04 May 2010

Looking back for a moment...

Those that don't know me well might mistake general disdain for most things as a sign that I don't like people. And that would be a correct assumption, as, for the most part, people annoy the living shit out of me. I also don't like babies or most animals (I love my animals, but would run yours over if it meant I didn't hurt my car). It's the reason it's a little surprising to me that the graduation of my seniors is a little more depressing than I thought it would be...



...I make a pretty concerted effort to not be too involved with my students lives outside of speech and debate- makes it easier for me to not hold resentment against other parts of the campus based on taking time away from my kids, and thus hurting their possibilities of success. It also has a little to do with kids being inherently weird, and not wanting to let their who they are becoming influence my opinion of who they are. That being said, I do a fair amount of work to make sure my students learn all the things they need to learn, and although I wish it was all tied to speech and debate, much of what I find myself teaching my students has little to do with wins and losses...
...a couple of nights ago, a coach at another school called me, and we started talking, and the conversation evolved to a scenario that happened at the tournament, where a team was taking some clear academic liberties. That coach told her kids to make an argument about it- if the game of debate that we play is to have any academic legitimacy, any legs to stand on from an intellectual framework, there needs to be a standard that doesn't allow people to just lie about what is being said, and to misrepresent evidence (which has a very specific term- fabrication of evidence). They did the right thing, but as we all know, sometimes doing the right thing is largely irrelevant in the finer scheme of things- it doesn't always lead to the right result (i just flash back to the idea of the necessity of witness protection, and the thousand upon thousands of people in the program because they "we're just doing the right thing" and it literally turned their lives upside down). They lost the debate, and the coach felt personally responsible for their loss- maybe if she hadn't told them to do that, they would have won, and they deserved to win, and they shouldn't be punished for this, etc. I told them about a story of my own that was in a similar vein...
...the second year I was coaching at my current gig, and we were debating the topic of public health assistance to sub-saharan africa. over the course of the year, we'd lost on an argument that, at it's core, just seemed fundamentally racist. The argument- you can't get effective public health assistance in africa, because there ARE NO ROADS IN AFRICA. even as I type that phrase now, it still makes me a little sick inside- the assumptions this makes are outlandish. We'd lost on this argument a couple of times, and I told my kids, if someone makes this argument, to let it be known how racist and prejudicial this claim is, as well as how untrue it is. In the final round they make the argument, we make our claims, and we lose, on a 4-3 decision- because one judge thinks we're being mean when we make them justify that cities like Niarobi, Johannasburg, and Cairo don't have roads, despite the many of millions of people as well as the international airports serving these cities. This means the argument I told them cost them the State Championship- and I was devastated, until someone reminded me what my TRUE job is, and that's a TEACHER. my job is to make my students better people, more prepared for today's society. My administration likes that fact that we win, but in my heart of hearts, I know they really don't care that much about winning (I just know that before I arrived, they didn't win much, and nobody really seemed to mind much- i had to teach a culture of winning to the team upon my arrival, as nobody on the team knew how to win, much less had a mindset and an expectation of success), they care that I "positively affect the hearts and minds" of the students, incorporating the themes the school holds dear: integrity, family, hope, dignity. Teaching our students to have integrity is not just part of our job, it IS our job, and that means we need to do what's right, even if it costs our students a win, even if doing the right thing hurts us in the short term (hell, who am I kidding, even in the long term it's pretty crushing)...
...i was reminded of these words, not just to make a friend who was crushed by the outcome of the correct action, which is something I could see myself doing, saying the right words to make someone feel better. But as I found myself saying this, I could feel myself getting hostile and riled up about it, becoming more than annoyed with the idea that someone would do the right thing, and even think about second guessing their actions. I can remember a time in my life where I felt that my teams ability to win (and subsequently, not lose) debates was how I felt I should be evaluated, but now it's a little different. My team has had a fair amount of success, and I rather enjoy that. The most moving thing for me this year did come as we were winning a debate tournament, but not as I had envisioned...
...the winner of the Stanford University debate tournament receives an iPod from the school as a prize. This is a really big deal, as most awards you get may be cool, but almost none have a modicum of practicality- can't really DO anything with the average trophy. The iPod, obviously different, because you can actually listen to it. It's actually worth money, so if you have one, you could sell it for a profit (which I did with my 2005 Stanford iPod win: $350!!), or you could just keep it and look at it like people do most trophies. However, one of my students did something that surprised me- he gave his iPod, the one he just won and was really, really excited about winning, to our assistant coach, who did not have an iPod. After winning a tournament, he was much less concerned with anything but making sure he showed his gratitude for the work being done by our assistant. I was stunned by this action- until it occured to me that THIS was the kind of thing that makes me proudest of my kids- they're excellent competitors, but more than that, they are better people. And that makes me as proud as anything they do in competition...
...so i guess I shouldn't be as stunned as I am that I'm sad that these kids will be leaving. They have left an indelible mark on who I am. So to Jordan, Suhita and Subha, I say thank you. To Snehal, Zach, and Nidhi, I say thank you. And to Peter, Aakash, Chander and Katrina, I also say thank you. I hope I made you better debaters. You made me a better person.

5 comments:

  1. Reading this made me proud to be a coach

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  2. This is a great post! I really enjoyed reading it. In general, the blog is awesome. Thanks.

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  3. Al Davis: "Just Win Baby." Vince Lombardi:"If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?" Woody Hayes:"“Without winners, there wouldn't even be any civilization.” George S. Patton" "Americans play to win at all times. I wouldn't give a hoot and hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost nor ever lose a war."

    We have a culture of winning at all cost even at the expense of our own dignity.

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