Monthly Archives: January 2015

Honoring MLK: A 2 Month Discussion on Social Justice and Teacher Activism

I am a member (and former Virtual Community Organizer) of the Collaboratory forum at the Center for Teaching Quality. Recently, Brianna Crowley, a teacherpreneur at CTQ, led a discussion on social justice, teacher activism, and how best to truly honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his Day. The discussion, in which I was honored to participate, led her to post a blog that, as it considers these questions, also provides a window into a vital online professional community. She has given me permission to reprint and link to her blog here, for which I thank her. 

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I’m lucky to be a part of the CTQ Collaboratory, a community of over 8,000 talented, passionate educators who use their precious time away from their classrooms and families to engage in meaningful dialogue about what it means to be a teacher and a leader.

Recently, as a CTQ Teacherpreneur, I’ve been working to foster Collaboratory discussions around themes. In observance of Human Rights Day on December 10, 2014 and MLK day on January 19, 2015, we have been discussing the theme of social justice and the role of teachers as social justice advocates.

Teachers have been not only sharing their reflections and experience, but also their deeply personal questions.

I would like to share some of that conversation and ask you to join. Leading into MLK day, we want to honestly discuss the best ways honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in our classrooms and beyond. To open the discussion, I shared two resources that help educators adopt a social justice lens in their curriculum: TeachUNICEF and Facing History and Ourselves. I challenged our community to focus on how teacher leadership promotes social justice in our education system. (…)

(read more here!)

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Filed under On Education

A Step Forward

Even at 12 or 13, many of my students are already thinking ahead to the kinds of careers they plan to have – enough, in fact, that I sometimes have to comfort and reassure those who aren’t that they are perfectly normal and have years and years to work it out. Driving back from the Dakin Animal Shelter where we volunteer just before vacation, two of my students began talking about what it would be like to spend their lives working with animals. Along with discussions about which specific aspects of a veterinarian’s job would be more or less difficult and why, they acknowledged that at root, it would be a profession where people who love animals get the chance to help them.

Sometimes, too, some of my students will start talking about what it will be like when they get married and have families. At such moments, in an effort to be inclusive, I’ll try to acknowledge the existence of different genders and sexualities, different ideas of marriage and life partnerships, different perspectives on having children. Those points made, the themes of whether and how to share one’s life with someone else, and what makes for good parents, make for great discussions.

I know that most if not all my students identify with feminist values of equality whether or not they might specifically identify as feminist, and – along with them – I often wonder how they will fare as they move forward from our girl-positive environment into the big, wide, not-quite-so-female-positive world. I know the research matches the experience of our alumnae that they are better positioned for success in a number of ways, and I take comfort in that knowledge. But still, I love my students and want the best for them, and so… I worry.

A recent article by J. Maureen Henderson in Forbes, “Will Millennials Be Trapped By Gender Roles?” illuminates the question through recent research from Harvard Business School. It turns out that millennials are indeed far more aware and inclusive of a wide range of genders than past generations, and value both work and family regardless of gender. However, it turns out that gender-based differences arise when millennials apply their generally progressive views to their own lives. Men were more likely than women to expect their careers would take precedence over their spouse’s (the study appears to have focused on heterosexual men and women), and that is the reality that prevailed. As Ms. Henderson put it, “Young women expect that their progressive values will be reflected in their own lives, while young men are much more likely to anticipate a more traditional pairing.”

I can start including information from this article when my students have those inevitable discussions about work and family. And I can guide them through the discussions that ensue, as inclusively and respectfully as possible. What do they want? What might their partners (those who seek marriage or other lifelong partnerships) want? How might they go about using their voices, listening, and helping craft a compromise if need be? And of course, some of the work we do on friendships and conflict can extend to these situations as well.

But it can’t fall entirely to girls’ schools to deal with this situation. That would just be furthering a patriarchal vision of society. Boys schools, too, need to address this reality, and of course coed schools as well. And schools can’t do it alone.

