Monday, February 6, 2017

Teach·er ˈtēCHər/: 1. Instigator of Truth.  2. Agitator of Critical Thinking. 3. Provocateur of Free Thought.

Ah, predictable me. If you’ve at all been a reader of my blog, you can probably predict my dilemma right now. These days, I suspect I am hardly alone in this quandary. I’ve written about it in the past: the push and pull between the public school teacher me and private citizen me.
SO here’s my (utterly predictable) dilemma: How does one teach in these politically-charged, complicated times when “fake news” masquerades as the truth, when “real news” is labeled “fake news,” when Orwellian terms such as “post truth” and “alternative facts” are no longer the stuff of Dystopian novels, but mainstream discourse?
fake-stampAnd to those of you who are about to call me out for bringing politics into my classroom, let me say this:  When language itself is being altered and manipulated, when knowledge itself is being distorted and undermined by the highest offices in this country, politics has clearly forced its way into our classrooms, not vice versa.  
Let’s take English class, for example. In English class, we talk about words: what they mean, what impact they have, their origins, their connotations. In English, we research and write. We teach students to be skeptical readers, to find reliable sources, to verify facts, to examine multiple sides of an issue or topic. We do this so our students become good readers and critical thinkers capable of making credible arguments and discerning reliable information in their post-secondary studies, in the workplace, and in the larger world. We do it so they become effective communicators and responsible citizens.
Enter “post-truth,” “fake news,” “alternative facts”; enter a presidential administration which openly disputes easily verifiable facts, which calls the media “the opposition party,” which maligns and berates those who question and attempt to fact-check.
If we are truly “teachers" is it not our responsibility to “teach” students to examine, to question, to discern the truth, to navigate through the complex world of politics, the media, the blogosphere, and propaganda?  
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It seems to me (I’m primarily speaking of English teachers and Social Studies teachers here) we have three options:  
  1. Do nothing. (Welcome to the path of least resistance and least responsibility).  
  2. Go for it. Lay out the evidence: let videoclips of Spicer, Conway, and Trump speak for themselves (And be prepared for the fall-out).
  3. Navigate somewhere between 1 & 2. (Provide a path for students to investigate this critical topic for themselves).   
Last week, I attempted #3.  I amended our Debate unit in Freshman English to include a few days examining Fake News and what has become the murkiness surrounding “the truth.”
Full disclosure here: Designing these lessons was cause for much anxiety and reflection. I teach in a predominantly conservative community which, like much of his country, is deeply divided and deliberately silent in public on many critical issues that matter to us all.  

Long story short, here’s what I did and why. If you feel so inclined to use any of this in your own classroom, please steal it outright:
Day 1: Students reflected on their own experience with Fake News and examined how its created.  
  1. Small groups of students discussed examples of fake news they’ve encountered on social media or elsewhere.
  2. Students shared out with the class.
  3. Assignment: Students researched the concept of “Fake News.”
Day 2: Students participated in a class discussion on the making of Fake News and its impact on Democracy and “Truth.”
  1. Students shared their thoughts about From Headline to Photograph: A Fake News Masterpiece.
  2. Students reflected on (wrote and then discussed) James Madison's quote: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
  3. Students then reflected on (wrote and then discussed) Serina Tavernise's quote: Fake news, and the proliferation of raw opinion that passes for news, is creating confusion, punching holes in what is true, causing a kind of fun-house effect that leaves the reader doubting everything, including real news.” - New York Times
Day 3: I took dictation in a class K-W-L (Know, Want-to-Know, Learn) exploring the terms “Post-Truth” and “Alternative Facts,” and I introduced the “Triple-Washed Facts” process.
  1. With a KWL chart on the Smart Board, I presented the terms “post-truth” and “alternative facts.” For each, I asked what we “Know.” I typed as they spoke. Then I asked what we “Want to Know” and I typed out their questions. Then, I had them use their Chromebooks to answer those questions. I then typed as they told me what they “Learned.”
  2. I introduced the “Triple Wash” Process. This is the process they would use for researching all facts used in this debate unit. 1) Check the Source: reputation, experience, respect 2) Check for “Fishiness": (use your BS detector) Is it too surprising? Too fantastic? Too convenient? 3) Verify it Elsewhere with that “elsewhere” being a separate reliable source.
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Over the course of these three days, I never told  them what to think. This was very much by design. I orchestrated their own exploration and examination of Fake News and its fallout. I was pleased with the depth of their skepticism, interest, and connection-making. And I was pleased that none of  their conclusions came from me.
So now, I’m requiring my students to triple-wash every fact they use in our debate unit and beyond, and I’m imploring them to employ similar rigor to the greater network of information and social media streams in which they live.
In yesterday’s New York Times, Charlie Sykes, former WISN conservative radio host, articulated the necessity of such scrutiny: “The real danger,” he asserted, “is that, inundated with ‘alternative facts,’ many...will simply shrug, asking, ‘What is truth?’ — and not wait for an answer.”
That’s where educators enter the picture. We must be instigators of truth, agitators of critical thinking, provocateurs of free thought.
We must teach students to hold everyone accountable, to relentlessly seek the truth, to look for the larger narrative.  As citizens in a democracy, it is our job and theirs to hold none above such scrutiny.



