Mass School Shootings: The Civil Rights Movement of Our Time

This weekend the words of Emma Gonzalez rang in our ears and split open our hearts.  And personally, I screamed a resounding “YES!”

“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us.  And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS. Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS. Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”

Those of us who went into the education field did so because it is a civil right and one, we believe, must be upheld to the highest degree.  While we obsessively focus on this through standards and achievement, we are largely overlooking the most critical component–our children. Educators have known this for a long time, but now we are seeing it to a new degree. True–a quality education is one where high academic achievement is attainable for all.

A quality education is also one absent of trauma, and we are not delivering!

We argue that mental health has to be addressed in this country to reduce the likelihood that these events continue to occur.  Again, true.  Yet, has anyone thought of the mental well-being of those surviving this horror?  What counseling and therapy options will be available to them for the rest of their lives?  Each and every time one of these mass shootings occur we destabilize the level of mental health in our society even further, most often amongst our young people.  We expect, and hope, that each generation will come forth to make our country stronger than before, and when we don’t think they deliver our reaction is making sarcastic, mocking memes.  But just look what they’re subjected to.

As Emma so eloquently stated, the adults voting on education policy are not those that have to live and attempt to survive in its system.  When we vote, we make decisions for our children that we don’t have to endure or personally experience.  When we vote, we either say “enough is enough” or the system is adequate as is.  What does your vote say, because it matters more now that ever before?  And asshole memes won’t change a thing.

*****

Pernille Ripp addressed this issue over the weekend in her post, I Don’t Want to Be a Hero.  I would add the following:

When educators stepped into this job it was to be a hero, but it was to be the quiet kind that doesn’t make the news.

It was to be the kind of hero that protects their students by guarding them with knowledge, not their own bodies.

It was to be the kind of hero that intended to hear student voices through innovative ideas, not screams of terror.

It was to be the kind of hero who helped students learn who they were as learners, not what they would do in a crisis.

It was to be the kind of hero who attended their students’ sporting events, not candlelight vigils for those lost.

It was to be the kind of hero who drives students to take action and make society better, and damn it we are still doing that, but it should not be in this context.

Some say it’s a mental health issue.  Yes.  Some say it’s a gun law issue.  Yes.  Some say it’s healthcare issue.  Yes.

This issue is not a singular layer.  Whichever layer you believe is perpetuating these events, take a stand.  Do something.  Just as I said in a previous blog, our silence and inaction are KILLING us.

I will be marching on March 24th and I hope to see a lot of familiar faces.  If we aren’t making our voices heard, why are we in this work?

Furthermore, who are we as a country when we allow our children to get slaughtered in a place they are mandated to attend?

Education is a civil right and this is the Civil Rights Movement of our time! 

LET’S GO!

 

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Small Moments, No Filter #1: To Future Teachers

Over the past month I’ve had the privilege to work with a Kindergarten team on non-fiction reading with their kiddos.  This past week we moved into the next phase of the unit.  Here students progressed from asking questions and making connections in the text, primarily through the pictures, to noticing moments where their thinking caused a big reaction–WOW! GROSS! NO WAY!

To teach this lesson we watched a particularly compelling Venus Fly Trap video that certainly lent itself to students having big reactions. We used the chart below to help us think about those reactions in two ways.

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One way was by simply noticing when we were learning a new and amazing fact like, Venus Fly Traps produce a sweet nectar that lures flies into their trap.

The second way was to notice when a new fact made us have even more questions because the idea was so strange or foreign to us.  For instance, did you know the Venus Fly Trap has six hairs that serve as sensors and when a fly touches one it sets off a 60-second time within the trap?  If the fly doesn’t get out in time, it’s usually doomed.  Not only did students have a big reaction to this fact, but also many questions.  A Venus Fly Trap is a plant! How does it have a timer?  When it traps the fly how does it “eat” it?  Does the trap have a stomach?  We pulled in question words to help us pause and think about what we’re still wondering when we learn new information.

The lesson must have gone well, at least for one little girl, because the next day she came to school with this:

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She had gone home and done this same work, making a chart to notice when she had a “reeakshin” and a “qechin”.  Her reaction column includes, “That cnat be!” and “inposubl!”  Her question column, “Maby?” and “Oh my” and “code thay…?”  She was so proud to show her work and I was humbled to be a part of this moment with her.

I was recently asked to consider how I know I’m effective in my job. I’d say this sweet moment hits the nail on the head.  Now I just need to ask if she’s willing to be my assistant.

 

 

 

 

Must Listen! Lift Every Voice Podcast

 

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Last week, on the heels of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the President’s “shithole” comments, New Jersey Senator, Cory Booker did something important.  He gave an impassioned speech denouncing the “amnesia” and “silence” of his fellow government officials.  His words were pointed, speaking truth and transparency, and imploring others to do the same.

