Old and New (Originally Published 3/4/13)

So I started Informed Instigation with a lot of dreams back in the summer of 2009.

I was sitting in a hotel alone in a beach town of Vietnam and it was pouring. I had felt entirely stifled by the environment in Daegu, namely that everyone just sort of wanted to get drunk. I enjoyed that, but wanted more. I wanted my people whom I didn't have to drag or bribe to come play trivia. I wanted people who weren't always scheming on how to fuck each other. Etc. The same things everyone who's lived there knows. It's fun but if you're single and don't have a circle of close friends it's isolating.

Anyway, so I wanted to create the site to form deeper bonds with different people, both from home and from Korea. It worked. I wouldn't be good friends with Moise or Kurtis or Travis without it. And it got me to appreciate my friends from home a lot more than I already was. After all, they were my logical family.

But over time, things have changed. I had ideas that the site would feature photographers and several writers and I would slide into management more than pure content creation, but that didn't happen, because I didn't spend my energy on it. I went to grad school, finished, had a series of jobs in education, and finally made it to education management, which suits me very well. Just like teaching in general, didn't know I'd like it so much until I started doing it.

So, eventually, after I lopped off the dead weight of a Slavin or other folks I no longer had use for, I came to feel bored of never discussing pop culture. I didn't like the ultra-serious implications of Informed.

I created my tumblr. It's still there. It will continue when I remember to update it.

But the point of all this is, if the real value I get out of this is that we have these facebook conversations once a week (and I get longer discussions out of my statuses than anything else, honestly), I might as well stop pretending to be anything other than JustinPBG.

Because that's who I am. JustinPBG. 100%. Not as much of an instigator as I thought I was. Still presumably an informer. And accordingly, in a few weeks, I will launch JustinPBG.com (It exists now if you want to look at it, but there's not very much there, and I'm still playing with designs). Not for profit, not for any reason other than consolidating my various pursuits into one space. I'll keep my tumblr because it's so easy to use from my phone. I'm not leaving facebook (or my rarely used twitter or linkedin accounts). But I will be taking some greatest hits off of Informed and transferring them there, and then going from there into a site that works... however I want it to.

I currently have a very fulfilling position, one I hope to keep (or improve on) for years. I'm not using this as a virtual resume (unless I have to someday). It's just... Justin. In one place.

Come follow along as it evolves. If you find me compelling, the site will be interesting.

Thank you for engaging me in our discussions over the years, and I look forward to many more years of doing so, just with a different URL.

Peace and love,
JustinPBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Fuck 'Em (Originally Published 12/10/12)

I once heard a conservative response to the question, "Well, if you want to get rid of welfare altogether, what would you replace it with?" This person said she believed that NGOs would be more effective than government checks and assistance. There was only negative data to back this up (ie the gov't is of course inefficient) but I think this could work if and only if it was a gradual transition. Which is to say, NGOs would have to be created before state assistance was phased out. But where would these NGOs suddenly come from, I wonder? And how on earth could we ensure we weren't just damning millions of people to death just to save money?

I think it's fair to say that welfare isn't really an efficient system as currently constructed. People abuse it (as people do with any government system) and it's inexact, and it's slow, and there are a lot of problems with it. I really don't buy the argument that it's not fair that we should have to help the less fortunate - when the alternative is their death - but because of how inefficient it currently is, I can see why people think their money is being pissed down the drain.

People are probably always going to think that people who don't manage to become upwardly mobile are lazy. Of course, plenty of folks with money don't work hard - anyone who went to an elite university like I did knows that firsthand - but, the argument goes, they aren't being subsidized, so whatever.

You need not listen to me argue how many impoverished folks work very hard. Fact is, it's very difficult to simply move up without luck, hard work, and timing. That's how everyone succeeds, those three things, BUT when you are privileged, you have a lot more luck and a lot more opportunities for timing to work out.

If we (on this page, or in this country on the whole) are going to have a productive discussion, though, one side of the argument cannot simply be, "fuck 'em, let them die." If we are going to change the system, we need to change it so that more people have food, shelter and education, not fewer. There is massive inefficiency, and it needs to be eliminated, but we cannot simply shrug and let our fellow humans die just because we want to save money. I would have absolutely no problem letting private companies take over aid if we could guarantee there would be enough of them to do so. I think a lot of the arguments that some conservative folks make leave out the fact that people are just going to die if we take away their lifelines.

So, let's talk about it. How can we make it more efficient and effective? How can we help more people eat, sleep comfortably, get educated? Where can the money come from? (For starters, how about ending the drug war and the other wars doing little to help us currently?)

Here are some answers that will be ignored:

1. "It's not our responsibility to watch out for the less fortunate." Go live in a cave, Kurtis.

2. "People don't deserve aid." Sure, not constitutionally. But, as George Costanza says, we're living in a society, and I think it's imperative that those without means be given some means. My question isn't "should they" but "how should they." Because they should, unless you really are that cold.

Now, if you want to bring up bootstraps, you're a fool. No one made it to the top without help somewhere along the line. No one even made it to the middle that way.

But if you want to hear what I think, I think you cut out some needless nonsense (why is the Department of Homeland Security separate from the Dept. of Defense? Roll them together, for example), and really look hard at education and how to improve it. You send emissaries to every corner of the globe to pick and choose the good and discard the bad (anyone who just simply says, like Obama sort of did, that SK's education is amazing is ignoring how stressed and miserable their students are) and then, here's the big thing, figure out how to apply it to such a large country. When we revolutionize education, people without means don't automatically get rich, no, but they get healthier. That drives down costs as well, and if those with little means are demanding healthier food, perhaps it gets cheaper, too.

Anyway, these are pipe dreams.

