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Category Archives: Work
I walked over and closed the door, faced my classroom of 1st year high school students and said, “I need your full and undivided attention for about 10 minutes.” Kids are tuned in to ‘differences’ in classroom ritual and routine. They were immediately quiet, they sat up and had that look of , “what the heck’s going on?” in their eyes. Silence. Waiting.
I have had my freshies for about a month now. I really like this year’s crew of kids. My classes are attentive, communicative, and curious. We’ve got some good rapport established already. I’ve already gotten their attention, and I sense I have made strong connections through our anthropology curriculum. The kids come to class ready to learn – and curious about our day’s agenda. We do good stuff together – and I feel there is a good learning environment in my classroom.
On this day, Friday, I chose to speak out very clearly in support of our school and community LGBTIQ students. I began in the morning with an all staff e-mail commenting on the risks of not tackling the power of heteronormativity in our district wide diversity discussions. A middle school teacher quickly wrote back to me that words like “fag” and “homo” and “gay” or the most prevalent bullying words he hears in his classroom. My heart hurt reading that – but I knew this already. His middle school kids were soon to be my high school students …. and I have heard the same in our hallways and classrooms.
Our classroom event was far more personal than an e-mail. There was no keyboard separating me from my audience. I looked my students right in the eye while talking about the death of Tyler Clementi. I spoke into the silence with passion and a heartfelt plea. I also spoke a directive about behavior in my classroom. I believe rules matter. I made clear that I will never tolerate the words ‘gay’, ‘fag’, or ‘queer’ in my classroom. There will be NO BULLYING in my classroom. I’ve said this before, but some things must be repeated. I pointed my finger around the room and told them we were not going to be mocking or making problematic any experience with difference or sameness in our cultural anthropology class. I affirmed that our classroom will be a place where learning will be engaging and interesting, and where differences and similarities will be experienced in safe and respectful ways for every single student in the classroom. After all, I said, we were now all anthropologists embarking on a journey of inquiry and understanding. Part of our goal, to be clear, IS to experience difference and sameness from a place of positive interest.
I asked my students to carry this message of NO BULLYING into the hallways, the lunchroom, and outside the doors of our highschool into their home communities. You know what? I had some kids fist pump their agreement. I had a girl in quiet tears make direct eye contact that said, “thank you.” Yeah. They heard me. And those kids who needed to know I have their back – got the message. I shared that my room, my space, my side, was ‘safe’ for each and every one of them.
Period. End of story. Exclamation point.
I sealed the deal. Won’t you?
Visit the “It Gets Better” project. Talk to your kids. End bullying. Make the pledge. There are a million things we can all do to support all of our kids. You can add never referring to anyone as “Illegal” to your list of “things I can do today”. We ALL have work to do….so please do it where you can. Our kids deserve the best model of humanity front and center so that they can step forward in life with compassion and kindness.
Kids learn bullying from their social worlds. They learn to mock and make fun of difference from admired adults around them. Remember, we, the adults, are their models. When we speak out, when we say enough is enough, when we break the silences, we make the difference. I really believe this. I witness classrooms full of young teens every single day. I know what mocking laughter sounds like and I know the sound of gentle encouragement and acceptance.
I teach stuff that makes kids wiggle with discomfort and exclaim GROSS! Gender discussion and my hairy legs are a SUREFIRE way to get kids to nearly climb onto their tabletops – like they need to be a little less close to my offensive calves. “That’s not right!” they yell. “I don’t want to see that!” they screech. Watching young Suri women insert lip plates is cause for uncomfortable outbursts of “that’s so ugly” and “Agh! Why do they do that? It’s so weird!”
Tyler is among many young people who taught me, once again, that we needn’t go to Ethiopia (where Suri live) or to Finland (where I learned I didn’t have to shave my legs) to discover differences that make people uncomfortable in ways that often translate into nasty, bullying words and behaviors. In honor of his life, and the lives of LGBTIQ teens who are bullied and harassed, I say NO MORE. I promise today to be part of the “It Gets Better” movement FOR ALL KIDS. I’d love your company!
