Nelson Mandela: A Leader in Social Justice

One person can change the world.

I feel that I cannot write an entire post on the life of Nelson Mandela — to do so would not be enough. That, and I am not enlightened to his entire life’s work. I have no words for the impact this man had on the world. He is the embodiment of the fight for social justice, and therefore deserves a tribute in a blog for social justice. I am thankful for his continued impact on our history, and feel that the best way to honor him is to post some encouragement for us, as aspiring activists, in hopes that we follow suit.

With that said, his life was controversial. I understand that. However, no one can deny the positive impact he had on our world.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.

Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.

Ukrainian Rioters’ Fight for Social Justice

Big things are happening in Ukraine right now — things that mirror the stories we read in our favorite dystopian novels. It is easy to read books like 1984 or The Hunger Games and think that kind of oppression could never take place, but when I opened The New York Times this morning, my ignorance was stripped away (again), as I am reminded that oppressive governments exist, even today. Here are a few news reels discussing the riots in Ukraine:

General Overview:

Recent Update:

As I watch updates streaming from multiple news stations, I am reminded of what heroism looks like. It is not always jumping out of a building to save a child or throwing oneself in front of a bullet. Sometimes it is standing up for justice, even when the odds are not in your favor. These riots started November 22, the same day the second installment of The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, premiered in theatres. Though a mere coincidence, I cannot help but find connections between the two events.

Here are two images from Catching Fire (possible spoilers ahead, but nothing you wouldn’t get from a movie trailer):

In both of these images (taken from the film, Catching Fire), one can see the tension rising in the districts. These people, oppressed by a corrupt government, found hope in Katniss Everdeen’s bravery. This story, though, is fiction — yet, these images look very similar to what is happening in Ukraine:

Though a stretch, it is becoming clear — at least, to me — that the nightmares found in dystopian literature are not always fictional. However, people are strong when they want to be, and these rioters demonstrate their strength in fighting for social justice, giving us inspiration to fight against oppression in our own towns.

For more information on these riots:

Ukrainians call for Yanukovych to resign in protests sparked by EU u-turn

Ukrainians back in street to support EU accord

Video of police brutality in Kiev fuels rage

Thousands demand resignation of Ukraine leader

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!