Thomas Jefferson

Today we reviewed a history of South Carolina and the education system as a whole. As with everything done by TFA, there was an appropriately branded PowerPoint to accompany the morning’s activity. To kick off our discussion of America’s public education system, they displayed a few quotes by Thomas Jefferson. I have a love of the University of Virginia and its architecture, so TJ has a special place in my heart. 

What was displayed on the screen was as follows (okay I think I don’t have photographic memory)- Thomas Jefferson believed in a two-tier education system, separating “the laboring and the learned,” so that, “the geniuses can be raked from the rubbish.” Then, as with everything done by TFA, they asked us to Think Pair Share. Think about what how it makes you feel, pair up with a neighbor to talk about it, then a few people will share out their reactions to the group. As you can imagine, the group was outraged. How dare we as a society revere who had such discriminatory beliefs. This is the fault of the our education system- this is what it was founded on! One girl took the microphone and called him out: “Thomas Jefferson is a dick.”

I, however, refused to give up on my Monticello main man. So I did some googling. Let’s evaluate a few other quotes of Jefferson’s.

“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.” TJ, 1818

“It is highly interesting to our country, and it is the duty of its functionaries, to provide that every citizen in it should receive an education proportion to the condition and pursuits of his life.” TJ, 1814

There’s more too. 

Okay, so I know Thomas Jefferson wasn’t perfect. He was probably an elitist, sexist, and/or racist asshole. He probably was a dick. However, as someone else so eloquently shared out, why are we, in 2014, taking what someone said TWO HUNDRED years ago, and evaluating it like he said it yesterday? That is what’s wrong with our education system. We take words out of context in order to manipulate perspectives. We look at history with a modern lens and make judgements. Like calling Thomas Jefferson a dick based on four words on a PowerPoint. 



If you read my blog about my summer in Paris, you’d never know that I had a panic attack every other day. You wouldn’t know that I had to take sleeping pills to sleep every night and that I was miserable and lonely all of the time. I debated about keeping up this blog in a similar manner. However, I have recently decided that I have absolutely no reason to hide who I am or the actual experience that I am having. So I’m going to be 100% real with y’all.

I am having a panic attack. I am trying to make it go away by writing through it. I am having a hard time breathing and I’m pretty sure I’m going to vomit up the fried pickles I had for dinner and I am sobbing uncontrollably.

This is hard. This isn’t even the hard part yet. Right now, I still have dozens of TFA staff members holding my hand, and delivering me three meals a day accompanied by an endless supply of diet Pepsi (it’s not my beloved Diet Coke but alas I’ll be in Atlanta soon). Now, I’m only scheduled from 8 to 8 everyday. In a few days, the workload will intensify, and in two weeks, I’ll have the additional stress of actually teaching a real live class to real students everyday. The third day of induction isn’t supposed to be the day that breaks you, but today it did.

Today was a lot of self-reflection. Thinking about the person who I am and my strengths and my “areas of growth.” We spent the afternoon talking about the need to build meaningful relationships- which if you’ve ever talked to me in real life, you’ll know is not my strong suit. I’ve been thinking about who I am and who I want to be, because now I have this clean slate. I broke down because I do not want this clean slate. My heart is rejecting it, but my head knows I need it. Today my head could not reason with my heart. I am not okay with moving on. I don’t want to forget my friends, and I don’t want them to forget me. I don’t want everyone to have new jobs and new lives and new boyfriends and new families. I want to go back to my couch with my Miller Lite and my Oreos and New Girl…or with red wine, popcorn and Scandal…or with diet coke, a Pizza Hut dinner box, and Shark Tank. This whole everyone moving on thing, it isn’t fair. I just figured it all out in DC! And now I’m starting over! WHY on earth am I choosing to start over????

Because I need it. Yeah, yeah I know. You don’t have to tell me. Change is good. Blah blah blah. Insert inspirational quote here. I’m still mad and bitter and bothered. But I’m not having a panic attack any more! I can breathe again. I didn’t vomit. I’m not crying. I promise, Mom. In this minute I’m okay. I’m hoping that the next minute will be better than the last, but even if it’s not, that’s okay too.


