Wednesday, December 8, 2010

history is people.

I had an amazing history teacher in high school who gave me a love of the weirdness and strangeness of what people do and ignited a love of all things strange in regards to world politics. He told us about Watergate-era pranks and the foibles of various world leaders which made it come alive and gave it this surreal human element that was much more interesting.

He never tried to indoctrinate us into any political belief system even though we begged him to tell us whether he had voted for Bush or Gore. Instead, he taught us to think for ourselves, how to argue a point of view and back it up with facts, had us reading primary sources and debating issues in class like our colonization of the Philippines or dropping the atomic bomb and didn't shy away from the more unsavory chapters.

He took us on field trips to the local cemetery and the art museum, we listened to campaign trail music from the days of Andrew Jackson, watched clips of civil rights marches, "Birth of a Nation," "The Great Dictator," "Dr. Strangelove," and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "Amistad," to give us context.

He told us that we were cogs in a Henry Ford-esque assembly line, given what we were perceived to need to become productive members of society, and that even though this was how the education system was set up, he wanted us to see it for what it was, and to be able to think things through for ourselves.

Yesterday we went through some Human Resources training and using Mr. Sketch Markers and giant Post-It notes reminded me of being in AP History again, having to come up with things to present to our group and us snarky slacker Dead Kennedys-loving honor students in thrift store hoodies and punk band t-shirts writing nonsense like "Those Damn Socialists" as a cause for this or that, only in this case, conformity was encouraged rather than railed against.

At a previous job, I didn't do so well with diversity training during an exercise where we were shown photos of various people and were asked to make assumptions about them and rate how nice they would probably be on a scale of 1-10. I put straight fives all the way through because they're just photos and I know nothing about the person unless I talk to them.

Evidently I wasn't supposed to do this. But really now. That intimidating biker looks like one of my uncles, the young black male looks like a guy I once dated, the Latina lady looks like my next door neighbor. You just don't know anything about people unless you get to know them.

I still sometimes feel like I'm straddling the cusp of the world of young people and the world of "grownups" when I hear people talk about how "weird" these young kids can be with their sagging pants and piercings and bizarre haircuts. That's one of the things I enjoy to be honest because it makes for great people watching.

I like seeing mohawks, afros, dye jobs, dreadlocks, and hi-top fades, the way that subsequent generations resurrect and remix past eras, the golden age of hip-hop, the eternally timeless rockers with long hair and Zeppelin t-shirts, 70's punks like it happened yesterday, and the kids who you can tell just discovered Bukowski and Kerouac or conversely Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey.

Maybe it's just me.

I couldn't imagine spending my life going to workshops and speaking this jargonized motivational corporate language yet hardly ever work with actual people. It's assumed that we'll make judgments based on skin color or whether or not someone has a blue hair when if anything I've had more of a problem with creepy old men of all ethnicities and dramatic middle-aged women.

I find myself marveling at the reverse Orwellian jargon that says something in a way that's supposed to be less abrasive but only obscures the meaning. If anything, instead of reducing language, we've just learned how to describe things in ways that sound more bureaucratic and acceptable. "Policy" becomes "Strict Guidelines," "Torture" is now known as "Enhanced Interrogation." Whatever. It is what it is and calling it as it is isn't going to kill anyone.

And for the record, besides Mr. Rollins himself, this is my favorite kind of HR:


Randal Graves said...

I'm so totally telling the HR bot on you. This is serious work, thank you.

Anonymous said...

yep that's what happens when folks can't be counted to think for themselves, someone comes up with a manual. don't even get me started on the orwellian implications of human beings as resources to be managed.
i haven't been able to sell Sorn on becoming a highschool teacher yet but i'll give you the same pitch, so pls give some thought to being that person who lets kids see behind the curtain and lets them know that being a thinking/feeling person who cares is not just ok but vital. and ya know the youth are getting restless.