Posts by jennwhitley

JoLLE: A Conference for Everyone

jolle

The Journal of Language and Literacy Education holds an annual conference each winter at the University of Georgia. The conference theme is almost always related to social justice, and this year, it is specifically themed, “Embodied and/or Participatory Literacies: Inspire, Engage, Create, Transform.” This conference, especially, is important to me (Jenn Whitley, TSJ’s moderator), as it was the first one I attended, and helped inspire me to research social justice issues.

I encourage Teaching Social Justice‘s readers to look into JoLLE’s conference and submit a proposal if it’s something interesting to you, as JoLLE appeals to a wide audience of social justice researchers, educators, and students. This conference is not like others; usually presenters get enough time to work with their audience (instead of merely talking to them for 15 minutes). Proposals are due in a weekby October 5 at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will be there, and I’d love to meet more of you, especially those of you who live so far away.

If you cannot attend or present at this year’s conference, JoLLE also accepts manuscripts related to the conference theme for its Spring 2015 Issue. Feel free to submit your work if it relates to embodied and/or participatory literacies. OR, of course, you can submit other literacy-related manuscripts for a different issue.

Thank you for allowing me to steal some of TSJ’s space to tell you about this conference, as it means a lot to me.

Jenn

Disclaimer: I know all of this information because I’m on JoLLE’s editorial board. Please direct any questions about the conference or journal to me at: teachsocialjustice@gmail.com.

Guest Post: Faith Lawler on Justice in a Christian Classroom

I am the third grade teacher at a Christian international school.

My students are either very wealthy or they are missionary kids. In my mind, they’re two of the most privileged groups around. One has all the material necessities they could want, while the other usually has an amazing, Godly family.

Because this school is so small, I’ve observed that by third grade, the students know who their friends are, and who their friends are not. They know who lies, who punches, who is too aggressive at soccer, and whose parents don’t like each other.

In late August, I walked into a class of students who were full of memories of last year’s fights, disruptions, disagreements, fear, angst, bad language, and even some bullying; all within a class of only 12 students. And within all this nastiness – or perhaps because of it – more than half the parents told me on a beginning of the year survey that their child is upset by “injustice” or “when someone is punished unfairly.”

I quickly wanted to make sure that these students did not think that they were the ones able to define justice in each situation. So, we began our year by defining justice every morning. “Justice is ‘right’ being rewarded, ‘wrong’ being punished.” We discussed how perfect justice doesn’t often happen, only God knows all things, but it is something to strive for. I challenged myself to strive for justice in my classroom.

In teaching justice, though, I soon began to realize how accountable that made me to my own system of behavior management, which gives stars as a reward and takes them as a punishment. Consistency is necessary. If one student decided to blurt out inappropriately and got in trouble, another student exhibiting similar behavior would also need to be “punished.” Another student who forgot a certain procedure must also face the same punishment, no matter what happened at home that day to cause the stress of forgetfulness. All the students saw their classmates’ actions, and each one of them expected to see justice.

I couldn’t do it, though.

I couldn’t bear to see the same four or five kids who struggled so much, always remain at the lowest point of the behavior system. I couldn’t bear to see them believe themselves incapable of earning a star. I couldn’t bear to see the girls “setting the standard,” while the “crazier boys” struggled to reach it, or found it completely unattainable.

However, I could not change our definition of justice. God has set the definition of justice and it cannot be changed. He has set the standard for my life, though, and I constantly fall short of it.

However, there is one marvelous word that changes everything.

Mercy.

Yes, God is just. But He is also full of mercy. And in His mercy, He has forgiven me: “Because of the Lord ’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end” (Lamentations 3:22).

In light of this idea, I began asking my students some thought-provoking questions:

  • “So, do you want me to show you mercy today? Or will you just continue forgetting if I do?”
  • “Do you need the punishment? Do you need to lose a star?”
  • “What is going to help you do better next time? Can I show you mercy?”

I explained that sometimes people do need the punishment to help them choose the right thing. But sometimes they also need some mercy. I also explained that I would never want to live in a world in which there was only justice and no mercy.

I saw a big change in the classroom.

I began to receive honest answers. I saw students who fought tooth and nail to never lose a star begin to tell me what they did and say, “I think I need to move down.” The stars became a tool, an aid, a way to lead them to growth. They could see their weak points and, instead of being angry whenever they “messed up,” they began to work out more strategies for choosing differently the next time. The punishments became more of a conversation, and less of a fight. I also noticed them forgiving each other genuinely. They even started complimenting one another on the progress of things like being more honest. I was recently told by one boy, “Miss Lawler, no one thinks of [insert name] as a bully anymore at all.”

