Follow up to Resiliency…

first off I can’t tell you how much more I can get done on the bus. Why would anyone drive in this town?! #GoMetro. Ok, now that I got that out of my system….

When I speak of resilience, how to build students up socially and emotionally enough to bounce back from the inevitable life knock downs that get us all on the ropes but really do students of color wrong in a way you can’t understand unless you lived some of that life of a young person of color, I am really thinking about resistance. This is a theme I try and draw it in my history class, one of 5 (power, resistance, change, perspective, choice.) All of these are what I’ve termed the hand of history, the things that move time and space for humans. Resilience, part of it at least, is to fight back the forces of domination. To speak back a counter narrative, your own story and lived experiences, to the dominant tales and myths we tell ourselves about the world and others. How do you empower students to critically understand their own life and take control back of their story?

The new Kendrick Lamar album couldn’t be more parallel to the themes I’ve been pondering here. Hip hop has always served to assist people of color in this form of resistance. Institutionalized, Alright, and Hood Politics are some of the tracks that voice the pain and the resolve to overcome the systemic push down and push out of young people of color from certain communities.  Throughout the whole album, Kendrick talks openly and honestly about struggles of leaving the “hood” and “making it” only to come back and find “answers” about how to resist in the face of “apartheid” and “war.”   

What makes me so stoked about this album is it’s instructive nature. Stating outright that 

Made me want to go back to the city and tell the homies what I learned… Respect. 

I would also that Kendrick learned the art of resilience through his art form: hip hop. That’s why I LOVE hip hop. #GoHipHop 

Now that I got that out of my system… Time to go teach. 

Building resiliency

After two consecutive days of college campus field trips, the last episode of This American Life really resonated with me. Watching my students negotiate their way around UC Riverside and CalState Los Angeles, I was reminded of the importance of not exposing students from inner city and working class backgrounds to the often overly liberating lifestyles that college campuses provide to varying degrees, but also about the importance of building up their resiliency. 

Every morning on the announcements, our student body representatives end their daily sharings with a reminder to be (intelligent, respectful, dignified, empowered, resilient) one of our 5 school wide norms.  The last one is my favorite. Listening to the stories of Melanie, Racquel, and Jonathan reminded me that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to building a replacement for the school to prison pipeline. I’ve talked to colleagues and school board members about the importance of changing the paradigm from a k-12 mentality to one that embraces the concept of k-16. 

I’ve thought at great length around the complexities of addressing the high school drop out crisis, and then juxtaposing that against the even more alarming statistics around college drop outs. Im currently attempting to address this through things like college planning, exposure, innovative curriculum, and what not.  What this story reminds me of is the importance of social and emotional intelligence and skills development. Things like resiliency are so important in this context, the real question becomes how are we preparing our students to be resilient in the face of institutional and internalized systems of oppression? 

I will continue to ask this question with my colleagues and with my students.  I will continue to expose students to college as well as help them prepare (resumes, personal statements, understand financial aide, etc.) for it. And I will continue to share stories like mine and those in this episode, so that my students can create their own stories… Ones shaped more by resiliency and resistance to narratives of domination, predestined realities, and inequality. And in the meantime I will rely on my students’ reflections and smiles to let me know we are on the right track. 

the Struggle is real…

and it begins early in life. even as early as your 4th birthday. Nilou received a very nice gift from her good friend at school. it was a book about the U.S. presidents. her friend was really into the presidents and geography after transitioning out of a well developed fascination with chemistry. so for her birthday he gifted her this book to share in his enthusiastic fascination with this topic.

one night last year we were sitting down and reading it before bedtime. Nilou was flipping through it rather quickly, despite her typical approach to examine every picture and word on the page in order to perfect her reading (which is also starting to boggle my mind.) i knew right away what she was looking for but that didn’t stop me from inquiring.

she said, “i’m looking for the girl presidents.”

being a history teacher with a certain conviction towards examining historical and present day truths i had to tell her.

“i don’t think you are going to find any women presidents in that book.”
“why not?” she innocently asked.
“because there hasn’t been any girl presidents yet.”

i held my breath. this is one of the many nightmare scenarios that befall a father who is ever so slightly aware of the entirely different world his little girls grow up in. the fear of cracking the globe of amaze and wonderment that i have seen her look at the world with, it paralyzed me.

that silly Izzy, giving me a book with no girl presidents!” –

she laughed. and i did too. it was all i could do at that moment of innocent and naive cuteness.

these past few months both of my daughters, Nilou and Melody have been into super heroes, having uncovered this book about some of my favorite Marvel comic book heroes. although i didn’t buy this book (i did buy some of the little figurings though) i was all about supporting it. as we were, both my wife and i, supportive Nilou’s choice to be a super hero family for Halloween, body imaging issues aside momentarily. i want them to know that women can be ANYTHING that men can be… presidents, super heroes, anything.

to further nurture this, i decided to allow them to watch me play Marvel Champions on my phone, not something i usually do but i wanted to show them (and maybe myself) that girls can be into this type of game. i purposefully played my strongest female character, Gamora. i am amused and happy to report that Gamora is now a household name here at the Gomez ranch. as they watched me play, they were able to identify with this strong fictional female character. this is not something we haven’t done before. rather just another medium to digest the ever increasing media bombardment, a medium that we as parents can still exercise some control over.

towards the end i randomly faced Ronan, the accuser (fans will recognize the fortuitous nature of this pick)… and immediately Nilou decided he was a little too scary for her to continue watching our wrestling battle. i respected her decision… and yet continued to play. he proved a tough opponent, though i (or Gmora rather) emerged victorious, Nilou did peek every once in awhile during the battle. she grew distraught, until the end she pouted angrily and said:

“i’m just so mad that the boys always win!”

terrified, i immediately stopped playing with my phone and had what i’m sure will be one of many talks. no matter how reflective and encouraging i can be as a father, a teacher… the fact is we still live in a world where girls are raped daily, women aren’t paid as equals, and where you have to be a super hero if you want to be a woman who continues to wake up every morning despite (or maybe in spite of) the oppressive realities, knowing that you will fight today… in order to change tomorrow.

to all the superhero women out there… happy International Women’s Day. I stand with you as a man, in the struggle.

International Women's Day