Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Being a better teacher, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Curriculum Ideas, Series: White People Homework

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Series: White People Homework (30) Love

This last week of June has been full of tears, grief and sorrow. No, no one I knew was sick or died. Wait–yes, someone just this morning reported the death of a cousin. And though I’ve reached the last of the thirty days of posting, the work, thinking, and focus is not over–it’ll never be over.

My husband and I have been doing all right during the quarantine. Some little snarls here and there, but nothing that’s a big deal. We mostly move around the house, separated by a few rooms, and leave each other to our work.

But last night, he came in to check on me during another one of my marathons of ‘Jane the Virgin,’ and just broke down. He didn’t cry, or scream: he expressed how much sorrow and distress he feels for white cops killing Black people, and just wants it to stop. I am doing a horrible job of describing his voice, his body language, and sorrow. But it unnerved me: I know how he feels and what his values are. But this different: he is in a great deal of physical chronic pain, and that’s been his focus to try to manage, and to see the pain of the world and our nation, too…I told him about Elijah McClain and we both started to cry. And we both know tears aren’t enough.

If you don’t think you have a friend, partner or spouse like mine, someone who shares this grief, you do: I can be here for you, too. This is all about love. White people: if you respond to the world with debilitating fear and loathing, it will betray you. It will betray your chance at love. Fear will destroy you.

But if you love, your fear will calm. You find joy again. Love your fellow human.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Posted in Anti-racist work, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework (29) Elijah McClain

This penultimate post for the month of June is about harm, police brutality, and death.

I don’t care who you are, what you believe, what mental gymnastics you perform in your brain, if you think this is somehow justified, the rest of us will use our power, our voices, our votes, and our resources to stop you. Get your head and your heart straight.

From Susan DuFresne’s page:

About eight to ten years ago, we had a student at the middle school where I worked, a young Black girl, and I am ashamed I don’t remember her name. I am not sure what happened, what she did, or what was done to her (because no matter what she did, in no way was what happened justified). I left the building one day, and she was sitting on the curb in handcuffs, surrounded by police. No other teacher or administrator was out there with her, from what I recall. I do remember being worried, so I stayed to see if she was going to be okay. But she wasn’t okay. And if I could go back to that moment, I would sit next to her, call her mother, and put my body in between her and the police. I did stay, but did not interfere. I witnessed, but did not speak up. I did ask admin later what happened, and was dismissed, all the blame placed on the girl and her actions.

By the time I left that building, I had six principals and countless assistant principals, deans, SROs, etc. The last principal tried to make changes, but it’s my opinion she was still early in her process of her journey. She brought in a white woman from poverty to discuss equity. She brought in the Challenge Day couple, which traumatized the staff and students, especially the ELL students whose various cultures did not understand “open it up and get below the level” analogies. She brought in a white consultant who was married to a Hispanic man, and told us how her son was bored in school. But she’s not unique or alone. There are many of us who are on the journey in different places, and her intent was good. The impact–we white teachers are finding our way to impact. And “impact” is a smack-your-face word. It’s physical, and it’s urgent. And we must, must, put impact over intent. (DiAngelo).

A Black middle school girl sitting on the school’s curb in handcuffs is the same trauma and violence as the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Tayler, Elijah McClain and countless others throughout our violent, racist history. The ‘what if’s’ are not unknown: we know what happens during these police encounters, and now they’re just forming militarized vigilante groups. We are in danger.

Elijah McClain’s death is an unspeakable outrage

In the course of the encounter, which spun out of control in seconds, Mr. McClain sobbed and pleaded with the officers — “I’m just different,” he said. They weren’t interested; they didn’t listen.

And the nightmarish aftermath: police sprayed pepper spray on musicians honoring Elijah.

“Elijah” is a holy name. I am not equipped to confront some of the hypocrisy I witness with my religious friends and family. But I am now equipped to share and witness that children must not be harmed. I will strive to find my own courage to speak up.

How do we mitigate this danger, and continue the path toward peace? I need a day to think about this, even though time is not on my side.

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, burning questions, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Equity & Cultural Competency, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework (28) Money: support the work

This is what I wrote in 2018, and my question ‘is this the best we can hope for?’ lacked in hope and vision. But thank goodness others have taken up the work, and helped us (teachers) continue to grow and learn.

My inadequate hope.

Fortunately, Shea Martin, Lizzie Fortin, and many others keep sharing their thinking.

And it’s almost payday: donate to this, even if they’ve exceeded their goal:

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework (27) Reflection

White people: fair warning. This might hurt a little. But you’re tough, right? You can take criticism, reflect, pray, meditate, and reconsider your opinion if you realize it’s doing harm to others. I mean, golden rule and all that. You get it. But–if you don’t–or if you’re still convinced that this conversation is boring or doesn’t pertain to you, not sure we can find common ground. I’m not sure how much I want to backtrack to pick you up, where you got lost at the tourist trap or the roadside attraction of “not me-ism.” But when you catch up, I’ll try to be here for you. I can’t guarantee.

