This reporter offers insight into the media frenzy surrounding Ferguson — take a look.
I often hear that we are living in a post-racial society; that racism, and the psychological effects from slavery, Reconstruction, segregation, Japanese internment camps, Chinese Exclusion Acts, anti-Semitism (et cetera) — up through the current anti-immigration tide to curb the influx of Latin@ Americans, or the harassment of Arab Americans, are all people being too sensitive. For goodness sakes, we have a Black president! Never mind the snarl of people currently picketing against “illegal immigrants.”
What if Native Americans did the same when the first Europeans came ashore “without proper documents” over five hundred years ago?
I can remember when Obama was running for office; I was ecstatic, and proudly displayed his bumper sticker. When I drove my car to pick up the White upper class 13-year-old boy I tutored from his private middle school, he took one glance at the sticker, and snickered, “How can you vote for a nigger?”
I know his sentiments do not represent all White Americans — that his thoughts are in the minority. But, if a minority of today’s children still harbors such attitudes about our world, where is our society? Are we not being naïve and self-righteous in deeming us a post-racial society, judging each other by deeds alone?
As an Asian American, in spite of the “model minority” identity (complacent demeanor, solid work ethic, and supposed ability to approach “White” standards of living), I am well aware that this is just that — a myth.
We do not live in a melting pot; we do not even live in a fruit salad. We live in a space that still parses us into rigid racial/ethnic/cultural lines.
Racism is still alive and well. But, somehow today, there are people who have managed to say that it is nonexistent by obliviousness. No, calling me “Ching Chong Chan” is not racist; they’re just having fun. I have to be less sensitive. My favorite line was once when I was jogging with my friend, someone yelled out of his car, “Hey, you’re running the wrong way! China’s the other way!”
I wanted to remind him, “The world is round. I can get going there either way.” But, I was out of breath running. To China, apparently.
One of the worst parts of racism is being made to feel you are less American. Non-Whites are often asked, “Where are you from?” “Florida.” “No, where were you born?” or “Where are your parents from?”
Why is it Barak Obama needed to prove his citizenship, and to remind everyone that Hawaii is part of America, but no one ever questioned previous presidents? Bush was from Texas, and Texas was an independent republic once. But, no one ever questioned his citizenship.
Race is not often broached in classrooms, as it is considered a politically sensitive topic that should be ignored. But, I feel students want to talk about it. They need to.
If someone ignores discussing race because s/he is tired of hearing about it — because it’s another ‘angry minority blaming her or his frustrations in life on race’ — then race is not who that person is; s/he has that privilege. But, for the rest of us, we need something more.
We need a discussion that recognizes each of our humanity.
Xiaodi Zhou is a third year doctoral student in the Language and Literacy Education department at the University of Georgia. He is interested in critical literacy issues important for today’s youths. Having lived extensively both in China and the U.S., he finds that he has a transnational, global perspective on issues. Having been born in China, growing up in the U.S., returning to teach in China, and finally coming back to the U.S. for his PhD, he finds himself torn between two cultures, two languages, and two truths.
There are so many things that happen in real life that already happened in books. I suppose ‘history repeats itself.’ However, it seems like we’d learn from our mistakes. Some do, sure, but we — the human race — make the same mistakes over and over, turning a blind eye to injustice. My mind wanders to Ray Bradbury’s famous quote: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Somewhere, people are not reading; or, if they are, they are not paying attention. This has to stop.
Of course, Bradbury was referencing Fahrenheit 451 (above). I love the last few pages of this book, as it draws attention to humanity’s Achilles heel: we can’t help but make the same mistakes repeatedly. Although, maybe we can learn from them:
There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. (p. 163)
I was hoping the death of Trayvon Martin would be our last funeral pyre. I was hoping we’d learn from his tragic murder. I was hoping his death would open our eyes to the racial injustice that still exists in our “free world.” However, we’ve built yet another funeral pyre in the death of Michael Brown. We have to stop killing our Black boys.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The death of Michael Brown does not just affect him or his family, it affects all of us [indirectly] — it affects our world, and we should not stand for such injustice. I am not arguing for everyone to raid stores or hold violent protests, but we must do something.
