The historic teacher strike ended yesterday as the Union and the District reached a tentative contract agreement that was later ratified by teachers And although not every teacher who participated in the strike voted to ratify this agreement (as evidenced by their outrage in the comments section of the live-streaming of press conferences announcing next steps) here are some reasons that teachers should hold their heads up high.
1. Teachers effectively organized one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world to speak with one voice and therefor exercised REAL power. If we were to take Eric Lui’s definition of power (in the awesome video below) then we can see this strike as proof of concept that numbers matter. And therefore the multiyear effort the UTLA engaged was able to pay off in this regard. Thousands of parents and community members were empowered by these organizing efforts and may very well continue to play important roles in bettering and protecting our public educational system.
2. The union was able to limit the power of the district. This is no small feat. And not all teachers may agree or even understand how this was accomplished. For even though reduction of class sizes by numbers, to many, was not sufficient (or they expected more), the reality moving forward ends the power of the district to arbitrarily raise them again should they feel the need arise in the future. This is now codified in language requiring this to be negotiated in the future with teachers.
3. Raising the conversation while raising spirits. This I feel cannot be overstated. When the national dialogue around HUGE issues has all but died (see state of the government shut down among other things) this strike galvanized not just the LA community but the nation as well around articulating and supporting shared values and even definitions of public education. It was also able to bring other decision makers into the fold to contribute to the dialogue, demonstrating that even in the face of massive disagreement (and even a lack of trust and goodwill) that civil public discourse can continue as long as the power of the people are pressuring it so.
This last point is probably one that some might contest. For already there are those who feel that the strike was not worth the deal it got out. And while it is unusual to see in a tentative contractual labor agreement “vows” to work together to garner political will and policy action, the way that this all played out cannot be dismissed as insignificant. Teachers were never going to get everything they demanded in this round of negotiations. What they did get was a national recognition and reminder of the power of collective voice to disrupt and begin to change the system. In this lesson, we can come to understand that the teachers never really stopped teaching; the question is will the rest of us remember these important lessons?
The last week has been a mix of emotion for me as I watch scenes pour in from the historic teacher work stoppage on my various modes of connected technologies. And while the real distance of time and space has at times brought on a strange sense of melancholy fomo, the overwhelming emotion that has informed my work this week has been one of pure pride and optimism. The text messages, tweets, IG stories, and at times even our media outlets have helped to communicate what is at the heart of this strike and a larger movement; community. Contrary to how many outside the Los Angeles educator community may see and understand this “sudden” demonstration of collective power across the city, this has been the culmination of years of hard work and fighting.
And while a part of me wishes this moment had happened in 2009 before we laid off thousands of young and talented teachers in the district and across the state, it is quite clear looking back from this moment that we were not ready. What we are witnessing right now from the teachers, students, parents, and community members that have showed up in force across the entire expanse of the urban and suburbanscape of Los Angeles is revelation that community organizing works and that it is absolutely vital to the progress of any movement towards equity and justice. Despite the conversations I have had with folks close to me who continue to insist that this strike is not the answer, to me and many others it is clear that the strike is the way to get people talking about the real problems; and eventually answers. I am also of the school of thought that not everything worth learning has to be or even can be learned in school. With all the renewed buzz for civics education, one would be remiss in dismissing the power of learning about social movements by being an actual part of one, by having your voice heard alongside of tens of thousands of other voices all saying the same thing. This is something that cannot be replicated within a classroom, despite many educators’ efforts to critically think through how to authentically engage our students’ voice.
Striking is not sustainable, but an organized disruption to a corrupt and broken system is essential to get towards a more sustainable and equitable solutions finding process. And we can see that this is already happened. Not only are both parties back at the bargaining table, but this has sparked statewide and national conversations about how we fund and fundamentally see public education with the context of our democracy; which like others around the world is currently being tested to see whether or not it will survive the onslaught of right wing populism and corporatization.
