: “Mettaton’s sarcasm is amazing and punny.”

METTATON: Rambles about his new movie.

Brisky: “I would totally watch that.”

METTATON: “A dog exists somewhere.”

Everyone: “Awwww.”

METTATON: “But you can’t play with these balls!”

BigMac: “Ha–”

Me: “NO.”

And then Creamface got drafted to defuse all the bombs.

Creamface: “I’m too lazy. Why do I have to do this. Etc.”

Everyone Else: “GO CREAMFACE!”

Various panic ensues.

There was a massive, cheering uproar when Creamface eventually succeeded at defusing all the bombs. Mettaton re-appeared, and the big bomb didn’t go off, and Alphys – cough – intervened, and we caught another glimpse of Flowey.

BigMac (In a seriously creepy voice) “Hello there, child.”

Brisky: “OH MY GOD.”

Everyone Else: Similar reactions.

Having been on TV twice, it was time to finish up for the day, which brings us to the end of Part 7! When we return to StudenTale, there will be another spider bake sale, and Muffet, and an opera – stay tuned!

Here’s the Monkey Points leaderboard;

  1. Ghost with 13 Points
  2. Jokester with 12 Points
  3. Metta with 10 Points

And here are the badge awards for Part 7!

  • The Flowey Badge goes to Ghost, for flirting with Undyne in Part 6 and making her uncomfortable.
  • The Toriel badge goes to Declare, for going back to hang out with Undyne in the first place.
  • The Blooky badge goes to MangoBear and Celeszia, who were in the room doing schoolwork two sessions in a row.
  • The Sans Badge goes to BigMac for the “To Die For” gag.
  • The Papyrus Badge goes to Freakshow for the left-hand block puzzle.
  • The Alphys Badge goes to Potato, for hugging a freaking volcano.
  • The Mettaton Badge goes to Pepi, who is not on the list on the website because he’s never there, but wants points and badges anyway. Congratulations, Pepi. You made it.

Keep an eye open for Part 8, hopefully coming soon!

StudenTale, Part 6: Out of Hotland, Into the Fire

 

I am sorry that it has been so long since I updated. March Break and Easter kind of swept me away, along with several other things that came up at the same time.

The good news, though, is that I should also be able to deliver Part 7, and possibly even Part 8, in relatively short order! Hopefully there are people out there who still enjoy reading these.

Unwilling as I am to waste any more time, let’s get going. But first:

If you missed the other parts, let’s bring you up to speed:

The Human:

  • Name: Thomas
  • XP: 0
  • LV: 1
  • Weapon: Cloudy Glasses
  • Armour: Torn Notebook
  • Currently Located: Hotland, Laboratory

The Monsters:

  • Toriel: Alive, though initially betrayal-killed.
  • Papyrus: Alive and befriended.
  • Undyne: Alive, not befriended.
  • Alphys/Mettaton: Not yet encountered.

Last Time on StudenTale:

  • We hung out with Napstablook at his house
  • We lost at a snail race
  • We discovered Temmie Village
  • We rescued Scraggy the Monster Kid from plunging to his death
  • We ran away from Undyne and lured her into Hotland
  • We gave her a refreshing glass of water

Now, on to Part 6!

When last we parted – way too long ago – we had just shown mercy to Undyne by pouring water on her. Aren’t we nice? I mean, yeah, BigMac wanted to push her off the bridge, but still. We were successfully not terrible people.

So I’m going to do a thing here.

Technically, at the very end of that session, we went straight into the lab and endured Mettaton’s quiz show. I’m going to finagle with the order of events, though, for the sake of continuity, because the thing we did right after that was to go and see Undyne.

Just roll with it. It’ll all be okay.

Starting from the save point, Declare made the very wise decision to go back to Undyne, amid a round of approval from the group. So, we hopped down to the boatman.

And it is at this point that I must make a little bit of a confession… I seem to have lost the paper that the kids took notes on that day. What I do have is a recording. The section below will be pulled from that, but may not be as specific as usual about who said what.

I suck. I know.

At any rate, as we approached Undyne’s house, we were greeted by Papyrus. We were, indeed, ready to hang out with Undyne – thank you, Monkey. Whoever had the Monkey earned three points for that, because otherwise it would have been a wasted trip.

Many giggles were had when Undyne first came to the door – and the kids accurately observed that Undyne’s eyeseven move in the dialogue box – nice touch, Toby.

After putting the bone that we totally brought as a gift and weren’t given by Papyrus or anything, and after Papyrus jumped out the window–

Metta: “This is why I love this game.”

–we exchanged pleasantries with Undyne. Are we here to humiliate you? No, says Cow. Are we here to be friends with you? Yes, says Brisky. Let’s sum up:

  • BigMac sat us right down at the table.
  • We tried to get up, and Undyne startled the children with her spear.

Nerd: “She’s really making an effort.”

  • We attempted to drink the sword. Laughter ensued.
  • We attempted to drink the hot chocolate. Chuckling ensued.
  • We realized that nobody was keeping score yet.

Brisky: “People! Come on! Get your act together!”

  • We stumbled through figuring out who had earned points for what. We sort of figured it out.
  • Ghost tried to drink Undyne. Hilarity ensued.
  • We tried to drink the soda. Giggles ensued.

Papaya: “THAT FACE.”

  • Potato tried to drink the sugar.

UNDYNE: “Do human ice cream women terrorize humanity with energy spears?!

Monkey: “Yes!”

  • We tried to drink the fridge. Nobody got points for that.
  • We finally chose the tea.
  • The water boiled.