Sunday, January 8, 2017

She's the Right Person for the Job if the Job is to Destroy Public Education


This month, I'll cut to the chase: short but not at all sweet---
Betsy DeVos is President Elect Trump’s nominee for United States Secretary of Education.
DeVos is an activist and millionaire donor in national efforts to divert public educational dollars away from public schools and toward for-profit corporations undermining the original intent of charter schools.
This is the woman set to lead public education in this country.
The charters DeVos advocates have little to no oversight as to the quality of the curriculum, credentials of the teachers, and which students they can deny enrollment. They are exempt from evaluation and monitoring requirements of public schools, many are rife with financial corruption, and many significantly underperform academically compared to their public school counterparts.
This is the woman set to lead public education in this country.
As Diane Ravitch, Department of Education appointee for both Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, said "If confirmed by the Senate—DeVos will become the most radical, anti-public-school education secretary since the Office of Education was established in 1867." 
This is the woman set to lead public education in this country.  
DeVos has never attended a public school, nor have her children. She has zero experience in public education as a student, teacher, or an administrator. She has no background or experience in curriculum or pedagogy.
This is the woman set lead public education in this country.
Imagine having a new boss at work. Now imagine that this new boss has no experience in your field whatsoever and this new boss has a track record of defunding and destroying companies she leads. Now imagine this work place is every public school in the country.  
This is what we’re dealing with.

SO...

1.  Educate yourself about Betsy DeVos:


2. Act, email, and call your Senators accordingly.




*The confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos is set to begin January 11, 2017.