As this next week begins I continue to look forward to seeing the outpouring of support that educators have galvanized nationally from this strike. I also hope folks continue this support and dialogue beyond the inevitable end date of the strike. For it is only through this continual organizing work that we will begin to break through the realities of structural racism and the inequality of its legacy in education.
My mind and soul feel like they are on fire right now. This summer has been an interesting and fresh balancing act of attempting to disconnect and focus on quality time spent with my family and friends, while simultaneously struggling to stay focused and motivated to confront all of the realities of tragedy and despair that have become (or maybe more accurately have always been) “las noticias de hoy.” It has been surreal and at times I have felt the despair set in. Every time I feel this happening, I have to grab hold of something, a book, podcast, television show or documentary, album, ANYTHING that can jar my mind back into accepting the reality that the world is a beautifully harsh place, that can indeed be transformed through collective effort, into a more just and peaceful planet. In trying to continue to be a student of life and all of its instructive stories, I have found it difficult to force reflection on some of these more difficult realities. Yet I know that this is absolutely necessary for true understanding of what the hell is actually happening. And so this is my attempt at a reflective synthesis.
In preparing for the upcoming fall semester at CSUMB, I have been reading Antonia Darder’s The Student’s Guide to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In redesigning my class for novice teachers to be able to rise to the occasion that, now perhaps more than ever, demands we teach for “liberation” and not merely for content mastery, I chose to use this text to help unpack Freire’s original influential text. It is here that I have been prompted to think more deeply about what a liberatory and critical pedagogy actually mean. Reminding myself of the necessity for time set aside for direct and intentional theorizing and abstraction, but never sacrificing action. It is serendipitous that the new History and Social Science framework is intentionally focused on “civic action.” Never mind that many history and social studies teachers are not yet fully aware of what this actually means for their classroom instruction, the architecture is now there to spark an authentic dialogue (which is another fundamental aspect of Freire’s text) amongst teachers who are in the position to have tremendous impact on the patterns of thought and eventual action of many young people. On this note, I have been simultaneously excited and nervous to begin my new job as a curriculum specialist, which will help experienced and veteran (some expert) teachers collectively consider the implications for a type of instructive pedagogy that has civic action at its foundation, in particular at this moment in history. This text also reviews the history of many schools of philosophical thought and more importantly the historical context of authoritarianism, which is as stark a reminder of our current national and global epoch.
Aside from professional reading and pondering, I have been personally immersed in stories of the day that force the full act of humanity, that is to say I have been intentionally reading, watching, and listening to things that recognize and acknowledge the human suffering of our brothers and sisters all the world over. It is not always easy to stare into the eyes of human suffering, but I know it to be necessary if I truly want to be part of movements designed to lessen and eventually end such oppression. Enrique’s Journeyhas been an emotional slog for me. In the context of the mass separation of migrant children from the parents, this powerful narrative ha also harkened me back to the stories of so many of my students, undocumented minors both in Los Angeles and here in Salinas, who’s own journey’s were comprised of similar trials of tragedy. It also reminded me of many parents I have had the honor to work with, attempting to repair the often strained relationships between themselves and their children.
The Intercepted podcasthas been a summer staple, providing much needed journalistic context for the litany of crazy that is our current events. Two episodes that have had a lasting impression on me this summer have been these two. The show is unapologetic in its “speaking truth to power” style but what I appreciate even more is their journalistic commitment to contextualizing the stories of today through factual history, with a depth necessary for authentic understanding. Also appreciated is the hopeful chord always struck by interviews with activists and resisters. It has been on of my “go to” podcasts since the election.
