Tag Archives: Jose Vilson

Summer Reading, part two: This is Not a Test by José Vilson

I don’t ordinarily make a habit of ordering books before their release date, but I made an exception for This is Not a Test by José Vilson. I knew the strength, power, and scope of his writing through various publications in forums such as Huffington Post, his blog, and Twitter. Mr. Vilson can put a book’s worth of thinking into 140 characters, so I couldn’t wait to see what he could say in 220 pages. The subtitle, “A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education” is apt. In the book, José has woven together memories, commentary, and calls to action in a way that compels readers to think honestly about the educational landscape in our country, the cultural context that helps create it, and what our own role is and should be in shaping it in the future.

When the book came, I decided to set it aside until the summer came so that I could savor it with little else to distract me. When I finally opened it, I fairly flew through “Part One” which takes us through his childhood and ends with his decision to become a teacher as his college graduation date approached. One moment particularly stuck out to me, when he describes giving a correct answer (“D”) in class only to have the teacher respond, “What?” He gave the answer again, and again the teacher responded, “What? I didn’t hear that.” He startled the class by shouting the answer, at which point the teacher dismissed him with a “Well, you don’t know anything, so I’ll move on.” The teacher called on another student, who gave the exact same answer and earned the teacher’s praise. (p.47) “How could this happen?” I asked myself, feeling sick and knowing the answer in my heart, knowing the same general dynamic plays itself out over and over, if not always that overtly, when people of privilege have power over the historically oppressed.

For the rest of the book, then, I slowed way down. I’d read a page and stare out into space, or finish a section and put the book down altogether for several days. What he was saying was too important to risk missing part of it, and as someone who identifies as anti-racist and yet who knows I still (and probably will always) have work to do to uncover and eradicate the ways that systemic racism unconsciously influences me, I knew I needed to listen carefully to everything he had to say. Some stories, I already knew, such as the influence of Renee Moore “who spoke about her teaching as rooted in the histories of black people across generations, not as a solitary act of kindness,” (p.180) or how Chris Lehmann was willing to force EduCon participants to confront their privilege by explicitly noting the importance of race, class, and gender, and how he worked rapidly and effectively to have the conference become progressively more inclusive to a diversity of voices (pp.143-150). I mentally highlighted Mr. Vilson’s assertion that “Inquiry-based education only for the ones society felt could handle it wasn’t good enough.” (p.146) and I thought long and hard on themes Mr. Vilson continues to develop on the challenge and necessity of deeply and truly understanding and embracing diversity, most recently in the blog piece “Teachers of Color Caught on the Windmill (On Real Equity).”

In the penultimate essay of his book, “Why Teach,” (pp.209-215), Mr. Vilson talks about how “When we teach, we don’t just teach them the subjects, we implicitly teach them customs, rituals, and character traits that they either emulate or admire in their own right.” (p.212) He notes, “Teaching and learning are amorphous, but when they’re happening the symbiosis is undeniable.” (p.213) In his powerful Afterword, Dr. Pedro Noguera adds “This book and José Vilson’s ongoing work remind us that, just as education can be used to dominate, control, and oppress, it can also be used to provoke and liberate.” (p.223)

As someone who believes deeply in the importance of working for social justice, I feel it is long past time for those of us who live in this country to move past the illusion that we are living in a post-racial society. As a teacher who came through an exemplary M.A.T. program but who hears of many programs that fall far short of my own experience, I feel we as a country need carefully examine what is working and what needs improvement in our system of teacher preparation. To my thinking, This Is Not a Test should be required reading for all future teachers, and can and should be a spark to the kinds of hard, honest conversations all those of us within and who care about education need to be having.

Mr. Noguera ends his “Afterword” with the “hope that other educators are able to see the power and potential of their voices and join in the struggle to save our schools and our fragile democracy.” (p.223) Mr. Vilson ends his “Why Teach” essay with the charge, “Go hard or go home.” (p.215)

I’m all over that.

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education

Other People’s Kids

Last fall, when one of my advisees was given the chance to write about what she liked about this school, she focused on growing up with a bunch of annoying brothers and how great it was to be in the dorm and feeling sisterhood. When shared with other people, the line always draws a laugh, but it can also cause a moment of introspection.

This isn’t to say my advisee doesn’t love her brothers deeply, of course. When her mom came for Family Weekend, even in occasional moments of exasperation at their unquenchable energy, she was clearly proud of them, and when she came back from winter break, she spent a while in my office showing me pictures and telling me about all they did together.

