The Demise of a Dismissive Mentality, Part 2: Resisting vs. Dismissing

resist

The other day a trusted friend said to me, “I really struggled with your last post. It spoke heavily to white privilege for me.”

I was taken aback.  I tend to be hyper aware of how my words and actions impact others.  My automatic response was, “Really?!  How so?”   Her words were this:

It’s easy to tell others not to be dismissive when you haven’t had real and scary shit happen to you.  People actually burning crosses in your yard.  People actually spewing hate at you in public and school.  People actually wishing and carrying out ill will against you and your family just because of your skin color.  When that shit happens to you, you dismiss.  You dismiss out of anger.  You dismiss out of safety.  You dismiss to honor and protect your individuality.

As she said these words my stomach hurt.  Yes, of course.  My white-washed privileged world had dominated the message I’d hoped to send.  I understood her reasoning only as much someone who has not lived through those experiences can, and I felt such immense pain for it.  I couldn’t even begin to comprehend her pain.

So, I want to that this time to clarify a couple points.  

One, I am in no way supporting the work of Trump or DeVos, and even hesitated in using them as examples.  But the point I wanted to make through their examples was that they are, in fact, leaders for our country and will be making decisions for us now and in the future.  We cannot dismiss them.  They have been given power, and if we are going to be in tune with our country and community we must be informed on how they plan to exact that power.

The second, we must listen to one another for two reasons at the very least-healing and being informed. In reflection I can certainly see how my post was perceived as this: If we just listen to Trump and DeVos we’ll be enlightened and refreshed by what they have to say.  Maybe you will, maybe you won’t.  I don’t know. Regardless, that was not what I wanted to convey.

This is the message I’d hoped for:

If we ever hope to get back to honoring humanity we have to listen to one another.  Slow down and really listen, face-to-face.  Maybe we’ll be refreshed by what we hear and happy for giving the moment to listen to another.  Maybe we’ll be pissed.  And if we’re pissed, we resist.  But we don’t dismiss without ever trying to understand.  We don’t become single-minded individuals that can only see others and ideas a certain way. This is what minimizes people to a single story, or no story at all.  And it’s happening all around us.

I have been writing this blog in my head for several days, hoping to be more articulate this time to get my message right.  Then this appeared in my inbox saying all the things I needed it to.

https://pernillesripp.com/2017/03/23/small-steps-to-become-a-better-advocate-for-social-change/

I recognize, too, that I am not an expert, nor will I ever be.  No matter how much reading, and listening, and learning I do, I know I will simply never understand what it is like to be marginalized in the way that so many groups in our country feel every day.  I recognize my limited scope, and I work diligently to educate myself on what it’s like to be cast as an “other” so my scope can be enlarged.  More importantly, an enlarged scope allows me to advocate intentionally for the “others.” Not in a let-me-be-your-hero kind of way, but rather a let’s-build-a-community-and-do-this-right kind of way.   This will always be an ever-evolving process.

And so I want to close reflecting on the beauty of this moment.  Often times a blog is one-way dialogue.  You read it, agree or disagree, and move on.  But this wasn’t. My friend felt angst against it and shared her resistance to it with me.  She did not dismiss me.  She took that moment to educate me, to help me see another side. I saw a new layer to her story and she added to mine.

Yes.  That was my message.  And it came back to me in the most perfect of ways.  Thank you, Ashley.

Risks and Reflections: A Shakespeare Unit Failure

Image result for shakespeare winkingA couple of weeks ago I wrote about taking risks in the classroom in terms of developing new lessons that may or may not work with students.  I have been doing this all year, with relative success, until I tried a new way to teach Shakespeare.  Students usually have varied reactions about reading Shakespeare’s dramas.  They find the plays boring, the language inaccessible and the themes tired.  They roll their eyes and audibly groan when the words “Shakespeare Unit” comes out of my mouth.  This year, I wanted to try something different.  Instead of teaching a single play to the whole class, I decided to give my students choice in their learning.  They would get to pick out a play they found interesting, then students were grouped according to interests and they then had time to read their plays, analyze the text, and determine a theme relevant to today.  Their next steps were to create a modern interpretation of their entire play summarized into 5-7 movie/scene where they would write a script, memorize the script, film a short movie or act out their scene live for the class.  

This all sounds great right? How could anything go wrong? We meticulously planned out this unit, it could not fail. Oh but it did. 

