Monday, April 30, 2007

Yes, Jazz Fest is Really, Really Fun...

This is what Jazz Fest looks like:

And, yes, Jazz Fest is really, really fun...

... but then when you have Jazz Fest split in half by the last week of classes, and when your students are having to prepare for a high-stakes writing test in which they have to write an essay on the subject of "racism and the media," and when you have conferences every day with these students and you hear things like, "Well, I just don't get why it's okay for black people to say the N-word and not white people," and you have to say, "Is it okay?" and when your students ask you to define "race" and you're like, "Um, according to Webster's dictionary" (thinking to yourself, wait--I am a writing teacher, right, so it's okay that I have a hard time defining race), and when you have to give these very same students (who are looking at you like, You Don't Know How To Define Race And You Are Our Teacher!?) an evaluation form that asks them to assess your performance according to criteria that you're realizing you'd not thought of (you were Just Teaching, after all!), and that their responses determine your fate, and when this position makes you more like some Customer Service Agent than a teacher, and when you still have thirty some-odd papers to grade, and committee meetings, and extracurricular Whatnot that you should have said No to...

...well, it makes the second week of Jazz Fest that much better to look forward to.

Now, if I can Just Get Through This WEEK!!!!!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Nice Way to Wake Up

This morning I woke up to the fruit man singing, "I have oranges and bananas, I have grapefruit, I got lemons."

While we rarely drag ourselves out of bed to buy his fruit (we should...), we stil smile when he passes.

Here's his story.

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Human Barometer" or My Students' Sadness

I'm not sure how I failed to realize how difficult it would be to teach Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close this week.

The novel deals with the coping strategies of a nine-year old boy, Oskar Schell, who has lost his dad to the collapse of the Trade Towers on 9/11, and his heartbreaking musings are woven with the first-person narratives of his grandparents, who escaped Nazi Germany and survived the Dresden bombings.

He's a precocious narrator, and some of my students found him a bit unbelievable. He's a vegan. And he knows about Susan Sontag. He's an atheist who argues with is mother that his father does not have a spirit, but only "cells":

"He had cells, and now there on rooftops, and in the river, and in the lungs of millions of people around New York, who breathe him every time they speak!"

His wisdom is hard to bear, hard to believe.

At any rate, one of the really interesting aspects of the novel is that Oskar didn't "witness" the falling of the Towers, and because he's not allowed to watch television, he's been largely protected from the media coverage of the day. But he comes home early from school that day, he hears a series of phone messages from his father, who calls from the Tower.

This "deferred" experience of the day--and the many images he collects in his scrapbook of Stuff That Happened to Me illustrates his removed "experience" of the day. And it reminds me of how we tend, these days, to "experience" what we see, even if we have not been touched by it, first hand.

It's like how those of us who evacuated before the storm nonetheless felt we "experienced" it via the images we saw on TV, via the nightmares we still have, via its aftermath; how those of us who have read about Cho, have watched the footage aired, have taught or attended college classes this week feel somehow impacted, ourselves. We feel injured by our knowledge. Even when our experience is not first-hand.

So I'm thinking about all of this before class, and I'm trying to find a way to teach this text--with its non-linear plot, its media and pop-culture references, its thick sadness. I write chapter summaries that don't help. I read reviews that do nothing for me. I panic a bit: how the f-- am I going to teach this book?

I'm a much better writing teacher than I am a lit-teacher. Because I have "affairs" with books, I don't particularly like the idea of deconstructing them in literary terms. I rarely use terms like "theme," "plot," "point of view," etc. when I teach. I ask questions like, "How would you describe Oskar to one of your friends?" or, "When you put this book down, did you want to pick it back up again or not?" It makes for some strange classes, but I like to think that my students benefit from this approach. It's an intro course designed for non-majors, after all. And in not separating them from the text through lofty discussions of craft, I like to think that I get them interested in simply engaging with a story--in losing themselves in a book.

I don't always succeed.

Yesterday I was afraid to have my students "lose themselves" in Extremely Loud... particularly after the events of the week. As I prepared, I found myself coming up with "sanitary" questions of the exact sort that I ordinarily avoid. "What themes does the novel address?" "Where can we see foreshadowing used?" Ugh.

Finally, I realized that I simply needed to "go there."

And when I came across the website for the American Theatre's Literature to Life program, which offers teaching materials designed to accompany the stage-version of the novel, I decided to use a classroom activity called the "Human Barometer":

'Distribute small strips of paper to the students and have them write down at least two things that they have encountered in life which make them sad; they should write each thing on a separate piece of paper. Encourage the students to think of things that are unique to them; they should be descriptive and detailed in writing them down. Collect the strips of paper and gather them into a hat or a basket. Clear out the room of desks and explain to the students that the classroom and their movements within it will now represent a "human barometer." Explain that one side of the room will represent "very sad," the opposite side will represent "not at all sad," and the middle will represent "somewhat sad. Explain that you will read off their strips of paper one at a time and that they should place themselves on the "human barometer" according to how the statement affects them. Begin to read off the statements, allowing time for the students to move. Encourage them to think critically about the degree of sadness that the statement evokes in them'

But first:

When I arrived at class, my students seemed beleaguered, already. They had to turn in a paper, so I'd expected that. I began by mentioning how it seemed somehow both appropriate and awful that our discussion of the novel came after the shootings, and I shared a bit of my own feelings about the week.

"I don't know about you all, but being in a classroom this week. I've made the mistake of paying attention to the news this week, and of course the shootings have been all over, so teaching--and an English classroom at that--has been kind of strange. When I learned that Cho was an English major and that his teachers had recognized troubling signs in his writing (and, by the way, I made the mistake of reading his plays: bad), I just couldn't help thinking about what that must have been like. And then it's somehow not that hard to imagine because we see it all over the TV and the newspaper, and we hear his voice and the cell-phone recordings of the bullets, and we watch him stare us down in his 'self-portrait with gun' and we can imagine it, somehow, easily, if we try. I mean, it was a classroom, like this one, maybe, who knows, and it was a class, like this one. And so I'm teaching and I'm thinking about how my students feel, and what they are thinking, and I'm looking at the doors and the windows in the room and thinking, 'Gosh, how would I get out,' and 'Gee, I wonder if I can lock that door,' and then I realize that I'm in a classroom, you know. I mean how messed up is it that we think about these things in a classroom?"