Despite my steady summer media diet, which has also deviated into the realm of indulging pure entertainment in my attempt to not go insane, it was last night’s episode of Treme that really “struck a chord” in my soul. I have waited until this summer to watch this series from the beginning, knowing full well that I missed the metaphorical train on this. Truth is, I have not been ready until now. I remember the summer Katrina hit. I stood in disbelief as the events unfolded, the human callous out doing Mother Nature’s stormy onslaught. I remember feeling petrified, afraid of how I was reduced to a mere spectator from afar, gazing daily at the suffering of mainly black residents of New Orleans and the blatant disregard of our government. This feeling could not stand, so I along with my friend Daye and my future wife, signed up for a “disaster relief” course from the Red Cross. We were prepared to go to New Orleans and help in any way we could. In retrospect, relying on an institution to grant us “permission” and “training” to go help our brothers and sisters was unnecessary and ultimately futile, for it was not to be. The Red Cross said that there was a diminishing need for relief workers, as so many folks around the country had already been actively engaged and sent down to New Orleans. Historical hindsight being what it is, I never felt quite ready to see the deliberate destruction and designed despair that was to be the “re-building” of New Orleans. The neighborhoods left to rot while others were rebuilt. The closing and “charterization” of the entire public school system. I guess I was only ready to see this story dramatized on screen after the sobering reality of yet another disaster, Hurricane Maria, instructed me as student of history… this is the way of our world right now.
That is of course, unless we are called to action. And this is I guess the main struggle of my summer. The continuing questioning of action. What can I be doing? Am I doing enough? There is no one answer. On any given day, at any given moment the answer, for me at least, can change from the negative to the affirmative. These are often questions of focus. As someone who often lacks focus, who wants to pretend to concentrate on everything, I have had to remind myself of a previously stated intentionality of focus at this time in my life: family. My wife is my daily reminder of the importance of parenting to any movement related to social, political, or economic justice. How we raise our children will indeed have impact on our future circumstances. No matter how many times I have marched, or contacted my representatives, or voted… there is nothing as powerful as cultivating the imagination of a child towards empathy and reflection. Reading my daughter’s book is just another reminder that my focus has to be on my children right now. And all of the other things we know we must do to stay vigilant in these times.
This past week during Open House at the Hawk, I helped to organize a community safety meeting that was to take place in our parent and family resource center. Like many initiatives and programs, this was an idea that was thought of and organized rather last minute, not fully leveraging our means to contact or parents and community members. This unfortunate reality of extreme multitasking that is not uncommon for many educators did not stop the event from being held. It did however drastically impact the number of parents that attended the evening’s presentation. As our community partners from Inner City Vision and I sat waiting to see what that number would be, a lone grandmother entered. She sat down and asked with nervous laughter if she could add someone to the list.
These words were written on March 26th of last year. I was going to continue to tell the amazing story of the one person who came to seek out information about child sexual exploitation and commercial trafficking, a very unfortunate reality that impacts the area along the Figueroa corridor that borders Hawkins High. I never got to complete this post before I left Hawkins.
The short of it was, on this night, that lone grandmother came to realize that her granddaughter, a former student of ours, had indeed exhibited every single tell sign of a victim of human sexual trafficking. She shared that her granddaughter had just been home after a year missing. She had come home weary, looking to rest. When grandmother noticed her tattoos, they were covered up and quickly concealed. When the questions of her “significant other” began, this young woman quickly put those lines of inquiry to an end. She was careful not to reveal what we would come to realize a week later in the Parent Center that night… a few days too late. The young woman disappeared again, leaving grandmother and family to wonder one more time.
Earlier this week I received a follow up email to an initial one I had never received. It was a request to assist in identifying and soliciting the participation of career and industry experts who may be available to see student presentations about human trafficking and homelessness, providing them feedback on a panel. This is an annual interdisciplinary project where 9th grade students in the Community Health Advocacy School choose a relevant and timely problem to explore and identify solutions to. This participatory action research project is aptly titled Rebuild Healthy LA. Pause and let that sink in for a minute. Today’s education, in order for it to be “relevant” and “hands on” (buzz terms often bandied about in the educational discourse) needs to ask youth to think through the most heinous of societal problems, how they came to be, and offer real viable solutions. It’s no small feat to dream of a world where a city’s residents can afford basic housing and shelter or where young girls and women can grow up and live safe, not having to fear that their bodies will become a mere object of a gratuitous and violent transactional underground economies.