Metta: “Water boils fast here.”

Angus: “In THIS universe!”

There was a pretty strong reaction when Undyne told us that we were drinking Golden Flower Tea – anything remotely related to Flowey gets that kind of reaction from the kids. I can only imagine how the end of the game will go.

The kids listened with rapt attention as Undyne talked to us next – and Ghost, imagining that Papyrus was standing right outside, had a few one-liners in there:

UNDYNE: “I don’t know if I can let Papyrus into the Royal Guard.

Ghost: “And Papyrus is like, “WHAT!””

UNDYNE: “Don’t tell him I said that!

Ghost: “I’m standing right here!”

UNDYNE: “It’s just, well, I mean, it’s not that he’s weak…

Ghost: “That’s right!!”

UNDYNE: “*He was supposed to capture you, and ended up being friends with you!”

Brisky: “Actually… we went on a date. So we’re more than friends.”

UNDYNE: “I could never send him into battle, he’d be ripped into little smiling shreds.

Froyo: “At least they’d be smiling.”

Of course, shortly after that Undyne realized the potential friendship power of a cooking lesson. Please imagine that this entire section is punctuated with the laughter of children.

Metta: “Cooking with Undyne, Round One!”

Nerd: “THAT’S OUR HEAD.”

Idunno: “Where did all those vegetables come from??”

Potato: “Magical sky fridge!”

Brisky: “It’s magic!”

Monkey: “Hit the vegetables in a wimpy way!”

Cow: “You pet the vegetables.”

Brisky: “You pet the vegetables and their necks disappear into the horizon!”

Metta: “She even has sauce on her face in the dialogue box.”

Angus: “She keeps pots and pans up there, too?”

Jokester: “Sky storage!”

Shaco: “Dark magic!”

Ghost: “WHAT IS THIS SORCERY.”

Potato: “She’s Asian.” (Note: Potato is also Asian.)

GAME: “You throw everything into the pot, including the box.

Potato: “Delicious!”

At this point I called the Monkey up to the keyboard, which at this point was Ghost. Ghost stirred that pot as hard as possible.

Ghost: “AAAAAAAAAAHHGHHHH”

And then we turned up the heat!

We all know what happens next.

After briefly wondering what she and her new “bestie” should do next–

Metta: “How about putting out the fire?”

–Undyne attacked us, having failed to win our friendship!

Brisky: “Not again.”

Metta: “No ragrets!”

Shaco: “Yeah, destroy us, like you did last time.”

Ghost: Gets up and poses/moves like Undyne up on the screen, to the amusement of all present.

Monkey: “Fake attack!”

Angus: “Wow. We suck.”

Cow: “We turned an enemy into a frenemy!”

MKA: “That’s lit.”

I feel at this point that I must clarify what the word “lit” means, for those of us who are old farts. Some months ago, my kids used that to describe something. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Lit is actually a thing?”

Kids: “Yeah!”

Me: “And it means… what?”

Kids: “Like, cool. Like something is good.”

Me: “Uh… huh.”

Kids: “Like, you know how people say ‘legit’?”

Me: “Yes.”

Kids: “It’s like that.”

Me: “So, ‘lit’ is short for ‘legit’?”

Kids: “No.”

Me: “I see.”

I will spend the next two decades teaching and still never fully understand middle school children.

Regardless, that ended our hangout with Undyne, which ends our segment that is totally out of whack with the timeline. I’m now going to return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Which means that the next scene we see is when we wander into the laboratory and come face-to-face with the good Dr. Alphys, and the TV screen on which she has been following our epic journey.

Papaya: “YES. My favourite character.”

BigMac: “She’s been stalking us.”

Angus: “Hey, wasn’t there a camera way back somewhere?”

MKA: “OHMYGAWD.”

BigMac: “Stalker.”

Alphys told us all about Mettaton, and how he’s now an unstoppable human-killing machine–

BigMac: “That’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”

–and how we-cough-hopefully won’t-cough-run into him.

Cue Mettaton.

METTATON: “Everyone give a hand for our beautiful contestant!

Everyone: Applauds

METTATON: “Answer correctly… or you die!!

Everyone: “Oh.”

  • For Question 1, we answered “Mercy.”
  • For Question 2, we correctly identified what robots are made of.
  • For Question 3, we knew Asgore Dreemurr’s name.
  • For Question 4–

Brisky: “D!”

  • –we also answered correctly. I suspect Alphys intervened.
  • For Question 5, the flies in the jar, we answered that there were 52 flies. That was obviously the wrong answer.
  • For Question 6, we played Memory Game. Turns out, it wasn’t Froggit.

Potato: “WHAT.”

Nerd: “WHAT.”

Jokester: “WHAT.”

Metta: “Heh.”

  • For Question 7–

METTATON: “Would you smooch a ghost?

Ghost: Winks

  • –we obviously gave the correct answer.
  • For Question 8, Alphys helped us identify how many letters were in the name Metatonnnnnnnnnnnnn–you get the idea.
  • For Question 9, Alphys told us all about Mew Mew Kissie Cutie 2.
  • For Question 10, you’ll be happy to know that Alphys’ crush was so obvious, even the kids figured it out.

Mettaton quickly went along his merry way, Alphys upgraded our phone – causing due concern among the kids regarding the noises that were heard – and we ended for the day.

That brings us to the end of Part 6. Let’s look at the points! The three top scores are:

  1. Creamface with 11 Points
  2. Ghost with 10 Points
  3. Metta with 9 Points

Because of the disjointed nature of this part, there will be no badge awards for Part 6.

Stay tuned for Part 7!