My students, as rowdy as they are in third grade, will be the leaders of the world in 20 years. I believe they will be leading the fight for social justice. They will be the lawmakers and the people who enforce those laws. I want them to remember those moments of their own weaknesses: when they failed to choose what was right, when they made mistakes, when they messed up and were shown undeserved mercy. I want them to show mercy to the oppressed; and also to help those who have done wrong.

As they grow, I pray they’ll remember God’s mercy for them. I pray they’ll remember their third grade teacher, and even their former classmates, when they see a homeless guy passed out on the corner, or a thief on trial, a child from an orphanage, or a crime-committing teenager – I want them to be critical of the world around them, yet merciful to it as well.

And regardless of whether they come from a privileged or missionary background, I pray they’ll remember how much mercy it took for them to pass third grade.

Faith Lawler is a teacher at the International Christian School of Budapest. She graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL in 2011. Having an adopted younger sister, she planned to work at an orphanage after graduating from college, but has instead worked with upper or middle class children who have their own set of needs and challenges. She finds it difficult to leave her home in Atlanta, but cannot bear the thought of moving away from Europe.

Guest Post: Julia Ozog on Thin Privilege and Fat Activism

As a woman, I face an exorbitant amount of stress concerning the way I look – particularly how much I weigh. I’ve been trained from an early age to feel like most of my value comes from being thin and pretty, and even though I’ve spent much time intentionally unlearning those kinds of thoughts, I still feel haunted by the feeling that I’m not good enough if I’m not skinny enough. Most women are made to feel like they should take up as little space as possible, and that the best way to gain attention from men and respect from women is to be thin. However, even though much of my concern with being thin comes from the oppression of sexism, many of those feelings also come from my privilege as a thin person. I’m terrified to gain weight because there are very real societal and interpersonal privileges I’ve always had because I am thin. While I have never been heavy, I recently lost significant weight and became “skinny.” It’s hard for me to admit, but I’ve been scared to gain any of that weight back because I don’t want to face how people would think of me and treat me if I became fat. I recently realized that that fear is one reason why I know thin privilege exists.

As a social justice activist, I understand some of the emotional, psychological, physical, and economic injustices that fat folks face on a daily basis, but I’ve only recently started to acknowledge my privilege as a thin person, and hold myself accountable for my own oppression of fat people. (Note: the term “fat” is preferred by many fat activists over “overweight” because it can help the fat acceptance movement by “normalizing the neutrality and/or positivity of ‘fat’” – see more on this website). My perpetuation of fat phobia comes from my own insecurity and body image issues. For example, I remember an instance when I was skimming through photos online of a guy I had just started dating, and when I found pictures of him and his ex-girlfriend, I started comparing myself to her. (Disclaimer: I’m not proud of this act.) In response to my anxiety, a friend said something about how ‘I didn’t have to worry about her because she looked fat and I was way skinnier and prettier than her.’ I knew she was out of line, only trying to make me feel better despite her use of fat phobia, but the thing is: it did make me feel better. I know that I have a silent power from being thin, and I chose to use that power in that situation to make myself feel more secure about my new relationship. This power brought itself to my attention again recently: I gained some temporary weight a couple of months ago when I was prescribed steroids for a sinus infection, and I was so afraid of feeling unattractive, that I started asking my boyfriend multiple times a day if I looked fat, desperately hoping that the answer was “No.” I did these things to hold onto my privilege because it has been so ingrained in me that I am worth more skinny than I am fat. I realize how problematic my thinking was now that fat phobia and thin privilege have been brought to my attention.

I wanted to write this article on fat phobia because, as a social justice educator, I think that it is important for me to explore the difference in oppression that fat and thin women face. I started to write from a very academic standpoint. Though, I honestly had not learned much about fat phobia throughout my activist career, so I read articles written by fat activists to try and understand the systemic, institutional, and personal oppression that fat people face in our society. However, I have come to realize that, at this point, I personally understand fat phobia best through my own perpetuation of it. Thin privilege is a very real thing that I benefit from, and until I and other people holding that power acknowledge our privilege – and hold ourselves accountable to think about it – fat phobia will continue to exist. My thinness means that I’m often perceived as being fit, healthy, beautiful, and “normal,” because those qualities are associated with success in our culture. A quick flip through the pages of almost any magazine confirms that ultra-thin women receive respect and admiration for their bodies, while fat women are shamed mercilessly for their weight. Since the list of ways in which thin folks are benefited by thin privilege is way too long to cover here, I found this article helpful in understanding more ways that my thin privilege benefits me

Although it’s not my (or any one person’s) fault that fat phobia is so prevalent and harmful in our society, it is my responsibility as an aspiring ally to acknowledge my privilege and the ways in which I continue to oppress those around me. It’s not only unsupportive, but actively oppressive that I have used my thinness to feel superior to other women. I feel that acknowledging this shortsightedness is the first step in becoming more accountable in the social justice revolution. This issue is complicated, of course; however, it is unacceptable in our society that I, as a woman, feel like I have power based on my looks rather than my talent, intelligence, or other parts of my character. I’m still learning about fat activism and politics – and how to intentionally include fat phobia when teaching and learning about privilege and oppression; but I hope to continue this conversation and accountability with other activists.