I was the brain behind this idea, and my student teacher, God bless her, created fabulous lessons plans to get our students started.  We found a wonderful intro to Shakespeare on Teachers Pay Teachers which had students moving through stations to learn about Elizabethan England, Shakespeare, language presented in the text and then short summaries of his plays.  Students then chose the play they wanted to study and were grouped based on their choices.  We decided to give students class time to read their plays. My vision was that they would choose parts and read aloud in their small groups. What actually happened is that many of groups shut down after Act I Scene I of their plays. They weren’t understanding their plays and some of them gave up.  We decided to point them in the direction of No Fear Shakespeare so they would be able to read modern text side by side with Shakespeare’s original work.  This helped, but not enough. Some students were still struggling.  As time ticked by, we realized in order to get this unit finished and for student understanding we had to direct them to the summaries of the acts. Students at least now had a understanding of what their plays were about, who the characters were, and what themes were presented.  Unfortunately having honors students read summaries of plays was not how I envisioned my unit. Students were given class time to work together to create their versions of the play of choice.  Some chose to film this and some acted out their scenes in class.  Time was wasted, and the whole assignment became pointless.  This unit, which I had been thinking about for months, completely bombed.  I still like my idea, but the way I executed it was all wrong.  I’ve been thinking about how I would do this differently if I chose to have my students do this again, and I’m not sure I have the right answers at this point.  

My risk on my Shakespeare unit failed, but I have taken many other risks with lessons that were successful. Taking risks, in general, is scary.  What if you fall flat on your face? What if your students learn nothing? What if you waste the precious time you have with your students? These questions are all realities when trying something new.  Yes, my unit bombed, but I learned.  I learned that my students are really flexible and forgiving.  That they will try new things even if they hate it, and they will give me constant verbal feedback on what is not working.  Will I try this unit again? Maybe, with some very significant changes.  Teaching is all about risks and reflections, and one failed unit is not enough to stop me from trying to be creative in the classroom.

Sarah Tate

The Demise of a Dismissive Mentality 


I recently had the opportunity to watch the Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” by Chimamanda Adichie, where she addresses the harmful consequences of labeling people and experiences in only one way. Only seeing people as poor or murderous or unintelligent, and then letting that label be the only lens you view them through.  Not learning more. Not connecting with them on a human level. Letting the outside assign stereotypes that we mindlessly accept and move forward with. Because we are rushed. Because we are lazy. Because… 
And every single word she speaks is the absolute truth. We cannot just assign a single story to a person or group of people, and allow that to be our only perception of them.  Yet, I want to push this idea even further because I see something even more dangerous playing out, and it’s this: the intentional decision of people to dismiss others entirely, assigning them no story. 

Hearing another news story that paints all Mexicans as illegal drug lords, or all African Americans as gun-toting murderers, or all Middle Eastern citizens as extreme terrorists, and accepting that label as if it’s the only one is damaging enough. But this worse. 

Let me explain. Recently, to the shock of many of us, Betsy DeVos became our Secretary of Education. Even more shocking, Trump became our president. And we are left slack-jawed, scratching our heads. We just don’t get it. In America, how could this be? We have so many questions we need to ask to help us understand, but we don’t ask them. We simply move on with a mentality of dismissing any and everything they will ever say or do. Example: the highly popular hastag #notmypresident. 

Yes, he is.  And blindly dismissing him as such is not productive. We still have to listen, question, and resist against that which does not unite our country. 

Another example arose a couple weeks ago when DeVos took an intense amount of heat for this quote:

“I’m Betsy DeVos. You may have heard some of the ‘wonderful’ things the mainstream media has called me lately,” she said. “I, however, pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life partner, and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

The social media universe went aflame with her poking fun at the public school free lunch program. Except she didn’t. She said, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and that’s true.  Nothing is free. Whether you agree or disagree with her idea to reduce government spending in this area is a moot point. A simple and true statement made by her was completely taken out of context, misconstrued into something it never intended to communicate and likely caused the marriages to end and friendships of 20+ years to crumble. 

Why? 

Because I don’t like her so I dismiss her entirely and if you do like her, I dismiss you entirely too.  

This notion that when we don’t agree the other must have nothing to offer is permeating our culture in more places that politics. It’s taking over communities, work forces, and  society in general. My dad once spoke these wise words, 

“People shout from the rooftops ‘diversity,’ but no one wants diversity of thought.” 

So true, and I don’t know how we became so black and white. One person does not have the all the answers to the world’s problems, just as one person didn’t cause all of them.  Effectively running any system, including the country, revolves around a lot of gray and we seem to have removed ourselves from being okay in that space. 

But this post is not about politics. This post is about open-mindedness and listening and learning. To do this we must keep questioning. And not by just shouting them in the air in anger or disgust, and moving on. But by really asking them, and opening our hearts and minds to hear the answer.  We may not like or agree with what we hear, but it’s the only way to understand, and more importantly, stay informed.  The other side of that coin is that when someone asks us questions about our beliefs or ideas, we can’t become defensive. They are likely asking questions to better understand, not out of judgement. Remaining quiet and in our own corners is not going to bring about the unity we seek.  Neither is denouncing others from on high. 