Eric, one of my favorite students chimes in, "Well we're just on the second floor here so it wouldn't be too far to jump."

We all laugh, uncomfortably.

"Anyway," I say. "That's just how I've been feeling. And today I got an email from the UNO administration with an attachment containing 'discussion ideas' which I suppose I am supposed to use..."

I read: "Acknowledge the event: introduce the opportunity by briefly acknowledging the tragic event and suggesting that it might be helpful to share personal reactions."

No one says anything at first. Then Mike, whom I can always count on to talk (sometimes too much) says, "I mean, this idea that this has something to do with our society or something is ridiculous. This guy was no different that the guy who holed himself up in the tower at UT. He was psychotic, and that's not new; it's been happening for a long time."

Brandy: "But it's not the same because he was younger. It's like they keep getting younger."

We go on like this for a while, and then one of my students says something I've heard a couple of times this week: "I'm surprised it didn't happen here first. I mean, after the storm and all."

John: "Yeah, and in Louisiana, like everyone and their granddad has a gun."

We do the gun-control debate, and not surprisingly, in the Sportsman's Paradise, none of the students sees a connection.

We talk about the University's plan to "text message" us in the event of a similar event. None of us is encouraged. We talk about how in New Orleans, we never feel really safe and so we just kind of go on. "It's almost like we're used to this by now," a student says, and I say, "How sad." I ask if anyone has anything else they'd like to add, and then Omar, my Saudi student who rarely speaks unless called upon asks, "May I ask how he was able to purchase the gun?" Someone explains the brief background check and we all kind of sigh, collectively.

"Sadness" served at the segue to the "Human Barometer" activity. I explained that I didn't really know how to avoid indulging in a bit of sadness as we discussed the novel, so I'd planned a "weird" activity. "Humor me," I said.

We performed the exercise, and it went better than I could have imagined. They all were engaged in the activity, and they even said they "liked it." Afterwards, we took a break, and then we came back and talked about the novel as an illustration of a young boy coping with his own sadness. It still wasn't the best of discussions--this class as a whole has never quite "turned on," which I suspect may be partly due to its being held from 7-10 pm and many of my students' having full-time jobs.

At any rate, I thought I'd share Oskar's sadness, which I read aloud before the activity, and then my students':

Oskar Schell in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:

'The next morning I told Mom I couldn't go to school again. She asked what was wrong. I told her, "The same thing that's always wrong." "You're sick?" "I'm sad." "About Dad?""About everything."She sat down on the bed next to me, even though I knew she was in a hurry. "What's everything?" I started counting on my fingers: "The meat and dairy products in our refrigerator, fist fights, car accidents, Larry--" "Who's Larry?" "The homeless guy in front of the Museum of Natural History who always says 'I promise it's for food' after he asks for money." She turned around and I zipped her dress while I kept counting, "How you don't know who Larry is, even though you probably see him all the time, how Buckminster just sleeps and eats and goes to the bathroom and has no raison d'etre, the short ugly guy with no neck who takes tickets at the IMAX theater, how the sun is going to explode one day, how every birthday I always get at least one thing I already have, poor people who get fat because they eat junk food because it's cheaper . . ." That was when I ran out of fingers, but my list was just getting started, and I wanted it to be long, because I knew she wouldn't leave while I was still going. ". . .domesticated animals, how I have a domesticated animal, nightmares, Microsoft Windows, old people who sit around all day because no one remembers to spend time with them and they're embarrassed to ask people to spend time with them, secrets, dial phones, how Chinese waitresses smile even when there's nothing funny or happy, and also how Chinese people own Mexican restaurants but Mexican people never own Chinese restaurants, mirrors, tape decks, my unpopularity at school, Grandma's coupons, storage facilities, people who don't know what the internet is, bad handwriting, beautiful songs, how there won't be humans in fifty years--" "Who said there won't be humans in fifty years?" I asked her, "Are you an optimist or a pessimist?" She looked at her watch and said, "I'm optimistic." "Then I have some bad news for you, because humans are going to destroy each other as soon as it becomes easy enough to, which will be very soon." "Why do beautiful songs make you sad?" "Because they aren't true." "Never?" "Nothing is beautiful and true."'

My students' sadness:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

More on dealing with student trauma from the NYT...

...'though still no recognition of trauma and its impact on faculty, themselves...


April 19, 2007

Laws Limit Options When a Student Is Mentally Ill


Federal privacy and antidiscrimination laws restrict how universities can deal with students who have mental health problems.

For the most part, universities cannot tell parents about their children’s problems without the student’s consent. They cannot release any information in a student’s medical record without consent. And they cannot put students on involuntary medical leave, just because they develop a serious mental illness.

Nor is knowing when to worry about student behavior, and what action to take, always so clear.

“They can’t really kick someone out because they’re writing papers about weird topics, even if they seem withdrawn and hostile,” said Dr. Richard Kadison, chief of mental health services at Harvard University. “Most state laws are pretty clear: you can only bring students to hospitals if there is imminent risk to themselves or someone else, so universities are in a bit of a bind that way.”

But, he said, some schools do mandate limited amounts of treatment in certain circumstances.

“At the University of Missouri, if someone makes a suicide attempt, they mandate four counseling sessions, for example,” said Dr. Kadison, an author of “College of the Overwhelmed: The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What To Do About It.”

Universities can find themselves in a double bind. On the one hand, they may be liable if they fail to prevent a suicide or murder. After the death in 2000 of Elizabeth H. Shin, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who had written several suicide notes and used the university counseling service before setting herself on fire, the Massachusetts Superior Court allowed her parents, who had not been told of her deterioration, to sue administrators for $27.7 million. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

On the other hand, universities may be held liable if they do take action to remove a potentially suicidal student. In August, the City University of New York agreed to pay $65,000 to a student who sued after being barred from her dormitory room at Hunter College because she was hospitalized after a suicide attempt.

Also last year, George Washington University reached a confidential settlement in a case charging that it had violated antidiscrimination laws by suspending Jordan Nott, a student who had sought hospitalization for depression.

“This is a very, very difficult and gray area, when you take action to remove the student from the campus environment, versus when you encourage the student to use the resources available on campus,” said Ada Meloy, director of legal and regulatory affairs at the American Council on Education. “In an emergency, you can share certain information, but it’s not clear what’s an emergency.”