She and her family have been on my mind nonstop lately, ever since the moment I first heard that the jury in the trial of Michael Dunn had somehow, inexplicably, found him guilty of attempted murder but had been unable to reach a verdict on the actual charge of murder. Now, I’m smart enough to know the difference between what seems obvious and what is provable beyond reasonable doubt in a courtroom. But I still don’t get the logic here. He tried to kill people, and should go to jail for that. Moreover, he actually killed someone. But the jury couldn’t agree whether or not he should go to jail for that.

Some people say the Florida prosecutor overcharged; even there, my understanding is the jury could have found him guilty of a lesser charge. But they didn’t. Jordan Davis is dead, Michael Dunn killed him after initiating the confrontation, the only real justification offered is he became scared, and that is somehow enough to get him off on the charge of murder. In Florida, someone who commits an act of crime on a black person is three times as likely to be acquitted as they would be if the victim was white. And you can’t blame just Florida, either – the general principle behind those statistics holds up nationwide.

My advisee, her mom, and her brothers are all black, as of course are others of my students. And the notion that the same thing could happen to their families one day sickens and terrifies me and leaves me feeling helpless. Yet, being white, in the immediate aftermath of the learning the news, I found myself at a loss for what to say and do. Experience told me that some people in my timeline would want white people to shut up and listen while others would be calling on us to speak out. You want to be a good ally, you don’t see your way clear to what to do, and it just adds to the feeling of being overwhelmed and sad.

Well, poor, poor, me. José Vilson put it perfectly when he said, “The temporary sadness of understanding white privilege as a white person is nothing compared to the existential melancholy of understanding racial oppression as a person of color.”

Often, people who write on situations like this (and they do seem to recur, don’t they?) refer to the notion of “other people’s kids.” The implication is that non-black people feel some sort of distance from the victim because, well, they’re not black. Far, far too often, that is the case. But when it’s true, it’s because people focus in on them being “other”. They don’t focus on the “people” or, God save us, on the “kids.” That’s got to change. It’s only in understanding our common humanity that we can hope to rebuild our society.

Embracing our common humanity doesn’t mean pretending we’re all the same, of course. Differences exist, some surface, some deeper down. Embracing our common humanity also means acknowledging, understanding, and embracing those differences. That requires looking honestly not just at our culture but also at ourselves. And furthermore, as Mike Thayer noted in last night’s #PubPriBridge Twitter chat, it “[requires] seeing the other in yourself.”

And in so doing, finally be able to embrace not only the “people” and the “kids” in “other people’s kids” but also the “other.”

P.S. While she is not quoted directly, I need to acknowledge and express my thanks for the caring and thoughtful conversations @teachermrw has been holding with me. Her thoughts are deeply infused into this blog.

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Rousing Boldness and Courage

What do I need this morning, I asked myself as I surveyed the choices at Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters. Should I engender zest and alacrity? That would be First Light. Invite goodwill? Hazelnut. Inspire deep reflection? French Vanilla. In the end, I chose to rouse boldness and courage, and pressed the top of the air pot to fill my cup with French Roast.

I ran-shuffled my way back to my car through the coldest morning of the year, trying to avoid being touched by clothing that had chilled instantly, and relaxed as the heater began to warm me from the outside in and the coffee from the inside out. As I drove on to school, I pondered my need for boldness and courage. To do what exactly? The kids were on vacation, and my only required tasks for day (my progress reports having already been entered) were to read through and edit my advisees’ progress reports and then make any necessary changes to my own. So…

Yesterday on Twitter, I had a brief interchange with Rafranz Davis, and Christina Quattrocchi, both educators advocating for social justice. Ms. Quattrocchi began the conversation by asking, “What role does power and privilege play in keeping teachers on a lower professional rung?” We went on to discuss the underlying roles of gender and race, and Ms. Davis noted the need for “More conversations…more often with actions to follow,” adding “Change requires action.” I responded, “And it’s in moving from discussions to actions that I find myself seeking – not the destination, but the path.”