Sunday, November 13, 2016

Election 2016 and Cinnamon Toast Crunch

How many of us woke up this past week feeling unnerved, fearful, distraught?
If the media (social or otherwise) has any remaining credibility, about 50% of Americans heard the trumpet of doom this past week. Half of this country is experiencing a crisis of consciousness, engaging in some serious soul searching, lumbering through the stages of grief.
I need not state the obvious reasons why because, well, they are obvious...and because regardless of whether you’re on the mourning side of that 50% or the elated side of that 50%, I believe you could benefit from three words:
Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Seriously? What does Cinnamon Toast Crunch have to do with this...or anything?1001029_016000275072_a_400
Everything.
See, a couple weeks ago, I received an unexpected email at school:
Subject Line: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
It was an email sent by a former student of mine. Let's call her Alison. We hadn't crossed paths for 9 years, yet when I saw the email’s subject line, a smile of recognition snuck across my face. I knew immediately what this was about.
Alison began the email with some context: “You might remember that you once purchased a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for me. You also took the time after school to listen to my paper about my mom's mental health issues since I wasn't comfortable reading it in front of the class.”
She continued, “One day in class I was complaining about being hungry and never being able to eat breakfast since one of my parents always ate all of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Then, I remember coming to class one day and you gave me a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. I was SO grateful, happy, and shocked that someone cared. I know I didn't express much emotion when you did that for me but I cried later that day knowing that someone cared enough about me to do that. Back then I wasn't very good at expressing my emotions and I'm pretty sure I did my best to avoid you from that point on because I just wasn't used to that.
“Years later, especially after I graduated high school, I started to feel regretful about never really thanking you for that act of kindness and there were many times I started writing an email to you but would exit out. However, I couldn't forget that day and how much that impacted me even years later. Thank you so much Mrs. Felske for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I will never forget that! I went through a lot while in high school and every act of kindness that I received really mattered.”
Okay, THAT’S Part I of this blogpost, and here’s Part II (bear with me, it’ll all tie together, I promise).
A week ago (pre-election Nov. 4th) the Dalai Lama wrote an editorial in the New York Times. He discussed the global anxiety running throughout the US and across Europe, and suggested a solution. He said we must do good for others; we must “be of use.”
He cited research showing that people who feel useful are three times less likely to die prematurely as those who don't. “Americans who prioritize doing good for others are almost twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives. In Germany, people who seek to serve society are five times likelier to say they are very happy than those who do not view service as important.”
This makes sense to me.
Buying that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for Alison years ago was a small act. At the time, what she had said in class reminded of the time I received a jar of applesauce for my birthday. Being one of eight children in my family, that jar of applesauce (my favorite food and a whole jar to myself!) was, for me, sheer jubilation. And it was that childhood memory that landed me in the cereal aisle grabbing a box of cereal for Alison, knowing that she’d appreciate it, but not giving it much thought beyond that.
What I now know is how much that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch meant to Alison. Her email reminded me what all of those seemingly small moments we have with our students can potentially mean to them both in the moment and years later.
It’s what the Dalai Lama calls a “compassionate society” where ‘selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel.”
dalailama_blogImportantly, he reminds us that this is not a liberal or conservative cause:  “What unites us...is not shared politics or the same religion. It is something simpler: a shared belief in compassion, in human dignity, in the intrinsic usefulness of every person to contribute positively for a better and more meaningful world.”
His solution for our anxiety and feelings of disconnectedness? Begin each day by consciously asking ourselves how we can be of use.
Like buying that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Or one of a million other small acts of kindness there for the doing. For educators, there are countless such opportunities. For all human beings there are countless such opportunities.
The take-away here, pretty obvious. We need to remember the words of the Dalai Lama, to remember Alison’s email, to remember Cinnamon Toast Crunch...as a verb---the antidote to resentment, anxiety, and despair by “being of use” to those we encounter in and out of the classroom.
Now, back to Alison. Perhaps you are wondering what she’s up to these days? She is a Behavioral Health Social Worker, paying it forward, distributing her own metaphorical boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch to those in need.  
As the Dalai Lama says, “The answer is not systematic; it’s personal.”
Cinnamon Toast Crunch.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

GORDIE IS SUCH A FOX!!! (or Why I read my childhood diary out loud in class!)