Ms. Meloy estimated that situations complicated enough to involve a university’s lawyers arise, on average, about twice a semester at large universities.

While shootings like the one at Virginia Tech are extremely rare, suicides, threats and serious mental-health problems are not. Last year, the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, covering nearly 95,000 students at 117 campuses, found that 9 percent of students had seriously considered suicide in the previous year, and 1 in 100 had attempted it.

So mental health experts emphasize that, whatever a college’s concerns about liability, the goal of campus policies should be to maximize the likelihood that those who need mental-health treatment will get it.

“What we really need to do is encourage students to seek mental health treatment if they need it, to remove any barriers to their getting help, destigmatize it, and make it safe, so they know there won’t be negative consequences,” said Karen Bower, a lawyer at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, who represented Mr. Nott.

With the Virginia Tech killings, many universities are planning to remind faculty members of their protocols. “We’re actually going to go ahead and have the counseling service here do a session for all our instructors and faculty on what to look for, what the procedures are, and what the counseling center can do,” said Shannon Miller, chairwoman of the English department at Temple University.

At Harvard, Dr. Kadison said, dormitory resident assistants watch for signs of trouble, and are usually the first to become aware of worrisome behavior — and to call a dean.

“The dean might insist that they get an evaluation to make sure they’re healthy enough to live in a dorm,” he said. “If it’s not thought that they’re in any immediate danger, they can take or not take the recommendation.”

Last month, Virginia passed a law, the first in the nation, prohibiting public colleges and universities from expelling or punishing students solely for attempting suicide or seeking mental-health treatment for suicidal thoughts.

“In one sense, the new law doesn’t cover new territory, because discrimination against people with mental health problems is already prohibited,” said Dana L. Fleming, a lawyer in Manchester, N.H., who is an expert on education law. “But in another sense, it’s ground-breaking since it’s the first time we’ve seen states focus on student suicides and come up with some code of conduct for schools.”

College counseling services nationwide are seeing more use.

“We’re seeing more students in our service consistently every year,” said Alejandro Martinez, director for counseling and psychological services at Stanford University, which sees about 10 percent of the student body each year. “Certainly more students are experiencing mental illness, including depression.

“But there’s also been a cultural shift,” Mr. Martinez said, “in that more students are willing to get help.”

College officials say that a growing number of students arrive on campus with a history of mental-health problems and a prescription for psychotropic drugs. But screening for such problems would be illegal, admissions officers say.

“We’re restricted by the disabilities act from asking,” said Rick Shaw, Stanford’s admissions director. “We do ask a question, as most institutions do, about whether a student has been suspended or expelled from school, and if they have been, we ask them to write an explanation of it.”

Federal laws also restrict what universities can reveal. Generally, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Ferpa, passed in 1974, makes it illegal to disclose a student’s records to family members without the student’s authorization.

“Colleges can disclose a student’s private records if they believe there’s a health and safety emergency, but that health and safety exception hasn’t been much tested in the courts, so it’s left to be figured out case by case,” Ms. Fleming said.

And the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prohibits the release of medical records. “The interaction of all these laws does not make things easy,” she said.

I hope we can take the "right" lessons from this. A shift away from an ethical handling of privacy issues would be bad. As I mentioned in my last post, the right "mix" of ethics and empathy: that's the ticket.

Also, this:

April 19, 2007

Op-Ed Contributor

The Killer in the Lecture Hall
Rochester, Mich.

THE sticky note on my door was wiggling. It was a gift from a student.

Glued to the middle of it was a cockroach.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t that I was an unpopular professor. To the contrary — according to student evaluations, I might as well have had a sign on my forehead that said “Kindly.”

I was told later that the cockroach was a symbol of love from — well, let’s call him Rick. Rick had recently moved into the lab across the hall from my office, where he spent the night in a sleeping bag under one of the benches.

Rick, who had been a student for more than a decade, sometimes whiled away his time discussing guns and explosives with some of the more munitions-inclined faculty members. He admitted that he kept his basement stocked with a variety of “armaments.”

Sometimes I wished I had an armament, although, like Virginia Tech, my university does not allow firearms on campus. I wished that because, not only did Rick attach love-cockroaches to my door and live across the hall from my office and possess a small armory, but Rick watched me all the time. Sometimes he followed me out to my car — just to make sure I was safe.

When I complained about Rick to the dean of students, I was told there was nothing to be done — after all, “students have rights, too.” Only after appealing to that dean’s boss and calling a raft of fellow professors who had also come to fear Rick’s strange behavior was I able to convince the administration to take grudging action; they restricted his ability to loiter in certain areas and began nudging him toward the classes he needed to graduate.

In a strange way, I could see the administration’s point. Rick looked fairly ordinary, at least when away from his sleeping bag and pet cockroaches. It must have seemed far more likely that
Rick could sue for being thrown out of school, than that I — or anyone else — could ever be hurt.

The easiest path, from their perspective, was to simply get me to shut up.

Many professors have run across more than their share of Ricks. At least one Virginia Tech professor noticed that Cho Seung-Hui, who killed 32 people on campus on Monday, was potentially dangerous and did her best to warn the administration and the police. (So did at least two female students.) But there is only so much a teacher can do — “students have rights, too.”

It’s a simple fact that, for every deranged murderer like Mr. Cho there are thousands more oddballs just below the breaking point. I know one quasi-psychopathic incompetent, for example, who remained on the campus payroll for over a dozen years simply because his supervisor was afraid of being killed if he was fired.

It’s long been in fashion to believe that people are innately good, and that upbringing and environment are responsible for nasty personalities. But research is beginning to show that mean, sometimes outright evil behavior has a strong genetic component. Some of us, in other words, are truly born bad.

Researchers at King’s College London have recently determined that if one identical twin shows psychopathic traits, the other twin, who coincidentally shares precisely the same set of genes, has a very high probability of having the same psychopathic traits. But among fraternal twins, who share only half their genes, the chance that both twins will show psychopathic traits is far smaller. In other words, there is something suspiciously psychopath-inducing in some people’s genes.

What could it be? Medical images of the brain give tantalizing clues — the amygdala, the “fight or flight” decision-making center of the brain, may be smaller than usual, or some areas of the brain may glow only dimly because of low serotonin levels. We may not know precisely what set Mr. Cho off, but we are beginning to home in on the unusual differences in certain neurochemistries that can make people act in bizarre and dysfunctional ways.