His words matched my thoughts and feelings so precisely.  His words were igniting, elevating.  I needed more of them.  I started to seek him out on Twitter and Instagram and his Senate page.  Through this search I discovered his podcast, Lift Every Voice.  I listened to the first episode.  I became hooked.

The premise of his podcast is to highlight overlooked issues of injustice and inequality, and provide an outlet for voices to share their inspiring stories of change and action.  The first episode featured Civil Rights icon, Representative John Lewis.  He is the only living member of the “Big Six”, the group of leaders who organized the March on Washington in 1963, in which Martin Luther King paid his way to help get this movement in motion.

There are so many moments in this podcast I could quote, but I’m simply going to leave these words on the page and let you discover the rest.  I hope you will.

“You gotta cause some good trouble.  I believe in stirring things up to make it right. To help educate people, inform people, sensitize people.  Because you, too, can do something.  You cannot sit on the sideline and be silent.” 

Representative John Lewis

 

“Love is work.  Love is struggle. Love is hard.  I’m working to try to live your example, and King’s example, and Christ’s example of radical love.  Love that is risky.  Love that is dangerous.  Love that is hard.  Love that gets mocked.  Love that gets heckled.  Love that gets beaten.  But to continue in the way that you do every single day.  I witness it and I watch it.  That you live with that humility and love of all, and that strident activism to cause good trouble.” 

Senator Cory Booker

Radical love.  Good trouble.  Words to live by.

 

In Honor of Martin Luther King: Teach Us All Documentary

 

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Our lives are ending because of silence.

If you think that statement is overly dramatic, it’s not.

 

Facts:

  • For black students, the US is back at school segregation levels not seen since a year before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and 1 in 7 black and Latino children attend “hyper-segregated” schools.
  • Nationally, we spend more money incarcerating minority youth than educating them.  It costs $90,000 to house individuals in a juvenile detention center. It costs $10,000 to educate them.
  • Students of color make up 75% of the student population at the lowest performing high schools in the United States.
  • Children in segregated schools earn an average of 25% less income in their lifetime.
  • If you’re poor and not reading at grade level by 3rd grade you are 13 times more likely to not graduate high school.
  • If you are an African American you are 4 times more likely to not graduate high school.

Think about those last two facts.  Combined they paint the reality that our African American poor students not reading at grade level by the age of 8 are doomed to incarceration.  Their path in life has been determined by age 8.  They will likely fall victim to double segregation: race + income, and the political systems at play will ensure they never become productive citizens of society.

***

On Saturday I attended a showing of the Teach Us All documentary that is currently touring nationally on many college campuses and it also now available on Netflix.  An African American man with two Masters degrees stood before us to tell his story.  During the 1950’s-1970’s as Kansas City was immersed in unprecedented racial migration due to White flight imposed by J.C. Nichols and Co. and their racially charged real estate practices, schools at the city’s core began to get shut down.  With all the white people moving out to the suburbs they were no longer needed.  Simultaneously, prisons were taking their place in the areas African American families were moving into.  Coincidence?  No.  From that time African American females became 6 times more likely to get suspended or expelled from school than her white counterparts.  Essentially, an action that communicated the message that just because the courts say we have to let you in, we’ll still find a way to keep you out.  African American males were not overlooked either.  They became 4 times more likely to be recommended for Special Education services.  The man standing before us telling his story had spent his entire elementary experience in Special Education, and ultimately obtained two Masters.

To this day Missouri remains the #1 state for out-of-school suspensions.  Not Texas.  Not California.  Not Florida.  Not New York.  Missouri.  How can we bring up a community and a nation when the next generation is being denied their education?

***

Today is about action. About voice.  About getting loud and using your place of privilege to stand up and be heard on behalf of those who are continually ignored and dismissed.

Our silence–our inaction–is killing us.

Just ask Jordan Russell Davis, or Eric Garner, or John Crawford, or Michael Brown, or Laquan McDonald, or Akai Gurley, or Tamir Rice, or Walter Scott, or Freddie Gray, or Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, or Cynthia Hurd, or Susie Jackson, or Ethel Lee Lance, or DePayne Middleton Doctor, or Clementa Pickney, or Tywanza Sanders, or Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. or Myra Thompson, or Sandra Bland, or Jamar Clark, or Alton Sterling, or Philando Castille or Jordan Edwards, or Trayvon Martin, or…

Oh, wait.  We can’t.

_Unity is the only plausible path to justice.

Ways to get involved:

The most impactful way to get involved to speak out on policy.  Who we put in power politically matters!  So, whether it’s Trump’s latest remarks or this post or something else altogether–find the fire the belly, the passion in your heart, and get involved.  There is no time to waste.  People are dying while we sit in silence.  GO!