20161009_175024Last Thursday, I read my childhood journal out loud TO MY STUDENTS! 
These were not the “Dear Diary” scrawlings of an eight-year-old in a sparkly pink journal, secured by an adorably tiny lock. This was pure teen angst, an unfiltered look at my high school hangups.
My 15-year old self would have been mortified! In fact, one of my journal entries (November 13, 1985) confirms it: “I TOTALLY FREAKED OUT YESTERDAY!!! I thought this journal was gone! I would totally die if this got out!”
So why, 31 years later, did I (“totally”) betray the confidence of my 15-year-old self?  And what legitimate place, you may be wondering, does any of this have in my classroom?
Okay, fair question. My objective that day was to introduce my students to podcasting, as downloadeventually they’ll be recording their own podcasts. And since it was Homecoming week, the plan was to play for them Homecoming Ruined My Life, an episode detailing "The Esoteric Secrets of Adam Ruben” - an entertaining look at the awkward inner and outer life of a high schooler trying to get a date to Homecoming. It was an episode from Mortified, a podcast in which adults share “their most mortifying childhood artifacts (diaries, letters, lyrics, poems, home movies)… in front of total strangers.”  
This episode would, I reasoned, serve both as an introduction to podcasting and a direct tie to their lives (a sort of “It gets better” reminder to students on this Homecoming week, a week filled with excitement, rejection, angst, and the whole roller coaster in between).
Duly inspired by Adam Ruben’s confessional, the night before class, I journeyed through some of my own high school journals, earmarking the passages relating to Gordie, my high school crush, and my homecoming disappointments.
And so, in Freshman English, before Adam Ruben read from “The Esoteric Secrets of Adam Ruben,” I read to them from mine:
20161009_171428.jpg
I recited to my Freshmen confessions of my crush on Gordie, stress over homework and grades, my unhealthy fixation on losing 5 more pounds. As I did, I felt as vulnerable and sophomoric as I did back in 1985, and yes, a bit mortified. A classful of adolescent eyes were raptly fixed on me. There was a palpable mix of curiosity, surprise, and empathy in the air.
Why the intensity? Why were students glued, eyes and ears?
It turns out the private moments of teenage me were universal moments to my students decades later.  The word is authenticity.
To learn from us, students first need to see us as real people. When I read from my childhood journal, my students saw me as a real person who was once a self-conscious, conflicted, complicated teenager, not unlike themselves.
As an English teacher, I want words to do for my students what, looking back, they've done for me. I want my students to use words to express themselves, to relate to others, to feel less alone, maybe even to read years from now, as adults looking back with a more gentle understanding of their younger selves and a greater empathy for the teens in their own lives.  
Not until my 24th year of teaching did I read my journal aloud in class---perhaps it required precisely that much time and distance for me to be comfortable doing so. What I do know is that taking that risk and stepping into that potentially mortifying moment, childhood journal in-hand, will now be another tool in my teaching repertoire.
Teacher take-aways?
  1. podcast-imageIf you have a childhood journal or assignment from when you were in school that you can relate to what your teaching, use it! 
  2. It’s tricky to mix the private and the personal in your classroom, but if bring your teenage vulnerabilities into the classroom, your students will respect you for it.
  3. Podcasts are an untapped goldmine for our classrooms across the curriculum. (More on that, I suspect, in a future blogpost).