White people, stop asking us to educate you about racism

How Moderate Teachers Perpetuate Educational Oppression by Lisa Kelly

Before you share an MLK quote, understand that you’re quoting a proud political radical

There Is No Such Thing as a ‘White Ally’ by Catherine Pugh, Esq.

How Get Out deconstructs racism for white people

  • Zeitgeist: the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.”the story captured the zeitgeist of the late 1960s”

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework: (26)The question

Why do white people do this work? All I can do is answer for myself, my observations, and what others have helped me learn so that I can share that message. If this is not your experience or life path, I understand. I would ask that you not add qualifiers.

I woke up this morning and pre-wrote in my head. It was a passionate message. I began to think of our world in the divided places: we are currently in extremism of thought and more dangerously, action. We have those of us who believe in climate science, vaccinations, that COVID19 is serious, that humans have basic rights to their choice of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: we believe in children, and life, hope, and love. We may have a faith that guides us. We may be atheist. We may have our own children we’re raising, or helping raise others’ children. Or both. But we have two distinct groups: those that want all of us to live our life in peace, to thrive, to support, and those that do not. Now, the issue is, those that do not think they do. Hence, the conflict.

We as a nation have never loved its children. We have only loved heirs. And for those that say the damning phrase, “We are not like this” we are. We sure as hell are.

All white people are currently sitting in present tense benefitting from systemic racism. And for me, and why I do anti-racist work, it’s too high a price for so little benefit. It takes too much from me, my husband, and my sons. It takes too much for too little return for my students and their families. This “benefit” includes killing children in my ‘white’ name. And I will not allow it. I will speak up. Those that support systemic racism, whether overtly or subconsciously, are under the delusion and hellscape cognitive dissonance that this is as good as the world gets, for them, and them only. And I hate their idea of the world. It’s filled with hate, blood, and grief.

There are children in cages. Right now. Today.

We have removed children from their families, their cultures, their heritages. Generation after generation. We have traumatized children. We are monsters.

I don’t want to be a monster.

One story I tell is when I lived in Tehran when I was 12, when I came back to the States I felt like I had been to another planet, another world, and the people I returned to, mostly white, privileged Colorado suburban kids, were so centered and stuck in their thinking, I pushed my experiences and knowledge aside, made myself smaller, tried to fit in, and sadly I realized that I tried to reacclimate myself to a lesser world–the one where white people ruled the history books, and no one questioned it. We high school teenagers wept over stories of the Holocaust, and then put it in the past. There was no voice or information to help us frame the larger scope, the endless, bloody history that was looming over everything else. We knew nothing of our nation and its history, and systemic racism ensured that. And for that, I am enraged. How dare they? How dare they give us the sense we were ‘educated’ when we were kept ignorant? And the fact that there are white people who adore the current racist, white supremacist, bigoted “president” swim in the sea of ignorance and hate. And I am out of tolerance. They stole from me. They stole from everyone.

Why do I do anti-racist work? Because of the blond, white boy who spit on a man in Tehran. The boy was riding in a Tehran American School bus and yelled “raghead” at him and spit on him. This was 1976. And he’s still out there, that boy, and he must be stopped. His legacy must not exist. He is the Kavanaugh, the Roof, the dog whistle turned siren of hate. That boy is the embodiment of everything I’ve grown to distrust and fear, and fight back. Oh, and he has a white wife, too, who also works on his side in some misguided quest with a Wagner soundtrack. He does not get to be the hero of his story, or of any story. His time is over.

I’m sitting in discomfort and sorrow. I’ve lost friends, have estranged family members. I will never get an apology from them, never be told that I was right. In fact, I am often told I’m stupid. The personified demons of cognitive dissonance, denial of death, confirmation bias and racism are not backing down. And I will never hear that apology, nor should I want to, not anymore. Monsters are not contrite.

Why do I do anti-racist work? Because our children deserve knowledge. They deserve power. They deserve agency and love to live their best lives, enjoy the beauty, wonder and joy of our planet. They deserve to love whom they choose, live in safety, pursue their passions, and cherish their faiths, cultures, families, and freedom, freedom to support one another in love.

If you can abide children in cages, I do not have time for you. You are not worthy. You have chosen hate over love. If you join us, and help us, you’re welcome anytime. But for now, sit down, shut up, and get out of our way.

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework (25) Forever Young

A little mom boast: I’m proud of my sons for helping teach me and lead me in ways I didn’t anticipate, but joyfully embrace. From their corrections and discussions to help me better understand transgender friends, their role in the world and their participation in the #BLM protests, readings, and writings. I know first-hand that Seattle is not a “hot mess” according to one Fox viewer who told me so. I mean, well, it is a mess, because the homeless and income disparities and the police violence, you know — that mess, so yes, it is a mess, but #CHOP and #CHAZ were like a big street party. But it’s not peace–it’s power to peace, power to love, and power of protest.

