Morning Muse

by beccaborrelli


Untitled (Geometric). Barry McGee. 2007.

People, it’s a “moot” point, not a “mute” point.

If tax payers paid a quarter of a million dollars for your “education” please act like it.

I came across the above facebook status from a friend a few days ago.

I’m not sure why, but after serving tables twelve straight hours yesterday and sliding into a coma at 2 am… I was unhappy to find myself awake at 7 am this morning. As I lay in bed in the grayish dawn of my room, what did I start thinking about? This freaking facebook status.


I began thinking it might have something to do with what I will term: the sibling syndrome.

Everyone with siblings has this syndrome. As soon as  a sibling is born, you come down with the syndrome. Primary symptoms work like this:

“My sister/brother makes me nuts. They are [insert any negative characteristics here] and I wish they would leave me alone!”

Then your friend jumps on this bandwagon with you, and begins trashing your sibling, whereupon you punch them in the face.

This is how I feel about teaching. I vent my frustrations, I point out flaws of the field, I get riled up, self-righteous etc, etc… but the minute others start doing specials on our failing public education system, making documentaries pointing fingers, and create huge, short-sighted education initiatives, I find myself wanting to punch people in the face.


Do I care if my car mechanic knows the difference between moot and mute? Only if it affects their ability to fix my car.

Which it doesn’t.

A friend of mine who is an electrician is so talented with people and at his craft- his boss has offered him the business when he retires. This friend of mine is terrible with language. He is dyslexic. Does it matter to his boss if he knows the difference between moot and mute? To the people whose buildings he wires?

No. It doesn’t.

What I think upsets people is what poor grammar symbolizes. In a culture where the entire industry of school has been constructed around logical/numerical and lingual knowledge, lacking in one or both of these makes a child/human/culture appear dumb. When we hear poor grammar, the stereotype flashes before our eyes:

Overweight, dumb, consumer, useless American.

I’m aware of the presence of a pervading American stupidity. More people vote for reality show contests than their own president, and there is a sizable percentage of people whose knowledge on international policy comes from Fox News.

I’m not trying to refute the media, or the popular opinion. I’m interested  in thinking about why ‘moot’ and ‘mute’ matters.

I miss the discourse in our media. I miss when we had long deep discussions where many viewpoints talked and listened to one another. I miss when issues were multi-faceted and problems and solutions weren’t flattened into neat cookie cutter shapes, pre-packaged into square boxes for public consumption.


I found this New York Times article on a pretty neat blog. The article is entitled: “High Test Scores, Low Ability” It’s about China, but the implications can be transferred to everyone.

Three years ago I was introduced to a Kindergartener who I’ll call “L.”

During the first painting project of the year- “L” crawled under his table and began to sob.

I was confused. Kindergarteners love paint. They live for paint. Paint on brushes, on paper, on fingers, in their hair… it’s all about the paint. Who cares if what they’re making looks like anything. They are painting.

I found myself down under the table with him.

“L, what’s wrong?”

He turned his back on me and wrapped his arms around his legs… rocking back and forth as he said,

“I’m a failure, I’m a failure…” punctuating the word ‘failure’ with deep tones of despair.

I came to discover over the years, “L” was paralyzed with being handed such creative license. “L” is brilliant with logical, scientific, rote thinking. His test scores were off the charts.

“L” will never mix up the definition of ‘mute’ and ‘moot.’ Yet the mysterious, unquantifiable languages of people and creative thinking are gibberish to him.

An opposite example would be a fourth grader named “J” who is a terrible writer and speller, his handwritten scrawl resembles a first grader… “J” will probably mix up ‘moot’ and ‘mute’ even when he grows into an adult. I have written about him before.

“J” is socially talented. He is deeply empathic. The languages he is most fluent, are people’s emotions, their facial expressions, and body language. “J” might be an example of low test score, high ability. Is “L” an example of high test score, low ability?

Instead, what about…

Different scores, different abilities. ALL necessary for a diverse, rich, and multi-faceted society.”


Thanks to talented teachers, “L” has grown leaps and bounds in his social interactions over the past three years. Similarly, as these teachers have helped him grow, they made him feel incredibly special for his gifts. They helped him exploit those gifts and instill a sense of personal purpose.

Thanks to talented teachers, “J” has grown in leaps and bounds in his lingual skills over the past three years. Similarly, as these teachers have helped him grow, they made him feel incredibly special for his gifts. They helped him exploit those gifts and instill a sense of personal purpose.

No thanks to an industrialized system, both children will still encounter teachers, adults, as well as an entire cultural mentality that they are lacking. As if somehow, they are “un-whole.”

And it is at this realization, where all the really great teachers start wondering if they want to be a part of public education.

By this point it was 8 am, and I knew I wan’t falling back asleep. So I got up and put on some coffee.