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.

 

 

 

TSJ in EdConteXts: International Network of Educators

I am pleased to share that Teaching Social Justice was mentioned in EdConteXts, with a special nod to two posts: Living in a Patriarchal Society and our first guest post, Marianne Snow on Duncan Tonatiuh’s Separate Is Never Equal. Check out Bali’s (2014) post here: Context Matters — views from around the world.

Our TSJ community is growing, and I could not be happier. Here is a preview into what’s coming later this week:

  • TSJ’s second guest post is by Cody Charles, and will be available tomorrow afternoon.
  • A counterargument to one of TSJ’s recent discussions about Weird Al Yankovic’s “Word Crimes” will appear later this week.

TSJ is still looking for contributors. If you are interested in writing for Teaching Social Justice, email your idea to teachsocialjustice@gmail.com.

 

Teaching Social Justice UPGRADE (a message from the moderator)

importantI normally wouldn’t do this — insert myself into TSJ, [briefly] making it seem more like a personal blog instead of a professional one — however, I have a message for my audience, and I want it coming from me and not some absent, faraway being: Teaching Social Justice is getting an upgrade.

When I started this blog, I did so with the intention of helping others as well as myself stay on top of appropriate teaching materials and practices for a social justice-minded classroom. I wanted to include posts relevant to those in education as well as those interested in social justice issues. However, as blogs often do, TSJ took on a mind of its own, branching out into social and political issues relevant not only to our classrooms, but also to much more.

Because of TSJ’s content diversity, I have an incredibly diverse audience. You all have astounded me and I am very thankful for your encouragement over the last nine months. Your comments, tweets, emails, and/or suggestions have been incredibly helpful. This humble blog has already blown up far past my expectations. Therefore, I have decided to upgrade it in order to keep up with all of you. Not only will I be working on a new layout for the site (this will take a while to complete), but I have even better news.

Over the last two (or so) months, I have been working with teachers and researchers in the fields of young adult education, content literacy, children’s literature, and much more in order to schedule my first set of TSJ contributors. I am so excited to share this news with you, as we have some incredible voices joining our team. The first contributing post will appear tomorrow, so get ready — Teaching Social Justice is getting an upgrade.

Thank you,

Jennifer J. Whitley
Teaching Social Justice
teachsocialjustice@gmail.com
@socialjusticeED (Twitter)

NOTE: If you would like to appear as a contributor, please contact me. The more people we have speaking out about social justice issues, the better.

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Living in a patriarchal society: Not “another feminist rant”

Patriarchy” is a touchy subject. It comes up at dinner and its speaker becomes the enemy. It is posted on Facebook, and the poster becomes the attacker. If it’s linked on Reddit, it gets downvoted into oblivion. People scare away from discussing patriarchy because it leads to conversational war — social suicide — — negative Nancy’s, Debbie downers, and the like.

On one hand, we [Westerners] live in a patriarchal society (Note: the purpose of this post is not to argue that we live in a patriarchal society, as I think that is a fact and not “up for argument.” However, if you do, please post below and I’ll write a response). On the other hand, America has progressed since the 1950s. However, just as other -isms persist, evidence of sexism proves we are not living in equal times.

According to a University of Miami study, one’s high school GPA affects his or her income — and women, despite GPA, make significantly less money than men. Here is the chart:

Image

Before anyone gets too worked up, this study was conducted by Michael T. French for Eastern Economic Journal. It was not a study searching for patriarchal data or to back up a feminist ideal. As the chart demonstrates, “the data indicate that overall high school GPA is significantly higher among women, but men have significantly higher annual earnings.” Many other interesting findings arose from this study. For instance, “it demonstrates that African-American men and women attain higher educational levels than white students with the same high school GPA and background characteristics.”

Like any study, not all the details are posted. I do not know which jobs or incomes are compared to one another. Despite this fact, though, the study is yet another piece of the puzzle pointing to our patriarchal system. It explains why I am excited at the prospect of our first female president (we don’t get excited about the fact that a president is a man…unless he is of color). It helps explain why I get excited when a female CEO is named (again: no one ever talks about the gender of a CEO if he is a man). The markings, even, of our language demonstrate patriarchal ideologies.

Please, do everyone a favor (especially yourself), and watch the following video, if you haven’t already. It is a Tedx Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled “We Should All Be Feminists.” She is a brilliant speaker who puts into eloquent words everything else I’d want to say in this post. The video is funny, informative, and interesting — I promise.

A professor of mine once said her favorite definition of feminism was this: “men and women are of equal worth.” I loved that, as it is all, as a feminist, that I could ask for.

 

What are we teaching them? A discussion on standardized testing

As a high school American Literature teacher, this is the time of year I dread — this is End of Course Test (EOCT) season.

I am not worried about my students’ test scores. I am not worried about the material we covered or what my students learned. I am, though, worried about what this season does to them — what it teaches them to value. After all, we did so much more in our classes than what is covered in this 101-page document, a document that claims ownership of our (specifically: Georgia’s) public school curriculum.

