A Critical Incident

Last night’s discussion in 427 reminded me of something I wrote in my educational autobiography: the “critical incident” when I realized that my public education had not been multicultural, diverse, or very critically engaging. I thought I would post that part here, and also suggest that one easy way of making our curriculum multicultural is to make sure what we teach is inclusive of diverse peoples and cultures. Why shouldn’t we tell students from the get-go that the Mayans invented zero? I didn’t learn that until I read it in Delpit’s chapter from To Become a Teacher! Why not talk about Malcolm X in conjunction with MLK Jr, even if he is a more “controversial” figure of the Civil Rights Movement? And as Annie Johnston writes in “Out Front” in ROC Vol. 2, “Gay has to be integrated into our picture of current events, historical reality, literary themes, and scientific exploration. We need curriculum in which ‘gay’ is not relegated to the ‘Sexuality and Sexually Transmitted Diseases’ discussion in health and social living classes” (197). In just the same way, race and culture shouldn’t be relegated to specific months (Black History Month) or shallow “culture fairs” where kids choose a country and talk about the food eaten there. We should be “integrating” heroes, historical figures, previously marginalized viewpoints, artists, authors, and so on, into our curriculum so students see and feel how diverse experiences are truly ingrained in the larger American culture and experience.

The first time I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I was shocked–shocked by its visceral language and the emotional reactions it incited in me with every page. But mostly, I was shocked that I had never heard of Toni Morrison. I was surprised because judging by the accolades this author and scholar and her novels had earned, I should have at least heard mention of her name. Yet here I was, a relatively educated individual who considered herself somewhat “well-read” in the classics of American literature, ignorant to the genius and prolific work of one of America’s most respected writers. In the context of the course, with the help of great material and a great instructor, I began to question Morrison’s conspicuous absence from my education. As I began to question, I began to decide: it was absolutely not okay that in the course of twelve years of public education and four years in high school honors and AP English classes for me to have never read Toni Morrison

This “critical incident” was the gateway to my pursuing teaching as a career. I realized how sheltered my education had been, how I had been taught only the prevailing, mainstream viewpoint of history and even though I had been lucky enough to have many great teachers, none of them had prepared for me for the intellectual challenge I faced in college. Why was I getting the feeling that everything I learned was wrong? I realized it felt “wrong” because it left out so many views: views of the oppressed, views of the minority, views of the marginalized. I ran across this quote by Morrison a few years ago and it has stuck with me ever since: “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’” My family and I have been given certain privileges we did not necessarily earn. When I realized this and came to terms with what it meant about me, that is when I made the conscious choice to get into teaching.

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Teaching is a “Living Act”

“…people teach as an act of construction and reconstruction, as a gift of oneself to others. I teach in the hope of making the world a better place” (Ayers 20).

………………………….

“Teaching is more than transmitting skills; it is a living act, and it involves preference and value, obligation and choice, trust and care, commitment and justification” (32).

When Ayers argues that teaching is “an act of construction and reconstruction,” I infer that teachers are not just trying to “construct” students’ abilities, they are trying, within the confines of the classroom, to break down the constructs of the outside world (even the world within the school) and show the remnants to the students, to facilitate explorations and discussions and recognition of where we are now as a community, country, world, and model the act of “reconstruction”–be the example showing students that just analyzing and dissecting is not enough, they need to take the pieces and rebuild the world into a better place. This itself is the “living act” of teaching.

A “living act” is an act that reproduces itself, an act with effects that cycle and get recycled, and “construction and reconstruction” are those things. It seems a reasonable argument that how we live today at this precise moment is a construction and reconstruction of how things were ten years ago, a hundred years ago. The “living act” of “construction and reconstruction” is never ending and I think it is part of a teacher’s responsibility to engage in self-efficacy, as Ayers says; address and share your “preference and value,” exhibit “obligation and choice,” have and deserve “trust and care,” and exercise “commitment and justification.” It is an act of the living to question, probe, analyze and decide whether life is acceptable as it is or if it can be made better by deconstructing and reconstructing or constructing from little to nothing. Teaching is taking on the responsibility to model this ability in front of students and show them, transparently and while admitting mistakes, they have the power and ability to construct, deconstruct, reconstruct.

In his introduction, Ayers explores Dr. Martin Luther King’s “‘revolution in values,’ which would shift us from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society” (3). In his first chapter, Ayers gives us a blueprint for leading and living such a revolution in front of and for our students. We address “preference and value,” admitting that we as individuals, as an entire community and/or country assign certain values as worthy or unworthy, display values that are worthy or unworthy, and perpetuate values that are worthy or unworthy. We exercise “obligation and choice,” taking our social responsibility and turn it into our calling or “vocation,” answering the call of duty not solely out of necessity, but because we believe and choose to address that necessity (36). We have to “trust and care” in ourselves as educators and in our students as the living, breathing vessels of our attempts to exercise “obligation and choice.” We have to have “commitment” to this “revolution in values” and to the students we will come to rely on to lead it and we will be required to use “justification,” to argue for and defend our “living act.”

When we fail to recognize children’s social identities, we erase fundamental aspects of who they are and who their families are.

