Poetry comes in our lives when we may be turned facing other needs: or we may seek it to soothe our souls. The abundance of poetry and beauty shared by BIPOC is vast and luminous. This post shares a fraction of places to find poets and poetry.
I suppose I should place them under separate files Both died from different circumstances kind of, one from HIV AIDS and possibly not having taken his medicines the other from COVID-19 coupled with complications from an underlying HIV status In each case their deaths may have been preventable if one had taken his meds and the hospital thought to treat the other instead of sending him home saying, He wasn’t sick enough he died a few days later They were both mountains of men dark black beautiful gay men both more than six feet tall fierce and way ahead of their time One’s drag persona was Wonder Woman and the other started a black fashion magazine He also liked poetry They both knew each other from the same club scene we all grew up in When I was working the door at a club one frequented He would always say to me haven’t they figured out you’re a star yet And years ago bartending with the other when I complained about certain people and treatment he said sounds like it’s time for you to clean house Both I know were proud of me the poet star stayed true to my roots I guess what stands out to me is that they both were gay black mountains of men Cut down Felled too early And it makes me think the biggest and blackest are almost always more vulnerable My white friend speculates why the doctors sent one home If he had enough antibodies Did they not know his HIV status She approaches it rationally removed from race as if there were any rationale for sending him home Still she credits the doctors for thinking it through But I speculate they saw a big black man before them Maybe they couldn’t imagine him weak Maybe because of his size color class they imagined him strong said he’s okay Which happened to me so many times Once when I’d been hospitalized at the same time as a white girl she had pig-tails we had the same thing but I saw how tenderly they treated her Or knowing so many times in the medical system I would never have been treated so terribly if I had had a man with me Or if I were white and entitled enough to sue Both deaths could have been prevented both were almost first to fall in this season of death But it reminds me of what I said after Eric Garner a large black man was strangled to death over some cigarettes Six cops took him down His famous lines were I can’t breathe so if we are always the threat To whom or where do we turn for protection?
I love curating content and creating curriculum. Here are some units I’ve put together while in #quarantine:
My next projects include Greek Mythology with my Box of Destiny materials, and perhaps other units of study, such as Thesis Writing 101 and Thematic Discussions, and curated content about one or two big questions. Stay tuned!
I remember how during sophomore year, my English class read Night by Elie Wiesel while we learned about the Holocaust in World History. After we finished the book, we read the author’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember how he said something about how if people don’t speak out when something wrong is happening—wherever in the world—they’re helping whoever is committing that wrong by allowing it to happen. Our class discussed the idea, and almost everyone agreed with it, even me. At least, we said we did. Never mind the fact we all knew most of us didn’t even say shit when we saw someone slap the books out of a kid’s hands in the hallway. In fact, the most outspoken supporter of the idea during the discussion was a kid who did that kind of dumb stuff all the time and thought it was hilarious.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
One of the countries I know little about is the Philippines, and I’m ashamed of this. The only thing I was aware of is the death toll from Duterte’s dictatorship, a man our current “president” admires. Well, makes sense: both are vile, sexual predators with a knack for domestic terrorism. My former student teacher, L, family is from the Philippines, as are over a hundred thousand in Washington State, and during the election year her fears for her family for supporting Tr*** were well founded. In other words: there are a lot of parallels.