Monday, September 12, 2016

Great Teachers, Mediocre Shoes

no-heels-2Would you rather have a great teacher with mediocre shoes or a mediocre teacher with great shoes?
I’m thinking (hoping) nearly 100% would choose the former.
Admittedly, the question is not quite fair: it’s not an either/or. One can, after all, be a great teacher with great shoes (I would offer my friend Kristin as a prime example). And, I would like to think that for much of my career, I too was a great teacher with great shoes.
Now, however, as I begin my 24th year in the classroom, I strive to be a great teacher with mediocre shoes. I am no longer in the business of donning spectacular shoes at school.  
You see, last year mid-December, I was at an out-of-town conference when my feet retaliated against 22 ½ years of daily heel wearing. For no reason clear to me at the time, by the end of the day, I  literally hopped back to my hotel room, my left foot painful to the touch.  Anti-inflammatories were my short term cure; sensible shoes have been my long term solution.
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My former workwear (no longer in my life): high heels and low support.
My teaching tip this month? Wear sensible shoes!
Why?
  1. Your feet are your foundation. The average teacher takes 4,726 steps per day at school, the equivalent of climbing the staircase in the Empire State Building three times! The realization that I made that trip, in heels, for 20+ years makes me feel more than a bit foolish.
  2. Girl Power: We know that becoming good at anything is the result of hard work, reflection, and incremental improvement, not great shoes. Let’s model for our female students that we are more than just our footwear. Astonishingly, the American Podiatric Medical Association found that 42% of women say they will wear a shoe they like even if it causes them pain. To that, we must say “Yikes!” and “Never again!”
  3. Be Good to Yourself. We try to drink more water, eat less processed foods, exercise, floss...why not also wear shoes that won’t hurt our long-term mobility?  
  4. K.I.S.S.: Keep it Simple Stupid. Throwing on comfortable outfit and sensible shoes in the morning will get you to work fifteen minutes earlier which will make you more effective all day long.
  5. As educators, we are always looking at data to learn about student achievement and student needs. Why aren’t we also “data-driven” about ourselves. Data shows that the angle a high heel nullifies our natural shock absorbing abilities, stiffens our achilles tendons, shortens  ankle and calf tendons, and changes our natural gait (Women’s Health).  Dr. Sajid Surve of the American Osteopath Association writes “The effects aren’t limited to the feet; it’s not unusual for people who spend lots of time in high heels to have low back, neck and shoulder pain because the shoes disrupt the natural form of the body.” The data is clear: down with high heels, up with arch support.
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My new-and-improved school shoes: low heal, high support.
This is why, educators far and wide, I implore you to be a great teacher with mediocre shoes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Confessions of a Secret Montessorian

I’ll be sharing a right of passage with my son this year: he’ll be entering high school, and in a few short weeks, I’ll be his teacher. (I suspect you’ll be reading a post or two about how that goes!) He’ll also face another transition as he leaves behind 11 years of Montessori and takes his first step into public education, a slew of new beginnings for mother and son.  
Wait, did you catch that? You might want to re-read the previous paragraph because couched among some fairly cliche sentiments about rights of passage was a raw admission. Did you detect the hypocrisy? Did you smell the sacrilege? A public school teacher blogging all this time about public education while sending her own child to a Montessori school! The shame!
ncm group
I remember the first time I tried to explain it to someone. I was on lunch duty, standing next to a colleague and friend of mine who asked where Eliot would be going to school. He was maybe 5 at the time. “He’ll keep going to Nature’s Classroom Montessori for now,” I remarked, going on to explain how we had never planned on sending him to a private school, but that because Montessori had been such a perfect fit for him, we couldn’t imagine pulling him from a place that had become home. I explained how I felt hypocritical about it as a public school teacher who believes in public education. I added, hoping for redemption, that he would likely be coming to our high school when the time came. She laughed at my very long and defensive answer. “Sounds like the perfect place for him," she said and meant it. I exhaled.   
It’s true that Eliot has the questionable fortune of being born to two public school teachers. It’s true that we never planned on going the Montessori route. It’s also true that initially we felt like traders sending him to Montessori over our local school district. See, here’s what happened: when Eliot was 3, counting ceiling tiles when we picked him from daycare, it was clear he was ready for a more challenging environment. When a friend told us about Nature’s Classroom Montessori, we went for an observation and never left.
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That day, we observed Miss Erin’s room, which we quickly dubbed “The Zen Room.” It was an amazing sight: 3, 4 and 5-year-olds manipulating objects to learn numeric concepts, tracing and placing alphabetic letters into stories, preparing their own snacks, cleaning their work spaces. The level of independence and engagement was astounding. It was an environment in which Eliot soon thrived.
As parents and as teachers, what we saw that day was what we both had struggled to create in our own classrooms: independent learners fully engaged and invested in their own learning. And what we saw wasn’t the doing of an individual teacher; it was the systemic use of Montessori methods in the Montessori environment. We were in awe.  
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We watched Eliot’s first class concert later that year. As his classmates proudly belted out their songs, some clapping, some waving to their parents, there stood Eliot, not saying or singing a word. When we talked to his teacher afterwards, she was not at all concerned. He’ll come around when he’s ready, and she was right. And that’s what it his Montessori experience has been like: we’ve watched him grow through the years from a non-singer to concert emcee his final year. This was a school where his social-emotional well being was as important as his academics: through the years we all worked (teacher, parents, and Eliot) on his ability to work in groups, take responsibility for his actions, and organize his work.
How could we pull him from Montessori? We couldn’t, and didn’t. It was simply the best place for him. Maria Montessori said “One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.” And by that measure, he wasn’t going anywhere.
You may be asking yourself What exactly is Montessori? Here’s a crash course: In the early 1900’s Maria Montessori, an Italian physician studied children who had been deemed non-learners.  Through careful observation, she created an environment in which they thrived. Her method, now known as Montessori, provides flexible and carefully constructed work space and materials, utilizing a constructivist philosophy where children engage in “practical play,” learning through discovery with teacher guidance rather than direct teacher instruction.
7I asked Eliot today what Montessori did for him. “It made me, me,” he said, with an implied “duh!” (he is 14 after all). Details that stick with him? Journaling in nature. Being farm manager. Playing William Shakespeare. Studying marine biology in the Florida Keys, and indigenous cultures in New Mexico. Explaining the cube of quadrinomials. Historical simulations. Writing and acting in plays. His magnum opus paper.
So here’s the strange part, where past meets present, alternative meets traditional, mother meets son.  Any teacher or administrator in education today will recognize the following buzzwords (causing some perhaps to shudder a bit): personalizationstudent-centered classroomproblem-based learningstandards-based grading. Open any educational journal or attend any educational conference, and these words will dominate the articles written and the sessions offered. These concepts---here’s the weird part---are and always have been evident, in mastery form, in the Montessori classroom. They are the pmf-wordle-largerreasons my husband and I were in awe that day when we observed “The Zen Room.”
The truth is Montessori has much to teach us. As a teacher, It is my hope that as personalizationstudent-centered classrooms, and problem-based learning continue to be examined, the best of Montessori will trickle into the public school realm. As a mother, it is my hope that they will continue to be part of Eliot’s high school  experience in my classroom and others. 
Ready or not, Eliot, here we go.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Not-So-Good Blogpost


