Something to Share with the Class
One afternoon in the fall of 2008, I found myself reading in a coffee shop on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. I suddenly heard something unexpected. Was someone singing? I got up to leave shortly thereafter, and as I passed through a hallway, I heard a stunning voice. It was coming from inside the supply closet. As I passed, I glanced inside, and a young Black employee was softly singing to himself as he worked.
It got me thinking. I’m no musician, but I know what I heard. This young man had an absolutely beautiful voice. I could easily envision his raw natural talent bringing him vast fame and fortune. But most likely, that just probably wasn’t going to play out for this guy. Not because he didn’t have a voice, but because, like most of us, he probably didn’t have access to a platform where his voice could be heard.
Overall, as a child, I did very well in school. But 2nd grade was probably my toughest year. My family had just moved to Green Bay. I’d soon be enrolled in MacArthur Elementary, named after one of America’s most celebrated war criminals, General Douglas MacArthur. One of my first memories of this school year took place at recess. It was winter, so it was freezing and with significant snow cover blanketing the playground. For whatever reason, the snow pants my mom had bought me presented a serious socialization problem at my new school. They were purple. Some kid on the playground spotted this and ran up to make fun of me. “Barney purple! You like Barney!” He yelled several times for all to hear. I was furious, but just swallowed my anger and humiliation.
It may sound odd, but it was also this year, at age 7, that I recall being attracted to a girl for the first time. Her name was Jennifer, I don’t think we ever so much as made eye contact.
2nd graders are generally not yet aware of professional musicians. By that I mean, they’re generally too young to have sought out which genres of music they personally enjoy, and which they don’t. All I was exposed to at this point in my life were the tapes and CDs my mom and dad happened to own. Some of their music didn’t do anything for me. But I thought that some of it was pretty great. One day at school, a boy with a blonde bowl cut asked me who my favorite singer or band was. I said the first thing that came to mind: Elton John. He recoiled, and made a dramatic, disgusted facial expression. “Elton John?!?! Are you serious? He’s GAY!” Of course, I didn’t understand exactly what “gay” fully meant. But I knew it was when two men or two women were “together” like any other couple. In the moment, I didn’t even know if Elton John really was gay like this kid was saying. But even if it were true, I quickly decided, so what? Somehow that’s supposed to mean I can’t like his music? Dumbass.
Then there was the whole classroom component of being a 2nd grader. I truly didn’t take well to it. I found myself bored, and frequently wandering off in the privacy of my own mind while the teacher was talking. Occasionally, we’d go to the school library for a reading lesson. The first time we did this I approached my teacher proactively. I told her that I didn’t even know the alphabet, so maybe I should just go sit in the back by myself and practice my letters while you’re with the rest of the class on the reading rug? She bought it. Whenever we went to the library from then on, I’d just be chilling in the back, pretending to study the alphabet that I was already intimately familiar with. This bought me time to daydream about more interesting things than what the rest of the class was being subjected to.
One day, a woman who worked at our school came in to briefly speak with our class. She asked a fairly open-ended set of questions. Her inquiry was somewhere along the lines of, “Do any of you have any problems, or issues that are making you feel unsafe or uncomfortable at home? Is anything unfair going on at home?” It was the school counselor. I immediately raised my hand in the affirmative. She took down my name.
Soon afterwards, I would meet with the counselor in her office, and she would hear me out. This short conversation quickly led to a full-blown house visit. The school counselor physically came to my home to speak with my parents and make sure everything was ok. My mom was shocked and confused as to why our family had attracted this type of intrusive inquiry. I was never abused in any way, I was never neglected, and I always had what I needed. But in my mind at that time, to the question of something “unfair” going on in my home, my answer was a hard yes. So, what was the issue? Well, you see, there was something that I desperately wanted to be able to do in 2nd grade, that my parents prohibited me from doing. It was unfair, I didn’t get it, and I didn’t feel they’d given me a rational, comprehensive justification for their tyrannical prohibition. That year, I really, really wanted to be able to watch The Simpsons on TV. My parents believed this program to be vulgar, and unsuitable for a 7-year-old. I disagreed, and they ended up with a government employee interviewing them inside their own home as a result.