Every once in awhile I get a glimpse of my world from one of those oddball angles and I think, “is this really how it’s going down?” Today was one of those days. We’ve got it goin’ on here – so I’m going to give a little update, framing it all through the events of today.
Songbird is full swing back in her life at college. It’s her senior year. She texted me today and asked me to please copy her first and second page of her passport and scan it to her. She’s applying to work for Amigos again – next summer. So my #1 college kid will graduate with a double major in Anthro and Bio and …. pretty sure she’s gonna make some awesome plans.
Twinkletoes is hard at work her sophomore year. She’s in a pretty intense and prestigious biology program and dancing ballroom in her spare time. Today she called me from campus with an “Obama” report (as in, the line for admission to the gather place was 3 miles long). Later, she e-mailed me an announcement for a super cool job studying the habits of carnivores in Kenya. She commented, “this looks cool, doesn’t it?” My first thought was, “Damn! I want that job.” She knew that, of course.
Waffles is doing his 2 week gig at his Dad’s, but he swung by about 1/2 hour ago because I had texted him that there was a crock pot full of pulled pork (his favorite). He finished his school day, remembered to pick up his ‘brag sheets’ from his counselor (for letters of recommendation for college), and spent about 2 hours volunteering at our local bilingual school – a gig he committed to for the year and inspired by his own Amigos experience. He is in the thick of college apps and a boat load of pretty impressive classes. No soccer this fall, but plenty of other stuff, including being a big brother to both Blueberry and Flower!
Flower got up this morning with a HUGE smile on her face. It was her turn to go with her class to the school forest and enjoy an amazing suite of cool ropes course stuff. It was 40 degrees when she left (this mama made sure she had layers and layers to fit the needs of being super active and also potentially cold and waiting in line!) and about 63 when I picked her up at the end of the day! Oh, but her end of the day ended with her first volleyball practice! WOOT! Back to the school forest – she liked the zip line best. She loved volleyball, too. And, can I just say, Flower is LOVELY. Mr. Sillypants looks at me every single night and says, “she couldn’t be any sweeter.” Agreed.
Blueberry and I spent the day together. We had to get to the grocery store – I have to pack school lunches for Flower!!! He spent the entire shopping hour running up and down the aisles and putting groceries into the cart. Every ‘grocery toss’ I assigned to him was finished off with his sweet cheer, “SLAM DUNK!” Before we went to the store he discovered a sucker that I think Clementine left on the counter when he breezed through here earlier in the week. I gave it to Blue. Blue asked, “what is this mommy?” I answered, “a sucker.” He looked at me perplexed, “No it isn’t a SOCCER! Tell me mommy, what is it?” Later, when we entered the grocery, he asked, “Can I smell the flowers?” I asked him if he knew what they were called and then told him, “They’re called Mums.” He replied, “You silly mommy, those aren’t MOMS!” Heh. Life with 2. I think our day had its fair share of playing cars, playing puppy, some painting, and a bit of outside rough and tumble. Oh, and there was a nap fail thrown in there. Bummer. Bedtime was a bit of a mess since he seemed particularly needy. He followed up my offer for a bath, bottle, and bed with “that sounds fun Mommy,” only to insist on being rocked to sleep. Sometimes it just goes that way.
Mr. Sillypants still isn’t home. He’s delivering a baby.
I’ll just add that my own professional life is in a bit of a tailspin as some very difficult and complex contract negotiations have just been made more difficult. Bummer. I slipped in a moment of Union activism today. I also did my typical reading/responding to a number of things. I also left a message with a certain someone at a certain agency about certain things that haven’t been certainly decided yet. ETA: (cuz y’all are commenting about this particular paragraph….which is sweet!) I’m serious about being uncertain – yet the uncertainty won’t rest in my head and heart until I have some clarity on process and program. Yeah, so I called. Otherwise, it feels like nervous unsettled energy. I don’t do well with not knowing things I need to know to settle into a course of action – OR – to desist from a course of action. But seriously, no clarity. I welcome any comments to me (privately – I won’t share) on older child adoption and disrupting birth order – program details too. You’ll know if there is something to know.