It starts with you. It’s starts with a single question. Ask it and just listen. Then breath in how refreshing it is to learn more deeply about someone or something. We have all complex stories, and each deserves to be heard.  All the layers of it, not just one…or none. 

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming and Loving vs. Virginia

Two books diverged from a single shelf, and happy I was to fall into both.  Jacqueline Woodson and Patricia Powell have taken their words and talent for writing verse to bring the world two beautifully written depictions of what it looked and felt like to grow up in the deep south during the civil rights movement.

brown girl dreaming

In Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson entices adolescents by taking them on her personal journey of growing up in South Carolina close to her grandparents, and then New York when her parents divorced.  As she travels between two homes, never truly feeling that one is “home.”  This describes her inner struggle as well, with a deep desire to become an author, but the outside world seems to keep telling her she’s not good enough.  That there simply is not a future in literature.  Yet, writing helps Jacqueline find herself, develop an identity, and so she continues despite the voices telling her otherwise.  As all human stories go, her’s has many layers.  Not only is the reader thrust into a historical education of the time period, but also Woodson’s personal dreams despite her struggles in school and to find a place in the world amidst one that did not want her to exist.

 

I do not know if these hands will become–

Malcolm’s–raised and fisted

or Martin’s–open and asking,

or James’s–curled around a pen.

I do not know if these hands will be

Rosa’s

or Ruby’s

gently gloved

and fiercely folded

calmly in a lap,

on a desk,

around a book,

ready

to change the world…

–excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming

 

Loving vs. Virigina, by Patricia Hruby Powell, takes the reader on an entirely different journey.  Richard Loving and Mildred (Millie) Jeter meet during a summer game of ball where Richard catches Millie’s hit, sending her into a fiery frenzy.  He wasn’t even playing the game! From that moment on an unlikely (and illegal) love would form between between a black female and white male. The town, ruled by Sheriff Brooks, was determined to make their life a living hell.  From harassment on back roads to pulling the couple out of their bed in the middle of the night to arrests, Sheriff Brooks never gave the couple a break.  In fact he does the exact opposite.  He goes out of his way to bring more trouble into their lives.

And he succeeds.

As their love deepens, Mildred finds herself pregnant while in high school.  She withholds the information from Richard for as long as possible, and when she finally tells him their relationship crumbles.  She births the baby without him by her side but in the months following they reunite.  Recognizing how deeply their devotion goes for each other and their family, they marry and quickly find themselves expecting their second child.  Millie is jailed for the criminal offense of marrying a white man, and that is where their true struggle to keep their family together begins.

And then I go home

to my baby

and little Sidney.

You’d think that

they’d want

us to be married,

what with a child and all.

 

But it’s our beautiful brown baby

that is the problem.

This perfect baby is the result

of race mixing.

This child is the very reason

they don’t want us to be married.

  • excerpt from Loving vs. Virginia

 

This book, scattered with photographs, quotes, explanations of events, and beautiful illustrations, takes its reader on the tumultuous journey of the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving vs. Virginia. It seamlessly combines real events and poetry in a way that will forever change the reader’s heart.


Brave and Bold and…

G eagerly invites me sit down beside him. This thing called reading partnerships that we’ve been working on? He’s got it. And he’s the kind of 5-year-old that loves having the teacher be his partner.

And so I sit. Before I can even get myself acquainted with the text I’m being quizzed.

“Do you know all the cars in Cars 1? How about Cars 2?

“I think I know some of them.”

“Let’s find out! I’ll point to them and you say their names. There’s 116 between both movies!”

I’m not sure if this last statement is true, but G clearly knows his cars so I don’t argue. His excitement in quizzing me is palpable, and so we begin. Him pointing at the picture of different cars and me throwing guesses into the universe. If there are 116, I only know a measley 4. Not impressive, but G encouraged me by naming all I did not know so I could learn.  Turned to a page with roughly 20 cars on the spread ranging from big to small, he knew and pointed to every single one of them. He reminded me to use the reading strategy, Picture Power, by pulling clues from the illustration to help me do this, and that could help me remember them, too.

Pretty impressive for a 5-year-old, right?  A kid teaching me reading strategies and the content of his text all at once. Any Kindergarten teacher will tell you this is a good day.

What makes this moment even more incredible is that G is blind.

His book box is FULL of Braille books, but he chooses the traditional texts that match what his peers are reading.

This is G reading:

He prefers this. Why? When I ask him this same question, “The pictures, of course.” Of course. And he’s studied them all.

G has a 2-desk space in his classroom that allows for his Braille machine to be by his side at all times. Between this and his walking stick, G is a completely independent learner throughout the day. He does his writing and word study in Braille, but in reading it’s different. He’s different. He thrives on the color and added meaning he can build in the text through the pictures. So he challenges himself in this way.