But we all know these aren’t abstract headlines: the terror they inflict and promote affects our students’ lives in concrete and harmful ways. However, I am not a spoiler: so no more plot points, or character analysis. I will leave you to enjoy this masterful novel. What I will do, though, is gather and curate some of the other art and poetry mentioned in the novel, so if you decide to add this to your classroom library, these resources will be available:
For those of us who live at the shoreline standing upon the constant edges of decision crucial and alone for those of us who cannot indulge the passing dreams of choice who love in doorways coming and going in the hours between dawns looking inward and outward at once before and after seeking a now that can breed futures like bread in our children’s mouths so their dreams will not reflect the death of ours;
Sherri Spelnic @edifiedlistener is a wonderful writer and educator, and her poem is beautiful. On Tuesday, I shared it with students and my own shameful experience from several years ago, around 2009. There was a strict rule, and I mean STRICT – no hats, scarves, bandanas, even headbands. We teachers were in charge of policing the hallways for any hoodie, hat, cap, beanie, toque, etc. Hijabs, of course, were fine. I say “of course” but I am certain in some American schools they are misunderstood and targeted. One young Black girl came to class a few days in a row with a red bandana. I told her that the school rule was that type of head covering was against dress code. After three days of her wearing it, I called for support from the office. One of the best admins I’ve ever had, Lavonta Howard, who was an AP at the time, quietly told me to let it go, because her mother had cut her hair in an alcoholic rage, and the relationship between hair and a Black girl is unique. I don’t remember his exact words, but I got it immediately. I was angry at her mother for the pain she caused her daughter, angry at the ridiculous “rules” that put me in a position not to be compassionate, and mostly at myself for not understanding what was at stake. The psychology of cruel authority took over my better judgment, and from that day forward I never let a ‘rule’ interfere with my humanity or deny others the dignity of theirs. I am forever grateful for Lavonta to provide me with grade and understanding.
When I shared that with my current students, they also offered me grace. We walked through our own process of thinking about our physical selves:
I modeled that I would take about some things, but didn’t feel like I wanted to talk about my weight. I took that risk and tried to show vulnerability, that we don’t always want to share what we think about ourselves. We don’t want to be mocked.
This process didn’t work for every child in the room — but it allowed a place for many. And for those who shared, and those who didn’t, we all came to a better place of empathy. Some people often make fun of teenagers and selfies, but I get it. I loved self-portraits and looked at myself in the mirror, more than I’d like to admit, as if I would see my identity form and shape in front of my eyes. In a way it did.
From one of my students from Tanzania: “My mom used to say I was a King.”
Thank you to Ms. Spelnic, for your grace. My students needed this–right words, right time.
When Kelly Gallagher tweeted about prior knowledge, he hit on something critical in this idea: that prior knowledge is also culturally dependent.
And this is key: culturally dependent also includes time, place, setting, generational, and fluid. Our cultures are not fixed, but change and shift over time, knowledge, growth, education, movement, context and emotions. We live in our own spaces, and those spaces and ideas are constantly shaped and tested by our times.
So how do we help students acknowledge that because they might not understand a reference, passage, joke, etc. it does NOT mean they’re ‘dumb?’ Because over the dozen years of teaching students from all walks of life one of the first things I see is this helplessness or fear of saying “I don’t get it.” Metacognition is a big word, but students get it. Teach it, have students practice, and recognize when they don’t get something, and most importantly, not be afraid to ask, question, discuss and research.
Ah, Winter Break…a time to catch up on media and mischief, and perhaps…have too much time to think. My dangerous questions are: “Are some learning and engagement strategies inherently biased? Do they try too hard to be inclusive and diverse, or do they not try hard enough? Where are we on this pendulum, anyway?” The question arose when I read this article from NPR by Joe Palca, ‘Hip-hop Vocal: The Lexicon Is In the Lyrics.” What struck me was Austin Martin’s insight about his time spent in school:
Although he’s in an Ivy League college now, Martin says that he struggled in school. He was smart, but he says the things he was really intellectually curious about weren’t valued in the classroom.
I wonder what exactly does that mean, “weren’t valued in the classroom?” I’m not questioning his memory –far from it–what I am wondering is how do we know, as students, when we’re not being valued? Was there a direct put-down to his love of music and sports, did a teacher disparage him somehow? Was his pedagogical experience so bland and dry it left no quarter for personal passions? And that made me think, did I ever have a chance to express personal interests in school? Okay, yes, I analyzed “Money” by Pink Floyd in English class, but I certainly wasn’t hanging with the AP crowd. What place do our personal passions play with our knowledge building, and are we using ‘diversity’ as a new brush to paint everything in one color, yet again? If the majority of students are from a range of diverse backgrounds, does that then make everyone homogenous?
His reflection about himself as a teenage student says:
“I knew every last thing there was to know about hip-hop and basketball,” he says. He could tell you incredibly detailed facts about rappers and NBA players.
Perhaps most of us could think of things we loved as teenagers, but our teachers certainly didn’t have the time or inclination to broach us about those passions. Were they supposed to? Well, sure, sometimes perhaps…to that end, Martin created a program that encompasses rap and vocabulary building:
The program is called Rhymes with Reason. He’s using rap lyrics to teach vocabulary, in the hope that some will connect more to popular music than they do to static words on a page.