 

Julia Ozog is an intersectionality feminist radical educator. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Social Thought and Political Economy program a year and a half ago, and currently lives outside of Boston. In college, she facilitated a community organizing class for undergraduates, which included subjects of privilege and oppression, identity politics, and social and economic justice through organizing. Julia’s passion is furthering social justice through liberatory education, and she is looking forward to continuing that work in the Boston area. For more of her written work (including another copy of this blog post), visit her blog at www.quiotgrrrl.com.

Guest Post: Xiaodi Zhou in a Passionate Response to “Post-Racial America”

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.

Another mistake; another funeral pyre: When will we stop killing our Black boys?

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?

Further Reading

Brittany Cooper’s In defense of Black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

Corrine McConnaughy’s Trayvon Martin and the Burden of Being a Black Male

Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack

 

Note: This post feels unfinished because it is. I don’t have answers, only questions.

 

 

 

Guest Post: Ginger Lehmann on Technology In Schools

“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.

Smagorinsky on writing: Put your money where your mouth is

Rick Diguette wrote an op-ed titled, “Has freshman year in college become grade 12½?” on Sunday. His piece addresses the lackluster writing habits of college freshmen, and suggests that professors are having to teach writing skills students should have learned in high school. What Peter Smagorinsky said in return, though, is an argument everyone needs to hear:

If you want kids to learn how to write, then put your money to work to provide teachers the kinds of conditions that enable the time to plan effective instruction, guide students through the process, and assess their work thoughtfully and considerately.

Otherwise, you may as well add yourself to the list of reasons that kids these days can’t write. (Smagorinsky, 2014)

Throughout the op-ed, Smagorinsky attacks the policies in place that do damage to our classrooms, instead of attacking our teachers. It is worth a read, and needs to be shared. More people need to see arguments like this — ones that defend our teachers and the public school system. 

Guest Post: WTF? 10 Counterproductive Behaviors of Social Justice Educators

I have been struggling with how to do the work so many of us call “social justice.” I understand the why, or I at least think I do. I am on a journey to understand my role in changing the world, which is no doubt a privilege. It has taken me quite a while to get over the fear of doing the work correctly and instead, to begin operating from the heart and continuously challenge my perspective.

As I began to engage this work in a healthier manner, I noticed patterns of bad habits that we educators exhibit while actively being change agents. These habits, in the name of justice and equity, get in the way of making authentic, strategic, and sustaining change. Below are 10 counterproductive behaviors of social justice educators, all explored from the unique intersections of my privileged and oppressed lens.

 

1) Shaming our allies – Instead lets educate

It is important to be careful about how we hold others accountable. At times, we as educators fall into a righteous place, where we live in the moment to be right, but more so to impose the wrath of our rightness. We lose track of educating and become “social justice avengers.” We thrash anyone that makes mistakes or do not acknowledge their privilege, mostly out of ignorance. When we act like such, we instill fear and frustration in our allies, effectively immobilizing them. Before you respond or react, ask yourself what you want the result to be: proving that you are closer to “right,” or developing a stronger, more capable ally?

2) Lead with our oppressed identities – Forget that we have immense privilege too

How is it that we are some of the first people to forget that we are amazingly privileged? Our maleness, middle class, able bodies, Christianity, age, education, etc. oozes from our pores. It is our very being. And colluding is as simple as breathing in the gift of air. Let’s own our stuff – recognize and acknowledge when we have the wind behind us. Be committed to your growth and allow yourself to be challenged on the identities we often leave unexplored.

3) Create competition around being the best at “Social Justice” – Using language as a way to exclude

We all know individuals that lead conversations with big words and no context. After they are done speaking, most people are completely lost, and so is the message. Correct use of rhetoric is important, but we must be careful that it doesn’t become jargon. Additionally, we cannot become upset when we are asked to explain or define a handful of the words used or ideas explored. How often do we use language to exclude? How often is it intentional or unintentional? Does using the right and “smart sounding” language validate our being someway?

4) Leading with emotions, instead of thinking and acting strategically

How often do we sound off? For some of us, we lose our darn minds. There are moments where we can’t quite hold ourselves together; however, that cannot be our response most of the time (see self-healing below). As Arthur Chickering said, we must learn to manage our emotions. If we do not, it serves as more proof that we are not as developed as we would love to think we are. If we are going to do this work, we have to engage strategically with the end in mind. Our response needs to produce the results that we would like to see. Sometimes our response will show up as joy, compromise, understanding, and empathy. Other times, it will show up as frustration, anger, and disappointment. However, every response should have a purpose, which is a fine line between maintaining authenticity. We impede the fight for justice when we act out of thoughtless emotion.