One (or four) Little Words for 2018

 

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Last year at this same time I reflected on on my one little word for 2017.  This is an idea I learned about through Two Writing Teachers and have loved its impact on focusing my year.  Last year I broke the rules and chose two words–radical presence.  This year I’m breaking them even more, and choosing four words:

small moments/no filter.

A trifecta of realizations in 2017 have led me to this.   

One, sadly, being inexplicable tragedy that surrounded so many in 2017.  Whether in our world or the lives of  those close to me, I learned a more profound level of love and gratitude as so many in my inner circle were faced with adversity beyond comprehension.  Some were expected, foreseen.  Others not.  Regardless, you were at a loss.  No words could fill the space.  So love had to.  They say life happens in seasons, and I know this is true.  2017 was that season that deepened roots with so many friendships where love was all that could be given.  However, that also meant recognizing others were dying.  Sad, yes.  But recognition demands we look through new lenses, and you suddenly see so clearly how your lives’ paths have diverged.  No one person’s is wrong, the puzzle just doesn’t fit anymore.  As I grappled to find peace with this I wondered what attributed to the difference.  The answer:  small moments/no filter. 

Those friendships that found new roots were real.  There was no show.  No expectations.  No trying to fit in boxes that didn’t fit.  This authenticity jarred me from time to time.  It was not something that had been common in many of my previous female relationships.  That’s when I began to recognize, to see more clearly, to know it was time to walk.  Liberation.  What’s left standing is one hell of a group of women that I would walk to the ends of the Earth for.  And they’d do the same for me.  You know who you are.  I love you and our unfiltered small moments.

***

The second and third reasons occurred simultaneously.  I was going through all the pictures of the kids in 2017 and I noticed that most of them were big moments with filters.  I got itchy.   If what I valued so much in my friendships was authenticity this wasn’t it.  This was staged–“smile for mommy” and then let me ignore you for the next ten minutes as I post to 8 different social media outlets and make sure to get the right filter on there so we look good.  Nope.  In the words of Lillian, “That’s not right!”

I remembered their journals from their first years of life and how I intentionally took weekly pictures of our little moments together.  I pulled them back out and cried.  I had lost complete sight of this in 2017.  Shame on me.  They change so much every day and I am missing it.  So, I am recommitting myself to our weekly small moments/no filter Life as we are living it and loving it or hating it or struggling with it.  But life.  Life as it exists from day to day.  Because as so many of my friends learned (and taught me) this year, it can be gone or challenged in an instant.

While looking through pictures of these big moments a word that kept entering my brain was “conventional.” They looked like carbon copies of everyone else’s pictures.  Go here, get the big cake, overspend, over plan, over stress, shove yourself into an overcrowded space.  Frankly, I’m over it!  When I look back at our pictures I do not want these words connected to our memories.  I have always been the person who wants to do it all right now–I’m very impulsive in that way.  Kyle has helped me immensely in this area, but I’ve still got a lot of growing to do.  I’m stepping back this year.  I want my family to have our own traditions–the small unfiltered kind, not the big, over-hyped kind.

This year we’re minimizing, which is in turn, unconventional.  That feels right.  In a world that needs so much, it feels wrong to keep serving ourselves.  This year will be about small unfiltered moments of serving others.  Maybe they’ll show up here.  Maybe they won’t.  But my small moments/no filter focus will also be the theme of the blog this year.  That’s all I can manage, and I’m finding that’s where the power and meaning lie anyhow.

***  

Stay tuned.  I have no idea what will show up here.  I’m letting life take the lead.  The possibilities are thrilling!

 

The Power of our Native Tongue: Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr

Imagine, if you can, this scenario:

A childhood synonymous with freedom and comfort–a breakfast of yogurt, bread and vegetables, playfully running barefoot over rocks, an evening of papa’s stories about family.  A life of schooling, city markets, laughing and chatting in public.

Pretty easy, right?

Now this one:

A childhood synonymous with confusion and limitations.  Limitations of food that required shared bowls of soup and confusion at the exodus of your community, just a few at first, but then many.  Where are they going?  Why? The falling bombs answer your question, so your family joins.  Now your playful barefoot running is treacherous barefoot walking for miles and miles and miles, tears marking the ground for each one completed.  Land then water then boats then drowning, but you come full circle, reaching land once again.  Land that symbolized hope.  Your family categorized as “the lucky ones” and you know that’s true because you’re here, but it’s still so confusing.