My bottom line is, we need to cut out idiocy and red tape, for sure. I don't care if it's the government or private companies who aid the less fortunate so long as the less fortunate are not screwed out of some principle of self-involved solipsism. And there are a lot of places from which we could get needed funding that are far less necessary than helping the poor and educating the youth. I'm not saying you can never take a dollar away from a flimsy education system. But I think you try to actually fix it and have it lead the way to prosperity before you just gut it and perpetuate suffering.

This is all over the place. But "fuck 'em" cannot be an answer for how you would address poverty. You can't be that cold.

Now let's talk.

Peace and love,

Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Traveling While Black (Originally Published 7/10/12)

It's a curious thing I have noticed eer since I started embarking on various worldwide solo adventures: as a light-skinned black guy, people usually have no earthly clue where I am from until I open my mouth (but of course I open it pretty fast).

When I travel to countries where I don't speak the language and english (or french, or pidgin korean) isn't widely spoken, I have to be quiet for long periods, and people project various ethnicities and nationalities onto me.

Mostly this is hilarious, particularly in Korea, where they don't know what to do with brown skin.

Occasionally it's annoying, as I was specifically pulled out of the security line both entering and leaving Ecuador since they calculated I had a pretty good chance of stashing some drugs somewheres.

Sometimes, it's quite beneficial, since the mistaken assumption that I am not American leads many to figure I am not holding enough cash to be worth robbing (indeed the only time I have ever been mugged was in Brooklyn Heights of all places).

I can't write this without acknowledging privilege: I am obviously not targeted for sexual assault, and speaking this language opens up doors in most places. And then there's the fact that, even though I can't take several months off to travel like a lot of folks I have met on my trips, I still can manage to scrounge up the cash to add a new country to my list most years (and at least one new country every year since 2006; obviously a lot more while living in Asia).

I have no grand point here. I think my goal in sharing this is to say we should always remember our good fortune, and take note of the fact that race, gender, sexuality etc does have an impact on our daily lives, even if we are just taking a short vacation.

Fact is, traveling while black (and american, and young, and not poor, and straight, etc) is a different experience from traveling while being a member of various other groups.

Certainly not always bad though. You'd laugh too if naked Korean men in the sauna shouted 'bangladeshee ' and 'bettenam' at you.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

13 Things I Learned In Grad School (Originally Published 5/15/12)

Now that grad school is over, I can offer some pithy assessment. I'll be stentorian and stoic when I give my speech, but here's some fun.

Why 13? Because I like that number, fuck you. :)

1. Absolutely do not apply for, pay for, and attend graduate classes unless you can see a career ahead of you that the additional degree will help you achieve. You do not want to feel like you're spinning your wheels in the mud.

2. Your professors are smart. They're not all excellent professors. But you can learn something from all of them. Not everything, but something.

3. There will never be a level of schooling in which you are not, to at least some extent, doing work to fit some conception of what your evaluators want. This is both good and bad, but the point is you don't work in a vacuum. Remember this.

4. It really makes life more interesting when your whole life isn't consumed by one environment. I went part-time, but even if you go full-time, keep up hobbies, volunteer, anything so you're not in a school bubble for years.

5. Bibliographies have sucked since I was eleven. They will always suck. There is no escaping this suck. Use the internet to help you. And speaking of the internet, Blackboard sucks too.

6. Organization is your friend. You've long since left behind the time when hand-holding is feasible or even productive. You fall behind and it's on you.

7. "I work so much better at the very last minute" is not a thing you should keep saying. It happens sometimes, but try to avoid it being your MO. Because no one's going to accept sloppiness.

8. Sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Be healthy. Unlike college, we're adults now, and we need to act like it. 'Oh this paper is preventing me from eating.' No, you're preventing you from eating. You'll feel better if you treat yourself well.

9. Stop blacking out. Hangovers are no joke now. Heh.

10. I still have no idea what 'The Courtyard' is.

11. Cultivate productive relationships. With friends, lovers, peers, colleagues, family. Cut out the cancers and cherish the ones who matter. You don't need 2000 facebook friends either.

12. You always have more to learn...

13. But I'm pretty damn smart. :)

Hopefully some of you who have been through grad school - or are going through it - will find this resonant.

No post Thursday - graduating, and speaking! - so enjoy your week, folks.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Seeing Red (Originally Published 4/24/12)

I keep mentioning this to some of you but most of you don't know what I'm talking about. My friends who have known me for many years know this to be true.


I want to share with you a bit of what it was like inside my head when I thought in a negative manner.


First off, I was immature. And insecure. And lonely (romantically, I guess, but mostly in need of companionship by any definition).


These are not excuses, this is background info.


So, when all of those things are true, as they are for many teenagers, you need good people around you. But most people have good friends. You need more than for them to exist. You need to have a healthy relationship with them. And the rest of life ought to be positive too.


On and off from 2001 to February 2009, I lived in occasional fear of being tossed aside or ignored by peers. How it started was normal angst, but I internalized it, pitied myself, and blamed myself for all of it.


There were respites from this. I had fun days, weeks, months. And 2006 was a very good year overall. But it wasn't until 2009 that I finally realized I needed to fix it all and I needed to do it by myself; it wasn't just going to solve itself.


There was anger and resentment and jealousy coursing through me. Never violence, never the thought of harming someone else. But definitely isolation, definitely fright. I did gain great, valuable friends through luck and circumstance, and though I was, and remain, loyal, I wasn't as good to them as I could have been.


I certainly didn't hold my tongue or pick my battles. Any disagreement could lead to unpleasant arguments. And most weekends – especially in college – I never really wanted to go to sleep on Saturdays because it meant I would have to wait four-plus days before I could attempt to feel positive again.


I didn't have the real capability to feel happy for peers because I wondered what the hell was so broken with me that I couldn't achieve these things myself. And, sure, I dragged myself through my first two years and academically excelled my last two years at Princeton. Got a bachelor's degree at 20.


But I had all this hanging on me. My back was all knotted up for years and the stress made sleeping difficult. The fact that, of course, my life was not difficult objectively just added guilt to the mix so it made for a poisonous brew I drank most days.