This is both simultaneously hopeful and tragic, as often is much of the work of educators in inner cities across this country. Despite my not working in South Central Los Angeles any longer, I can never not invest in the hopeful side of the equation. So I reached out to my contacts I had cultivated around these tragic realities. Folks who had helped me think through appropriate interventions for young people caught up in gang life and consequential violence and trafficking. The same folks who helped organize my open house workshop a year ago. They responded immediately, more than willing to take another opportunity to engage young people in this most important work. It warmed my heart very much to see the unwavering commitment to the community these professionals have, and how they volunteered without hesitation to help cultivate the same in our young hawks.
A day later, yesterday I received a text from one of these professionals who had personally taken on the case of our young woman. The same woman who had helped me reach this grandmother that night at the school. We had kept in touch about the progress on her case. At one point she had been found and rescued. Awaiting programming for counseling and recovery, she had left again… reentering the trafficking world, were the cycle of violence is incredibly hard to escape. Yesterday’s text messages further helped me to know how this student’s story had developed. Below is an edited version of the text exchange with pertinent information redacted to ensure the safety and future recovery of said student.
This exchange continued and reminded me again that the world works in mysterious but often very encouraging ways. In meeting one person on one night, and connecting them with another, a path has opened up for one young girl to try and work towards hope. If there is such a thing as salvation, in my mind the closest thing we can do to achieve true understanding of it is to work together relentlessly in the name of hope.
In East Salinas, where I currently teach, human trafficking of young people and girls in particular, is indeed a problem. It is this reality that I am cautious about educating my young middle school students about, for fear of ending the last phase of childhood innocence. Yet it is the same reality that concerns me when students, like the one I wrote about in my last post, choose paths that increase the possibilities of tragedies like this. And yet we must remind ourselves at all costs that there is hope. Always.
As the unfortunate reality of media hype and the 24 hour news cycle wears on, and our social media feeds replace the inspirational millions of young people and allies who marched this past weekend with the latest, dumbest distraction, and destruction out of the White House, I think it important to understand the not so glamorous part of sustaining a movement that happens behind the scenes… often without any media attention. The young people of Parkland and their allies, like the young people of Ferguson before them, have shown how their relentless energy can indeed be focused as well as disciplined. The burning question for movements is always one of sustainability. Can this energy continue to be focused towards true transformation of the status quo? If so, what will it take to ensure this?
One local lesson that I am continually inspired by is the work of Safe Ag Safe Schools (SASS). As I continue to deepen my involvement with this energized organization and their campaign to reform and ultimately end pesticide use in and around our schools and communities, I gain better understanding of how to move these demands through the local landscape of bureaucracy. One recent example is this recent school board resolution unanimously adopted by Greenfield Union School District. School board meetings and the resolutions that the public often force from them are a familiar battleground to my experience organizing youth. It is here where the people with power to most directly affect our realities as teachers and students can be confronted.
In working with SASS, I have also come to realize that the local work they have been doing has far reaching implications. If communities can continue to organize and put in place policies, resolutions, strong advisory boards, and even politicians committed to people rather than corporations… we can wield a power as great if not greater than those of the elite one percent that are indeed themselves organizing an all out assault on everything from the environment, to health care, education, Veteran’s affairs, and of course… militarized warfare.
Like the youth that galvanize these movements, adult allies need to utilize our ability to navigate these systems of power to help clear the way for our youth. We need to be as vocal as they are in our own arenas, as parents, professionals, and caring community members. Together we can help sustain our young people as they prepare to gear up for the fights ahead.
I cannot describe how angry I am that our country, supposedly the “greatest on Earth” does not have the courage to stare into the depths of our individual and collective identities and sort out between the two where our obsession with gun culture will end and our real committment to nurturing our future generations will begin. To come home yesterday, after teaching and learning with 140 plus young bright minds, and listen on the drive home yet another narrative of horror, tragedy and loss really just eats at one’s spirit. Feeling simultaneously fearful and blessed that I had the opportunity to embrace my children upon arriving home from my place of work, a school… is something that I can never let myself take for granted.