We in the U.S. like to think that anyone can accomplish anything they set out to. And our culture has done some foundational work to prepare to move in the direction of that ideal (to whatever extent it might in fact ever be achievable). The essential next step is to look honestly at how well we are enabling that ideal and begin systematically removing roadblocks. Patriarchy, and its effects on the diversity of genders and sexualities. Systemic racism. Classism. Ableism. It’s a long road we need to travel. All the more reason to ensure every day represents a step forward.

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Filed under Feminism, Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, The Faculty Perspective

Finding Resolution

It’s been years since I’ve made New Year’s resolutions. Like many people, I found the process to be at first disheartening and then borderline hypocritical as I fell short time and time again of my goals, then set the bar so low as to be almost meaningless if at least achievable, then gave up the process altogether – without, of course, giving up on the idea of trying to keep learning and growing every year. But somehow, this year, I feel the need to make some sort of year-long commitment. The question is, to what?

With that question still hanging over my head, I settled in on the evening of December 30 for #RuralEdChat on Twitter (archive here). We all exchanged greetings as people continued to join in while noting the various face-to-face goings on around them, and I commented, “Modern Family marathon here (with my family!). I’ll try and multi-task. ;-)” I did a reasonably good job of it, periodically engaging in short bursts of conversation or catching my son’s eye to smile at a particularly good line, while shifting my attention back to the chat and re-engaging frequently enough to read every post and maintain the flow.

The first real question from Tammy Neil, the moderator of the chat, was, “As 2014 comes to a close, what was your most successful memory of this past year? What made it so successful?” I wrote, “Realizing that my Humanities 7 students have focused themselves on social justice nonstop since September.” Indeed, as I’ve written here before, each of our first three units has had a theme question that focuses in one way or another on taking a firmly realistic look at the world and considering what can be done to make it better.

I realize, of course, this isn’t strictly speaking my own success as the kids themselves came up with the starter questions, discussed what their priorities were, negotiated, compromised, and eventually settled on the final theme questions. But before I could get too hard on myself, another chat participant wrote that she didn’t feel personally successful but enjoyed seeing the smiles on her kindergartners. I responded, “You’ll notice my ‘success’ was really my kids’ success. But I helped create that context – as you did in your room!” I think I needed to acknowledge that to myself as much as I needed to share it with her.

Question two was the one I’d been fearing, and for which I was hoping I’d have more time to prepare. I stared at my screen and reread, “Are you a resolution making educator? If so, what resolutions are you making for 2015? Why?” The first part of the question gave me a possible out – and I ended up deciding not to take it. At least, not entirely. I wrote, “Mixed feelings a/b resolutions. But to #bendthearc toward justice is an unceasing and daily priority.” The work I do with my students is indeed a huge part of that – ensuring they know themselves, develop their voices, and work to understand and respect diverse people with diverse perspectives.

But another huge part of bending the arc is constantly working to build a better world for my students to enter as they grow up and graduate. The rest of my day on Twitter speaks to that. I retweeted posts from Melinda D. Anderson (about José Vilson’s blog “We Can Never Turn Our Backs”) and Reni Eddo-Lodge (on an interview with rap star Macklemore) on the vast difference between reactions to black people and white people speaking out against racism and the role white privilege plays in that. I retweeted a post from Tracy Clayton that said, “okay white folks this is important. some of you may already know this and if you do please pass it on to people who don’t.” so that anyone interested in knowing what she had to say could go to her timeline (as I did, encountering a take on white privilege and appropriation that was to the point, thoughtful, and nuanced).

Additionally, I shared Parker Marie Molloy’s tweet grieving the loss of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who had committed suicide and who wrote “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights.” In response, I shared out the names of Jazz Jennings and her mom as great resources (her mom additionally pointing people to her daughter’s excellent Facebook page), and retweeted this posting which was simultaneously heartrending and hopeful: “thank you to all the trans folk posting in #RealLiveTransAdult tag, you guys mean the world to us scared & closeted kids.”