Speaking of…DON’T MISS THIS Tim Wise comment on talking about race with our kids! Tim Wise…. Mr. SillyPants and I get to see him give the keynote address at our local Racial Justice Summit. Yep, we’ll be there for the summit. I’ll be talkin’ it up, for sure.
That’s how we roll….
In case you were wondering about whether or not I’m still out here doin’ my thing (the thing that doesn’t include dishes, laundry, welcoming visitors and extended stay kids , hugging and diapering toddlers, sending kids off to college, helping other kids make a plan for college applications, playing ‘aminals’, watching Sesame Street, cooking for the masses, and enduring visits from the plague of locust….). Yep, I am. I’m teaching. I’m advocating along with other colleagues and our teacher’s union to provide quality pay and benefits to teachers in my school district, I’m continuing to learn how to be an ally, how to recognize and address privilege (including first and foremost, my own), as well as fundraising for AHOPE for Children and MSF. *Gulp* Full throttle baby!
The above self portrait (one of my many nostril shots that also shows off the black circles under my eyes, thank you) was taken tonight at a local School Board meeting. I was one of over 100 teachers in attendance. I felt invigorated by the presence of my colleagues, the solidarity of the evening, and the courage of some of my teacher friends who spoke during the public speaking portion of the meeting. Coolio. Then I came home and helped Flower identify complete subjects and complete predicates (but I had to look up the latter). In solidarity – g’nite.
In the 2 full days since the newspaper story broke, there has been an eerie and disturbing silence in our district. NOT A WORD from our administration, from other staff members, or anyone. Nothing. The silence has been difficult for me. Speaking into the silence tonight was necessary. I went solo on this. I am reminded how the 50 students of color at my high school feel like they’re “going solo” nearly every time they walk into the school, my classroom, the gym, the art room, the parking lot.
I pressed the send button and sent this letter district wide – to every working person in my district:.
Please leave a comment if you have resources I’ve missed. Or, add a comment with your own interpretation of events. I’m especially interested in learning how to be a good ally – feel free to add your own nudge. And, thanks for reading.
I’m reaching out to my colleagues in the district to encourage thoughtful and introspective consideration of the highly charged recent discussions of racial tensions in our school district.
In some instances, I have felt concerned that our community often recognizes only the most extreme and blatant actions as actually constituting “racism”, excuses offenders as ‘young ignorant kids’, denies the problems that people of color present as their lived reality, and blames minority communities for the “problem.” .
Some of you know that I have been working diligently during the past 3 years to become a better ally in our school community and our community at large.
I’ve taken several classes, participate in a number of online forums, read and continue to read about ways to resist racism, and dedicated myself to being an anti-racist parent.
I’ve scoured some of my favorite resources and included links to those I find accessible/readable/friendly/pertinent to the myriad of discussions happening in public and private spaces in
our schools, homes, and communities.
Here are some sources – I promise I’ve tried to keep them readable, brief, and powerful. I know we don’t have enormous amounts of time on our hands to delve into resources. But, we must.
I hope my efforts help move our students and our own lives into spaces of increasing understanding, compassion, and dialogue. I hope that if you have resources you would like to share that you will add to this conversation with information to continue our community learning. I look forward to hearing from you.
Here it is!
This is an all time classic by Peggy McIntosh. It is an excellent exercise you can do in 15 minutes. Do it. Please.
My friend wrote this great piece on how to be an ally. Her piece focuses on why it is important for white majority people to understand our privilege and more deeply recognize the unearned benefits of our whiteness. The end of her article includes other awesome resources for self-reflection and processing.
This link references the program “NIOT” (Not in Our Town) which has become a national movement to combat bullying and racism in schools. I know there are many programs – this is one that has available resources for the classroom and community.
Discussion of NOIT with some video clips of parents and kids: http://loveisntenough.com/2010/02/24/what-to-do-when-your-child-is-being-bullied/#more-1347
For those of you who are visual learners – a 3 minute discussion about how to talk about racism.