Educational discourse these days, as is true of political discourse in general, is far too often fraught with peril. There is a lot of shouting, not as much listening, and even less genuine effort to find common ground. I see references to “straw-man arguments” with increasing frequency, perhaps because I feel like I am seeing actual straw-man arguments increasing frequency. One example would be a Sacramento Bee article supporting John Deasy and Jonathan Raymond, two embattled superintendents in California schools: “They have refused to accept the popular premise that poor kids can’t learn and that pushing for systemic change is pointless because poverty is insurmountable.” Where exactly do they find this premise? Not by any means from the vast majority of educators I know. But you see it over and over in the media, to the point where even people I consider to be well-informed educators have come to believe it. The editorial continues on to conclude, “Pro-student leaders – despite their obvious commitment to students and despite their demonstrated successes – will face implacable opposition from groups who care more about protecting their entrenched power and the interests of adults than fighting for the rights of students.” Despite the fact that the much of the opposition to the policies that I have encountered comes from people who are also fighting for the rights of students, according to their own differing beliefs, many of which (I hasten to add) are rooted in research and experience.

I’ll concede that there are teachers out there who are far too willing to lower their expectations of kids based on race, class, or gender, and I’ll happily join forces with anyone working to fight that attitude, take kids seriously, and do all we can to help every single student in the country become both well educated and their own best self. But I refuse to allow anyone whose beliefs and proposed methods conflict with those for which I and others are advocating to judge us based on a group of outliers with whom we don’t even agree.

José Vilson argues convincingly, simply by his way of being and also directly, that (quoting his colleague Michael Doyle), “Searching for ‘the middle’ is pointless – search for truth and let it fall where it will,” and that we need to search for nuance in the process. Sometimes, that may mean being bold enough to stand up to the shouters and refuse to allow our beliefs to be mischaracterized. And sometimes, often, it may mean having the courage to honestly monitor our own thinking and ensure we are not falling into the same logical traps of which we are accusing other people.

And in modeling that boldness and courage, we might even invite good will, inspire deep reflection, and engender zest and alacrity. And thus help move from conversations to action.

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Filed under Current Events, On Education, Uncategorized

In Visible

“I guess my position on race is….I see no color. I am an American.” – tweet posted July 19, 2013

Stephen Colbert periodically mentions that he doesn’t see colour, noting that he believes himself to be white because people tell him he is but that he otherwise wouldn’t know. In so doing, of course, he illuminates the difficulty in professing not to see colour – it is literally right there in front of you. Yet, a number of people do indeed profess not to see colour. Some are genuinely anti-racist and are trying to invoke an ideal which our society falls well short of achieving, while others are decidedly racist but want to avoid thinking of themselves and being thought of as such. Both groups, albeit with radically different motivations, will sometimes call out people pointing out instances of racism for “being divisive.” But realistically, instances of racism do exist, and how else can we have a conversation?

Our school includes an affinity group, SOC, for Students Of Colour. There were initial discussions about whether or not it would be divisive, but in the end, we chose to honor the demonstrated need for students of colour to have a protected space to discuss what it’s like to live in a predominantly white area of a country infused by white privilege. In the end, SOC’s existence has greatly enriched our school, going beyond its important initial goals to being an active voice in the community. An affinity group for international students also exists, and has similarly developed its own voice through the years.

While we do have a Multicultural Club open to all, white domestic students who want to become more active in anti-racist work will sometimes ask what they can do. I generally tell them that they can do anti-racist work every day of their lives whether or not they belong to an organization, but that they can also start an anti-racism club if they would like. Being a club, such a group would be open to all, but of course could still coordinate anti-racist work with other existing organizations.

Year after year, students in my Humanities 7 classes provide one possible avenue to dealing with the knotty problem of “seeing colour” and so on. At least one girl in any given class will typically discover research showing we take in and form our initial impressions in about a second. Those impressions are instinctive, based solely on appearance (skin colour, gender cues, clothing…) and may or may not have any bearing on who that person actually is. The key, they all decide, is to guard against first impressions and, whenever possible, take the time necessary to genuinely get to know people.

As a Black person fighting racism, José Vilson also suggests that White people who want to actively engage in anti-racist work listen to the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of people of colour, and learn from them – to be appropriate without appropriating. So when he recently found himself at the Aspen Ideas Festival where men far outnumbered women, he took his own advice in making a deliberate effort to hear women talk about women. Waiting in line to meet the Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy, he found himself being asked in a sweetly snide tone by a woman, “So, are you here to talk about women’s issues?” After a short pause, he responded, “What do you mean? I’m here to hear women talk about women. That’s an important thing.” The woman smiled and turned around, effectively cutting off the conversation. He completely understood – how could he not? – that the woman may simply have been tired of men telling women what to do. And yet, deep down in his heart – how could he not? – he wanted people to come to such interactions assuming good intentions.