The final question of #RuralEdChat was, “What will you do to make 2015 better (more productive, more positive, etc.) than 2014?” After quite some thought, I responded, “Listen. Read. Listen. Seek to understand. Listen. Clarify. Listen. Share. Listen some more.”And maybe in the end, that’s the key to a workable New Year’s resolution. I have no idea what the year will bring, and thus I have no idea what I’ll need to say and do. But I do know the values I live by. I know my family’s values. I know my school’s values. If I can live every day according to those values, if I can do what I can (no more, but certainly no less) to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice (to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), I will – hopefully! – be able to view 2015 as a success on the next New Year’s Eve.

Happy new year to all, and may you all find what you are seeking.

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Filed under Current Events, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized

Please and thank you

(Trigger Warning: discussion of suicide)

Although I didn’t grow up watching It’s a Wonderful Life, once I first saw the film as an adult, I could see why it’s become a Christmastime tradition for many people (including some who don’t personally celebrate Christmas). However dark the movie may be in spots, its ultimate affirmation of the notion that each life matters deeply is moving and appealing. As Clarence Oddbody put it, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” (wikiquote)

In the middle of holiday festivities, family gatherings, and time to relax, just as 2015 was fast approaching with the promise of a fresh new year, the untimely death of Leelah Alcorn at only 17 years of age left an awful hole even in the lives of people who never knew her. No angel was able to prevent this tragedy, and so at 2:30 in the morning, she set out from home, walked down the Interstate, and walked in front of a truck. Her grieving parents called for prayers and support, for them and for Leelah’s siblings left behind.

However, that sympathy has not been uniformly forthcoming. In fact, some people are calling for them to be prosecuted. Leelah was transgender and left behind a note indicting her parents for refusing to recognize her true gender and allow her to medically transition, furthermore progressively isolating her from friends and other potential sources of support. Statistics are clear that trans youth who have unsupportive parents are half as likely to be satisfied with their lives as those with supportive parents; only 13% report high self esteem (vs. 65%), while 75% suffer depression (vs. 23%) and 57% have attempted suicide (vs. just 4%). (transstudent.org; link shared by Sophia Banks) Leelah’s parents were conservative Christians, and her mom said in an interview that “We don’t support that, religiously.” (quoted by WCPO)

In no way, of course, do I think that Leelah’s parents represent the entire body of Christianity. Among the families in the Stoneleigh-Burnham community I know to have been most supportive of LGBT people are a good number of Christians. Both of my parents belong to open and accepting Christian churches. One of my friends from high school, a lesbian, is ordained by the United Church of Christ, a denomination that successfully won a suit in North Carolina arguing that same-gender marriage bans were an unconstitutional infringement of freedom of religion.

Neither do I believe Leelah’s parents deserve no sympathy whatsoever. Her mother has stated they loved her unconditionally, and there is no question they are in deep pain. As a parent myself, I can’t help but feel for them. Her father has asked that they be left to grieve in private, and I would never ever think of contacting them directly at such a difficult time in their life, never mind doing so to call them out as some have apparently done.

But the language Leelah’s parents have been using is telling. “We told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. (…) I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.” (Carla Alcorn, quoted by WCPO) “We love our son, Joshua, very much and are devastated by his death.” (Doug Alcorn, quoted by WCPO) They have continued to misgender her, calling her a boy and their son, using male pronouns and her male name. In our society, your name and your gender are among the most fundamental parts of your identity – and Leelah’s parents continually denied and continue to deny her the basic human right to express that identity as she saw herself.

While suicide is clearly a deep concern specifically within the transgender community, it is also the third most frequent cause of death for all teenagers of all genders. It’s important to know the warning signs, and to be aware of resources on which we can draw, including suicide hotlines and trans support hotlines. Moreover, we need to be aware of the intersections between a given person’s gender, sexuality, race, class, age, and abledness, the better to clearly see them as they are and be able to listen to their story and give them the support they need.

Leelah’s note ended: “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. (…) Fix society. Please.”

And thank you.

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Filed under Current Events, Gender, On Education, On Parenting, Uncategorized