I tell you this not for the sake of sympathy, which I do not think I need or deserve.


But to explain to you why I write peace and love at the end of each of these (because I mean it), why I am so determinedly goal-oriented even in social matters (because setting and reaching goals kept me afloat when little else did), and why I try very hard to stay positive.


This is not to say I never get into arguments now. I will never be that guy. And if you get in my way on the subway, yeah, I might want to kick you. Because you deserve it :)


I am, however, continuously taking pains not to be angry. Not to be self-pitying. Not to feel like my life is lacking.


My life will be over-stuffed for the next few months, like every spring, and yeah, I can't figure out the dating thing.


But so long as I don't have a catastrophe, I will remain positive, I will continue to push forward, and I will continue not to even feel the anger that used to surround me.


It's not like quitting smoking where you crave it all the time. I don't even yearn to let out anger these days. It's not in me anymore.


Anger works for some people, I suppose. But anger hurts me, and it hurt me for years. So I continue to do what I can to make sure it doesn't come back.


And if you see me slip up – I am no saint, it will occur – let me know, and help me get back to the positivity.


Thanks for listening.


Peace and love,
JustinPBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Meeting Halfway (3/13/12)

Interesting discussion has arisen on the message boards of one of my classes.

We were talking about how, already and increasingly so, the number of English speakers worldwide is slanted towards those who have acquired it as a second or third or fourth or fifth language.

Those who acquire English from someplace other than their childhood homes and hometowns usually know (or are told) that, whatever accent they have - and everyone, even all of us native speakers, have an accent, be it regional, national or class-based - they will need to work to be understood by us native speakers. Depending on how they plan to use the language, they can and often do work towards accent reduction or at least clarity of enunciation on particular sounds that might give them trouble. The point is, they are usually aware of the task ahead of them and they either address it or choose not to.

But the fact remains, it is us, the native speakers, who need to take some steps, too. We all have accents, as I said above - even 'flat american' is an accent - and although the US may dominate pop culture in a lot of ways, the face of the english speaker is not blonde and blue-eyed, much as discriminatory hagwons wish it was (haha).

The burden is placed on the english language learners, but we too have a job to do. No, in our daily lives most of us - not I, and other ESL teachers of course, but most of us - will not necessarily need to be understood by language learners. But it's likely that, through travel, social media, or just happenstance, we will speak english to someone who has acquired it later in life, and we should act accordingly.

Now, there are stupid, condescending ways to do this. The way many of our fellow Korea guest teachers eliminate verb conjugation from their speech is not going to help anyone. And unless you actually are a teacher with beginner students, you don't have to slow down, really. The most likely encounter is probably with someone fluent in the language. It's case by case, of course, but we should be conscious of, say, a difference in idiomatic expressions or of particular vocal tics we may possess. This is not to say we need to truly become different speakers, but that we need to be aware of the fact that others may have different perspectives and experiences with the language.

It's not so much that we need to bite our tongues. It's that we need to be prepared in case we are not perfectly understood and not get mad or upset because of it.

They're still doing the legwork. But we can meet them part of the way there.

Peace and love, Justin PBG

 

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Removing Options (1/10/12)

I think, if you live in a place where you walk out of your house, drive to work, and drive back home (or are driven to each place), it's pretty easy to think of impoverished people as a thing that only exists on your television (or perhaps online or at the movies). If you don't engage with them, see them, or remember your time as one of them, I can see why you might forget about them pretty easily. I'm thus not confused why people in various pockets of the country (and the world, but it's here that I'm writing about) find the concerns of those without means not to be particularly important. And I speak not of people who want to merely reform or change social aid – there are certainly valid points to be made about how it should be accomplished and how much we can currently afford – but people whose kneejerk reaction is simply, “Why should we bother to help them?”

So I get it. If you really don't have a clue about the poor, then it's still not very nice to think they should be ignored, but it's not exactly confusing to me.

In my view, every group of people deserves compassion, and discussions about how that compassion should be meted out are valuable. Do we simply require each citizen to give a portion of their income to those without means? Do we guarantee everyone a certain wage? Do we create an incentive program? How would these incentives work? Feel free to dive into these discussions below.

But what I think is unacceptable is the set of ideas that allows someone – whether common citizen or politician – to believe that we should rip the rug out from under all social aid without replacing it with something that will not kill people. Because the fact is, for the small percentage of freeloaders out there, there are plenty of folks who depend on aid for medication, who work long hours (like everyone else) to support their families, and who, if you take away their very thin safety net, they will be left without options. And a person without options is usually not a rational one.

My main point is this: let's have our debates about how to help. But we can't pretend that removing all help will do anything but make people suffer more than they already are. If you think we can provide them with a more viable and productive option, by all means, let us talk about that. But just telling the impoverished that they can go fuck themselves is straight cruelty, even if it doesn't surprise me.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Long-Term Goals (Originally Published 11/28/11)

As you may have heard because I won't shut up about it, I've gotten more and more into health and fitness over the last 12 to 14 months. What started it was, last fall I... sort of had not much to do with myself beyond my first semester of grad school, and I had started to really think about what I was putting into my body. So that's when I cut out soda (aside from rum n cokes) and surgically attached a water-filled mug to my hand whenever I am at home or teaching.

My family is also, being relatives of Justin G, big on teasing people. If I ever get doughy or wider, I will find out over the holidays. By chance, my mom gave me a sweatshirt (that I still wear to the gym quite often) that was a litttttle too small for me. I'm not that jerky kid who refuses a thoughtful gift, but when I put it on, my stepdad did say I needed to keep off the beer gut to make sure it wasn't too tight.

I pouted, but, after I saw some pictures from my cruise in January, I needed to hit it harder.