Still, the Virginia Tech shootings have already led to calls for all sorts of changes: gun control, more mental health coverage, stricter behavior rules on campuses. Yes, in a perfect world, there would be no guns, no mental illness and no Cho Seung-Huis. But the world is very imperfect.

Consider that Britain’s national experiment with gun-free living is proving to be a disaster, with violent and gun crime rates soaring.

In other words, most of the broad social “lessons” we are being told we must learn from the Virginia Tech shootings have little to do with what allowed the horrors to occur. This is about evil, and about how our universities are able to deal with it as a literary subject but not as a fact of life. Can administrators and deans really continue to leave professors and other college personnel to deal with deeply disturbed students on their own, with only pencils in their defense?

Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University, is the author of the forthcoming “Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend.”

Our School's "Emotional Climate"

Just after I posted my last entry, I checked my UNO email and discovered the following message:

"Dr. Barbara S. Mitchell, director of UNO Counseling Services, is providing the attached resources and discussion tips for helping students deal with the aftermath of the tragedy at Virginia Tech University this week, for your information and use. The documents are provided in both Word document and PDF formats."

The content:

Dealing with the Aftermath of Tragedy In the Classroom
By Joan G. Whitney, Ph.D.Director, University Counseling Center, Villanova University
Forwarded by Barbara Mitchell, director, UNO Counseling Services

The University is committed to caring for our students’ intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. When a tragedy occurs, faculty members often express the wish to help their students effectively deal with the aftermath. There is no single correct time for these discussions, but it is probably best to consider a discussion within a week of the tragedy.Even if you do not wish to lead an in-classroom discussion, it is probably best to acknowledge the event.
A national or local tragedy can result in students having difficulty concentrating. Failure to mention the event can result in students becoming angry at what they label as a “professor’s insensitivity to what happened.”

Ideas for encouraging discussion

Discussion can be brief. Consider providing an opportunity at the beginning of a class period. Often, a short period is more effective than a whole class period. This acknowledges that students may be reacting to a recent event without pressuring them to speak.Acknowledge the event. Introduce the opportunity by briefly acknowledging the tragic event, and suggesting that it might be helpful to share personal reactions. Allow brief discussion of the “facts,” and then shift to emotions.

The discussion often starts with students asking questions about what actually happened, and “debating” some details. People are more comfortable discussing “facts,” than feelings, so it’s best to allow this exchange for a brief period. After facts have been exchanged, you can try to shift the discussion toward sharing personal and emotional reactions.

Invite students to share emotional, personal responses

An instructor might lead off by saying something like: “Often it is helpful to share your own emotional responses, and hear how others are responding. It doesn’t change the reality, but it takes away the sense of loneliness that sometimes accompanies stressful events. I would be grateful for whatever you are willing to share.”

How should we react?

If students begin “debating” the “right way” to react to a tragedy, it is useful to comment that each person copes with stress in a unique way; there is no “right way” to react.

Be prepared for blaming

People often look for someone to blame when they are upset. Essentially, this is a displacement of anger, a way of coping. The idea is that if someone did something wrong, then future tragedies can be avoided by doing things “right.” If the discussion gets “stuck” with blaming, it might be useful to say “We have been focusing on our sense of anger and blame, and that’s not unusual. It might be useful to talk about our fears.”

Seeking an “explanation” for the tragedy
Understanding helps us to reassure ourselves that a similar event could be prevented in the future. You might comment that, as intellectual beings:
We always seek to understand. It is very challenging to understand “unthinkable” events. By their very natures, tragedies are especially difficult to explain. Uncertainty is particularly distressing, but sometimes is inevitable.

The faculty member is better off resisting the temptation to make meaning of the event. That is not one of your responsibilities, and would not be helpful.Thank students for sharing; remind them of resources on campus

In ending the discussion, it is useful to comment that people cope in a variety of ways. If a student would benefit from a one-on-one discussion, encourage them to make use of campus resources. These include the counseling center and campus ministries.


My response:

Dear Ms._____,

While I am encouraged to see the University making efforts to respond more concretely to the Va. Tech shootings, I have noticed that the resources sent to the faculty do not recognize the impact that trauma can have on faculty members, themselves.

But five of the victims of the Va. Tech shooting were faculty members.

And with no concrete guidelines outlining what, precisely, faculty members can do when they, themselves feel threatened by a student's erratic behavior or troubling writing (or what, even, to look for)--and with no concrete plan for what faculty members should do a shooting occur on the campus (or, God forbid, in their classrooms), I think you can understand how faculty members like myself might feel overlooked, and in fact, less than comforted by the University's response to the Va. Tech shootings.

With a dearth of mental health resources available in the city, and with rates of mild and severe depression doubled (according to a recently-published Harvard Medical Study), a recognition that students and faculty and staff are part of a larger grieving community struggling to respond to trauma would be helpful, at the very least.

Beyond that, the University needs to remind faculty members of what, exactly, are the signs of mental illness, and how faculty members can both ethically and empathetically respond to signs of illness that cross "reasonable" lines within the University community. What are those "lines"? How do we respond? While we all know to go to department heads should we recognize trouble, we are the ones on the proverbial "frontlines;" shouldn't more than just "helpful links" for us to pass along to our students be made available to us?

Furthermore, how will the University respond if a shooter is on our campus or in our classrooms? What sense of security can you offer? What are we to do in the case of a campus emergency? Does the administration plan to "text message" us the plan, as the Times-Picayune reported yesterday? If so, does the University plan to offer faculty and staff members cell phones?

In short, beyond providing "helpful links" and "discussion tips" for us to share with our students, does the University administration have plans to include its faculty and staff in its outreach, or are we to simply navigate this troubling territory on our own?

I urge the University to outline a clearer trauma/threat-response plan--one that specifically acknowledges what researchers at the US Department of Education call our school's unique "emotional climate." A good place to start would be Chapter VII, page 78, of their report on "Threat Assessment in Schools":

As a member of the English faculty researching teaching writing after a trauma (my own research targets teaching writing after Hurricane Katrina), I offer my "two cents"--and I ask that faculty members be included in the discussion. I would love to share with the administration what I've witnessed, what I've learned, and what I think the administration could do to more effectively support our teaching and learning community in an environment of increasing national and local trauma.

Please don't hesitate to contact me for my input.