Stephanie Jones wrote an essay arguing that these deaths are stories that must be told — in our classrooms: “Every single story matters. Teachers, let’s not get caught up in what is common. Let’s talk about what is relevant. Let’s talk about how these things get started and how they keep going.” Maybe the problem isn’t that people aren’t learning from mistakes; maybe they’re not learning. I’d love to open a dialogue about how they/we can. I’m not talking about White saviors, but about social justice education. How can we make these stories so common that they cannot be repeated?
Note: This post feels unfinished because it is. I don’t have answers, only questions.
“Technology” is one of the buzzwords suggested as a key to making quality education accessible for all students in America. Being passionate about creating an exciting and challenging learning environment for my students, I’ve tried to embrace the new innovations that have come my way. I recently had the opportunity to attend ISTE 2014 (The International Society for Technology in Education annual conference), and I was excited to find ways that technology can enhance the academic experience for me and my students. The conference was overwhelming. From the enormous Expo hall with over 500 exhibits to the many people walking around wearing Google glass, I was in tech heaven. Surely the tools to break educational barriers could be found here, right? However, at the end of the weekend, I found myself reflecting on what I had seen from a very different perspective.
As I sat down for the opening keynote, I was surprised to find that it would be delivered by the actress, Ashley Judd; however, I was ready to be inspired by new ways to use technology in order to open the doors of education to all students. Well, Ms. Judd did not have any compelling “21st Century” approaches to learning to share. Instead, she spoke at length about her traumatic childhood, one that included sexual abuse and neglect, and how school provided the only consistency for many years. She shared from her heart about the teachers that “saved her life” by paying attention and noticing that she was facing unique challenges inside and outside the classroom. It was a touching speech, but I was still looking for the next great computer program or digital device that would transform my classroom. I missed the point.
I spent the next three days attending sessions during which knowledgeable educators shared tips and tricks for incorporating technology into instruction: how to turn your classroom into a “Makerspace;” 30 new ways to use Google; how digital literacy can close the achievement gap; tech tools for collecting and managing data. It was all very informative and interesting. I took many notes and wrote down countless websites, but something was missing. No matter how hard I tried, I did not feel the excitement I expected to feel; the passion just wasn’t there.
There were two distinct moments when I felt the stirring I was looking for, and they were unexpected. The first was when I saw a group of students presenting to adults about cool ways they are using technology in their classroom. Honestly, I can’t even remember what they were demonstrating, but the excitement in this diverse group of faces is what I remember. I loved seeing kids being part of the discussion. The cool tools and devices were just machines and computer programs until they got into the hands of kids. Then, they became like magic wands opening up whole new worlds of knowledge.
The second experience happened on the last day in the Expo hall. I was visiting random booths when I heard a commotion at the other end of the hall. I followed the sound of drumbeats (yes, drumbeats) and kids cheering, only to find Ron Clark and a group of students from Ron Clark Academy demonstrating a lesson while a large group of teachers watched. Sure, they were using some innovative technology, but that wasn’t what drew the attention and applause of the educators around them. It was the enthusiastic relationship between teacher and students, and it drew me in, too.
As I walked away from that wonderful lesson, I pondered what had been missing from the conference for me, and I realized that it was what I had just witnessed — students, the very thing that must be at the heart of everything we do as educators. Technology is cool, and we should embrace the opportunity to enhance our instructional practice, but if we are not careful to keep our focus on the hearts and minds of kids, those technology tools will become just another distraction from the real needs of our students. I think maybe Ashley Judd’s message was more appropriate than I realized. We — teachers — have to build relationships with our students; we have to know what is really going on with them before any computer program is going to be effective.
Ginger Lehmann teaches American Literature and Writers’ Workshop at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia, where she serves on the School Improvement Leadership Team and the Technology Committee. She formerly participated in the Red Clay Writing Project Summer Institute (a local chapter of the National Writing Project), and now serves on the RCWP Leadership Board. Ginger serves as an adviser to the Clarke Central Poetry Club, and teacher for the Red Clay Writing Camp. She is the 2014 recipient of the Walter Allen award for excellence in teaching from the Foundation for Excellence in Education organization in Athens.