Friday, November 15, 2013

Institutional Interloper

Sometimes your first drafts are meant to stay that way, but my zine days are coming back to me, and I feel like I am overflowing with words and feelings, that simply must scrape their way into the light.  So even though a more poignant letter exists from the entire faculty of the College of Education in the Washington Post, here is my abbreviated version.  I cannot work for EMU and not call out the ironic and oxymoronic nature of a college known for its Education programming partnering with an organization designed to demolish public schools as we know them.  Hyperbolic as I may be, and as hard as teachers work in any school, EAA, charter, public or private... the graveness in my voice is real.  I am worried that we are witnessing the beginning of the end for public education.

"So, what happens when the institution you work for contradicts with your politics and ethics about life? You feel the need to respond, as an educator, who is invested in reflective pedagogies of consciousness... to acknowledge and call out that a teaching college for undermining the very profession to which we're committed, to understand what motivates us to partner with the devil.

Detroit is under seizure... We are violently transforming public to private, for the gains of a small few, and I urge you to interrogate what our college gains from this partnership.  Certainly the students we teach are not going to gain from the upheaval within our public education system, with every child being left behind, in the wake of testing the tests for the best test-takers.  We have tested our brains to death.

I am an educator committed to servicing public school kids, because I firmly believe that every child has a right to a rigorous, quality education. Please join me in standing up for a public, collaborative solution to Detroit's failing schools and not selling our kids out to an emergency manager that wants to turn education into a business, our children into products.  Please consider disconnecting from our partnership with EAA, siding with our teachers' unions and the understanding that public services should remain public, transparent and accountable to citizens."

Instead of sending this first draft outward into the world, I decided to let it breathe here... where only 3 people will ever see it.  I have since contacted the faculty members who have contributed to this letter, in order to sign it myself, and will be attending the December 10th Regents meeting where this item is discussed with the university community.  I hope I am like Grace Lee Boggs, and never grow out of being active.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

a new home for an old soul

i have always fluctuated in the way that i approach new paths -- sometimes i am a full-speed-ahead voyager, other times i proceed with caution.  the path that after-school paved is no different.  i flung myself head-first into this work, but find comfort in the familiar - writing lesson plans, professional development, too many meetings to keep straight in my mental calendar. there is the comfort of september and bulletin boards brazen with our boasts.

i am comfortable knowing that my fight against injustice takes place no matter where i am, and that finding peaceful solutions to violence has become a daily way of life.  I’ve learned so much in returning to the place I grew up to work, breathe and be again.  i do not always practice what i preach, but in terms of the ways i connect with students, i try hard.  one of the things that students have said to me before is that they want to learn from me because i tell them stories about myself, my life, who i am.   i don't know any other way to teach, than to talk about my experiences.  if i connect what we're learning to myself, there's a greater chance that my students will try to connect it to themselves, as well.

with strong movement professionally, it’s interesting that i find myself personally withdrawing – but it’s a testament to the fact that my heart now lives outside of my body, in the form of a 12 month old runningman, with comedic timing like no other, a double-dimpled grin that absolutely leaves me powerless, and a natural Mohawk to die for.  while i have not grown comfortable while waxing domestic, the role of motherhood is much like the role of teaching.  i come to the work jumping off of cliffs without looking, and find myself too exhausted to sleep… yet the joy is unparalleled.  my son is more astounding than i could’ve ever guessed, so much so that i struggle to write well about his influence on my psyche.

but one thing is for sure – he is an old soul.  he hears music from the past and recognizes it; he is well beyond his year.  the time that separates us is spent working with other children, sharing my stories, teaching them new ways to do and think, trying to complete the circle so that one day i will practice what i preach full-time, and know how to navigate the newest path unfolding before my feet.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

a classroom elegy

welcome back to my educator friends!  i enjoy the crisp air of fall during the evenings of late summer, because it signals another year of opportunity, growth and learning -- for both me and my students.  while i understand how short the breath of fresh air during summer can feel, i also have a new respect for people in other professions who do not get the glory of a well-deserved summer.  though i am still in education, i am not currently a classroom teacher, and spent my summer in programs with youth, running events with families and planning for the fall - so my vacation was lived in weekend getaways up north or day trips to my favorite Michigan places.

this year, we have lofty goals in our program to increase our connection to the school day, so that we are reflecting routines and habits of mind that classroom teachers are using, and to increase and invite parent connections in our program - so that there begins to be parity between what we're teaching and the messages students are getting at home.  we have a unique position as an after-school program that requires our parents to pick-up, that we see them on a daily basis.  we're also looking to build community partnerships in Wayne and Westland, so that we can build our community action club and youth advisory council's connections to life outside of our program.

more updates coming soon!  good luck setting up your classrooms (for those in NYC) and on your opening days with kids (in Michigan).  may it be a great fall of questioning, reading, writing and understanding a little more each day.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

why whiteness wins

there are so many more eloquent posts breaking down the recent trial of Trayvon Martin -- oops, i mean george zimmerman -- so i think it's important that i link you to some great reads, that you should check out before reading this.  go ahead and take your time, i'll wait.