Pretty much hating 2nd grade, about midway through the school year I had an epiphany. I should drop out. Just like that, I was fully convinced that it was in my best interest to drop out of school, in 2nd grade. Why? Well, I didn’t feel like I was getting anything useful out of it so far, so I didn’t really believe I’d be missing out on much in my permanent absence. And it wasn’t like I was just going to drop out without a plan.
I came to what I saw as a very logical conclusion. At this point, I had identified three careers that appealed to me. As an adult, I would surely succeed in becoming one of three things: 1. A soldier in the US Army. The perceived glory of war and the prospective thrill of combat was highly appealing to me. 2. I would become a Green Bay Packer. I was never genuinely interested in sports. But, we lived very close to Lambeau Field, and so far as I observed in the adults around me, everyone loved and revered the Packer players. So, I could always do that. 3. I would become a famous, beloved, internationally traveling rock star. My parents and aunts and uncles had already introduced me to the electrifying music of Queen. Freddy Mercury, to my eye, was simply the fucking coolest adult I was aware of. He was so confident, so in his element, so incredible and domineering in what he did. I liked the idea of doing something like that myself.
In any case, after giving it a lot of careful consideration, I brought this up to my mom. I tried to explain to her, logically, why school was no longer a profitable use of my time. Think about it. I’m literally going to be a soldier, a Packer, or a rock star. Given that we now know this about my future, for what possible reason is it in my best interest to waste my time learning, for example, math? You don’t need math to shoot a gun, you don’t need math to catch a football, and you don’t need math to sing a song or play a guitar. So, help me understand, what am I missing here? How is school helping me advance the actual goals that are relevant to my life? My mom listened patiently, and tried to give me a thoughtful response that I could understand. She responded, “Well, let’s say someday you do grow up to become a Packer. If you do that, you’ll be making a lot of money. And in order to keep track of all your money, and to use it wisely, you’ll have to understand how to do math.” I rolled my eyes. Nice try! But if I’m Packer rich, I can just pay someone else to do that stuff for me!
At the end of the day, my tyrannical, stubborn mother wouldn’t budge on the punchline here. Against my own consent, I would be forced to complete the 2nd grade. I would go on to spend many classroom hours bored and thinking about a wide variety of interesting subjects that were completely unrelated to what the teacher was teaching. Often, I’d fantasize about smoking cigarettes. I’d ponder and plot ways to get ahold of some. No one in my family smoked. But of course, I’d seen it on T.V. and it looked awesome. A friend of mine down the block from us, his mom or aunt or someone did smoke. Could I have him score me a couple? He’d probably be too chicken to even try. But wait, how do you get a lighter?
One morning in April of 1995, my teacher asked us if we had seen anything unusual or really bad happen on the news the day before. We then had a brief classroom talk about the Oklahoma City bombing. The only part of the conversation I really remember was when that homophobic blonde kid with the bowl cut raised his hand. In a tone of bewilderment, he simply stated, “It interrupted the Price Is Right!” I rolled my eyes. Wow, sage analysis. Dumbass.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a lot of ideas. As a young kid, one of my first passions was dressing up like different characters and acting out their roles and personas. Early on, these were almost exclusively Biblical characters based on stories I’d been told in Sunday School, like David and Goliath. I was pretty much thinking all of the time, imagining, analyzing, probably too much so to be healthy. But that’s just how I was wired. I was often overflowing with ideas and things to say, but I didn’t always have an outlet or an audience to unleash upon.
I don’t think I actively disliked my 2nd grade teacher, but I just wasn’t really impressed by her. At some point, I realized she held the key that might be used to alleviate my pent-up intellectual energy. When my mom came in for the normally scheduled parent teacher conference one evening, my teacher informed her of a request I’d made of her recently. She said, Jordan often tells me he has “something to share with the class.” Sometimes she’d grant me a few minutes at the end of the school day before dismissal.
I have no specific recollection of the content I delivered to my 2nd grade classmates during these extemporaneous speeches. But I do remember, having been granted this platform, that I finally found something within this whole school thing that I actually looked forward to.
2nd grade was the only year in my academic career that I’d have the space to share my thoughts and observations with an audience. I fed off of it. I loved capturing people’s attention. And when my time was over, I felt a sort of release, in a sense just like how one might feel at the end of a long-distance run. Tired, but a good tired.