Warning: This is not a good blogpost. A few days ago, I was good to go. I had this month’s blogpost in draft form, in need of a little polish, but it was done---it was timely, relevant, I felt pretty good about it-----and then I decided to chuck it.

You see, a few days ago, my life as a blogger, a teacher, a human being was different, all of our lives were different. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the subsequent deaths of Officers Lorne Abrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa have changed everything. They have me reeling. They have me recognizing the gross insufficiency of my blogpost, and so I’ve chucked it to make way for my not-so-good blogpost, not so good because the right words to process this tragedy are simply unavailable, and the full-circle format so satisfying in a blogpost (problem and solution, question and answer) won’t happen this time around. No pat answers or easy solutions here.   

After all, how do we even talk about this? Gun violence. Racial injustice. It’s an understatement to say that these are difficult issues to talk about. Do you dare talk about them with your extended family, your co-workers, your students? They are mired in layers of history, race, identity, and socioeconomics. I’m certain that I’m not the only one, fingers on keyboard right now, not knowing which keys to tap, what words to use. But the very fact that these subjects are so hard to broach underscores their complexity and the urgency with which they must be tackled.  

So, how can we tackle them? Here’s my not-so-good attempt:

First, Get Upset

The easiest thing to do is nothing: do nothing, say nothing. News happens and life goes on. If you do nothing and say nothing, none of your Facebook friends will be offended; no one will be arguing at the dinner table; there will be no weirdness in the break room at work. But doing nothing and saying nothing is akin to accepting the horrors of last week as “the new norm” as US Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned.  Doing nothing and saying nothing is complicity.  Our membership in the human race requires more of us.

