Mr. Smith's Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in the Neighborhood for teachers everywhere! Anything and everything is fair game!

Welcome to the ‘Hood January 28, 2006

Trying to Be More than Another Blog

Pulling off this blog is really quite a miracle at times. Okay, so maybe Saturdays and Sundays are not my most creative days following a week of teaching and an hour-long commute into the ‘hood. As much as I don’t have time to devote to this blog, it has become a fabulous creative and intellectual experience for me. Just as I have devoted myself to teaching the disadvantaged minorities of The Bronx, a borough of New York City, I hope to stake sgtands against all kinds of racism and bigotry. Maybe we can also have a few chuckles along the way. We can also dream about ending the worst thing to ever happen to education, No Child Left Behind.

My blog has been in business since January 2006, born at the urging of a professor who said I need to be current with emerging technology. I like this blogging thing but I hope that my use of a tiny corner of cyberspace might be a force of change and not a waste of bits and bytes.

I sometimes look back at my long, life-draining career at a mom and pop operation named Contractors Register, publishers of a Yellow Page type directory called The Blue Book of Building and Construction, and wonder why I flushed almost 20 years of my life down the toilet. Besides working in an Ultra-White corporate culture akin to a restricted country club devoid of minorities, my days were lost as a manager or account exec selling silly little advertisements to one of America’s most corrupt industries, construction and building. Every day was a struggle to cope with an overwhelming lack of value in the use of my intelligence and talents. Besides enduring insults, professional jealousy, ridiculous leaders and a loss of confidence, I suffered a heart attack and the resulting triple by-pass surgery … all because this company controlled my ability to support my family.

A good friend and mentor, coincidentally a vendor who helped me reverse the fortunes of this company, had warned me in my youthful 30-ish days that the greatest form of prejudice in this country is against intelligent people. This became obvious as the owner, management and my peers were threatened by any insight and perspective beyond their narrow scope of comprehension. Although my intelligence and loyalty served me well early in my career (with companies that gave me broad authority, responsibility, and accountability), my penchant to “walk to the beat of a different drummer” became a noose around my neck that carried the threat of instant death.

One incident that makes me laugh now was when I found a fatal flaw in the owner’s new proposed sales plan. All the other executives and managers nodded “YES!” faster than they cashed their paychecks. I was, as expected, the only one who spoke up and asked questions that sparked an intelligent debate. The debate and discussion ended when the owner pulled a Nikita Khrushchev (taking off his shoe and banging it on the conference table) and screamed at me. The following year, after I switched into sales and shattered every sales record in the company, I quit. Four years later, after the sales department had plunged deep in the crapper, the owner admitted through channels that I had been right (of course, he was trying to lure me back). I foolishly took the bait and the paycheck, and I beg forgiveness and sympathy because it was what I needed to do for my children.

In the long run, after some deep reflection, I found some benefits to my season in hell (with apologies to Rimbaud). I made TONS of money … I could have stashed away more but I refused to follow the unethical practices of my fellow sales reps and managers. I was able to travel all over the United States for free, a huge fringe benefit that got me away from the internal workings of the elite, lily-white headquarters. I also made many of contacts that proved to be financially and personally beneficial once I left the company. Better still, I enjoyed experiences that filled the void in my heart, soul and imagination created by my employer’s rigidity and contempt for people. I have been lucky to see 44 of the 48 continental states, and my kids got many great vacations from my bonus airline miles and Marriott points.

Most of all, through a wonderful series of well-orchestrated events, I was able to take almost 18 months off from work to get a master’s degree in education. That allowed me to become a teacher and find some satisfaction in my life. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to have an extended period away from work, especially since I had worked non-stop for thirty years since the end of high school, through college and into my adult years.

The field of education is a fabulous one for those who fancy themselves as intelligent. The best part is that you get to deal with children and you don’t have to give them all the information. Unlike adults in the corporate world, who usually need specific answers, directives and guidelines, children function best when their teacher is like a tour guide. The best teachers know what the target is, and they know how to point students in the right direction and keep them focused on the goal. Good teachers know that the most valuable part of learning is when students take possession of the learning process.

Hopefully, we can help America’s youth avoid the pitfalls of Corporate America. Intelligence leads to independence and freedom, helping individuals avoid the need to have some ineffective manager, supervisor or owner control their lives. I feel like this is a big part of my mission. I have watched myself, friends and colleagues destroy themselves physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually as they sold themselves out to remain a part of the system. One very special mentor literally killed himself by swallowing all the anger, disgust and hypocrisy that came with his high-paying executive position.

I’ll conclude with one last memory. In 1988, the morale of the company had become very low due to self-created circumstances. There was another manager, the only minority to ever rise to a senior management position, who saw the same problems I did and shared my concern. The owner, a master of paying people just enough money to keep people from leaving, reacted violently when we raised the issue of morale. He yelled, “The have no right to have a morale problem. We have a great 401K program.” Granted, it was a good plan that provided a company match of $2.00 for every dollar contributed by an employee (up to 5% of annual earnings), but he could not understand why people were motivated by anything more than money.

So what are we going to do about it? Must we head to the type of society envisioned in Rollerball? We must remember that the things that can never be taken from you are your education, your intelligence and your free spirit. The Corporate Culture is still trying to figure out how to buy and own everybody’s soul, but it won’t work with people not motivated by money. If children can learn to not make money their number one priority, they will be richer than most of my post-baby boomer generation. And it is never too late to find your own path to true freedom. Peace, love and happiness to all.


6 Responses to “Welcome to the ‘Hood”

  1. mkeckler Says:

    I like what you say about the teacher being a guide and agree with your philosophy that “Good teachers know that the most valuable part of learning is when students take possession of the learning process.”

    I tell my students that the course syllabus is only a map–I see my students as potential map makers and myself as the explorer that has been where they are, has traveled where they want to go, and believes they can get there.

    It’s great to hear the heart of passionate teachers!

    I look forward to reading more.


  2. bluboo Says:

    Hi again Maria!

    You are so right. I love your “mapping” imagery because children love to make their own trails. Going back to my childhood in medieval times (the 1960’s), I remember how we could play in the woods for hours just exploring every little nook and cranny we could find.

    Another teacher used different imagery to talk about learning. Give someone a fish and you feed him/her for a day. Teach someone to fish and they can feed themselves for a lifetime. Most importantly, NOBODY will ever be able to tell them how to think and what to think … they will grow far beyond any limitations or barriers that people may try to impose on them.

    Many wishes for peace, love and happiness,

    Mr. Smith (in a well-medicated state) 🙂

  3. J's Blog Says:

    I’m new to blogging, but learning the ropes.

  4. Hi There,

    Enjoyed reading the article. looking forward to more of such interesting articles and observation.


  5. Peter Hansen Says:


    Nice site! And some really helpful information there. I’m sorry for beeing a little off-topic, but I want to ask you about the design of this site. Did you make this template yourself or got from any templates website? I am using joomla myself, but want something better..

  6. Mark87 Says:

    Hi, just wanted to say you have a very nice blog, am gonna add it in my website in the blogs section, but i think you should replace your background with a better one.. but this is just my opinion 🙂

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