When life throws you lemons, show the nation how you fight back

One of my high school students has made national news.

Watch T. J.’s interview here, titled “Deaf high school football player excels on the field.”

If I had to describe T. J. in one word, it would be “cool.” He has faced so many obstacles in his life, but he always keeps his cool. If he hits one road block, he turns around and keeps driving until he finds his way. I have complete faith in him that he will succeed in whatever endeavor he encounters because his heart is strong and his drive unending.

T. J. inspires me because he never stops. So many times, I — like many others — feel like the world is against me in my fight for social justice. Then I encounter people whose stories are so inspirational, that I am called back into action. T. J.’s story does just that. If he can overcome countless obstacles, so can I — and so can you.

Here are other stories on T. J.:

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Good Stuff Happened Today

News One

Mark Zuckerberg Hosts ‘Hackathon’ for Undocumented Immigrants

It is easy to think of racism and the dehumanization of minority people(s) as a thing of the past. However, with more and more laws being passed that directly hurt children — namely, those who are undocumented and/or raised by undocumented parents, obviously prejudice is still prevalent in our society.

I love hearing about people in positions of power helping those with little to no power. So, when I read this blurb, I had to repost it. There is something we can all do to help others. It’s our turn!

Resources:

U.S.

Correction appended

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted a marathon programming session Wednesday with young undocumented immigrants, in his latest effort to prod Congress into pass immigration reform.

Zuckerberg brought 20 young immigrants, who came to the U.S. illegally, to Silicon Valley for a “DREAMer Hackathon” at the headquarters of LinkedIn. With help from other technology heavyweights like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Dropbox co-founder Drew Houston, the young coders planned to build new technology platforms during a 24-hour coding session, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Zuckerberg’s lobbying group, Fwd.us, which advocates for immigration reform, pledged to get the young coders’ projects up running. The group wants to change U.S. immigration policy to grant more visas for workers with skills in science, math and technology.

[Los Angeles Times]

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated where the Hackathon took place. It was at LinkedIn’s headquarters, not Facebook’s headquarters.

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What to do about George Zimmerman…

Where do I begin?

When my collaborator and I began planning this semester, we were not sure what we wanted to teach about per se, but we knew we had to discuss Trayvon Martin. We could not ignore him — his murder was plastered all over the internet, his name came up in most conversations; his iconic, hoodied picture was immortalized on our students’ T-shirts — Trayvon’s story had to be discussed, if for nothing else but to understand tragedies that happen not only in the literature we read, but also in the world around us.

Fast forward to Zimmerman’s verdict and the chaos that followed (more on lesson plans later):

We watched this video as a class. I remember the portion of his speech that stood out most to me:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Whether you agree or disagree with our president’s political agenda, there is incredible honesty in these words. They cracked open my heart and touched me in a way I thought impossible — in a way that allowed me to see the situation of a person whom I cannot relate to on a literal scale no matter how hard I try because of the privilege I was born with — a privilege of fitting naturally into the normative societal scale of acceptance because of the color of my skin.

I began to understand this concept more after reading Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. What struck me most is that, before I began to consciously think of these ideas, I never thought about them. Sure, the sentiment is simple, but no matter how obvious it is to me now, I still never consciously paid attention to my situation in life before I was told to, so, I guess that is why I am sharing my revelations with you now.

So, back to George Zimmerman: Zimmerman is Charged with Aggravated Assault. No matter how hard we try to close the wounds that have been opened by the Trayvon Martin trial, they becomes continuously reopened. After the most recent news broke on Zimmerman, I began seeing this picture circulating the internet:

Image

While my initial reaction is to roll my eyes, as this meme is making light of a heavy situation, there is truth here. According to Malco (2013), “race matters in this country are the paralysis of the American people.”  In other words: when issues regarding race come up, we either 1. talk ourselves in circles, going nowhere or 2. ignore matters of race altogether. Sure, this is a silly meme which is not meant to be taken seriously, but the sentiment here is very serious, and something which should not be silenced further.

So, to answer my original question: what do we do with George Zimmerman? My answer is: I don’t know, but we cannot ignore him — to do so would be like slapping Trayvon in the face. However, we also cannot give into the media’s ploys to make money off of his demise. 

JJW

What is in a name?

There is so much in a name. That’s why, when the prompt for my site tag and URL came up, I froze. I knew I wanted a site where I could document what I was teaching and where I could share my classroom reflections. I wanted a site that would store the lessons I found to be successful and analyses of possible reasons why others failed. But, I also wanted this site to encourage others to teach with their students in mind.