Best Regards,



Expert Advice for School Officials (or: What to Do When We're More Irritable and Angry Than Usual)


Expert suggests team approach

What could school officials do?

In an interview Wednesday, [psychologist Robert A.] Fein offered several suggestions:

  • Disseminate clear descriptions of behavior that is and is not acceptable. Codes of conduct can help.
  • Offer resources with no risk of losing privacy — typically chaplains, counselors, health care practitioners or ombudsmen.
  • Create a system that can deal both formally and informally with any concerns that are raised. As an example, Fein said that schools could link dormitory residential advisers, peer counselors and health care practitioners with campus police and department heads, among others. Many systems will need some outside expertise on occasion for assessment and management.
  • Strengthen training and networking for all these participants in a coordinated response.
  • Initiate more active investigation when someone is raising concerns. If people on campus were concerned that Cho was dangerous, did he have a gun?

What about the parents?

"Federal privacy laws make calling the parents really difficult," Fein said. "But there are always ways to have a team assess what is reported by the bystanders, and devise a way for someone to come in for some level of consultation."

Students could be told, "You are scaring some people on campus who know you,” Fein said. “... We would like to talk with you about how things are going. ... I will drop by the dorm every evening at five. ... Your work seems to have dropped off suddenly. ... Your behavior is seen as unreasonably disruptive. ... We are concerned about you."

Educational institutions, Fein said, need standard protocols about when and how they will assess problematic behavior and when they might require people to take time off. [embellishments mine]


While I was having my morning coffee, I turned on the TV (yes, I know: always a mistake). On Fox News (YES, I KNOW: an even BIGGER mistake), a reported positioned outside the post office where Cho sent his package to NBC News (now THAT's on-the-beat reporting!) offered her two cents on what is being called Cho's "manifesto". She called him a "monster." Others, including the authors of the MSNBC report I quote above, have lumped Cho in with other "shooters," describing his behavior only in the context of previous school shooters--not within the real--and nuanced, and sensitive, and medical--context of what is the obvious and real cause of Cho's behavior: mental illness.

The closest thing I've heard to "sensitivity" was also on Fox, where Cho does, sometimes, get referred to as a man with a "sick, twisted mind."

But still, that "sickness" is demonized.

I suppose I should expect this from our media. But I'd hoped that the officials at UNO would not effectively detach themselves from the real problem by asserting that there's "nothing we can do."

There are things we can do--particularly on school campuses, where our close interactions with students out us on the frontlines in terms of recognizing and responding to undiagnosed mental illnesses.

In New Orleans--in the midst of our ongoing trauma--where mild and severe depression rates are double what they were before the storm, suicide rates are up 300%, and just 1/3 the number of mental health care professionals have returned--a clearly articulated way to respond to mental illness is really necessary. That response--those guidelines--must be both ethical and empathetic.

To illustrate the problem in New Orleans: this from a baseline study performed by the Harvard Medical School and released in the Fall of '06:

Post-traumatic stress reactions
*A substantial proportion of respondents reported having emotional problems related to their experiences in the hurricane.
*The proportion of respondents who screen positive for a clinically significant anxiety or mood disorder was double the number in a comparable survey carried out two years before the hurricane.
*A full one-fourth (25.3 percent) of survey respondents reported having nightmares about their experiences in the hurricane in the past month.
*Nightmares were reported by 49.6 percent of the respondents who were pre-hurricane residents of New Orleans City.
*While more than half (51.8 percent; 79.4 percent of those from New Orleans City) reported being more irritable or angry than usual. [I should share this with Simon--it may help explain my own increase in anger and irritability!]


To think: officials at UNO could have the opportunity to really do something about this. And then to know... it ain't gonna happen. It's enough to give a girl some serious blues... to make her more irritable/angry than ususal!!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Issues-System

I got upset at dinner tonight when Simon and Brandi got into a discussion about gun control. (I'd stupidly brought up the topic of the Va. Tech shootings because I was offering an explanation for my stress-level.) I didn't want to talk about idealistic Britishisms: yes, you have gun control laws, and yes, you are better than us.

To me, the real issue is one of recognizing and dealing with mental illness.

We recognize mental illness in the US in two forms: either you have it in a bouncy Zoloft-commercial kind of way, or you are crazy in a Columbine sense. There's no nuance, there's no real acknowledgment of the complex issues that contribute to mental illness, or to a humane and appropriate way to address it. It's why my grandfather struggled. It's why suicide is seen as a sin. It's why UNO cops out and says that there's "no way to prevent" what happened. That may, in fact, be true.

But listen to the following, which comes from the AOL post of Ian MacFarlane, a classmate of Seung Hui Cho (I figured out the real order of his name via a document found on the surprisingly-helpful Wikipedia, which I usually warn my students away from... go figure. His last name is Cho.):

'While I "knew" Cho, I always wished there was something I could do for him, but I couldn't think of anything. As far as notifying authorities, there isn't (to my knowledge) any system set up that lets people say "Hey! This guy has some issues! Maybe you should look into this guy!" If there were, I definitely would have tried to get the kid some help. I think that could have had a good chance of averting yesterday's tragedy more than anything.'

I don't know what the right "system" would be, but I think that an attempt to at least articulate one should have occurred by now. The general public simply needs to be more sensitive to mental illness and aware of what can be done, period.

I would really like to track the number of times administrators claim there was "nothing they could do." It sounds an awful lot to me like the Army Corps of Engineers claiming that their crap-ass levees "couldn't stand up" to Hurricane Katrina. No, these levees couldn't. But other ones could have. Should have.

The "Response" at UNO

I fully anticipated the response UNO gave to the Va. Tech shootings, and while it came a day later than I'd anticipated, (here I was thinking that our trauma-connection would mean we'd have an administrative response, like, yesterday...) it was just as I'd imagined it:

18 April, 2007

Dear UNO Community:

I cannot begin to express how stunned and saddened we are by the senseless tragedy that occurred at Virginia Tech University on Monday morning. I know that you all join me in extending to family and friends of the victims our deepest sympathy for the loss of their loved ones. Having just gone through a terrible disaster, though a natural one with Hurricane Katrina, we will reach out to the faculty and students at Virginia Tech University and will offer any assistance that we can provide, just as we were helped by many universities around the country during our time of need.