After the last school shooting that was covered in the media, (at a school site where three of my friends and former colleagues worked) I had the opportunity to attend “live shooter” training. This training was conducted by ALICE. And although I can understand and even appreciate to a certain level the intent and ideas behind having such a training, a question still persists like a question in my mind. Why must there be professional training for educators on how to survive mass shootings at school sites? Those who would answer with the response that these are just the times we live in, while correct in this assertion should know better. This is not an adequate response. Everyone should know better. We are the nation that pats ourselves on the back for so many things, putting humankind into outer space, advancing democracy and freedom around the globe, and yet for all of our “achievements” however based in reality they may or may not be, we can’t figure out how to have a real conversation about how to protect the sanctity of real children in sacred spaces of learning? Or is there nowhere and nothing that is scared anymore? We unfortunately know the answer to this.
Nevermind protecting the sanctity of unborn life… for God’s sake! What are we doing to cherish and protect the lives of our children as we teach them how to build a better future? We are normalizing trainings for the adults who care for them in these spaces that teach folks like me how to barricade doors with belts and desks, how to engage in potential counter measures to an active shooter, and how to evacuate without getting shot… if possible.
And while I appreciate a training in research based survival tactics… I am not at all ok with the notion that just because this is a reality, that this is in any way, shape, or form… right. We can do better. We have to do better. For our damned children. My heart and thoughts go out to all those who have ever been affected by the violence of a mass shooting. I pray that we will have the common sense, courage, and strength to begin to envision a better world where this does not happen with the frequency that delegates tragedy to normalcy.
Yesterday morning’s #superbluebloodmoon was awe-inspiring for those of you up early enough on the west coast to witness this celestial event. I felt blessed to have this otherworldly scene greet me first thing as I opened my front door at a quarter to six. As I pulled up to the gym parking lot, a little later than I would’ve liked, I was compelled to suspend my routine (albeit it very new… as in 2 weeks new) start time. I sat in the back of my car, just staring at the eclipsed moon, in all its darkened red glory. I felt a little silly as people passed by me, some already having been productive in their personal fitness and some rushing towards whatever physical health goals they had previously established, while I sat dressed to work out and instead gazed at the sky. The shyness quickly turned into shock and then sadness. One person saw me gazing and stopped just long enough to ask me. “What is this all about?” I responded as a matter of fact, but this seemingly innocent inquiry really got me thinking about the crisis of our modern relationship with our surroundings.
No doubt living back in the Monterey Bay region has reawakened a sort of environmentalism that has been lying semi-dormant for a long while. This is after all the area where I put my finger on the brand of educational and spiritual training I felt most drawn to. I have also been prompted reexamine what exactly I mean when I say “environmentalism” by some pretty profound writings of Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain fame. His collection of essays entitled Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essayshas been helping me survive the massive onslaught of “bad” news in the past year. But in reality its been several years if not decades since the roots of extreme global capitalism have taken shape, forming a type of global consciousness (or lack thereof) devoid of any true connection to land and environment. This is what became clearer to me early Wednesday morning. How could anyone witnessing this eerie celestial event not pause to question and reassess their position in the “grand scheme” of things? Even if only for a moment, a break in one’s gait long enough to view the sky through eyes of wonder. How would our ancient human ancestors have viewed this gigantic blood-red sphere, hovering above, so differently than every other day? How would they have rearranged the sublunary events of their day to accept a larger, profound, and more universal one?
I wondered about this and other questions as I stared into the early morning sky. I also took a few pictures, with the intent of sharing. I soon laughed at the silliness of this, not the instinct to share this with others like friends and family whom I texted despite the hour to see if they were fortunate enough to be awake and experience this, but the absurdity of trying to ‘capture’ this amazing image with my phone camera. I walked away in awe and also distress.
Admittedly I have not been the best optimist of late. I have real concerns about the state of just about everything in the world. From the state of our own nation, to geopolitical realities that are unfolding, humanitarian crises, and the ever-growing threat of nuclear war. But at the center of my pessimism is the absolute realization that we are not, by and large, not making this world a better place. And I don’t just mean for people. There are many who would argue, even quite successfully that we have. I mean making the world better for all life. And I think there are also just as many (hopefully more) that could counter the argument of unlimited growth and progress leading to better qualities of life by recognizing that those processes that we engage in the name of progress are actually the main drivers of death.