So much of teaching now is political. If money did not rule education before, it surely does now. After No Child Left Behind, it seems like, through standardizing education, we have left everyone behind. The people who run educational institutions are policy makers, Pearson, and McGraw-Hill — not necessarily teachers, administrators and each school’s community. I’m not saying that schools were perfect before NCLB, but I don’t think the current state of our educational system is working.

Therefore, I have chosen to fight for my kids. I’m not going to break laws. I’m not going to ignore policies or standards. However, I believe there is a way to make the standards apply to my classes (not the other way around). My kids come first and if I teach with them in mind, I am doing right by them. To me, this is every teacher’s duty — it’s a duty of social justice. Not only do most teachers perform acts of social justice every day, I believe they should be teaching it in their classes.

So. That’s where the site name came from. Teaching Social Justice is meant to inspire me, my students, and (hopefully) others to step up to the activism calling us. Sometimes it just involves a class, sometimes it is an action within one’s self, and sometimes social justice creeps into every aspect of our lives. That’s where I’m at right now. Education has become so political, I guess it’s my turn.

Best,

JJW

JoLLE — My First Conference Experience

The Journal of Language and Literacy Education held their first annual conference last February, which also happened to be the first conference I had ever attended. The theme of the conference was “Activist Literacies.” This year, the conference theme is “Literacy for/and Social Justice: Inspire, Engage, Create, Transform,” and I am presenting. This website is actually a tool I plan to use at the conference, where I will discuss how I combined current events with standards-based historical texts to build a relevant curriculum for my classes. I was especially inspired by JoLLE’s special issue after their first conference, which featured articles on the same theme as the conference, many of which written by those who presented. Check it out!

Hip Hop-spiration

Before embarking on my “journey for social justice,” I read an article by Tina Love (shown above) called I See Trayvon Martin”: What Teachers Can Learn from the Tragic Death of a Young Black Male. This article acts as the foundation to the lesson plans I have made this year — so much of Love’s (2013) discussion relates directly to my classes. Here are some of my notes/responses to the text itself:

  • Love makes known the stereotypes that are deeply rooted in American society, and therefore, in our schools. One misconception of young Black males is their “attitude.” I, too, was very ignorant when I first began teaching, to the Black culture, as I grew up in a mostly white area (Northeast Georgia). However, college quickly opened my eyes to multiculturalism, and teaching in a very diverse school has changed my attitude toward the misconceptions of Black culture altogether.
  • According to Love, “Hip Hop swag serves as the perfect example. It is more than just a way of body movement and projections of coolness, it is an epistemological aim to engage others with confidence, likability, charm, cleverness, and resolve. Hip Hop swag is standing one’s ground” (p. 3). What a beautiful way to describe many of my students! While some may see Hip Hop swag as being “cocky,” or “apathetic,” this definition really gets to the heart of the matter: it’s a way of life, a way of being.
  • I agree with Love that “Too often, teachers make judgments concerning Black male students having nothing to do with their intellectual ability and everything to do with stereotypes, assumptions, and fear” (p. 3-4). I have fallen victim to this way of thinking in the past, but there are ways to battle normative ideas, and Love discusses a few of these in her article. One of the ways is through education and constantly educating yourself and your students. I am trying to do this through my critical pedagogy project (this website and my lesson plans), and I feel I am learning every bit as much as my students are. I only hope I am battling racial stereotypes and never perpetuating them (J. Whitley, Scholarly Notes, November 12, 2013).

I am currently reading Love’s book, Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Hip Hop Identities and Politics in the New South. While I am not finished with it, yet, I am already inspired by Love’s work with these six middle and high school girls. There is a cool interview about this book on YouTube, and Dr. Love’s discussion begins at 16:00. Here is Dr. Love’s YouTube stream about her work last year at a local elementary school.

As you can see, I have been inspired by Tina Love’s work, and I feel like it would be selfish not to share it.

Why Some Hate School, but Love Education

One of my professors, Stephanie Jones, showed this video to our Powerful Readers course this summer. In my opinion, it speaks to the heart of education. Students, I hear things like “I hate school,” “I’m sooooo bored,” or “UGGGHHHHH” come out of your mouths on a daily basis — and I believe the video explains why. We have lost sight of education and its purpose.

It is my hope that, by sharing this video, more people can respond to it. It is NOT my hope to encourage more students to hate school. In fact, I have the opposite goal in mind. Individualized education can inspire. So, tell me: how do you hate school, but love education, and what can we (teachers) do about it?