Gone Agape - White Out

What I want you to know about being a young black man in America

How White Supremacy Tells Its Stories

i have spent the past few weeks sifting through media coverage, blog posts and informal social media analysis, in attempt to make sense of a trial/verdict that was not surprising, but devastating all the same.  no matter what i have to say on this topic, one of the overwhelming points that has been made incredibly clear to me in the last few weeks, is that the voices, stories and credibility of people of color to tell their own stories, and have agency over their own lives is still fundamentally lacking.  so my perspective is not nearly as important for you to read as the words and analysis of people of color, whose voices need to be heard, but it is also important for me to speak and not remain silent.

no matter my life choices, friendships, what communities i walk or work in, i still reap the benefits of white privilege on a daily basis.  it has been eye-opening to leave New York and return to see the impact of race on my family life in a liberal midwest town, where "eracism" bumper stickers are abundant and white folks don't seem to want to have an open dialogue about race, because they are liberal and "could never be racist".  they fail to understand the inherent privilege involved in being able to erase racism from their daily existence, to exit the room, avoid conversations that are uncomfortable -- in short, to have the choice as to whether they want to deal with this topic. they take for granted that the police are there to help them, will believe their version of a story, that they are considered innocent until proven guilty (unlike Trayvon, who was found guilty of his own murder), and most of all, that they will not be held responsible for the actions of their entire race -- white people have the freedom to be seen as individuals and aren't consistently essentialized and stereotyped, their every move and decision criticized by both the law and dominant culture.

but we exist in a hypocritical society that has told itself the fiction of "freedom for all" in order to rock itself to sleep at night, when that has never been the case.  perhaps many people are convinced that there has been progress because there are successful black actors, musicians and sports stars, because we elected a black president -- but how much has changed if black bodies are merely used for the consumption and entertainment of white people, if violence perpetrated against black people (from Troy Davis, Mumia Abu Jamal, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Rodney King, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. to name only a very few... to the millions of people currently or formerly in prison, to generations of brutal slavery, to the countless instances of violence and rape against black women that have been normalized, as in the case of Marissa Alexander), how much has changed if violence against black folks is allowed to continue because those who write and interpret our laws don't value the lives of non-white people?  having a black president does not mean that the psychology of violence and institutionalized oppression of black and brown people magically disappears - in fact, while he was comparing himself to Trayvon, was he also saying that violence against Middle Eastern people should end?  that we were pulling our military out of the Middle East and Northern Africa, where we occupy and safeguard natural resources that don't belong to us?  life should be universally respected, throughout the world.  I believe that the only thing that will start us on the path to healing is education and consistent, long-term action.  becoming engaged and aware, and teaching our children to become engaged and aware citizens who not only tolerate, but truly learn about other cultures, travel outside of the U.S., as well respect and honor the contributions and values of different cultures.

so rather than blogging and thinking i've done something, i am focused on taking action in the places where this conversation isn't happening on its own - in all-white spaces (not that i regularly find myself in those), amongst my conservative family members, and with the students i work with, who may not be "old enough" to talk about these issues, but who also have questions and are trying to process what's happening around them.  the idea of shielding kids from the violence of the world is another manifestation of white privilege, and as a mother, i will have to have deep conversations with my son much earlier than i would like.  while i understand the desire of many white parents to "protect" their children from talking about these issues, i also understand that black parents do not have the luxury of protecting their children from the reality that we live in - and we must help kids understand both the horrible, real history of our country, and current events like the zimmerman case, so that we can help them understand, critique, and question what happened and why.  only then can we work to envision and enact a future that truly values each person's voice, each person's contribution, and each person's life.

this week, we are doing a "walk against hate" in the neighborhood of our school, which was the kids' idea and they are spearheading the messages on signs, the route we're taking and what we will say to the community when they ask us why we're doing this.   there is so much work to do, and we must be the ones to work hard to ensure that the script is being re-written, so that justice, and not whiteness, becomes the victor for the first time.