And it is not that death is necessarily supposed to lead to pessimism. We all are supposed to die. All life leads naturally to death. It is the obsession with staving off the natural declines and deaths of everything in favor of a false philosophy of infinite growth and wealth that eats at my soul daily. Knowing that this philosophy drives most everyone in the modern world, including myself to live in ways that are murderous to everything that is actually sustaining to our lives. And the cognitive dissonance is so real, that it has taken those of us who feel a drive to “save” our planet from the unnatural destruction of our own making to a place where we are dependant on the human solutions of technology and innovation, the ironic drivers of this destruction. Kingsnorth pulls at this idea throughout his entire book of essays but utilizes the soul-stirring words of mystic poet Rumi to really drive home a much-needed paradigm shift.
“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion; bewilderment is intuition.” – Rumi
In my attempts to heed this advice and combat this pessimism before it devolves into permanent paralysis and inaction, I have recommitted to some key principles in my life. The first is to get out in nature and be a part of it. This has developed into a sacred and spiritual Sunday outing where our family explores the wonders of the wild and untamed world, recognizing our very small but important place in it. This may even turn into a more disciplined practice of something I used to enjoy many hours of in my youth, nature journaling. My wife recently stumbled upon this dandy of an idea, suggesting that we even consider taking his class as a family!
The second thing I have dedicated energy and time to is involving myself with a local organization working on a very important social and environmental issue, specifically in our local region. Salinas being the salad bowl of the world, industrial agriculture has bestowed both the blessings and the curses of mass food production. Pesticide use as a “reasonable” byproduct has long been questioned and challenged in the region, as far back as Cesar Chavez’s work with the UFW. It still is today. A local community organization called Safe Ag Safe Schools, a part of Californians for Pesticide Reform, is leading the charge to help change regulatory policy of pesticide use near and around schools. After attending one meeting, I was energized to continue to deepen my involvement with this dedicated group of people. From banning chlorpyrifos to eliminating the use of Round Up on school campuses, there is still so much work to be done with regards to challenging the ill and often catastrophic impact of our modern-day food systems.
These are the things that have helped me to begin reintegrating my spirit into this land again. That and being able to spend more time with family and friends. And even though there are many moments where things feel hopeless and strange, there are still many more moments to embrace the grandeur of where we are and what is actually possible… when one invests in bewilderment.
Go figure… So I’ll admit that the two previous years I spent out of the k-12 classroom saw certain instructional skill sets accumulate some rust. In particular my abilities and propensity for fostering an environment of creativity and imagination have been largely overshadowed this year by an intense focus on all things reading and writing academic. Of course this is not all bad, we had a killer Socratic Seminar discussion on Islamic extremism and immigration policy… but it is not necessarily as good as I want it to be. So this week I took some inspiration from the DBQ project and began preparing my students to write their first historical fictional narratives.
Although nothing fancy about it, no groundbreaking gaming technology or social media implications (though I was really hoping that storium.edu was up and running already) the mere act of dreaming up their own character fostered such animated and lively discussion that I felt the slightest bit of guilt for not having yet attempted more creative assignments like this.
This was not a groundbreaking realization admittedly. History teachers are taught that strategies like role plays and first hand experiences help students to internalize some of history’s lessons. This was more of a wake up call to not to forget to have fun and create with students while they are “studying.”
In the lead up to this lesson on West Africa, I took the advice of a colleague of mine and created a scenario based lesson where students were treated like special agents. Recycling some of my old IG posts of my time in Washington D.C. visiting the DOE, I momentarily convinced many students that they were indeed helping the government to determine whether we should use federal gold to purchase unidentified substance (salt). It was another fun reminder of the power of imagination and play in unlocking avenues for academic and real life inquiry.