As he was trying to build the word Lightning McQueen, me kept getting tripped up on the loops hanging down from the g’s. They look like the g’s in the font I’m typing, so it looked to him as two little o’s atop each other. We worked through it. He didn’t give up.

And so adds another layer to this incredible kid. Kindergarteners are also in the throes of learning their letter sounds and formations. The font in this text did not follow all the traditional letter forms that he’s been learning, but he foraged on.

And so we read Cars, and the we read Cars again because it’s his favorite, of course.

I tear myself to go meet with another student, but all I really wanted to do was sit and marvel at all G was doing as a reader and person. As I stand to leave he reminds to use Picture Power with the books I read and expresses his hope that we can read together again soon.  Me too.

I have another hope too.  A hope that brave and bold are the words that continue to define him, not his blindness. He certainly hasn’t let it define him. Let’s hope the world can do the same.

March #SOL17 Day 6

#publicschoolproud

Today I’m giving you a peek into my classroom at Parkview High School in Springfield, MO, where I am proud to be a public school teacher.  If I had chosen a different profession or decided to teach at a private school, I would be missing out on these public school students, whom I love.  They are passionate, extraordinarily talented, busy, tired, hilarious, and sometimes angry. And they are mine. I was thinking just yesterday about how I could not imagine myself in any other profession.  How, yes, some days are difficult, but these students are amazing and I wouldn’t want to teach any where else.   

My day started with English II Honors and my students were putting the final touches on their modern interpretations of a choice Shakespearean play.  Over the past three weeks, students have read, watched, and analyzed their play of choice and are now tweaking their performances, either filmed or going live, for whole class presentations starting later this week.  My student teacher and I are excited for the final reveal and we have a feeling that we may be laughing, to the point of tears, during some of these productions.  

One student who has stood out to me during the last three weeks is a girl I will call E.   She has been an integral part in her group’s interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, bringing hilarity to their production. After having E in class last year, in English I Honors, I was privileged to get to teach her again this year as we both moved up to English II Honors.  The smile on her face would never let you know of the struggles she’s been through.  E’s father has tried his best, but their family has had it rough.  Her mother passed away from heart problems when E was a toddler and her father has had a kidney transplant and weekly dialysis trips for years. Her only option for education is public school. The anxiety that E must face on a daily basis is enough to send an adult into a panic attack, but  not her.  She comes to school, she is involved in three sports, she plays bass in the jazz band and she excels in her honors classes.  She has an infectious smile and kind eyes and I don’t worry about her because I know she will be okay.  She will make it through high school and continue on to college where she will no doubt be successful.  There are not enough positive adjectives to describe this young woman. 

To think that E’s public education could be changed because of the funneling of money to charter schools  is disheartening.  Without a strong public education where would she be? How would she break the cycle of poverty she’s in due to her mother’s death and her father’s health problems? Reasons far beyond her control.  She could be desolate, but she knows. She knows the way out comes from within these publicly funded walls she calls her school. She is proud of who she is and where she’s going, and I am proud of her. If I wasn’t a public school teacher, I wouldn’t get to meet amazing people like E.  I am public school proud.

 

 

 

Blog Series: Public School Peaks and Portraits

 

public-school-teacher-profile-800x800

Each March the blog, Two Writing Teachers, hosts a daily writing challenge called Slice of Life.  I mentioned in an earlier post that my buddy blogger, Sarah and I were going to take on this challenge.  Full confession, we’ve posted twice in five days.  BUT, it’s because we got this idea–to streamline our blog postings into a single focus so it didn’t seem like random daily ramblings into one’s life each day.

Considering the variety of classrooms I’m able to connect to and the wide array of students Sarah sees each day in her English classes, we decided it would be much more powerful to share student stories.  To report from the “front lines” if you will the incredible fortitude and purpose students bring the classroom each day.  In spite of what the media and government attempt to convey about our public schools, they are largely missing the boat.

Likewise, we read the NY Times article, “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?” and were inspired to refocus our readers to the importance of the investing in the public good, rather than oneself.  In their infancy, as great civilizations began to rise up, “‘Public’ stood for not just how something was financed-with the tax dollars of citizens — but for a communal ownership of institutions and for a society that privileged the common good over individual advancement.

a society that privileges the common good over individual advancement.

The vastness and diversity present among our public schools systems hold great power for bringing this ideal back to the forefront.  Sarah and myself feel charged to share these stories.  Whether it’s sharing the humanity and hearts of our students or the solidarity and community among our districts, the “peaks and portraits” must be shared.  Our days cannot continue to play out behind closed doors, perpetuating the idea that what goes on behind them is bad or less than.

We’re going to take you inside our lives as public school educators, and we could not feel more proud to do this work.  If you have any stories you’d like us to share, please reach out!