In his blog post on the above experience, “Hear Women Speak On Women [A Small Rejoinder to My Privilege],” José noted, “Thus, in my male privilege… I want to come into these situations as someone’s equal, not above or below based on my gender.” He also wondered, in the comments section, whether he would have received the same reaction if he weren’t heterosexual. But of course, that opens up a whole new line of thinking. How would this woman have known he was heterosexual? She might have read him as heterosexual in that first second’s worth of impressions, but she wouldn’t really know for sure. For that matter, while gender is indeed visible for the vast majority of us, technically speaking you don’t really know someone’s gender until and unless they let you know how they self-identify. Over this summer, I’ve learned some colleges are now asking students, when introducing themselves at orientations, to state which pronouns they prefer. And, given gender fluidity, some offices have even learned to ask “And what pronouns are you using today?”

As it happens, I don’t doubt for a second the sincerity and good will of the specific person who agreed with and reposted the above tweet. But ultimately, if we truly want to create a society where all people receive the dignity and respect they inherently deserve, we need to both acknowledge the visible and learn to look past it to what is initially invisible. We need to really and truly get to know each other.

Ask my students. They know.

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Filed under Current Events, Gender, In the Classroom

Songs in the Key of Life

(title taken from the title of Stevie Wonder‘s masterwork album, released in 1976)

There’s a new maturity in the Rock Bands, and I’m not the only one to have noticed. This year, we are performing more than we have in ages, and the pressure of nonstop shows seems to be helping us trust each other to work to get our parts right, listen closely and work together in rehearsal, and use the adrenaline that comes with performing to bring out our best. Preparing for this most recent concert was especially challenging as a number of group members were also involved in the winter play and so had to miss two weeks of rehearsals shortly before our own performance. But that circumstance has given me several moments I’ll remember through the end of my career and beyond.

Charlotte, on her first rehearsal of the Beatles song “Hold Me Tight” less than two weeks before the performance, relaxing into the song and dancing along. Mailande, a few days later joining that same group, leaning in to the bridge and focusing on getting every single note precisely in tune. Ellie, finding out she was not only playing piano on “You Give Love a Bad Name” but also had a solo, quietly digging in, sight-reading what she could, learning the flow of the song when she got to the parts she would have to practice, calling me over as needed to talk her through the part so she could learn it for our next rehearsal. And Kate, again with “Hold Me Tight,” taking on possibly the hardest bass part anyone has attempted in the 16 years I’ve been teaching the group, insisting not on perfection every single time but perfection at least once before the performance, smiling on her way out of rehearsal one night as I said, “Awesome job, Kate. It sounds gorgeous.” And these are just four examples. Every single person in the groups had at least one moment that made me think, “I am so lucky to work with these kids.”

During the performance, with all four groups, there was no hesitation in taking the stage, no last minute nervous questions before we got set. They sailed through the songs with confidence, and left the stage not with the half-stunned feeling of “Hey, we did it!” of earlier performances but rather with a sense of quiet accomplishment. The audience noticed, too. Along with the usual warm thanks and congratulations, one of the parents came up to me and observed, “They’re really coming together.”

Music, and the arts in general, bring so much to kids’ lives. Yet music is disappearing from public schools, forced out by the focus on testing, on meeting rigorous standards, on (if you’re a teacher) keeping your job and on (if you have any job in K-12 education) keeping your school open in the first place. This makes it all the more mystifying when a famous musician lends his name to the corporatist reform movement. In his piece “John Legend and the Well-Meaning Corporatists,” José Vilson writes, “Sadly, John’s legend in education will show a man who supports kids using pencils to bubble in scan-ready sheets rather than notes for the keys to their own lives.” (Vilson)

“Notes for the keys to their own lives.” That’s exactly what I want for all my students. It’s what all good teachers want for all their students. So, while I am appreciative of my good fortune in being able to teach music in my own special world, I feel I owe it to the larger world of education to advocate for the arts. The benefits of the arts should be clear. Even research – which would technically be included in the mass of data with which so many corporatist reformers are in love – shows those benefits. These kids are developing and using their voices. So must I. So must we all.

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Filed under Performing Arts, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Seeing the Trees Within the Forest

Sometimes, you can’t see the trees for the forest. Especially when your eyes are deliberately closed.

As I wrote Sunday, I deliberately snubbed the Oscar awards that night, primarily because of their historic and current misogyny. After finishing up the piece but before publishing, I realized I had not referred to Hollywood’s historic and current racism. I chose to leave the piece as it was, little suspecting the dramatic extent to which the ceremony was illuminating and placing in relief those same shameful character traits of the movie-making industry and their effect on our national dialogue about race and gender.