Our University should be a place of safety and learning for our students, our faculty and our staff. When a horrific event like this one disrupts our own sense of safety and harmony, we all want to be reassured that UNO is doing everything in its power to ensure our safety. Even though it is not humanly possible to prevent an event such as the Virginia Tech massacre, I can promise that my office along with departments like public safety, student services and communications are reviewing policies and procedures for emergency action and communications so that we can respond quickly and can relay information to the entire campus with utmost clarity and timeliness.

I have great confidence in our on-campus police department and our emergency procedures which have been revised and upgraded considerably in the past year. We will continue to ensure that our university community is as safe as possible.

Timothy P. Ryan, Chancellor, University of New Orleans


Paragraph two sounds a lot like a freshman essay: vague and empty. What bothers me about that paragraph, though, is the declaration that "it is not humanly possible to prevent an event such as the Virginia Tech massacre."

Couldn't the University have instead offered specific resources? How about a number for the campus counseling services? How about a clear statement on what faculty or students should do if they have concerns? How about a plan that informs faculty and students of how the University would notify us should we be put in a similar position.

Oh. But I guess I was supposed to read about it in the Times-Picayune (silly me!):

Local universities to 'text' students about impending danger
Posted by By John Pope, staff writer April 17, 2007 9:20PM

To alert students, teachers and staff members if something as ghastly as the Virginia Tech gun rampage should erupt on their campuses, local college administrators are moving to a method of communication generally associated with teenagers: text messaging...

"That's what students are into, and that's what they respond to," Dillard University spokeswoman Karen Celestan said Tuesday...

Xavier and the University of New Orleans already have the ability to text-message students en masse, and representatives of other colleges said they are considering which type to buy.


Gosh, I feel so safe. Especially with a salary that will barely cover our mortgages and expenses in the city, much less a cell phone plan. Oh, for f-'s sake.

Being up at the University has, in fact, been pretty strange these past couple of days. Even though I teach English, my office is located on the same hall as the foreign languages department, and right across from the ladies room. I've been hearing snippets of conversations about this Cho Seung-Hui (or was it Sueng Hui Cho? The media seems to have decided his last and first names are interchangeable: those crazy Asians!) in school, and in class it feels almost as if I SHOULD bring it up. He was an English major, after all, and his peers evidently heard some pretty menacing things in the Brit-Lit and Creative Writing classes they shared.

I just don't know how we are supposed to really, practically, be equipped to handle a situation like the one at Va. Tech.--particularly when our administration offers no specific guidelines.

Oddly, I've been feeling a little rattled by the incident. And maybe remembering my student in the green-checked shirt didn't help. So today, when one of my students left to go to the bathroom and came back to discover she was locked out, I thought, "Oh--the door locks automatically. Maybe they should do that to all doors."

In the meantime, last night I walked through one of those electronic security-thingies at John Dibert Elementary. I was there to teach the liberal arts via children's books to families attending the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities' PRIME TIME Family Reading Time literacy program. It was uplifting as all getout. Even when I heard a bunch of mothers outside making fun of me because they thought "she don't know what to do" when one responded to my question,"Parents, how do you handle it when your child acts like the rabbit did?" (we were talking about a fable about a conniving rabbit and a trickster fox), "I whoop 'em," I was still happy.

Happy, happy, happy, security checkpoint be damned.

The End.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How to deal with "The Question Mark Kid"?!?!?

This weekend I talked about teaching writing after Hurricane Katrina on a panel at the College English Association's conference here in New Orleans. My topic was, "Assessing Student Writing After Katrina," and the primary focus of my talk was the self-disclosures of my students in writing and emails, and my capacity to respond to them effectively after Katrina. I referred to an essay by Marilyn Valentino called, "Responding When a Life Depends on It," in which she outlines effective comments teachers can make when students reveal traumas in their writing. Valentino also warns in her essay that a teacher must not reveal his or her "personal trauma" because to do so makes one a "victim," him/herself.

Because the trauma of Hurricane Katrina has been both deeply personal (and of course, in that sense, widely varied), and wholly also collective (anyone who lived in the storm--whether they stayed or evacuated--experienced the trauma of loss because of the storm), I pointed out that the notion of "personal disclosure" on the part of the teacher doesn't apply in the case of teachers in New Orleans. Students know that we, too, have been victims of this larger trauma. And, in fact, they do, sometimes, appear to use that knowledge in a way that "victimizes" the teacher.

I've kept a file of student "excuses" on my computer for a while now. I like to use it to illustrate some of my students' best persuasive writing. But the content of those emails has changed rather radically since the storm, and this month I have received some of my very "worst" emails. After I contacted two students to express my concern about their persistent absences, one wrote back, "I am mentally disturbed." She explained that she found she couldn't focus since the storm (and I must say, her writing supports that disclosure). Another student wrote, "It's like nothing in life wants me to succeed anymore."

I tried to respond supportively to these students, but I, too, am experiencing what they are experiencing. I find it hard to focus. I find--especially given our house struggles, the lack of federal response, the lack of local leadership, and the ineptitude of the corps--that sometimes I feel as if "nothing in life wants me to succeed anymore." Because my own personal, emotional "compass" is pointing in the same direction as my students', I have a hard time rigidly assessing their work. I feel sometimes like giving a student like this an "F" would put them over the edge (and it does--the way our students so connect their assessment with their sense of self-worth, but somehow rarely recognize that they have the ability to change that, not you/me). I can't ignore their pain, their loss of focus, but I still have to give them that D, that F. It's what I am paid to do...

So today when I learned that the shooter in what is being called the Virginia Tech Massacre was an English major, I immediately wondered about his teachers--whether they'd seen any cues. How had they handled it?

Now, it appears that his writing teachers did witness disturbing clues:

Va. Tech gunman writings raised concerns
4/17/2007, 3:41 p.m. CT
By ADAM GELLER The Associated Press

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — The gunman suspected of carrying out the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 people dead was described Tuesday as a sullen loner whose creative writing in English class was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service.

Professor Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of the university's English department, said she did not know Cho. But she said she spoke with Lucinda Roy, the department's director of creative writing, who had Cho in one of her classes and described him as "troubled."

"There was some concern about him," Rude said. "Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it's creative or if they're describing things, if they're imagining things or just how real it might be. But we're all alert to not ignore things like this."

She said Cho was referred to the counseling service, but she said she did not know when, or what the outcome was.