Because I believe we are in a state of crisis — in dire need of education reform — I keep up with news on Common Core State Standards, standardized testing, and educational “policy.” Today, I came across an article titled “Mandatory Common Core tests in New York just happen to be full of corporate brand names.” After a moment of speechlessness, I began this blog post by asking myself: what are we teaching them?

What are we teaching students when:

  • 20% of their class grade is based on one multiple-choice test?
  • teachers are encouraged to teach to the test?
  • these tests are given weeks before the end of the course?
  • EOCTs are written using racially-biased, gender-biased, and class-biased language?
  • EOCTs insert brand names into their questions?

There are countless questions racing through my mind, and I cannot ask any one without being accused of being “just another angry teacher who doesn’t want accountability.” I, in fact, encourage accountability and collaboration between educators; however, in my model, standardization does not accountability make. There are better ways to assess students and teachers (portfolios, observations, reflection journals, self-evaluative rubrics, etc.).

To me, the dialogue surrounding standardized education is a type of newspeak. I feel like Winston Smith, understanding the truth behind the buzzwords, but I do not know how to bring that truth to everyone. All I know is: this time of year, I lose some of my teacher soul when I have to utilize precious class time to reiterate the structure of blank verse, to discuss commonly misspelled words, or to encourage students to memorize the steps in the writing process according to our state-mandated EOCT Study Guide.

We are fast-approaching a breaking point in education. I don’t want to be there — and I especially don’t want my students to be there — when education loses its humanity altogether.

Related:

Brand names in NY standardized tests vex parents — more information on the above article

Education Evolution — an cool video calling for a change in “today’s classroom”

Redefining Creativity: Thoughts on Traditional Classrooms

It never fails to surprise me when the same students who tell me how much they hate writing are the ones who scribble poems in the back of the room during “boring” lectures. It never fails to render me speechless when we get to our poetry unit, and the same students who “fail” test after test, essay after essay, turn in beautifully crafted work.

Then, I think back to my high school self: I, too, “hated” reading. I “loathed” writing. I dreaded my boring English lectures. Yet, I kept a yellow three-pronged folder full of creative outlets: poems, stories, letters, doodles — you name it.

Here I am now, more than a decade later, a high school English and Special Education teacher trying to reach my students, wondering why there a disconnect between standards-based learning and creative outlets for our kids.

There is a reason for all the quotation marks, and that reason lies within the traditional approach to teaching, which is grounded in standards-based education. My argument is not that Common Core State Standards do not allow for creative instruction. I believe every teacher holds that right in his or her hands. No, my qualm is with the representation of creativity.

Creative writing — whether through poetry, song writing, or flash fiction — is rarely seen as valuable in Western culture.

I remember my professors in college dubbing English majors (especially us creative writers) the “future unemployed of America.” That didn’t stop me from pursuing my dreams, but creativity does not have to be limited to writing fiction.

Instead, I feel the stigma of not taking creative thought seriously must be removed from the classroom. Moreover, I think creativity should be instilled in our everyday lessons and welcomed from our students.

In order to remove the veil of insuperiority from creative response, teachers must instill creative values in students.

Our lessons should be built upon a foundation of unique inquiry. Acting, freewriting, freestyling and digital literacies should not be foreign to an English Language Arts classroom (or any class, for that matter).

Value is not lost in a lesson about the thematic qualities of To Kill a Mockingbird if we have our students act out lessons learned in the novel just as Jem, Scout and Dill acted out Boo Radley’s life in the Finch’s yard.

Additionally, a poetry slam has just as much value as taking notes on the qualifications of Walt Whitman and his free verse poetry.

If we change how educators view creativity, then students may begin to find their voice through creative means.

How can we expect a student to have full control over their voice and audience in an argumentative essay if we have not allowed them to explore these notions inwardly, through creative and/or multimodal means?

In order to produce quality, scholarly work, students must first test the waters, build their strengths and develop schemas in which to work from.

If we allow students to establish a reservoir of creative outlets, the more difficult tasks set on by Common Core State Standards won’t seem so hard; in fact, maybe these more efferent tasks will become aesthetically pleasing, too, reducing the use of “boring” from the English classroom.

Just a thought.

 

Change is happening.

Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the negativity of -isms and -phobias existing in the world: racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc. However, the more I pay attention to the news, read [your] blogs, and listen to popular music, the more I realize that the world is changing, however slowly. This change is something that needs to be addressed, not only by ourselves, but in our classrooms.

Food for thought:

While at the JoLLE conference last weekend, Dr. Mollie Blackburn discussed how coming out is a form of activism. She is completely right, and we see the courage it takes in this video. One would think it would be easy for someone so famous, beautiful, and talented like Ellen Page to come out, but there is difficulty in her words — pain, even.

Shortly before Page came out at the Human Rights Campaign, Michael Sam shocked the world, aiming to be the first openly gay man playing for the NFL. While there has been a lot of push back against his announcement, it has been received better than expected (at least, in my opinion). Both of these inspirational examples, and their reception, seems to show that America is ready to accept the LGBTQ community — at least, more ready than it has ever been. That gives me hope, even though we still have a long way to go.