Let’s start with the opening musical number. On a night when men got four times the Oscar nominations that women did, the Academy chose to open the show with a number entitled “We Saw Your Boobs.” For the record, four of the nude scenes alluded to in Seth MacFarlane’s tasteless and voyeuristic song were rape scenes.

But then, mocking violence against women was something of a theme of the evening. In attempting a joke about the excruciatingly violent movie about slavery, “Django Unchained,” Mr. MacFarlane said, “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” Chris Brown, you may know has been accused of assaulting not only his girlfriend Rihanna (seen here in a painfully graphic image of that abuse) but also Frank Ocean, an R & B singer who came out recently as having had a homosexual relationship – and sure enough, there were anti-gay jokes too.

Stunningly, Seth MacFarlane’s humour did not represent the low point of the evening. That honour was reserved for “The Onion,” who posted – and later deleted – and much later apologized for – a tweet calling Oscar nominee Qudenzhané Wallis a crude and deeply offensive four-letter word often used to denigrate women (the original tweet is pictured here for those who haven’t seen it and want to know). Ms. Wallis, for the record, is nine years old – an age where even for the Oscars ceremony, she carried a puppy purse.

Meanwhile, the producers of the show, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron both stated they had no regret for including the “We Saw Your Boobs” number, and Mr. Zadan added, “You hire Seth MacFarlane, you want something to be cutting edge and irreverent.” (Zadan, quoted in The New York Times) Irreverent? Irreverent?!

As I understand it, the Academy is about 77% white male., so it is probably no surprise that a good deal of mansplaining and whitesplaining (thanks to my friend José Vilson for that term!) has been taking place attempting to explain away, minimize, and justify these attempts at humour that miss the mark so badly that one can easily be forgiven for having missed even the intention of humour in the first place (as I did with the “Onion” tweet). The misogyny is obvious to all but the most deliberately obtuse given the choice of words. The racism was equally obvious to many, but not all. Nonetheless, as Mr. Vilson points out – and it might be seen as merely a matter of bad timing though that seems highly unlikely – white child actors Dakota Fanning and Anna Paquin were not subjected to the same dehumanizing treatment inflicted on Ms. Wallis.

On Mr. Vilson’s Facebook page, Jennifer Dixey quoted her high-school-aged niece as having written, “If your humor is meant to be offensive, but you can’t deal with people being offended, your humor is probably about enforcing oppression.”

And with that comment, we’ve come a long long way from a ceremony meant simply to celebrate a form of entertainment – except that we really haven’t, as misogyny and racism are absolutely embedded in the movie industry. After all, they embraced Seth MacFarlane as host knowing what they were in for – and they defended him afterward.

This same weekend, in what seemed to be another world altogether, the girls of Stoneleigh-Burnham School presented a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that was absolutely stunning in its power. Jane as Prospera (the final “a” is deliberate) made every single syllable count for maximum emotional impact, Mary as Ariel made every single movement pure poetry, and Karen as Caliban had the audience in stitches simply through the guttural sounds she emitted before we even saw her. And these are just examples – every single girl in the play was strong and confident, and took an obvious pride in her performance. As the cast was leaving stage after the final bow, one of the 8th graders glanced out at the audience with a look that shone so strongly of pride, delight, and perhaps a mild surprise that my eyes watered.

That is what can happen when we give kids the love and respect they deserve. As Mr. Vilson put it, “Until we can embrace each others’ humanity because of our minimal differences, we will continue to have this deep-seated angst and frustration… [But] if we can all look at our children as needing our support, care, and love on their own paths to success, then humanity will come one step closer to seeing as others as equal.”

And I do believe we can. I do believe we must.


Filed under Gender, On Education, Performing Arts, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Girls School Advantage, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Women in media

Fight the Power

Recently, I had the chance to touch base with Sally, our Head of School, about some of the more political blogs I’ve posted here recently. I wanted to thank her, because I know that by no means would every school offer me the degree of freedom that I have here. She told me she views this school as being about finding one’s authentic voice, which was in one sense an eye-opening moment for me. Of course, that is a major part of our mission statement for what we do for our students, and of course, role modeling is always an important part of what we teach. But explicitly allowing and even encouraging adults to find their own authentic voices as part of a full-school holistic model? At that point, we are truly making our mission statement a way of life rather than just a lofty ideal we may or may not even be able to remember if asked.

