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A bitter pill

Several years ago, I returned to Baltimore for the funeral of one of the kids I coached in basketball. He was stabbed to death in an altercation at a gas station. I almost wrote a piece about my feelings, but never did.

Last week, I learned that a student I taught was found shot to death on the street. I don’t know anything more about what happened. There’s no news story about it. If you know the intro to the track Straight Outta Compton…well, almost 30 years later, not much has changed.

This kid was one of the kids who defined my experience as a teacher. He was funny as hell, complex, brilliant, stubborn, inquisitive, and energetic. In one particularly out-of-control class period, he got carried away and was standing on his desk ring-leading the chaos. Floundering to figure out how to regain some semblance of control, I play-lunged at him, and he quickly scrambled back down, saying something probably like “Mr. Johnson ain’t playing”. I earned a little cred, the wrong way. (Not my proudest moment as a teacher, but I never claimed to have been great at the job.)

He and I didn’t always get along, but we also had moments of the two years I taught him where I think I really reached him. On my last day with the students, I let them write reflections about their time with me, if they wanted to. Each one was almost shockingly introspective and grateful for what I had at least tried to accomplish. But this kid’s was hands-down the most heartfelt. That day may have been the last time I saw him, and I’m presuming our lives diverged significantly from that point.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to get enough information to make it back to pay my respects and just express my support to his family and any of his classmates that would have come. But it’s also a reminder of how marginal I am in that world, where media, justice, economics, and just about everything else are entirely different than in the bourgeois world I inhabit. Premature death is so common in Baltimore that young people talk about how they want to be memorialized on a t-shirt in the same way that I might think about a living will.

When I returned to Baltimore for that last funeral, it hit me in the gut that, in a sense that is almost too literal for comfort, I helicopter in and out out of that world at will. But my former students, that precarious world is their default, and they venture out only with incredible difficulty, as the forces of concentrated poverty constantly pull them back in. The people who stay in teaching in places like Baltimore choose to be permanent residents of that world, and a bridge to other worlds. I’m forever in awe of those who stay in the career.

The List (Our financial planning voyage — Part 2)

I’ve made a ton of progress since the last check in. All of the work of piecing together our complete financial picture and researching the fundamentals of financial planning culminated in one long checklist of todos to actually begin to build out our plan. What follows is a version of our punchlist.

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Financial plan update

So here’s where I tell you that I’ve already piloted our financial plan to it’s final state, but just forgot to write about it.

Just kidding.

In reality, shortly after I wrote the last post, I ran out of steam. I haven’t read my books yet, and I just this week started picking up where I left off, very much still in the exploratory part of the process. That said, I still think I’ve learned some good stuff.

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Our financial planning voyage — Part 1

Much like my mortgage shopping voyage, I’m starting from scratch-ish trying to make a financial plan, and I’m hoping to share what I learn in the process, and hopefully other folks can use this as a shortcut to the jump-off point for their own exploration. To begin with, I think my family is in pretty decent financial shape, so this voyage won’t be relatable to everyone. Probably young families blessed with good income. But if you’re in a similar boat, I hope this helps you out.

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Notes on mortgage shopping

I was meaning to post this a while ago, but these are the notes I took when I was shopping for a mortgage and closing the purchase of our first house. It was quite a process. As a first-time borrower, I felt like I was at constant risk of these expert lenders taking advantage of my naiveté, especially given all the stories from mortgage crisis. So, I spent a lot of time reading and double-checking. I try here to lay out what I took away from the process, without biasing it toward any decisions my wife and I made pertaining to our own situation.

Disclaimer: These are the notes of one person (me) who has bought exactly one home with exactly one mortgage. I am not an expert. I have no qualifications. I’m just a dude. This might be useful as a starting point, but I highly suggest you do your own research and confirm your conclusions with advice from an expert you trust.

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America, the pitiful

I don’t know enough about immigration to say whether this sort of thing is meaningfully different from previous administrations. But one thing’s for sure, our current administration exudes a hostility to foreigners that is unprecedented, and that perception matters quite a bit.
 
When I read about this and:
 
 
I have to think that if things don’t change, we’re witnessing the self-inflicted end of America’s role as the nucleus of human culture and knowledge.
 
We’re not becoming great again. We’re decaying.
 
 

Public Enemy #1

Capone Chase, who I taught for a year and a half, has been declared Baltimore’s Public Enemy #1. He is wanted for allegedly murdering another young man execution-style on a playground within a couple days of having been released from jail for another crime.

The Capone I taught was a difficult kid, but to imagine him executing a person on a playground is chilling to say the least.

Capone was one of the brightest students I taught, not really in performance, but in raw ability to master new concepts quickly. He attended class only sporadically, yet he passed the High School Assessment for Algebra on his first shot, and by a pretty good margin, as I recall. That’s something a large majority of my students failed to do on their first try, and he did it after transferring to my school mid-year from Patterson, one of the worst schools in the city (where, incidentally, my girlfriend also taught him), and barely doing his classwork.

Capone often came to school visibly seething from something that was under his skin. He had serious issues with authority and handling conflict. He often viewed situations in black and white. He seemed to walk around with a serious victim complex, as though the entire world was constantly trying to oppress him. If he felt like he was singled out, he had a tendency to flip out. I tried hard to teach him that not everybody was out to get him, and that if he let things that annoyed him slide, he’s spend far less time caught up in conflict. But he had a serious tendency to escalate things out of proportion.

That being said, he rarely was disrespectful to me as a teacher. In most cases, he was polite and articulate. The main exceptions were when I needed him to do something he didn’t feel like doing, which would often send him to victim mode, and a tirade of “f’ this, f’ that, why you always picking on me?” Once in that mode, it would typically be very difficult to get him back on an even keel. Over time, he and his best friend at FAST realized they were probably among the “hardest” at the school, and by mid sophomore year, they were too cool to attend much class at all. He quit the basketball team mid-season, after a falling out with Coach Peyton, and after that, he kind of entered a downward spiral of caring less and less about school. I don’t know if I saw him at all in the final quarter of sophomore year.

To me, Capone is a poster child for the type of kid who would likely be on a completely different life path had he been raised in normal, non-toxic environment. He clearly came in the door with some deep baggage on a daily basis. Like most of the kids I taught, it was difficult to conceptualize what his out-of-school life must have been like. But I saw it wear him down over time. Poverty almost seems too quaint a word for years of corrosive home life.

It’s easy to imagine an alternate universe where Capone excelled in high school and would be enjoying the summer off between first in second years in college. Not on the run from the law, having allegedly shot a man in the head. In a playground.