Banana Pudding

Today, a former CM (corps member) shared out about the challenges she faced her first year teaching. She often told her students about her college glory days, but she would refer to those experiences as her “real life.” She treated her first year here in South Carolina as a sort of experiment – a bubble that would burst at the end of two years, at which point she’d return to her college town to her college friends and resume exactly where she’d left off. This mindset was detrimental to her students, who felt like their teacher wasn’t invested in them, and ultimately made her first year more difficult than it needed to be. 

If someone hadn’t warned me about this, I’m confident that I would have made exactly the same mistake. In the 30 hours I’ve been here, I’m sure I’ve already referred to my “DC life,” dozens of times, mindlessly referencing friends or memories or the fact that I lived next door to the White House. “This will be so different from DC!” “I miss DC.” “I can’t wait to get to Atlanta so I can uber everywhere.” “Y’all don’t know what uber is?” “Can we go see the Peachoid?” “You haven’t watched House of Cards?” “Yeah, I lived like four blocks from the White House. It was chill.” AND I haven’t even bragged about my selfie with Joe (Biden) yet. 

This post is basically just a reminder to myself to move forward. I live in South Carolina. I am a teacher. I don’t have a house or a job or anything tangible to prove this yet…but this is my life. My REAL LIFE. So I’m just going to keep saying this out loud to myself over and over again until it feels as real as it is. In the meantime however, I’m going to keep using banana pudding and corn bread as my daily servings of fruits and vegetables. 


Contains Chicken

Today was brief. I got a cool new t-shirt (it was free Dad don’t worry). I attempted to socialize. I got dinner from the regular buffet, then went obviously back to the hot dog bar where I also had a chili dog. Then I went to the sundae bar and drowned my feelings in chocolate sauce because have you met me?

Brief story about a person who spoke tonight on a panel who is way, way cooler than I’ll ever be: Patricia Crawford. Senior Vice President and head of Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion for Wells Fargo. Fun fact: In 1965, she was the first black student to attend a local all-white high school. Her parents had to sign a waiver so she could attend. Talk about glass ceilings, kids.


The Beginning

THE PAST: I recently had everything I know and love ripped from my arms. I am/was devastated. Some people call this experience “graduation.” I’m still in denial and refuse to refer to it at all.

THE PRESENT: I am sitting in a living room in Jacksonville, Florida trying to compose what Teach for America calls a “story of self.” They want 5-7 minutes about a challenging experience, and how I overcame it. I’m sure that my peers/future friends will have inspiring tales of how they overcame racism, sexism, cancer, death, poverty, etc. Real challenges. The ones you can talk about for 5-7 minutes, that will probably inspire a book or a movie or the founding of a non-profit.

I’m writing about when my ex-boyfriend broke up with me. I am a white, female, heterosexual. I have been incredibly lucky. I’ve been in private school since kindergarden. I’ve always been either on grade-level or above. I never found school to be hard. My health, and the health of all my immediate family members, has been stellar. The only thing I can possibly turn into a motivational story is that I grew up in a liberal, Jewish family in the heart of the conservative Christian south. But even then, it wasn’t that bad. I brought latkes to school and taught my friends how to play dreidel and that was that. I am so lucky that I have grown up in this manner.

THE FUTURE: I’m moving. I’m moving to a low-income community in South Carolina, where I know no one. If we’re being totally honest, I still don’t really know why I’m going. I just feel like I’ve been so absurdly #blessed that I need to give back. I need to pay back the universe for everything it has given me. I need to go inspire someone to love the Pythagorean theorem as much as I do, because they don’t have a math major for a father or a mother who taught them square roots in the bathtub in third grade. I need to get out there and do something with my hands because I’ve spent the last four years in an Ivory tower (tehe get it?) and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a consulting firm cubicle calculating how to make the rich richer. I want to make a difference. I need to make a difference.

I’m leaving for training in Florence, SC tomorrow. I am an emotional disaster due to that earlier thing I mentioned at the beginning (not the ex-boyfriend, I got over that). I think I’m currently on that part of the roller coaster that rapidly accelerates downward and it feels like you’re going to crash into the ground and burst in flames but you just have to trust that they hired a great engineer to design it and it will pick up once you get to the bottom and then you’ll be fine and have the time of your life.