The story isn't that interesting, and it's only about halfway told by this point. But, having lived along the marathon route in both 2010 and 2011, I've longed to be a part of something so massive and personally challenging. I'll never beat the Kenyan machines, but I have convinced myself I can at the very least finish the damn thing (and take the next day or two off of work).

So. I'm going to get myself into the 2012 NYC marathon by raising (at least) $2720 dollars by next October 5th. You will all hear more about this come January.

But the marathon, that's a very specific long-term goal. A goal that, once I finish, will be achieved. It's not subjective or arguable. If I finish, then I did it.

A lot of other goals aren't as easy to pinpoint.

You want to get into shape? Okay. What will you be able to do that you couldn't before? Etc. (This is something I had to answer for myself about five years ago.)

So today I want to ask you to share some long-term goal you have set out for yourself and achieved and (briefly) how you managed to do so.

I can't claim this marathon yet. And while I have done a fair amount of interesting things in my day, many of them were "assumed" goals (eg, once I entered college, the goal was, of course, to graduate).

I can say, though, that one long-term goal I have set out for myself and achieved was writing my thesis without allowing my life to descend into days, weeks, or months of shut-in madness in the library.

I wrote my entire thesis in my dorm room. Usually in the afternoons. Occasionally in the evenings. Never at night (seriously, never). I didn't skip an entire weekend to focus. I didn't forget to shower or bathe. I didn't disappear. And while it wasn't perfect (and I sure don't much enjoy reading it now, so I.. just don't read it), I'm glad that, during what was a very stressful year for me, the biggest academic part of it didn't really hang over my head like an anvil. It just became a part of my weekly schedule and it got handled.

(If you want me to share how dorky my scheduling was: back then, “Law and Order” came on TNT from 2-4. So every Monday, Weds, and Fri I would watch it, and write two pages of my thesis. Never failed. And at 4 “Charmed” would come on and I'd run away to the gym. Sundays some movie or whatever would be on, and I'd have that in the background. And I did this, just about every week, from Thanksgiving to the end of March. Handed that shit in early.)

So. What long-term goals have you set and achieved? And I'm talking about things under your control. Not, “I want to meet a wife/husband this year,” because, no. Heh.

Peace and love,

Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Not Slavery (Originally Published 11/2/11)

Here we are again, taking a bad situation and trying to paint it as something it's not.

Things are bad for many people in the west and around the world. I can't stand that I have to say that, but I don't want people to say, “Maaan, you're on the side of the 1%!” Of course not.

But the fact is: You know what's slavery? Slavery. And that's it. (Sex slavery is slavery too, of a particular sort. Our situation is not sex slavery either, but at least no one's saying that.)

Metaphorical chains ARE NOT CHAINS.

It does suck that people have to push themselves to work far longer than they should have to, that people are deeply in debt after being pushed around by people with far more power and influence.

And if they choose not to pay, they wouldn't have their homes, or their food. Things would indeed get far worse.

But if you can go home (note: obviously there are millions of homeless out there...), and spend time with your family, and you are not under constant threat of literal death (not metaphorical death, or gradual, eventual ruin), you're not an actual slave.

Is there a master and/or an overseer who will kill you – as in, end your life – if they find out you're particularly intelligent?

Can you vote? (And having very poor choices between candidates is not the same as not being legally allowed to vote.)

Are you forced to live on a plantation and work without pay? Not for little pay, but without pay at all?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you are not a slave.

I write this not to diminish the actual struggles of millions of people. I write this to criticize hyperbolic silliness like this video that, in its first thirty seconds, ruins its entire thesis by referring to our situation as “literal” slavery.

This is a Princess Bride situation: people keep using that word, and it does not mean what they think it means.

The fact of the matter is, invoking slavery is like invoking Nazis: it's rarely if ever justified and it just makes the speaker look clueless. So, let's stop it.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

I'm a PC (Originally Published 10/19/11)

It's occurred to me that most of the time when people speak out against political correctness are usually just saying jerky things. I will say that I agree that there should not be any restrictions on their ability to say something about this or that group of people. If you want to generalize, you should definitely feel free. I'm sure I do it too. You are allowed to say what you want, so long as it's not advocating violence etc.

I'm talking mostly about people who say something, and then someone express displeasure or offense, and their reaction is “Stop being PC!” (or sometimes “stop being sensitive,” but we'll stick to PC for the purposes of this discussion). Again, if you want to say things that may offend, okay.

But let me ask the anti-PC crowd (few of whom will read this, but still): why is it we feel the need to do this? Amongst friends and without malice, it's likely you won't cause any pain. But, to those with whom you are less immediately familiar, is there a need to call someone “gay” or “retarded?” Or to compare being photographed to being raped? Or, more importantly, if you happen to say such a thing, it can indeed be a mistake. When someone is hurt by it, why defend your “right” to be a dick? Yeah, you can be like that if you want. But why do you want to?

Look. I'm not nice to everyone. I say mean things sometimes. I try not to, but I slip up. But the goal is not to be perfect. The goal is to accept criticism and work with it, not immediately throw up a wall of angry defense.

Or, if you truly disagree with why they're upset, you can talk to them about it. With respect, and NOT by dismissing their feelings.

We all have the right to be as unPC as we want. The question is simply why that would be something we would want at all if others are hurt by it.

Peace and love,

Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Accented (Originally Published 10/10/11)

So I've often mistakenly said that I don't have a New York accent. This is false. Everyone has an accent. My accent is, I would guess, exactly what you would expect from an American born in 1986 in Manhattan whose parents were not native New Yorkers and who grew up in the milieu and socioeconomic circumstances that I did. Region is of course a big part of accents, but class, education (not so much “good” or “bad” but type) and the voices of those around you will shape how you speak as well.

But I'm going to take us Northerners to task here. We all have accents. Just because we do not speak with a Southern drawl or a midwestern twang does not mean we are neutral. We simply speak the way most of the people around us do, so it seems normal.