The best part of this has been reading the amazing stories the student came up with. Some of these kids already have real talent in writing. They were able to create emotionally complex characters and connect them to both the history and me, the reader. This is definitely something I want to do again.
Around this time of year, usually I would be preparing to teach a Critical Media Literacy class with Jeff Share at UCLA. The class aims to get teachers to think through helping students (and increasingly adults) critically think about our media consumption/production. As I most likely will not be teaching the course this year, my appetite for all things critical media literacy has been grumbling. Despite that feeling of confused hopelessness that many of us feel these days in the “post truth” era, I am very excited to continue helping others around me think deeply about the corporatized media landscape and its impact on our daily lives, in particular as learners in classroom settings.
Having found some colleagues in Salinas who share this interest and passion, I am in the beginning stages of thinking through professional development for teachers. Recently inspired by our district’s tech showcase conference out on by teachers for teachers, the ideas began to flow. This recent NPR story further serves to drive the point, what many of us have been actively trying to impact for years as classroom instructors.
I am excited to continue dialogue that seeks to deepen our understanding of some of society’s most salient features today; search engines, online media, schooling, and the ability to discern fact from fiction. Educators, how do you use media in the classroom and how do you get students to think critically about it and evaluate its authenticity and reliability? Parents, how do you help your children think through what they are consuming and producing for the web? (note the strategic invite to leave a comment below and interact with this blog 😉
I do not want to spend my time writing about our nation’s current leader. I feel that our first year under his presidency was dominmated by an endless cycle of comsumption of the most ridiculous, abusrd, offensive, and flat out scary stories that I and many others have read about in recent memory. This morning’s addition to this never ending stream of assaults on humanity and the earth disguised as tweets struck me in a way that I felt the need to reflect and write on.
I got the chance to catch up with an old friend, who was going to take her sons to the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico this past weekend. As I was responding to her instagram post of success in the underground caves with kids, my phone was alerted of this story. I found it a sobering and sad juxtaposition of child/adult realities of our complex world.
These tensions and complexities are my trade as a history and geography teacher. It is my aim to help future generations identify and understand not only the broad themes of history covered in my classes such as power, conflict, and change but I also strive to have opportunities for students to deeply explore the details and nuances contained in everyday narratives. It is ideal when I can coax students into believing their own personal stories are worthy enough to bring into classrooms as authentic academic explorations. Yet in taking this approach to educating young people, it is often challenging to seperate the personal from the academic. Especially when national and global stories have direct implications on not only student populations that I have taught in the past… but real human beings whom I’ve developed relationships with.
Today’s episode of The Daily Podcast struck such a chord (defintely worth the 22 minute listen as it is on most days). As I drove tp work and listened, I couldn’t help but thinking of the many Salvadorian students that had an impact on me over the years, their families, and their now uncertain futures. It was upsetting to be reminded of the all too real history that I of course know and try to illuminate for student when I can in classes where America’s history and policy in Latin America presents itself as a focus. What was harder was to visualize the students whom I’ve known in my career who have been or were actively trying to be a part of MS-13 or who’s journies out of their war torn country was unimaginably terrifying and traumatic.
And although these realities have always been there… it is just slightly more demoralizing and difficult when you realize that our “leader” is purposefully disrupting people’s lives just because he can. Because he feels threatened and invulnerable all at the same time, byproducts perhaps of his sick conception of what it means to be both stable and a genius. Or perhaps this is just a newer version of what has always been a brand of American politics and culture. Either way it weighs heavily on the mind and soul.
The question for this year, and most likely for many years to come is: what to do about it? How will we sustain in the face of contiued callous attacks on humanity? One thing that continues to provide me strength is recognizing the seemingly infinite resilience of those who are under attack and continue to fight. Young people who find ways to grow despite the situations that would dictate otherwise. Though I think it is somewhat dangerous to disregard the realities and history of systemic oppression and inequality; I do think that the following tweet by Neil Degrasse Tyson is worth serious consideration… as are the commentary of responses lol.
Studying those who succeed in spite of broken childhoods might be more illuminating than studying those who don’t succeed because of them.