Thursday, 9 October 2014

Crazy Is Normal By Lloyd Lofthouse - A Guest Post

If anyone had asked me during the first 29-years of my life if I wanted to be a public school teacher, I wouldn't have laughed. I would have stared at them as if they were crazy, and then said, “No way!”

Then, at thirty, I quit my middle-management job with a large truck company that belonged to Southern Pacific Railroad and returned to college to earn a teaching credential—this was similar to my decision to join the U.S. Marines right out of high school. Without much thought, I made two choices that changed my life drastically. The first choice sent me to combat in Vietnam where there was a phantom enemy who wanted us Marines dead, and the second choice more than a decade later landed me in a different struggle for thirty years.

The youngest of three, I was born into poverty. My mother and father both dropped out of high school during the Great Depression at the age of 14. My dad’s first job was mucking out horse stalls at Santa Anita Race Track. My mom first worked as a waitress supporting her mother and younger sister. At the time, my dad lived in Pasadena, California with the aunt and uncle who raised him, while mom was waiting tables near Seattle, Washington. They wouldn’t meet until World War II, and after my mom had migrated to Southern California—where she was raising my older sister and brother as a single mother, who fed her children with the help of food stamps.

I’m pretty sure my mother was sexually abused by her father and that was the reason she ran away from him at 14. My dad’s mother died soon after his birth, and his father vanished into a booze bottle filled with grief. My dad grew up to be a gambler, a smoker and an alcoholic, who would never give up betting on the horses, but he did give up the booze by the time he turned fifty.

Richard, my brother, was a dozen years older than me. We both had severe dyslexia, and Richard never learned to read. He worked for poverty wages most of his life and died illiterate at 64. When I was seven, our mother was devastated when she was told by so-called experts that I would also never learn to read. By then, my brother was already serving his first prison sentence for being involved in an armed robbery. Richard swore to his dying day that he didn't know his friends were going to rob a liquor store while he was sleeping off a drunk in the back seat of their car.

Determined that her youngest son wouldn't follow in his older brother’s footsteps, mother—with advice from my first-grade teacher, taught me to read at home. It wasn't easy. Just like Richard, I fought her all the way, but, this time, she refused to surrender to the complaints and begging. Eventually, she used a wire coat hanger and fear from the pain it caused to force me to learn how to read, and she succeeded where she had failed with Richard.

In 1973, I graduated from college with a BA in journalism. A few years later, I quit a job that paid well and returned to the university to earn a teaching credential and landed in an urban-residency teacher training program where I spent a full school year in a master teacher’s classroom to learn the reality of how challenging it was to work with kids who lived in poverty.

Until 2005, I taught in public schools with high rates of child poverty in a community dominated by violent and dangerous street gangs. Often, before that first bell signaling the start of the school day, I thought of my brother, his fifteen years in and out of prison, and his hard life working to earn enough to feed his seven children. Thinking of Richard motivated me to stay in the classroom to teach as many children as possible—hoping to keep them out of prison and jobs that paid poverty wages.

“Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé” is about one of those thirty years. In 1994-95, I decided to capture the entire school year and kept a detailed daily journal. About twenty years later, that journal became the primary source of this memoir where readers will meet some children who were similar to my brother and discover how difficult it is to be a teacher in the United States where extremist political, corporate and religions factions have been waging a war for decades to demonize and stereotype teachers with a goal to fool the public into thinking we are lazy and incompetent.

But “Crazy is Normal” is not about the long war to destroy public education in the United States and replace the democratic public schools with for-profit corporate schools owned by billionaire oligarchs.

Instead, this book is a narrative—a close and intimate encounter with teachers, children, parents and administrators. I think every child deserves a better life as an adult, but teachers can’t achieve this by themselves. A teacher can’t learn for the children, but with supportive parents, children do learn just like I learned to read when the odds were against me.

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