A few years later, probably around 5th grade, I would occasionally and impulsively write down some of my random, but seemingly significant thoughts on pieces of scrap paper. I would squirrel these notes away in a drawer in my bedroom. It was not a coherent project, it was simply born out of the feeling that now and again, I’d have a good or interesting or funny idea, and I didn’t want to forget it. So, I’d write these thoughts down and put them away. I rarely looked back and reread these scraps. These notes were for myself only, no adult told me to do this, no one knew about it but me.
I continued doing this all the way through high school. I was barely a freshman on September 11th, 2001. In the aftermath of that day, I wrote down my own personal account of how I experienced this historic moment. This might have been the first essay, independent from school assignments, that I ever wrote.
By the time I was in college, I had to write a ton for classes. But I still wrote things for myself too. And now that I had a laptop, I was assembling more coherent pieces, instead of just scribbling on weird scraps of paper in my bedroom. My first two years of college, I was actively trying to decide if I was “religious” or not, and if I believed in the claim that there is a “god” or not. I wrote my entire thought process down. In several separate entries, spaced out months in between, I enumerated the evolution of my thoughts on these matters. During my junior year, I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in Spain. The whole year that I lived in Madrid, I diligently kept a regular journal of my experiences and travels around Spain and western Europe.
After college, I became an inner city public school teacher in Passaic, New Jersey. I maintained a journal of my trials and triumphs my entire first year in the classroom. A few years later, now teaching in Newark, I started my first blog. At the time, I was fascinated and confused by the dynamics in the neighborhood in which my school was located. Overall, Newark couldn’t be a more different place to grow up than Green Bay. I would often spend hours on Friday evenings after school, driving around Newark’s neighborhoods and taking photos of captivating images. I saw much that I didn’t understand. I’d talk to people I worked with from the area, I’d do my own research online. Then, I’d write about what I observed, and what I had learned.
Years later, after holding an intense and deeply meaningful career in public education for nearly a decade, my life would suddenly and painfully grind to a halt. I had struggled with clinical depression, chronic anxiety, and insomnia from middle school through my twenties. But around the time I turned thirty, due to a constellation of unfortunate personal mishaps that landed on me all at once, I experienced a full-fledged mental breakdown. I was in Los Angeles when it happened, it was March of 2018. I soon found myself confined within the terrifying walls of the Southern California Hospital at Culver City. My experience in their cruel and shockingly unprofessional psychiatric ward was an absolute nightmare. More on that another day.
But I’m lucky to have a family that has my back. They helped get me out of there, and I soon ended up back home in Wisconsin. Over two years later, I’m still now in the process of getting back on my feet. But even as I was first experiencing my slow decent into mental collapse, I started another new website. I needed a project to occupy my mind that was 100% positive in nature, so I started a site where I could write about the main subject that has given my life joy, meaning, and identity since I was 12-years-old: skateboarding. I don’t think there’s much evidence of a large market out there hungering to read essays about skateboard culture and industry. But it got me writing again, and that in and of itself felt like a huge win.
Here now in the fall of America’s 2020, to be as terse and euphemistic as possible, I’ve had a lot of things on my mind. As far as the question of what to focus my energy writing about, let’s just say it’s been a bit challenging to know even where to begin. Nevertheless, I’ve begun. As of early this summer, I’ve been actively and consistently writing new essays on a wide variety of subjects that I find to be at the intersection of interesting and also important. Today, I’m ready to pull the trigger on releasing my newest writing project, unlike anything I’ve done before.
This website has no specific theme or singular area of focus with respect to content or subject matter. As a brief and nowhere near exhaustive teaser, here’s a little sampler platter of some of the subjects I’ll be exploring over time. I will be writing about America’s broken K-12 public education system, the insidious and toxic impact that social media is having on all of our brains, and my thoughts on what America could and should be doing to address the often-fatal siblings of our nationwide epidemic of untreated mental illness and addiction. Finally, I will explain why all “religion” is both factually false and also demonstrably terrible for human individuals and also human societies.
Without conscious intent, I’ve been getting ready for these conversations since the 2nd grade.
Thank you for your time, and welcome to Something to Share with the Class.