Classmates said that on the first day of an introduction to British literature class last year, the 30 or so English students went around and introduced themselves. When it was Cho's turn, he didn't speak.

The professor looked at the sign-in sheet and, where everyone else had written their names, Cho had written a question mark. "Is your name, `Question mark?'" classmate Julie Poole recalled the professor asking. The young man offered little response.

Cho spent much of that class sitting in the back of the room, wearing a hat and seldom participating. In a small department, Cho distinguished himself for being anonymous. "He didn't reach out to anyone. He never talked," Poole said.

"We just really knew him as the question mark kid," Poole said.

The nature of my profession means that I hear all kinds of disturbing accounts in student-writing. All writing teachers deal with this. And I'll have to admit to worrying lately about the volatility of some of our students. I once wanted to be a psychology major, though--and as someone who has first-hand experience with depression, and who has a keener understanding of major depression and suicide than I'd like to, I'd like to think that I could identify a student like Cho, just as his teacher did.

But then what?

What scares me is that major depression and mental illness seems to be increasing, and yet a public understanding of how to deal with is glaringly absent. On UNO's campus, our administration's primary concern has been recruiting students and keeping our numbers up--not in administering to the psychological needs of our faculty and students. In fact, this weekend I talked with my colleagues about how folks in OTHER cities and at OTHER universities have been more committed to researching the real effects of the storm. We here are so mired in just surviving, ourselves, that I think we are incapable of responding effectively to the needs of others--much less our own.

In some ways, I have been surprised that what happened at Va. Tech. didn't happen here. Last Fall. A scary day: I was teaching a writing class in the Liberal Arts building when two ATF agents with guns exploded into the room. Their faces read: "urgent," and one said, "Have you seen a guy in a green checked shirt?" while the other scanned the room for The Guy in the Green Checked Shirt.

"No," I said. "Why?"

"We're looking for a student in distress. We were told he was wearing a green-checked shirt."

They left.

My adrenaline was pumping, and my students and I looked at each other all, "What tha!?!?!" Larry K. from Biloxi offered to guard the door. Several students wondered aloud what "in distress" could mean. I allowed a moment for my heartbeat to settle down before peeking my head out the door. The ATF agents were escorting one of my former students away in handcuffs. I never heard anything more about what happened.

That student--the one "in distress" was The Kindest, The Most Ordinary guy you could ever meet. He didn't talk much, but he certainly didn't strike me as a volatile dude. He didn't send emails--he didn't self-disclose. And so I guess the students who I worry about--the ones who disclose their trauma--may not be the ones I need to worry about. I guess I was wrong about Q.A. (the initials of the Guy in the Green Checked Shirt).

Oh, my word, I don't want to be wrong again.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Global Green Project Approved

Ever since we started telling folks that we're moving to Holy Cross (after the part where I explain that yes, it's in the Lower Ninth Ward), I've mentioned Global Green's plans for a mixed-income, sustainable-living (energy? materials? green-stuff?) housing and community development near the river. Brad Pitt is spearheading the project, so of course there's that... But the Big Deal is the attention the development will bring to the neighborhood. So many people dismiss the idea of developing on The Other Side of the Industrial Canal that it helps to have a project like Global Green's to force the rest of the naysayers to recognize.

I've been researching this project for a while now, in selfish terms, I must admit, because I wanted to know what kind of an impact it would have on the area. I emailed the local director (Brad Pitt is the face, but of course he's not on the ground) about our moving to the area and wanting to know more--especially because the groundbreaking has perpetually been getting pushed back. He sent me a vague form-email saying "thanks for your interest in New Orleans!" Oh-kaaaayy... No date set.

Well, in the Metro section of today's T-P, the approval of the project was announced. This was a happy anecdote to what was an otherwise odd day (incredibly beautiful weather, but then the news of the "Virginia Tech Massacre," which naturally rattled me and my office-mate... we see a lot of frayed nerves at school, post-K).

The modifications mentioned in the T-P piece are not nearly as radical as I'd thought they'd need to be given the way Holy Cross looks now: historic and very New Orleans (scrolly-shotguns and all), and the way the project looks:

(You can see the complete plans here.)

It's definitely going to stick out, but I say bring it on.

Now, if we could just get the go ahead from our friend Gavin the contractor, who's contemplating renovating "our" house. If he can't, I don't know what we will do, as the PRC has asked us to lose too much house for the cost. $130+ per square foot on the Other Side of the Industrial Canal is asking a lot--even for two young and energetic teachers.

Well, two young teachers, anyway.

Okay: young-ish.

Monday, April 02, 2007

An encounter with crooks, cops, and the La. Nat'l Guard

Last weekend we drove down to Holy Cross again to admire our house again (at least we hope it still will be "our house"...). As I neared the side gate, I saw three boys handing a duffel bag over the fence of the back yard next door.

They were your average school boys--maybe 12 to 15 years old--and I figured they were simply being boys. The Holy Cross campus lies directly behind our home, and I figured the boys were climbing the fence to gallivant around the Sunday-empty campus. Or something. I don't know what I thought, really.

When the boys saw me, it became clear that they were "up to no good." I turned around and asked Simon if he saw the boys, and he said, "Yeah," in a "whatever" kind of way. Then I heard one of the kids say something about "white lady" before I saw the last of the three leap over the fence onto the Holy Cross side and heard them run off.

Simon had joined me by now, and he climbed up on the concrete wall of the back yard to peak over the fence. "They were robbing that house," he said.

"That can't be. Nobody lives there." Actually, we think this one sketchy guy who we introduced ourselves to one day has been squatting there. Red-eyed, card-board-handed. Had the nicest bike I've ever seen.

Two duffel bags lay on the grass on the Holy Cross side of the fence, and in them were a video camera, a VCR, and--oh, those boys--a football and sports equipment. I pointed out that they were more likely robbing the school, and the neighborhood-mother came out in me. "Call the cops," I told Simon.

"What's the non-emergency number?"

"I don't know, but isn't a robbery an emergency?" We kind of looked at each other, wondering what one does when one catches three 12-year-old boys red-handed. Does one run after them? (Nope--they were too fast, and already too gone.) Does one call their mother? Or does one call the cops. "Dude, they robbed a school," I said. "Call the cops."

So we called the cops and then waited, dumbly wondering whether we should "tamper with the evidence" or just wait. We waited.

Soon, a La. Nat'l Guard Humvee showed up, and then another, and four Louisiana National Guardsmen followed us into the back yard.

