180 Equity.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Kind of. Sort of.

Teacher/Writers: have you ever self-edited before you typed one word on a page, for fear of being misunderstood or striking a harsh tone? Or is that just me? It’s me. Definitely me.

What is my intent with this post, and the hard questions I’m trying to sort out? Is it to put down ‘white girl do-goodery ness’ and my personal bah-humbug-bite fever?

Historically, at my previous school, a beautiful soul and leader organized a holiday gift event for our students. The intent was based out of love and generosity. It grew from students asking for simple things like a soda pop or candy bar to more significant items like a guitar or other musical instrument. Items like expensive shoes or game consoles crept in. When it reached its crescendo, large stuffed bears were the prizes for the lucky few whose names were called from the stands, while others looked on in disbelief. Maybe their English wasn’t at the level to understand the school announcements telling them to get their names in so they could get a gift. Maybe they asked for something and upon receipt, the color or brand wasn’t quite right. Before the event, wrapping parties with a roomful of admin and teachers working hard as elves, complete with fresh baked goods and cocoa, wrapped all the donated gifts. Thousands of dollars were donated to fund this, and these events made the news.

But what the news didn’t show were the many students who didn’t understand why they missed out, or worse, complained about their gift. I’ll never forget the look on my student teacher’s face when she witnessed the spectacle of almost a thousand children in the bleachers watching others receive boons of Nikes and Playstations, stuff bears and bags of Takis.

Am I against children getting something they want at the holidays? Um…no. In fact, I am wondering why companies such as Nike, Sony, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, etc. don’t *!@#@@!!! take some of their billions in profits and simply provide items of normalcy and belonging to students–cool shoes, laptops, smartphones, etc. Oh yeah..art supplies and books would be nice, too. But that’s not how capitalism works. Capitalism and consumerism operate on a scarcity model: provide the desire, repackage it as ‘need’ and then if you’re worthy and lucky, you can have it. Er, rather buy it. Or get a bloody nose on Black Friday fighting over a large screen TV or the “it” toy of the season. Capitalism hurts.

For a few years now, I’ve shared “Nicholas Was…” by Neil Gaiman with students. And guilty as charged, students have told me I’ve ‘ruined’ Christmas. But it is an immensely satisfying and teachable little poem and serves many purposes — it teaches allusion, building background knowledge, and steps up to bigger questions. I used it this past week with my What It Says and Levels of Questions work. We used the text and the Vimeo video.

One moment that stands out is when one student who is usually polite but disengaged had that lightbulb moment when he and I discussed the punishment of leaving invisible gifts for children…how when I was growing up I never understood how Santa would only leave gifts for some and not others. That somehow poverty meant one was invisible to the Saturnalian embodiment of presents, and gifts = happiness.

“He punishment was harsher.”

Nicholas Was from 39 degrees north on Vimeo.

Nicholas leaves invisible gifts. The children, who are worthy simply because they are children (and no one seems to get this), never see the gifts. They don’t believe. But perhaps they’re better off.

Screeeecchhh….that’s the sound of my mental feet putting on the brakes before I veer off into a curmudgeonly ditch.

Take a look at this:


If we consider each facet of this from the lens of charity AND empowerment during the U.S.’s most capitalistic and consumeristic time of the year, perhaps we can come up with something new and better.

Reaching out to anyone who reads this–please–first, no more ‘white angel saviors’ — please. Can we just agree that we as educators are the stagehands working behind the scenes and that our students take front and center? When we plan our educational years, we map out a plan for equity every day, week and month that works as a continuum of empowerment and skill sets that boost all students’ ability to get what they need, work and create community, and collaborate with one another to create the change they seek?

Not sure how to do this, except for being honest with students. And meanwhile, I’ll keep thinking, reading, and reflecting. God bless us, everyone.


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