Young Asians and Latinos push their parents to acknowledge racism amid protests

Young organizers led N.Y.’s protests. Now they’re taking charge of policy change.

And this is from 2018: 10 Times Youth Activists Made A Difference

And Ben & Jerry’s has been doing some great work to help educate us: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration (but I and my family knew this because we love Ben & Jerry’s and Ben and Jerry’s loves Bernie.)

I remember when I was little, I asked my mom why/how did the Vietnam war end, and one of the first reasons she cited was the protests. That the American people did not want this war, and wanted it to end. But now we’re facing bigger threats: a very old one, and a new one: systemic racism and COVID19. I have to hold onto hope that knowledge, love, and truth will prevail. I have to believe that more people are doing good work, lending their voices and and energy to create the world they want to live in. And here’s the secret: those who are not doing the work, or in fact counter-attacking, will also receive the benefits and joy of a better world. It doesn’t seem fair, does it?

U.S. coronavirus deaths now surpass fatalities in the Vietnam War

Update: the virus has now killed over 120,000 people in the United States:

Your homework: read more about Audre Lorde, protests in the United States, the murders of men and women by police in our nation (Fred Hampton is a place to start).

Illustration by Meredith Stern: Find on the Teaching Tolerance Website
Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, ELA, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework (24) Read, listen, take action

I read another tweet from the founder of #ProjectLit, Jarred Amato, about The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. In two occasions he’s used this text as his go-to for discussing how we should abandon old, irrelevant texts in our classrooms. And I get it, I really do. Post #22 speaks to the canon. But here is a another secret of upholding systemic racism in our schools, classrooms, and libraries: some “white canon, colonized” books take up oxygen we could be using to read others’ beautiful works. And–and here’s the catch–we can still use them as historical texts as examples of themes, context, and ideas. And he’s also right.

Whole lotta white gaze going on here

The issue is we English teachers get stuck on our books. We fall in love with a text, and stay put. Grounded. Stubborn. We defend these texts with passion and lizard-brain emotion. And I mean white teachers, if I was being too subtle. Over my fifteen years of teaching, even recently, there is still so much “othering” of books written by authors of color, global viewpoints, etc. It’s become a binary conversation: this or that. White books or Non-white books. But here’s the thing: let go. Just–let go. Look at your canon and take out what is worth discussing, and eschew the rest. Don’t teach the entire novel. Have it as a reference for a timeline, but otherwise, release. Relook. Review. There are brilliant educators doing the work right now, in real time, who can help you find better novels with thematic clarity, relevancy, and rich, deep philosophies.

Shared on Donalyn Miller’s feed: Weeding Out Racism’s Invisible Roots: Rethinking Children’s Classics | Opinion

Important School Library Journal post from Padma Venkatraman about the importance of reading and sharing #ownvoices books instead of timeworn “classics” that perpetuate harmful stereotypes:“Powerful books can transport us to different places and times and also transplant us, temporarily, into a character’s body. Protagonists haunt us, move us, and sometimes spur us to act by sowing empathy and respect for diversity.Conversely, exposing young people to stories in which racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hate are the norm may sow seeds of bias that can grow into indifference or prejudice.”

And I would ask that you bookmark this, watch it, take notes, keep, review, and place high on your priority list.

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Assessment, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework (23) Will This Be On the Test?

Note: I’m just beginning to dig into this.

I’ve been trying to find what my Twitter friend Jennifer Binis describes as Black parents asking for standardized testing from a historical perspective. I will in good faith ask her, because I know she’s an educational historian and scholar. When she and I have had the conversation and exchange of ideas about the state standardized testing, created by Pearson and presumably based on Common Core Standards, all I have to offer are my own observational and test data: the test sucks. It’s biased, racist, and does not achieve the educational equity that may have been its original intent. If we go by intent versus impact, its impact is overwhelmingly damaging. During the COVID19 shut down, the testing was either cancelled outright or put on hold. It costs districts millions. It takes up weeks out of the 180 days of educational instruction time, and speaking for the ELA (reading/writing) uses dissected and random autopsies of texts for students to show their “skills” but never strategies, background or contextual knowledge. Teachers struggle to teach strategies, background or contextual knowledge because of this cursed assessment.

It looks like the beginning of the end of America’s obsession with student standardized tests

History of Standardized Testing in the United States

The Racist Beginnings of Standardized Testing

What would many of us like to see instead? Project-based learning based on cross-content disciplines, portfolios, etc. There are many other more authentic assessments, both formative and summative, that we can look toward.

I’m planning on doing more research this summer regarding assessments, and found this in the meantime:

If anyone would like to join me, I’ve got my #2 pencil ready and am ready to learn.