— Ann Pelo, Rethinking Our Classrooms, Volume 1, page 40

I was instantly drawn into Pelo’s article by the anecdote of the three little boys playing mother to their babies; besides agreeing with her assertions on the importance of cultural identity and thinking how innovative and intentional she and her staff were being with their research and curriculum planning, I drew a lot of inspiration from this reading. I drew inspiration from the knowledge that there are people, maybe especially in the education profession, who are as committed to inquisitive and explicit and relevant anti-bias work, in trying to create anti-bias attitudes in others, and in recognizing our own cultural identities and “perspectives” (40) in order to do this work, as I think we all ought to be.

On Monday, I was part of a group that co-facilitated a discussion on readings that addressed race/culture/diversity and equity in a schooling context. It was wrought with emotion, with discomfort, and it was quickly apparent to me that I’ve been relatively sheltered in this uber-liberal, politically engaged city. My opinions about race relations and the ways in which racism and sexism have been institutionalized are ones I learned from my undergraduate education in a liberal university, my political beliefs (very liberal), as well as my own experiences. They are the opinions of most, if not all, of my friends. They are the opinions I have accepted as factual and I defend them with vehemence.

So sitting in on some of my classmates’ discussions on Monday and hearing opinions that didn’t mirror my own was somewhat of a surprise. I might say I was even a little disappointed? Partly because I’m self-centered and I want everyone to agree with me and tell me how right I am, but mostly because I wanted to know that my fellow future-teachers would be as dedicated to being anti-“colorblind,” as I am. And as I was reading “Playing With Gender,” noting that Pelo lives and works in this wonderful city, I began forming explicit reasons for why I think the way I do, why I agree so much with Pelo’s analysis of the importance of culturally relevant and anti-bias work.

Living in a liberal, highly educated city means most of the people I know acknowledge that being white comes with certain privileges in America. This is not to group all individuals of one race together and assume they all share the same experiences, but to say that there are groups of people (with some exceptions, of course) who have been and continue to be excluded from educational, economical, democratic successes and are marginalized by our government and society.

I once had it explained to me by a professor, who was explaining a reading (and of course I can’t remember the author), that being white is the “normative,” and everything else is the “other.” And because white is the norm, and because of the historical actions that created and protected the hierarchy of race, the inherent benefits of being white that we often think are a thing of the past has actually continued and is just as relevant today as it was during the Civil Rights Movement.

It’s hard to label whites as being privileged, because there are many people from many different backgrounds who are also privileged and there are innumerable white people who live in the margins, but I think it’s impossible to ignore the concreteness of white privilege (even while it’s a complex, often abstracted issue). One thing I would posit is that white people are judged little by the color of their skin; since white is the norm, everyone accepts that white people  should be differentiated by their individual identities. Do black, teenaged boys get this same privilege? A white privilege is not to be held to a stereotype as other races are; a white privilege is that everyone accepts that white people are different from each other. On the other hand, people of color often have similar experiences and while we often quickly identify with someone else from our minority group, it’s still disheartening to be held to a stereotype knowing you possess an individual identity that exists without those stereotypes.

If anyone actually reads my little ramblings here, I hope they don’t assume I’m hostile to white people or that I think white people should be punished for their privileges. I think hostility towards people who are white because they are white is misdirected hostility towards the institutionalization and inherency of the benefits of being white. I just think if you are lucky enough to have any privilege at all, you should make sure that privilege stops being a privilege and make sure it becomes the norm. Also, these same arguments could be made for the state of gender equality in this country. Boy, do men have it good. 😉

Gimme my donut!

I am Beloved
Thoughtful Chatty Perpetuallyhappy
I love youth
I hate cynicism
I am afraid of ineffectiveness
I wish for my parents to live forever
Throws

I took some inspiration from the form used by Veritably Clean Blog. Also, lots of inspiration from Ayers. I did this writing exercise with students in the after-school program I work for, and the kids were so engaged. A memorable moment with these awesome kids.

CAN’T WAIT FOR MY DONUT.

Image-ining Teaching: Why I Want to Be a Teacher

Though the original assignment restricted our word usage to NONE, I couldn’t help add my reasons for choosing these specific images. I did, however, try to keep it brief and succinct. I am a very wordy person so it was difficult.

Image

On left: my not-so-baby brother. On right: our Dad, Air Force vet.

I come from a very patriotic family, and we value public service and acting on our desires to make the country the best it can be.

Image

Sculpture and drawing by Gustavo Martinez.

A representation, symbol, metaphor, whatever else you can call it, of the history of community-building, culture-building, language-building, relationship-building.

Disclaimer: I can’t explain the purpose behind this piece as well as the artist can.

Image

(http://www.betterlivingthroughbeowulf.com/?p=13556)

“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”  — Toni Morrison

infinity

(http://www.flickr.com/photos/22320987@N07/2931214822/)

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” — Henry Adams

Banksy

(http://www.yourperfectcanvas.com/gallery.php?st=canvas&sg=banksy)

Banksy makes interesting, provocative, sometimes incendiary, social/political/historical/cultural commentary and criticisms. I would venture to guess this image is commenting on the West’s practiced attempts to ignore, rewrite, wash away, devalue the histories and cultures of ancient and native peoples.