This is an interview with one of my heroes, Beverly Daniel Tatum. She has written many books about race in America. I highly recommend Why Are All The Blacks Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria and Can We Talk about Race. I wrote a ‘book review’ for a local class (Racial Healing) on Can We Talk About Race – feel free to ask for it.
just puttin’ this out there: http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/local_schools/article_4346caa4-36d1-11df-9f92-001cc4c03286.html
I’m buckling in – tomorrow is going to be a bumpy ride in the HS!
More comments from me on this when I’ve actually been in the building and have a better sense of what’s going on in response to this print. And for the record – the comments are really tough to take. My heart goes out to the kids who are the victims; the kids who brought their stories to the administration, the teachers, and school services. It’s not a new story.
It’s going to take a mighty effort to be an effective ally. Their efforts (and rights!) to be at the HS without disruptions to their education and without harrassment is a huge concern to me. I’m very concerned that my students of color will be threatened, bullied, and coerced into silence. Once again.
Wearing camo doesn’t make you a racist. And, racists are wearing camo as a symbol of their hate group identity. The gang, “Hicks” (they’ve also identified themselves as CK or “Coon Killers”), have established the camo as a signal/sign of their gang membership.
Said another way:
If you wear camo it does not mean you are a racist. And, racists do wear camo.
Let’s not argue about whether wearing camo makes you a “Hick.” Let’s admit that “Hicks” wear camo. This is a compelling case against camo. The symbol is intimidating to students. Some students feel threatened by camo apparel.
Support your friends, classmates, colleagues, neighbors, and community members – KEEP YOUR CAMO IN YOUR CLOSET!
We need to stop admiring the problem and get to work!
I haven’t blogged much about ‘stuff’. Honestly, I’ve been preoccupied with my working situation. I’m getting closer to clarity about HOW to do what I need to do. But, there are 2 things on the horizon that are pretty exciting.
First, Mr. Silly Pants is attending a conference this week that is totally floating his boat. I expect to hear a lot of juicy details about health care in the US (it isn’t a medical specialty conference – it’s a medical admin conference). Mr. Silly Pants might be getting his butt kicked by long days of what he calls “heady stuff.” I just have to point out that the past
six two conferences he has attended he spent the mornings in sessions and afternoons hanging out at Universal Studios or DisneyLand or Dr. Seuss World or HarryPotterLand…whatever. I know he brought his son a Tigger and a Winnie the Pooh from 2 separate trips. I think this trip we might get a convention center note pad. *grin*
Second, April 1 marks the start of my cultural immersion exercise. I’ll be joined by a fabulous friend, mom of the wonder twins, and neighbor in the city of Chicago. (Her blog is private, otherwise I’d link you all to it). I think I will ask her to guest post some of her experiences on my blog for public reading. I expect her experience in the city is going to be much different in some ways than my experience here in my University town. I also expect that some of what we both experience will have common themes and threads in that we are both majority culture women. We’re gonna have our butts kicked too. I’m so ready for the challenge.
I’ve got a lot of ideas. And, I’m going to face a lot of challenges actually immersing in minority culture in this community in which I live that has minority population that is small (statistics to come later).
I’m wondering if anyone would like to join us? Here is the idea (and it is yours to construct):
Immersion was levied as a challenge on a video that I saw while participating in the class, Racial Healing. A group of PoC leaders posed the challenge to totally LIVE/SUPPORT/IMMERSE in minority culture for a month as a way to gain a sense, however small, of the realities of the prevelance of majority culture. Immersion, for me, isn’t about learning about minority culture experience. No. I think the best we (as in majority folks) can do is gain a deeper understanding of our whiteness. So, the thought is to read/eat/shop/sing/play/view….LIVE…..as completely embedded in minority culture as possible. So, for example, the only music I will be listening to is music by PoC. And, I’ll only read media by PoC. And, I’ll do my best to shop with PoC and buy/patronize businesses owned by PoC. You get the picture, right? That sums it up. Care to join?
*Blueberry’s focused attention on his big brother at an early Sunday morning soccer game*