Think of it this way: when British actors play American successfully, they're not removing their own accents so much as adopting ours.

But that's not the real point. Because most of you reading this are native English speakers. Even though we all speak the language differently, fact is no one will assume we do not understand them just because of the way we speak.

If you have a distinct accent that is very clearly from a country that speaks little English, though, you might be the brightest person around, with impeccable grammar, but people will (consciously or not) assume you don't know what the hell you're talking about. Less so in urban centers, where people are used to all sorts of different voices, but it still happens on the subway.


The goal here is twofold. First, we need to consciously remind ourselves that speaking English with a particular accent does not make someone intellectually inferior. They might well be stupid, but you need more than a drawl to know that about them. We also shouldn't assume that having the same accent as you makes someone more likely to get along with you, although I have dropped a few 'g's at the end of my gerunds when speaking to my more Southern relatives. Silly Justin.

The other side of the coin is to recognize what some folks may have to endure. We can sit here and not misjudge people for speaking with particular accents, and that's nice, but there are other people out there who will still mistreat someone for speaking English “weird,” and we need to keep this in mind when relating to someone who speaks differently. I make fun of Boston and Long Island accents because they hurt my ears (what? They do!), but fact is, that's how people spoke as they were growing up, so to expect them not to do so is to expect them to dismiss part of themselves. They may want to do this, but we need not force it on them.

We're all accented individuals, folks. This isn't to say no teasing is warranted, but accents have absolutely not bearing on intelligence or kindness, and it's best we keep this in mind.

One final question: what accents do you admit make you cringe? I mentioned mine above. You know you have at least one. The goal here is to be honest and then work on not judging said folks in the future.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Quoth The Scholar (Originally Published 5/16/11)

So, you remember this thing that was going around two weeks ago after Osama was shot? Yes, you do.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

Now, King said everything starting with “returning.” The story is that a woman added the first sentence as her own original thoughts, and then someone lazily mashed them together, and then it spread as people smugly crossed their arms at the cathartic celebrations. We needn't get back into all of that (all of you who were upset, it didn't really last very long, did it?). Though my one friend actually went as far as to say, after she was corrected, that she didn't care that he didn't actually say it. Smart one, that. Anyway.

But this quote thing is an epidemic. If facebook asks you for your favorite quotation, then it makes sense to just quote this or that.

If you actually want to make a point, though, don't just copy and paste. When you just quote something, you're essentially retweeting, just giving something a thumbs-up without a thought. And that has its place, but it does not itself make or support an argument.

Didn't we all learn in middle school that, when writing an essay, we couldn't just quote the book we were writing about, but had to explain why the quotes were significant? Yet we devolved somewhere along the line into deciding that because MLK or Gandhi or Buddha said it, it MUST be correct, no arguments. In fact, we usually pick figures who are not controversial so that we can avoid conflict with those who might read it (and people tend to be annoyed when anyone challenges these quotes, but I digress).

I guarantee you, even the greatest luminaries have said many things with which you do not agree. And since people are too lazy to do research, if someone attributed something unpleasant to MLK, people would just let it stand without challenge because “OMG MLK said it.” All of those people listed above deserve our time and attention, particularly so because they were complex figures, and hardly without flaws. In rubber stamping quotes, we reduce these figures to platitudes, and we reduce our input and arguments to nothing at all.

I suppose this is easy for me to say, as I have a forum and readers and all. And I won't pretend I've never been guilty of this. But the silliness from a few weeks back threw it into sharp relief for me, that just quoting without one's own analysis isn't enough to actually make a real argument. And if all you want to say is that you agree with the sentiment, fine. List it in your favorite quotations, and don't expect to make a persuasive argument because of it.

And make sure it's actually what the motherfucker said, eh? Or else you just look real stupid.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Things That Are Nazi-Like (Originally Published 2/7/11)

I'm going to make two lists for you, even though I know I'm preaching to the choir.

Here are some things that can be fairly compared to the acts of Nazis:

Genocide
Mass murder (I'm aware that those overlap, but they are not strictly the same thing)
Concentration Camps
Violent Anti-Semitism
Violent Racism (ditto the parenthetical above)
Leaders who encourage/support/instigate the things above
Propaganda that encourages/supports/instigates the things above
Ghettos in the original sense of the word.
A few other things, but you get the idea.

And here is what cannot be fairly compared to the acts of Nazis:

Almost everything else.

This happens on the right, and this happens on the left. It's more common for whichever side is not currently in the white house, but there are exceptions to this.

The point is, if you're trying to make an argument about a policy or a person you don't agree with, and they're not committing one of the acts in the first list, and the best thing you can come up with is to label them a “Nazi,” just shut up, because you've already lost.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Be A Man (Originally Published 11/10/10)

So I was at the gym last week. I was in the locker room. And two guys who I see there a lot were having a conversation about women. This usually doesn’t end too well in terms of tolerance.

So there they were, mostly naked. And the thesis of their extremely convincing argument (oh shit, there’s the sarcasm again) was this: many things that women do are socially acceptable for platonic female friends but would be considered homoerotic if male friends chose to do it. Or, to put it in their words, “Women dance up on each other at the club, that shit is lesbian.” And so on. Other examples: going to the bathroom together; underwear shopping; something to do with menstruation (I had tuned them out by this point). It was like hacky 80s standup resurrected from the grave.

And this wasn’t the first time the gayness had come up in that locker room (which, I ought to point out, is in Manhattan; I can bet you that at least one openly gay person had to listen to their hateful bullshit. Anyway). A few weeks earlier, they were talking to one of the gym’s staff, a jovial guy from the West Indies. And this time their conversation was about the fact that, see, so many television shows were too open about their tolerance for homosexual or homosexual-like behavior. Or, as they said, “There’s too much gay shit on TV.” Their main argument was Stewie Griffin. And so on.

