You Must Be Certain of the Devil

It was Diamanda Galas who sang it. Admittedly, I had a crush on her in college. For years I did not even know what she looked like, but it was her voice. She boasts a 4 octave range. She sings in Greek, Latin ,and sometimes in English. She played piano, for a time in the early 1980s, with Ornette Coleman.

There are no more tickets to the funeral

Her grand work, The Plague Mass, addressed the rampant spread of AIDS in America and was written for her brother. Her take on the disease blew me away. She was an artist, an activist. She felt deeply. She said that we all have AIDS because it is a societal problem. She was right and I felt it right along with her. It was gorgeous and grotesque. Parts of it are hard to listen to for many reasons. I remember falling asleep to it and waking up in what I thought was a lucid dream: the room dark with booming drums and other-worldly screams echoing through my small house on Pemberton Street in South Philadelphia. I remember hearing those words echo in the halls:

I woke up and saw the face of the devil. I said, “What time is it?”

He said, “How much time do you want?

The title of one of her songs stuck with me from the first time I heard it. I was sure that it was the name of an old gospel song, but I could not find it anywhere that I looked.

You Must Be Certain of the Devil

It came to take on different meanings to me over my life. Right now and for the last several years it has meant one specific thing. You must know what it is that you are fighting so you do not waste your time and energy on the wrong things. Too often, we spend time on the symptoms of our

Old Scratch at it again

problems rather than getting to the root cause. Before you spend time on what you suppose may be the issue in your life, your relationships, your school, or your self–stop. Make sure you are certain that you are dealing with the real problem and not just the symptoms. We do not have the time or the energy that we once had. In dealing with education, we cannot waste what time we have to correct situations that are so crucial to the lives of our students.

I look at my students. I think of their strengths. I cannot wait to know how brilliant they will be. It makes me think of my own daughter. It makes me eager to know how brilliant and beautiful she will become. Do not waste a second putting another band-aid on that peripheral issue. Get to the heart of the matter and if you cannot, get help. Just be certain

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  • Michael Josefowicz wrote:

    Thank you for putting such an important idea into the conversation.

    Be interested in any reactions you might have to the notion that the key element missing from many of the broken high schools is the lack of Focus at the administrative and school board levels.

    This is my impression from anecdotal evidence, a year volunteering at a bottom of the pyramid high school in NY, and my interpretation of some comments I’ve seen from twitter conversations.

    My hunch is that the particular educational approach is less important that it is done consistently and with what they call in the entrepreneurial world as “maniacal focus.”

  • “Make sure you are certain that you are dealing with the real problem and not just the symptoms.”

    I often see the symptoms of the real problem in my classroom but have no way of dealing with the real problem. What should I do to help my students?

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