Over the weekend, I was participating in a two-day webinar with the Center for Teaching Quality about an exciting project we’re going to be rolling out in a little while (I promise to keep you updated). At one point, they asked us to reflect on what our work with CTQ had meant to us. I thought immediately about two of the voices in the edublogging world who have influenced me profoundly, both people with whom I have worked in CTQ: Nancy Flanagan and Jose Vilson.

Nancy writes the blog “Teacher in a Strange Land” for EdWeek. Depending on the week, the “Strange Land” might be the world in which teachers struggle for voice in determining what’s best for their students, or it might be the edublogging world itself. In “Seattle Grace,” for example, Nancy begins with the question, “What would happen if teachers refused to do things that harm their students?” and develops a strong and supportive case for the actions being taken by Garfield High School teachers and others in actively resisting excessive and unhelpful mandatory district tests. In “Sports Authority,” Nancy writes about the curious parallels between sports and the edublogging world and how men, who make up 25% of the teaching profession, not only are way overrepresented in the edublogging world but also far too frequently act in a manner that marginalizes and diminishes women. In the ongoing struggle for social justice, Nancy notes, “Moving the needle is never a function of a single act of civil disobedience. The best we can hope for is a little grace–… a generous disposition toward those who care about doing what’s right.”

Jose has two outlets, his own website “The Jose Vilson” and the Future of Teaching blog in which he engages in dialogue with another strong voice whom I greatly respect, John Holland. Writing both as a male teacher of colour and as a teacher, period, Jose tells truths that may make some people stand up and cheer and may also make some people uncomfortable (with, of course, a possible overlap between the groups). His tone is always forward-looking – by speaking about and acknowledging these truths, by facing down any discomfort we may or may not be feeling, we realize, we can go about the fundamentally important work of building a better world. For example, in discussing the reactions of people to Leonard Cooper’s recent victory on Jeopardy in “The Curious Case of Leonard Cooper and the Perception of Intellect,” Jose poses the question, “Do we still perceive intelligent as natural to some and exceptional in others?” and goes on to note that “Leonard Cooper represents the potential of all children to transcend the perceptions already laid upon them. He represents adults, too, at least the ones who understand that what we see isn’t always what we get, and that’s a good thing for Leonard. For too many of our children, the buzzer sounds long far too early, and the judges aren’t as nice.”

These two people, enabling me to think deeply about my practice and the implications that go far beyond the so-called “standard curriculum,” have also inspired me to work harder and more actively for social justice in my school and in my life. In a sense, then, they stand by my side as I work with my 8th grade Life Skills students in following their lead and developing their voices. An activity on microaggressions led to deeper work with sexism; we then segued to look at girls’ brains and learning styles and research on girls schools. They are currently developing four proposals to strengthen the program of our school, and Sally has agreed to attend one of our class meetings to listen to the proposals and discuss them with the girls. The initial ideas are far-ranging, creative, and powerful in their potential, and the meeting with Sally has the potential to be the kind of signature experience in their lives they can carry forward into a world less inclined to hear their voices than it should be.

I was talking to one of my colleagues last week about my perception that the school is experiencing a cultural shift from being a girls school to being a feminist school, and she instantly came up with a variety of examples. Of course, there are many different flavours of feminism, including a way of being that rejects the label of feminist even as it embraces feminist ideals. In a school whose goal is to enable girls to find their authentic voice and be their own best self, one would hope and expect that you would find all these different flavours of feminism – and indeed, you would. In a school devoted to bringing about social justice, you would hope and expect that those feminist ideals would occasionally find voice through other struggles – anti-racism, gay rights, a broader gender activism that looks beyond female and male – and once again, I think you would find this to be true. Among our Seniors, you can find proof in Mary’s Women’s Film Series, Nafisatou’s speech on Martin Luther King Day and advocacy of the life work and legacy of Malcolm X, and Kate’s quiet but firm affirmations that sexuality and gender expression are a part of our true selves that each person alone gets to decide for themselves. Among our middle school students, you see it in the Life Skills 8 class’s questions about the full range of genders and sexualities, the Humanities 7 class’s affirmations that no one should judge anyone else by anything other than their actions, and Star’s ringing call one day to “Fight the Power!”

All teaching, Nancy and Jose helped me learn, is political. Every minute of every class is a lesson in civics, at least if I am doing my job right. Of course, as a given but also as an imperative if I am to help my students bring out their authentic voices, I must not promote a specific political ideology; as near as I can tell, I am successful in this. But, as I’ve stated before, I am uncompromising in my commitment to full equity for all people that they might be able to be their own true selves. So, too, it would seem, are my students.

I love my work.


Filed under Gender, On Education, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School