The Chinese Fire Drill

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why I'm Not Afraid to Draw

As THE CHINESE FIRE DRILL nears its 50th strip, I'm hearing the same comment from more people: "Aren't you worried?" or "What are you going to do if you 'get in trouble' for this?"  I suppose, when I step away from myself and try to look at this from everyone else's perspective, the point is somewhat obvious.  However, from my perspective, this seems like a horrendously counter-productive question.  Therefore, let me state now and unequivocally:
1. I am not afraid.
2. Nothing's going to happen, anyway.

First, THE CHINESE FIRE DRILL is not based on my current school nearly as much as everyone assumes.  When I tell people this, I get some versions of the same answer: "Bullllllllshiiiiiiiit."  Again, I understand the reasoning behind the logic.

However, if you look at what's going on in the comic, and then look at what's going on at the national and state level, that would be where the parallels lie.  If I describe a new reform program like VITTLES in the comic (where everyone stands on one/both hands to increase blood flow to the brain), the uneasy reaction of the fictitious McCarthy High faculty and the firm insistence from McCarthy's adminstration are really not behavioral characteristics that are unique to my school; this is happening everywhere.  Furthermore, the adminstrative characters in the strip are not based on any one individual.  Lipschitz is, for me, a combination of an old, pompous female principal who worked here exactly one decade ago combined with the nearly ubiquitous collection of "elevated vernacular" education professors from several universities: people I worked with as a student, as a student-teacher, and as a student-teacher mentor.  Whipple comes from several dozen "old-school" coaches-turned-administrators who apply the same black-and-white view of the world they had on the ball fields to the halls of the school.  These people are (as is Lipschitz) everywhere, and they are honestly all the same.  And Senator Blowhard? Well...have you looked at YOUR statehouse lately?

I would additionally say that I actually do not hold negative feelings toward most administrators.  One of my bosses in my building has been a friend and a colleague before he became my boss.  We've shared many experiences together, and he's still shown me more than once that our connection as friends matters a great deal.  Honestly, I feel some level of sympathy for most adminstrators.  They are caught in a terrible position: The state and the Fed are imposing one abusurd mandate after another on them, and they MUST adhere to them or else they lose their jobs.  I can see in faces of the adminstrators who genuinely LOVE teaching that what's happening in education is slowly killing them.  I honestly believe this is a worse period for them than for those of us in the classroom.

Consequently, the characters in the comic are representations of higher powers at the state and federal level.  Drawing a comic about education issues that only takes place in the statehouse or in the Governor's office would be disjointed and absurd.  A comic about school issues has to happen in a school. Period.  Thus, I have to characterize these state/federal entities as local/building leaders.  It's a logistical matter, and it's a story-telling device.  That simple.

Regarding fear:  When I started this blog, I started it anonymously with a pseudonym.  But rather than writing effective arguments, I was merely ranting.  Also, nobody was reading it.  I realized that if I wanted to write with a purpose, I was going to have to reveal myself and stand by my words.  I spent three months dismantling and re-assembling the site until I was ready to "go public" with it.  When I did, even then, the comic strip was a novelty.  This was going to be a "serious" blog, and I was going to be a "leading mind" in the national debate.  But that was never me.  I'm like my students: My attention-span is short and haphazard, but I'm smart in my own way.  The comics are a way I can stay focused, and they make a difficult period fun.

Thus, I'm honestly not afraid.  I've seen people working/living in fear, and I categorically refuse to live that way.  Besides, I know a little bit about what it's like to be fired.  I used to be a golf coach, and I was effectively forced out.  After the bitterness subsided, I realized how much I hated the job, anyway, and I further realized how much more free I was to pursue what truly made me happy.  If, for some reason, I were to stop teaching, another door (as they say) will open.

But, I don't really think that's going to happen.  If someone at my school were to approach me and say, "I think your comic is mocking me, and I'm offended." I would respond (politely, of course): "You're giving waaaaayyyy too much credit to yourself.  I'm after MUCH bigger fish than you."

Now, I must be off.  I have papers to grade, and another episode of THE CHINESE FIRE DRILL to create.


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