This undergrad isn’t the first to think of using hip-hop in the classroom to engage students. The Hip-Hop Education Center, founded by New York University professor Martha Diaz, lists hundreds of programs that use hip-hop culture as a teaching tool.
And yes, I agree with the thesis of the piece, “So why not tap into that enthusiasm to help kids like him, who might be turned off by traditional schoolwork?” Yes, why not indeed–trying to find what will engage students is our educational nirvana. But ‘tapping in’ should not mean assuming all kids like the same things (like kids from ‘diverse’ schools all like basketball and rap: we need to do some code-switching here).
But who’s to say what traditional is, anyway? How are we currently defining multi-cultural, diverse, inclusive and engaging texts?
One way I spend my time is to look at new titles, and fortunately so does the district. This year they purchased The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, which is a considered a Verse genre, meaning, it’s poetic/rap structure. Aside from taking the time to study Russian Formalism and consider that structure makes the meaning, it’s a great book rich with textual context, discussion opportunities, etc. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit with my content areas this year, and this summer I researched other multi-cultural books. And, unfortunately again, there may not be any funds to add some great historical fiction pieces to my curriculum.
I wonder though, because my school is one of the most diverse in the district, do people assume that every kid loves basketball and hip-hop, ascribing some generalization that…and this is where it gets scary…leads to micro-aggressive bias? Because that’s not the case. There are kids who love One Direction, Justin Bieber, and kids who love soccer, or football, or gaming, or Manga, or Haka dancing or dubstep, Anime, Minecraft, and inclusive not only in the color of their skins or nationalities, embrace things that are purely, sparkly, what being an American teenager is now. They like stuff, not necessarily racial identities. Or rather, including their racial identities as part of their growth into individuals. But they do like stuff: cell phones know no boundaries or backgrounds. There are boys who stare at their computer screens for hours looking at shoes, and girls who read Tumblr and follow feminist discussions. And two things they all have in common: they want the best education their teachers can offer, and build their knowledge and agency, and they want relevancy. The shadowy side is teenagers still bully each other over the most superficial of behaviors, with terrible consequences, which is why I would love to know more about how Martin felt or knew he wasn’t being valued (did a teacher bully or mock him?).
On another note: While I don’t agree with this article, it may shock some to find out that anytime one group feels defined by another there will be push-back. (This article has plenty of push-back.) I’m linking it with some hesitation, but it is in the discomfort of defining personal identity that may be a the kernel of the diversity truth.
Teachers know that students learn in different ways; the experience in the classroom confirms this every day. In addition, well-accepted theories and extensive research illustrate and document learning differences. Most educators can talk about learning differences, whether by the name of learning styles, cognitive styles, psychological type, or multiple intelligences. Learners bring their own individual approach, talents and interests to the learning situation.
Growing up, the only edgy writer I was exposed to was Judy Blume. I had to seek and find other writers on my own. There wasn’t enough discussion and exposure to writers with multiple perspectives and voices, not in the least. Heck, I came from the dark ages when folks still believed Columbus was a hero. And this is an ‘and’ not a ‘but’ — and, I am spending my life making up for lost time, but still loving Judy Blume’s role in my life, too.
Back to my curriculum issue: I wish I could have students compare the narratives between Octavian Nothing and Sophia’s War. In Sophia’s War: A Tale of the Revolution, Avi brushes by the plight of slaves in joining the British forces, but that’s not the theme of the book. In Octavian Nothing, M.T. Anderson never mentions little Boston white girls whose brothers are sent to prison ships. But that also its not its job. However, it’s our jobs as educators to be knowledge and present the sides as best as we can, and have students make connections. What would I tell my students from India or Russia? They may not be represented in those stories at all–but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading. Diversity is not niche adaptation, but variety and knowledge strength.
So why ‘the paradox of diversity?’ Because it seems the more educators try to be diverse the more it becomes cookie-cutter. There is no perfect purple unicorn that answers everyone’s diverse backgrounds, and that’s for the best. Keep your eyes and mind open, don’t be embarrassed about your own journey and background, and read everything.