When we explained that we are buying a house in Holy Cross, one of them laughed and said he'd think twice before doing that. There's a lot of drug activity in the area, he said.

"It can't be any worse than the violent crime in our area," I said, reminding him of Helen Hill's murder four blocks away. One of the others--was it "Steinbecker" or "Lukovich"?--said it was mostly just your regular drug-selling thugs, your run of the mill-type. We'd be surprised, he said; like seven out of ten guys they stopped had drugs on 'em.

I told them what happened and they asked for a description. "Black kids, right?"

The three or four of them fought over who would go out to pursue the kids. It seemed sort of silly to us... they'd taken so long to come and the kids dropped their booty, anyway, so how would they even catch them? Somehow it was settled that So-and-So would round the corner to look while the others waited for the cops.

Evidently the Nat'l Guard is not allowed to arrest. They explained this to us as we sat on the porch and discussed the ins and outs of crime and whatnot. "We can beat the shit of of 'em, but we can't arrest them." This seemed to frustrate them. They seemed to realize that beating the shit out of criminals wouldn't help. "We've got a reputation," one of them said. They're not all violent, he explained, but they had to be careful.

This surprised me. I guess I remember now that after the storm there were accusations of unnecessary violence and looting from the La. Nat'l Guard, but my own experience had been positive, and everyone I've talked to seems to prefer the Guard to our cops.

I related the story about our first night after we returned to New Orleans...

It was early October, and Simon and I had gone to Mimi's because wanted to see who was around and to get a margarita. I was so happy to be home, and so happy to be able to walk around with a drink that I carried a margarita home. On our way home, I found little Ray--this tiny orange kitty who peeked out from a fence by Terence's house--and so I put my drink down to coax him out. In the excitement, I left my drink on the sidewalk.

I went out to retrieve my margarita (priorities, folks!). Coming down the street were four guardsmen, sweeping the street in a line, big guns and all. One of them shined his Mag-lite at me. "Do you need help?"

"Nope," I sang, "Just looking for my margarita!"

He scanned the street and shined his light on my drink, which I skipped to and picked up before singing, "I love this city!"

...So I told them about this and they laughed and we talked about their being here since the storm, living in a hotel in the French Quarter (four days on, three off), and having their good times on Bourbon. They'd been in the Superdome, but somehow it's so "last year" that we didn't even talk about it. Instead we talked about when the cops would come.

We learned that they find the cops as inept as we do. They couldn't pick up the evidence, even--they had to wait for Crime Lab. So did we.

An hour and a half after it all began, we were finally going home. We'd given our information to the cops, 'though I knew that a video camera and sports equipment wouldn't lead to any sort of bounty-hunt, and we'd made some Nat'l Guard friends. I wish we had their number... it took too long--far too long--for the cops to come.

So that day, the division created by the Industrial Canal felt real, and while the Nat'l Guard came to the rescue, it wasn't altogther reassuring. Thank goodness, I guess, for we teachers, and for boys just being boys. If only they stayed that way.

If it sounds too good to be true...

Today we met with the PRC to discuss our home, and we learned that it may not, in fact, be our home.

I found out about problems with the bid late last week, and so rather than doing the essay-grading and conference-paper writing that I should have been doing, I despaired over the revised layout they'd sent--one which lobbed off over 125 square feet, leaving us with a home just one small bathroom larger than our current one.

Today we were told that construction expenses have skyrocketed, which I don't doubt, but the figures we looked over were outrageous (perhaps those not in New Orleans could tell me otherwise). For example: $18K for a basic tongue-and-groove wooden porch (roofless). Another example: over $3K for trim and baseboard painting.

Because we are buying this home renovated (as opposed to doing the renovations ourselves), we're not in a position to haggle over numbers or get into the PRC's relationship with its contractor, but in order to bring the renovation expenses down into our budget, we have been given the option of providing some materials--doors, faucets, lighting, cabinets, etc.

I listened to all of these figures, and I thought about what it meant, and when we were asked how we felt, I started to cry. It's how I do. If I;m not doing well and someone asks me if I'm okay, then my chin quivers, childlike, and I can't contain it. So if you sense that I'm not doing well, you should not ask me unless you are prepared to witness Not Doing Well. In this particular case, I excused myself and came back to the meeting several minutes later put back together.

It's just that we/I have become so attached to this particular home. We go down to Holy Cross every weekend to peek at it, to dream about living in it, and to walk along the levee. And my obsession with the home-buying affair has been of bridal proportions. Not since our wedding have I been so invested in a project. I've researched every aspect of the neighborhood. I've sung carols at the neighborhood association Christmas party. I've been singing the neighborhood's praises ever since I discovered it. In fact, I introduced Holy Cross to a colleague who has since bought a house there.

So to learn that 717 might not happen... well... I don't know, but I am one sad woman. I don't know what we will do, either. I mean, how will buying all of these materials work for us? We don't have much money saved (we've been putting away for closing costs and a Pottery Barn sofa, but not for doors and windows and fixtures), and we can't borrow more because we don't want to be house poor.

So after we left our meeting, Simon and I ate a lunch of Vietnamese po-boys and discussed our plans and got nowhere, really.

I have my theories, but I don't want to publish them here. We do, after all, want this house. I will say this: I know that Operation Comeback's goal is to help people like us (low to middle-income and first-time homebuyers) move into Holy Cross. But if they are having a difficult time making this approx 1200 square-foot home work for us, how does that bode for their program, as a whole? In other words, if they are having to spend $138/square foot for renovations in a neighborhood that has NO AMENITIES, no services, and very few neighbors, how do they plan to serve the needs of the targeted buyers of their homes? (Disclaimer: the $138 is based on two basic additions, which we have been told makes all the difference.)
Maybe I am foolish and I really don't have a clue about money. (Disclaimer: I'm an English teacher, and when it comes to even dividing my students into groups, I can't manage the math). This is possible. Without knowing much about odds, I'd say the odds are good that I really am clueless about what homes cost. Which begs the question: should we/I be buying one? Should we trust those little mortgage-calculator-thingies? Those glowing Lending Tree projections of managable mortgages (someone needs to put together a New Orleans home insurance calculator to bring us back to Earth).

At any rate, I had a much more uplifting and fun post in mind, and then there was this meeting. I'll do the funner one tomorrow.