Sadly, I didn’t get in their face (the guys were huge, and it’s never all that wise to antagonize someone who performs a service you need; excuses, excuses). So here I am passive-aggressively writing about it in a place where they’ll never see it. I’m such a hero.

It occurred to me after I listened to their nonsense that these three guys (who were all black… sigh) would be considered the epitome of manliness. Muscular, tall, above drinking age, etc. And in a place where they often complimented each others’ physiques (which I find funny when juxtaposed with their other bullshit), they felt the need to disparage several other groups at once. It’s the manly thing to do, see.

Well, there have been many books about what it means to be a man. Even Steve Harvey wrote one, for some reason.
I prefer Mulan’s definition, though. (Oh, and that’s Donny Osmond singing. Which cracks me up.)

Anyway, as a man, I’m curious about what that means. I write it at a time when gender roles are shifting, and one can opt out of the gender (or the sex, which isn’t the same thing), or opt in. Is it merely hairstyle, pitch of voice? Is it the biology of not being able to bear children, etc? It’s a lot of things to be a man.

But I’m clear about a few things.

To be a man, you do NOT have to disrespect women.

To be a man, you do NOT have to disrespect LGBT individuals.

To be a man, you do NOT have to resort to violence before diplomacy.

(And of course you could make a corresponding list for being a woman.)

To me, it seems that, far too often, we make a distinction between being a man and being a woman, as if the latter is poisonous. Personally, I have no particular desire to distance myself from femininity. You all know I’m secure enough to put on a skirt or sing the female part in a duet at karaoke.

What I know don’t want to be is a boy. A child. A creature with little life-knowledge. I’m always learning more about myself and the world, but I remember what it’s like to be a kid, and I remember what it’s like to care so much about how you’re perceived that you’ll put down this or that group of people to be more like the guys around you. It makes sense at 12, even though it’s unfortunate. (And girls do this too.)

But when you hit your twenties, and every woman is still a “bitch,” and not liking football still makes someone a “faggot,” and you bristle at the thought of having a lady as a boss, you’re not any more of a man than someone who likes (insert effeminate stereotype, but I’ll go with:) pink. If you feel the need to assert your massive manliness all over the damn place, you’re really just a little boy. And it’s time that a lot of people learned how to cut that shit out and turn themselves into men.

As I said above, I don’t know exactly what it means to be a man. But I know what it means to be a boy. And there are far too many of those running around out there mistreating people because they feel that’s what they need to do.

Boys: grow the fuck up. Men: show them how it’s done. And everyone: If you’re close to (or dating) a boy, and not a man, tell them what's up. There’s no need to validate their bullshit.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Nothing Ever Changes (Originally Published 11/07/10)

Nothing ever changes in the United States of America. It’s true.

If you’re in the states, it’s easy to see. Just look out the window. It’s clear things are exactly the same as they were five, ten, fifty years ago.

We’ll never have a black president, after all. We’ll never be ready.

And if the army wants you to serve, then goddamn it, you’re going to serve. You don’t have a choice.

And if I wanted to marry one of my white ex-girlfriends, I certainly could not. That’s a lynchable offense, don’t’cha know.

And in the small towns of the South, where some of my relatives were born and raised, the color of your skin still determines whether or not you can vote. Don’t believe me? Look it up. It’s true.

For that matter, if you have a vagina, the first Tuesday in November is just another day full of household chores. Surely you needn’t bother yourself with getting out to the polls, as you’ll be turned away. It’s the law, after all.

And really, I may not like it, but if you want to buy me and have me work in your fields, then by all means, that is your right. I think I’m worth at least two hundred dollars, but that’s not up to me.

No, my friends, in the United States of America, nothing ever changes. When I see people write this after a political disappointment, I nod in agreement, for they are one hundred percent correct, and it absolutely is not a lazy way to justify their insidious apathy.

We shouldn’t bother to stay informed or invested, because things will always be the same. It’s best if we accept this.

Consciousness, engagement, activism? Fuck all that shit. The best place to be is at home, watching “Two and a Half Men” on your television. Oh, I’m sorry – what am I saying? I meant listening to “Amos ‘n Andy” on your radio, because, after all, nothing ever changes in the United States of America.

So to those of you who are thinking about supporting the causes you believe in: just stop; you’re wasting your time. Clearly, committing yourself to something you care about is just silliness, and it won’t help in the least. And voting? Pah! Only money determines winners. Just ask Governor-elect Meg Whitman. 

It’s time we all learned that giving up is the way to go. Apathy is where it’s at. And expressing this apathy on the internet – I mean, on a piece of parchment – is the height of sophistication.

If you are one of the foolish people out there spending precious time on trying to advance some “policy” or “candidate,” go home. Hard work never pays off. No movements or revolutions have ever been successful in this country. 

Because this is the motherfucking United States of America. And nothing ever changes here.

:)


-Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Soda (Originally Published 10/17/10)

I’m not sure when I first started drinking soda. It was probably sometime around age nine or ten, when I would go to McDonald’s (a whole ‘nother issue) and my mom wouldn’t let me get the supersized meal, and boy howdy, I coveted that big old sprite. Then, when I was twelve, my father and I went on a cross-country driving trip (of course, he drove the whole way), and all we did was buy 12 packs of coke. It was so much fun. And, for various reasons, I ended up having to hold my pee from Houston to New Orleans to prove a point. That was a painful day.

But anyway, up until this summer, soda was probably one of the things I imbibed the most. Usually coke, sometimes sprite, sometimes Sunkist, always unhealthy. I stopped this summer, for the most part, because I was melting in my apartment, and I was smart enough to know that soda, cold and liquid though it may be, doesn’t hydrate you for shit.