5) Not acknowledging our self-work

We must acknowledge that we are a work in progress; we both challenge the oppressive systems and collude in them simultaneously. At every step, we have to understand that we are not the authority, but facilitators of dynamic conversations. We will often fall short. We are at times engaging from places with tremendous hurt and an abundance of privilege. It makes sense that we have off moments or are flat out missing something because of our privilege. We are not the best at allowing ourselves to be challenged. When we block our self-work, it means that we are no longer growing and we are modeling destructive behavior to others. For example, it is highly problematic to be an expert in gender identity and expression and have no understanding of the intersections of those identities within race and class.

6) Caught in constant surprise that people don’t know what we know – cultivate allies

This issue is something I see all the time, and often participate in: being absolutely blindsided by the amount of knowledge that my peers, students, and even superiors lack in regards to justice and equity. The definition of privilege is unearned, unasked for, and often invisible. If someone is oblivious to injustice, chances are they are blinded by their privilege. We know this, so why are we so surprised and disgusted when it happens? This is the work that we have committed our lives to. We have to develop thicker skins – not to say that we won’t ever be frustrated, shaken up, or even experience immense hurt and pain.  These moments will happen, but this activism is our calling. It is not supposed to be easy. At times, we are supposed to put the cause before ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, self-care is important; however we need to be in rooms and spaces where we are constantly and strategically raising the temperature. Meet students and colleagues where they are and challenge them to be more.

7) Choosing not to challenge family members and elders

This is just a Cody observation, but I noticed that quite a few communities give their elders a pass. We choose not to challenge them or set our expectations of them higher. However, we have absolutely no problem setting colleagues and strangers “straight.” Hypocrite, much? Yes, I understand that our elders may choose not to change, but since when are our conversations about changing minds? We should be about expanding thought and creating new questions, and I think this argument transcends age and authority. This work is hard and emotionally draining; however, we must be vigilant in all areas.

8) Marginalizing the courage it takes to allow your reality to be dismantled

Have you experienced that moment where everything that you thought you knew was ripped out of your hands? Scratch that – not hands, but your heart and soul? Everything that you hold true being constantly challenged and put on display? The way you viewed your family unit? When you discover your mother’s truth was just that: her truth? When your question transitions from who am I, to why am I? We are charged with dismantling the life experiences of many, knocking down the walls of resistance and ignorance, but additionally, moving with care and intentionality. Let’s never forget what we are asking people to do.

9) Refusing to hold multiple truths

How are we creating dynamic change if we do not allow ourselves to fully think through the pros and cons of ideas? How often are we truly weighing the greater good? I love film; watching and analyzing movies is certainly one of my favorite hobbies. Actors amaze me. Their gift can be mystically transformative, but I can hold multiple truths. Whoopi Goldberg is great in Ghost, and deserved an Oscar for her acting; however, if you broke down her character, you would see that it is a glorified Mammy caricature. Julia Roberts is absolutely charming in Pretty Woman, but is also led and dominated by the gender role that is “man.” Teach for America provides an experience where the privileged have an opportunity to engage oppressed communities. Many of these students will be policy makers and fall into influential positions. However, it also promotes the idea of the white savior (oops). We have to be able to engage multiple truths in order to move forward strategically. 

10) Challenging others to heal by “erasing their pain”

Stop! Please phrase this action differently. At times, we say this phrase to others as if they should forget their pain and move on. I’m certain that this is not our intent; however, on many occasions, it is the impact. We are effectively marginalizing their experiences. What I think we really want to encourage is exploring that pain – understanding the origins and the emotions in the now, and then figure out how to manage the pain and use it strategically for fuel to both continue the work, and grow in perspective.

 

This list is not exhaustive of behaviors, or meant to be a list that everyone agrees with. My hope is that it starts a much-needed conversation between educators. I think we have a lot of room to grow, and can do a better job of holding each other accountable. As social justice educators, we have all agreed to continue, to critique, and explore the problematic ways in which we show up into spaces. This post is to help start that conversation, and perhaps explore self-work practices. 

“If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”

― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

Cody Charles currently serves as an Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Kansas. During his time at KU, he has led diversity and social justice trainings for much of the campus community, including student athletes, student executive boards, staff, faculty, and high school students. Cody was recognized by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) as the Outstanding New Professional in Residence Life in 2008. One of his life goals is to travel the country lecturing on topics of social justice and leadership. You can connect with Cody on Twitter: @_codykeith_ or at consultcody.com.

Note: a version of this piece first appeared on Thought Catalog here