Stepping Stones CoverStepping Stones pages

This is the experience Margriet Ruurs documents in her bilingual text, written in English and Arabic.  In yesterday’s post, I spoke to using images to tell a story when the (English) words weren’t yet an access point for our ELL students.  This book beautifully adds the next layer–allowing students to tell stories in their native tongue while also working together to write the English equivalent.  The strongest research in ELL education tells us that a bilingual immersion experience is the most effective when learning a new language.  By and large, public schools do not do this.  Our ELL students arrive in our classrooms and everything becomes centered around learning English, speaking our way.  Ultimately communicating to students, leave what you know behind here and let us tell you what you need to know.  Save your native tongue for homeThe two worlds your living in right now will be kept separate.  They oblige, because really, what choice do they have?  Our words, sharp and clunky in their mouth begin to form.  Before they are spoken they sit in the throat like elixir, thick and bitter tasting.  They come out all wrong.  People listen with intense faces trying to make them out.  What did you say?  Repeat it.  Try again.  Can you imagine the level of frustration when your days repeatedly consist of these moments?

As a new language is acquired there is a trajectory that is followed.  The first level learned is the social language–playground and lunchroom talk, and then academic language.  Once these oral skills are strengthened students apply them first to reading and finally writing.  So, even as we work tirelessly teaching them this new language, we will not see reflected in their writing for quite some time.

Unless… Unless, we allow them to write in the language they know.  The irony is it’s a craft move we teach all other kids to use in their writing.  We see authors do it all the time–pull in words from their culture to enhance the tone and setting of a book.  We would be wise to capitalize on this with our most vulnerable language learners as well.

With the many translation tools available today educators can make this work.  Or, better yet, invite in their families.  Many times there is someone in the home that serves as the translator.  Invite them into your classrooms.  How thrilled they would be to see what their child is writing and be the invaluable link between home and school.  Think of how they could help add on to the story.  Think about how this small gesture gives them a voice in their new land–one connected to their child’s education.  Can you imagine the impact of this powerful and lasting moment?

I recently listened to a Truth for Teachers podcast that was a two-part series on focus points for teachers of high poverty classrooms to get results.  As I listened to part two, which centered around parent involvement, I couldn’t help but think that the truth they were speaking would be to the benefit of every single kid in the public education system. Their message was this:

“Parents are our greatest advocate with our children.  They know their kids better that we do.  No one is going to love my students more than their parents do.  And so when I bring them in, and I bring them to the table, I say, ‘I want to hear your voice.  I want to add your voice to whatever I am doing with my students.

As teachers we have got to stop judging families regardless of how they look.  We have to start acting as if they are the critical link to success for our children because they are!  And then we have to tell them that.” 

It’s true that we are likely the person in the classroom that knows the best, researched instructional practices.  The parents, however, are the ones that know the individual to a depth we never will.

Can you imagine the level of success we could obtain if we all started working together?

 

 

 

Honoring Immigrant and Refugee Stories through Mirror By Jeannie Baker

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In January 2010 one of the deadliest earthquakes in recent history hit Haiti, killing nearly 316,000 people.  In its aftermath school districts across the United States felt a shift in their population as refugees sought safety in states surrounded by land.  My classroom was not exception.  For the second part of that year I had eight ELL students ranging from nearly proficient and ready to test out of services to those who did not know a single word.  The ELL teacher and myself had a great relationship and worked tirelessly to help these students access their education through images, objects, and when possible, a translator.  But at the end of the day (and year), I locked my classroom doors harboring a lot of guilt at not doing more.  It just felt like they were under-served on so many levels.

I took this ache inside me into the Greater Kansas City Writing Project Summer Institute, researching it further as my burning question to my teacher inquiry project.  During this transformative time my eyes were opened to the unending ways we can tell our stories.  Yes.  That’s where I had failed them.  I was too focused on objectives and assessments, not their humanity or their voyage or their words in their native tongue.

So, when you know better you do better, and the next year I did.  It was far from perfect, but our classroom embraced wordless picture books and created many ourselves to broaden our horizons on what authoring a text and sharing information really means.

If Mirror had been published in 2010 it would have led this classroom work.  Jeannie Baker effortlessly compares the life a family in Australia to that of one who lives in Morocco, North Africa.  The spines of the book are on the left and right side of the cover.  The middle remains open, so the reader can flip each page, looking side-by-side to make connections and observations about family and daily life in these two vastly different cultures.

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Naturally, as you read this text you connect these two cultures to your own.  Synthesis in an incredibly rich and profound way.

As I continue to navigate ways in which we can reach our ELL students more humanly to give a voice to their experiences, rather than sitting in the corners of classrooms silent and confused, I know literature is the answer.  Because literature is more than being able to read and comprehend the words on a page.  Literature is stories, information, knowledge.  We all have that to share.  We just have to find a way.