Most of you know that, of course. But see, whereas we are all told at some point how dangerous cigarettes are, how you have to drink in moderation, we all vaguely know that soda’s harmful, but we don’t really process it, and it becomes a staple of our diet. (And before Mo says, “SODA IS NOT IMPORTANT!” I will freely admit this applies to sugary juices, Captain Crunch, and lots of other things. Chill.) When I went to Angkor Wat, there were monkeys running around drinking the remnants of discarded soft drinks. And it was cute, and sort of hilarious, to watch them miss their mouths and pour it down their chests. (That’s what she…)

But really, soda is cheap, it’s abundant, and it has no nutritional value. I am not here to say anyone doesn’t have the right to indulge in it, but, like my little status rant about caffeine, soda and other sugar-infused substances contribute to the country’s expanding waistline (and health problems) far more than most of us bother to think about. I remember looking at the stats on the back of a coke bottle and laughing as I realized one 20 oz can was far more sugar than my body needed for an entire day’s fuel.

It’s crazy that this is the stuff we willing put into our bodies. No crazier than alcohol, sure, but at least we all know we’re hurting ourselves in the long run if we abuse that substance. And the thing is, me and you all having this discussion won’t do much. In order to reverse this disturbing trend, we need to pump our students full of information, not just empty calories. I volunteered with a fantastic program this spring that encouraged not only active behavior but strong, healthy choices in terms of diet. And when I say diet, I mean choosing what to eat, not crash diets, which are, once again, a whole ‘nother issue, one which generally just makes me sad.

I choose soda because it’s something I recently cut out of my own diet. You could swap in a lot of the other things most Americans eat, because very few of us eat the way we should. The bottom line is, we need to educate our fellow citizens, and especially our young people, about exactly what’s going into their bodies. And if they have all the information and still choose to fuck themselves up, then, fine. Their grave.

But we need to get up off the couch, stop looking for a silly quick fix, put away the cola, and be smart, active people if we don’t want to watch our bodies give out decades before they otherwise might.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Covert Affairs (Originally Published 10/10/10)

Overt racism is sexy. Racial slurs, violence, rage, that shit is cinematic. They make movies about that shit. That’s how “Crash” beat four better movies for the Oscar. That’s how Hollywood thinks all race-based movies MUST be made. Curb-stomping, car-dragging, lynching racism is what they tell us to look out for. If we see a skinhead with a swastika (as, if you remember the summer, I did), we better run.

But really, as you can tell from the title and the juxtaposition, it’s pretty easy to live your life away from overt racism. I remember, until an old lady called me “a little nigger” when I was sixteen, I hadn’t really seen any. Oh sure, a cab would refuse to stop for me and my dad, but I chalked it up to a mistake. A woman assumed, because I was in a nice neighborhood, that I was selling “that stuff” when I was really just waiting for my friend on the corner, but, hey, could happen to anyone. And when my dad told me to watch out for people treating me differently because of my skin color, I would think it was sad he still assumed the worst of people.

Covert racism, institutional racism, these are the bigger issues in our country (and I’d say in Canada too, though in Asia they were pretty open about it if they felt that way). It’s not some yokel with missing teeth and a rifle we have to fear, especially in the cities. It’s that supervisor seeing us react angrily to a legitimate issue and lumping us in with a stereotype. It’s not Derek Vinyard lurking around every corner, it’s an ambulance taking a policeman taking a split-second longer to help us.

If any of you have seen that somewhat tolerable movie “Finding Forrester” – you know, “you’re the man now, dog!” – the plot twists itself around a moment where the black kid’s school suspects him of plagiarizing Sean Connery’s story. And they have a meeting where they sit around and discuss whether or not he cheated. And Salieri from Amadeus is like, “He’s a basketball player. From the Bronx.” Because negroes live there, see.

Aside from the fact that I totally know white people who are from the Bronx (Hi, Deirdre!), this is what they want us to believe is going on. Evil assholes twirling their mustaches and denying us equal treatment. But these days, this is simply not the case, not most of the time. Now, I usually try to align black folk with other groups, but in this case, it’s different. You DO see overt anti-Semitism, not just from Mad Max, but from various leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere. You DO see rampant homophobia all over the place. Anyone makes an obviously racist remark against black folks, and they are sunk. Which is a lot of progress from the days when that would get you elected Governor. We clearly need to do more in this country to move past a situation where homophobia is still popular, and, internationally, the same goes for anti-Semitism.

But really, my main point is that we simply have to keep our eyes open. The most common forms of bigotry in this country are not going to present themselves to us, and will not be changed if we expect that. We have to be vigilant in rooting it out, lest it remain a part of us throughout the future.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Barack and Curtis (Originally Published 10/6/10)

So my brilliant friend Hannah passed along this very interesting video about Black masculinity.

So, watch it. It’s ten minutes long. Clear some time, and use some headphones if you’re at work (or wait until you get home).Here you go.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Questions of class, questions of tolerance. Feel free to jump on whatever you like.

I think what I take away from it, first and foremost, is that, when folks are stereotyped, they are robbed of their nuance. To people who know nothing of black men, we can’t have, as the commentator says in the video, “every human emotion.” To put any group in a box is to reduce them to less than what they deserve to be.

I could choose not to focus on this, but it would be foolish not to. Fact is, when I go into an interview or sidle up to a woman, one would hope they’re not thinking “Barack or Curtis?” in their head, but at some level, to those whose only experience with black males is through the president and popular culture, the thought occurs. And remember, to many, being pigeonholed as one or the other would be terrible to different segments of the population. Yes, within “educated” circles, most would prefer to come off as Barack, but even though Curtis makes braindead music, he’s actually a savvy businessman, and makes most of his money from non-music ventures, including Vitamin Water.

As the end of the video says, a re-definition is necessary. But it’s easy for me to say that with my Ivy League degree and my nice apartment. The folks who live in the housing projects up the block from me aren’t sitting around blogging about this issue in the abstract. In writing this at all, I’m sort of lumping myself into the “Harvard/Impotent” side of the discussion. Much as I still chuckle at “The Fresh Prince,” they certainly weren’t setting Carlton up as being masculine for really wanting to go to Princeton.