Second: Say Something, Do Something

As a wife and mother, this means taking about it at the dinner table. As a citizen, this means picking up the phone and calling my representatives to voice my concerns about gun legislation (a topic I find tragically tied to these events). As a teacher, this means necessarily complicating my teaching of Huck Finn, Things Fall Apart, To Kill a Mockingbird, Othello---to include the gamut of voices on contemporary race issues (Michael Eric Dyson’s recent “Death in Black and White” and others). It means giving my students the tools and the uncomfortable but important opportunity to process these issues in a safe, rational setting (a complex task, but one sorely needed in our world of increasingly uncivil and unbalanced discourse). As an American, this means being a part of a larger conversation, a larger action. And while I’m not certain what that will look like, I’m committed to being a part of it, as difficult and uncomfortable as it’s sure to be.

As teachers, we have many moments of truth. I’m reminded of one such moment faced by a colleague of mine during our Homecoming Parade several years ago. He stepped into the road, preventing two students in a truck donning a giant confederate flag from joining the tail end of our homecoming parade. Aside from being a physical risk, it was a social and professional one. There he was out in the community in which he taught---no time to consult with the principal, superintendent or lawyers---he decided to step in front of the truck and stop a symbol of oppression and racism from being associated with our school and community.

I’m reminded of another more recent moment of truth by Robert, a former student of mine (how frequently our students become our teachers). Reading his post on Facebook shortly after finishing my original blogpost is what prompted my rewrite. Here are his words:
I don't know what to say about it, and I don't know if I'm qualified to say anything about it. But damn it, staying quiet doesn't feel right: I am 4 times LESS likely to be killed by the cops than any random black person is. This is not an opinion, this is fact. Because I was born with pasty white pigment, I've always felt safe during routine traffic stops. I've never carried a weapon, but I'm sure if I did I would be given credit by many for "exercising my second amendment rights." Of course in a perfect world we should all (no matter our pigment) respect and admire the police. But you do not gain respect and admiration by also being feared. There is no doubt (just look at the stats and our ugly history) black communities have good reason to FEAR the police while white communities largely don't. Now, I'm not saying all (or even most) cops are racist. What I am saying though, is that there is a systemic problem and police killings of black people happen at a disproportionate rate. And it must stop. If you're white and this status makes you uncomfortable, it should do more than that. We all should be in this together to demand better.
I’m proud of his words. I’m proud that he had the courage to struggle with words and contradictions and the complexity of what we cannot allow to become the new norm.

Third: Ask Uncomfortable Questions.

My building principal has a saying that I’ve always found helpful. He says that part of his job is to make people uncomfortable. To change, to improve, to grow, we must be uncomfortable with the status quo. I can think of little that’s more uncomfortable than discussing these ideas in a classroom, but the classroom is a microcosm of the world, and choosing silence means accepting the events of last week the status quo.  


We have little choice, then, but to ask uncomfortable questions, and there are many:
  • What does it mean that President Obama, US District Attorney Loretta Lynch, Dallas Chief of Police David Brown are all African Americans in the highest positions of power in politics, law enforcement and justice, yet our politics and law enforcement and justice systems are mired in racial tensions and disparities?
  • How do we come to terms with the progress we’ve made and the problems that remain?
  • What is the relationship between our gun laws and violence? Between patrons bearing arms and police violence perpetrated against them? Between police deaths and gun proliferation?
  • What is the majority opinion in America regarding background checks and the legality of assault-type weapons?  Is this voice being represented by our legislators?
  • What happens when violence escalates, but conditions don’t change? What have other countries---historically and contemporarily---done to curb gun violence?
  • What initiatives are in place to examine and improve race relations?  What role does segregation play in race relations?
  • What role/responsibility does social media play in peace-keeping, accountability, and inciting violence? What role/responsibility do television and radio media play?

I want to live in a country where we ask the uncomfortable questions, where we relentlessly strive for social justice, where we respect and protect our institutions of law enforcement and justice, where we do what’s required of us as citizens in a democracy.

That’s why as a blogger, a mother, a teacher, a citizen, and a human being, I was required to write this not-so-good blogpost.