So how to redefine, then? And perhaps many of you won’t feel you’re in a position to comment, and if so, I apologize for sort of freezing you out.

But for those of you who choose to participate: how do we move away from the dichotomy of Barack and Curtis? How do we do this while keeping in mind that it’s really easy to tell underprivileged folk to “stop acting like that,” but a lot more difficult for them to find themselves in a position where they don’t feel the pressure to posture as a violent thug just to gain the respect of their peers? (What a long question that was.)

Those of us with dark skin know that, in East Asia, we’re “Obama!!!” before we’re anything else. And, at home, to certain segments of the population, they fear we’re all Curtis. So how do we get to be seen as full human beings?

Peace and love, and lots of food for thought,

Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

The Natives (Originally Published 9/1/10)

You may notice a slight shift in the things that we end up talking about, as I am now officially a grad student (as of Monday), and most of my reading will be related to that. I'll still peruse other things, but expect to talk about education. And education is interesting, so we'll always have something worth discussing.

All right, so I cracked open my books for the first time the other day, and I came across definitions of ESL and EFL (the F is for Foreign) and other acronyms. By the way, most of us who taught in Korea were actually EFL teachers: ESL is defined as teaching English in a location where the language is used in daily activity. So when I teach the language here in NYC it's ESL, but in Korea, they learn it in school and then walk outside and it's time for Hangeul. Thus, EFL.

Anyway, two of my three readings talked about something called “the native teacher fallacy,” which you have probably intuited without giving a name to it. Essentially, as all of us know, schools love to hire native teachers purely based on their being native speakers with little regard to their, you know, skills as an educator.

Think for a moment. How many people have you met who have our job and should probably just be partying on a beach somewhere instead of in a classroom? The advantage we are assumed to have is our familiarity with the language – and this is true – but the disadvantage of this is what we never had to learn the language, not in terms of structure and rules and such beyond “i before e,” and so we all have had those moments where we're trying to explain things that just make sense to us but are typically illogical features of the English language. And this is a lot of the reason why.

Of course, our pronunciation is going to be better – sometimes. Even if we don't have Korean (or whatever country we're in) accents, we still have idiosyncratic ways of speaking, unless we're trained newscasters or some such. Consequently, the students will pick up our patterns, even if they're incorrect. And if we've been speaking our own way for decades, we're not really going to know if we're incorrect in the first place.

So, the fallacy is just the assumption that native teachers automatically trump non-native teachers. Each of you knows five people that are perfect examples of this not being true.

On the other hand, well, you've seen how lazy and ill-equipped non-native teachers can be. Most of the time they talk vaguely in the direction of sleeping kids, and somehow the kids can reach 12th grade without knowing that you're only supposed to say “Nice to meet you” one goddamn time.

Within each teacher population, there are talented and dedicated individuals, and those that make the rest of the group look bad.

So what's to be done?

Well, if you're a teacher, whether it's ESL or EFL, elementary or secondary school, private or public, just take this into account when you do your job. You are not automatically talented because you're a native teacher, and you do not automatically know more about the construction of the language. Linguistics and related things are an entirely different discipline than fluency.

Knowing this, what we all need to do is evaluate ourselves. What am I an expert in, and where can I improve? What do my co-workers know better than I do, and what can I learn from them? And, of course, what do the students really need?

It is certainly possible that your school won't give you the freedom to do what the students need, and that's probably one of the biggest problems I saw while I was there (and I see it as I work here too).

But if we all take a step back and really think about the job we have, it will benefit us, it will benefit our colleagues, and, most importantly, it will benefit the students.

And if you don't care to take the time to evaluate yourself at all, then go party on a beach somewhere and leave the hard work to the rest of us.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Echo Chambers (Originally Published 7/19/10)

I've touched on this before, but one of the things I think that can drag people down without them realizing it is peoples' tendency to place themselves in echo chambers and live their lives amongst people who look, act, and think like them. Not everyone has the option to do this, and of course, the more money and power you have, the more you can select who you fraternize with, but we all do this to some degree. We join organizations that we feel reflect our views, we see movies and watch TV shows that lean the same way we do, we, um, join eating clubs full of people like us. To some degree, this isn't really a bad thing. It's comforting to exist in a space that we can consider an extension of ourselves. And the exact opposite isn't necessarily better. You won't see me hanging out at Klan rallies trying to “experience” what they're like.

But there's a middle ground here, that we ought to do more of. (And when I say “we,” I, as always, include myself among the people who should take my advice.) 

I'm not saying we need to join some sort of anti-gay organization if we're LGBTQ individuals, or the Klan example I used above. But more of us need to mix it up with people we assume we might not get along with. All of the people we consider close to us shouldn't be 100% similar, whether we're talking race, gender, religion (or lack thereof), nationality, etc.

I'm preaching to the choir with most of you. But I remember being at Starbucks and visually eavesdropping on a woman's facebook page (oh, shut up, she kept laughing and she was sitting next to me), and my lord, every single one of her friends seemed to look exactly the same, and just like her as well.

I don't know that woman, so that's probably a poor example to use. But, simply enough, I think we should be far less afraid to mingle with those that seem utterly foreign to us. They say that one of the best ways to break down the barriers of prejudice is to engage in positive interaction with groups you might have thought poorly of otherwise. We ought to try it more.

I know that among the 5 or 6 most frequent commenters on this site/my notes, only one or two of them actually agree with me on most political issues. I'm no hero whatsoever, but at least I'm trying to follow my own advice.

And so, I ask you, who in your life represents a departure from your echo chamber but still makes you glad to know them? I could easily start, as my tagging usually does, with Akil, Slavin and Kurt, but there are tons of others in my life whose brains work quite differently from mine, and my life is all the richer for it.

Peace and love,

Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality