All last night as I drifted in and out of sleep, handing my new baby boy to my wife for feeding sessions and changing diapers, I couldn’t get this song out of my head. During one of these sessions I had checked my Twitter feed only to find out the sad news about David Bowie.
One of my all time favorite movies and characters in that movie, Bowie’s talent had presented itself to me early on in my own childhood. Wearing out the VHS cassettes with multiple viewings of Labyrinth, my father would walk by and without fail, every time Bowie was on screen comment out, “there’s Ziggy! Ziggy Stardust!” I would quickly correct him that it was in fact the Goblin King, annoyed that he could not just sit down, shut up, and watch such great art without interrupting.
I didn’t fully understand until I saw the album the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the collection of 8 track tapes and Vinyl of my father’s. Reading the cover and jacket and staring at the pictures of Bowie, I could not imagine why my father, a typical “man’s man” would ever be into something like this. The iconic 70s glam rock and sexual ambiguity juxtaposed to the traditional family oriented version of my dad was definitely confusing. As I grew older and wiser and more accepting of the nuances and complexities that made up my parents as individuals, I appreciated my father’s love for Bowie’s Ziggy, which in time would grow to symbolize my own interpretation of a younger, more open minded and at times rebellious version of the man who had taught me much of what I know. A younger man, who like me had a passion for surfing, music, fun… For people with passion.
Now both of these men are gone, leaving us only with their legacies; the people they helped inspire… The people who’s lives they touched. As the world struggles with yesterday’s loss of Mr. Bowie and I continue to wrestle with the absence of my father while working hard to learn what it means to be a father… There are lessons I am grateful to have learned at the intersection of the lives of these two men.
Identities are complex but always justified
The creativity we have as children is our most precious human resource… And should be treated and protected as such
Creativity necessitates courage
These are lessons that I feel Mr. Bowie (Ziggy) embodied unto his last breath. These are lessons I feel my father believed in becaus of people like Bowie. As I sit with millions today listening to his final album, which I first heard constructing a tree house last week in the backyard for my children, I’m reminded of these lessons. They are lessons I take forward with me into fatherhood, into the classroom, and out into the world. Thank you Mr. Bowie for your courageous creativity. You will not be forgotten.
January 4th 2016 is a day I’ll always remember. It is the day my son was born. Well, technically almost midnight…but the entire day was indeed memorable. Especially the moments leading up to his arrival. More on that later.
I write this post on our last day at the hospital, preparing to take this proverbial little bundle of joy home later today. Bodhi is currently lying on my arm inspiring, as much responsible for the content of this post as me. My attempts to disconnect from the outside world have gone largely unrealized, though not unnoticed as one of my friends and colleagues pointed out in a text checking in that I’d seemed to have been, “conspicuously absent from Facebook.” And while I feel slightly guilty about not being completely detached from technology, I do not feel bad utilizing the power of the written word to reflect on the deep emotional well of feelings I have at this moment.
The third time around is definitely different, harking me to think about the other parenting rodeos I’ve participated in. And while it can seem at times that everyday as a parent can turn into a full on rodeo, everyday has also been a gift that my wife and I recognize and are eternally grateful for.
Yet, like all things in life, there is fear inherent in joy. This time around though, the fears are slightly different. Is it really that surprising though when you finally turn on the radio and news of North Korea’s latest testing of a nuclear weapon is the first outside story that you hear? Or the “storm of the century” that is quickly approaching, but let’s face it… Every storm in Los Angeles is momentarily worthy of such fame. Where does your mind go when the power in the hospital fails and the generators come on? I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to brief visions of a zombie apocalypse, but even closer to home my mind wanders to past hospital stays with my first child. Those days were hit by storms as well.
As the rest of my city braces for the worst, floods, mudslides, and possible death… I must embrace the best… a new Life. Despite or perhaps in spite of the worst parents must embrace the best for the children. No matter the crisis or chaos, and there are many to be certain, it is towards a more positive outcome we must strive. I had to remind myself and my wife of this as we raced towards the hospital at 90-100 mph the night we delivered. I meditated on this in yoga class just moments earlier, breathing in intention…exhaling hope.
I will not pretend that this world is not full of tragedy and despair. But I will not dwell on these things neither. I can’t. I will continue to as truthfully as I can acknowledge them, like the thoughts that arise during your moments of silence, and continue to move towards clarity in action, always mindful of what my role as an educator, husband, and father will be. This is the world we have created for ourselves. And it is all we can do to stay focused and breathe. Am I scared? Just a little. But I am happy. Welcome home Bodhi. Welcome.
As the whole world reflects on the past year and begins to spew out “best of” and “review” lists for our consumptive pleasure… I figured I too, needed to “contribute” my own perspective on this 21st century practice, which by and large I believe is a worthwhile practice, rewinding the year to review it more closely, slowly, and critically.
Things I have learned or affirmed this year:
Crisis is real
Perhaps it is my lack of comfortability in my new role this year as an intervention coordinator (new age dean.) Or perhaps it is the fact that for the first time in at least 5 years I have completed more than one book, the contents of which reassure me of the above stated lesson. Reading This Changes Everything, The New Jim Crow, and Future Crimes (I am hoping to complete this by year’s end) has definitely raised my affective filter and caused me to think at great length about the role of crisis in our lives and our abilities to respond to such turbulent times.
Whether its the continual attacks on black folks, immigrants, poor people, muslims, public education or the very planetary systems we all rely on… this year has had plenty of examples of crisis. The longer I ponder and postpone this post, the more crisis there is to ladden my writing with depressing hyperlinks that demonstrate how far we have yet to go. From this week’s non-indictments of police officers in the shooting death of Tamir Rice or the alleged “suicide” of Sanda Bland, to the happenings in Chicago… if you are Black in our country, you are in a perpetual state of crisis, 24 hour emergency. A decade into teaching in the Black and Brown community, almost four decades of being brown myself (depending on who you ask… no stop it! ASK ME HOW I IDENTIFY!!!) and I am STILL trying to come to terms with how much crisis and trauma impact my students on the daily. This has to at some point account for the trauma inflicted by the very educational system I am a part of as well, but more on that later.
My students who have only been in this country for a short time, struggle with great challenges both here and back in their home countries. Many of them from El Salvador, where the current gang situation has reached levels of violence reminiscent of the country’s civil war and our own country’s current and perpetual war on Black Folks. Successfully navigating a new culture, language, and educational system while simultaneously coping with news of loved ones murdered or disappeared back home is too much to ask anyone, but particularly misaligned with the developmental capacity of young adolescents. Acting out is common and when one pauses to take perspective, completely understandable. But what is being acted out? The answer is the type of crisis that fills much of my work day; truancy, drugs, gang tagging… a lot of anger. Again though, anger is understandable reaction when your dealing with situations like this:
As I zoom out and think about the international and global geopolitical landscape, the crisis seems to loom more heavily on the horizon… just far enough over the horizon to feel momentarily safe and out of harms way, until tragedies like San Bernardino happen. In the wake of the Paris attacks and San Bernardino, closing schools in my district for a day, the second largest in the nation, is not something I felt like criticizing then or now, but another clear example of crisis feeling globally and impacting locally.
To even give credibility to the notion that there is a climate “debate” at this point would be to betray my own convictions and belief in the environmental movement… and yet, returning to Paris once again, we witnessed leaders from around the world having to try really hard to reach an accord on something one would think should be easy to agree on… saving our one and only planet from irreversible, man made climate catastrophe. Whether that is what happened in Paris remains to be seen, but there was a real moment of crisis (probably several) when many did not think the climate talks were going to produce any positive mention in anyone’s year in review.
And what of education 4 change? I began this blog upon entering the teaching profession, more than 10 years ago… not exactly knowing what a blog was… but knowing that I needed a space to reflect on all the things that happen, all of the goings on that I saw all around me. From the personal to public, I have attempted to consciously think through my experiences in education in a manner that allowed me to continue asking questions of possibility… questions of hope. This year, public school teachers in Los Angeles have had to ask ourselves, “What if half of our district was rapidly converted into charters?” Some folks may feel they have answers to that question, as well as proposals to try and make that actually happen… but aside from possible answers in the form of extreme educational utopias and dystopias, this question begs many others: What would happen to the rest of the schools? Is intense competition the best way to innovate more effective learning for ALL students? How would this impact students and families? What would this mean for teachers? Or the entire LAUSD? One thing is clear, this would be a crisis. Education in Los Angeles would change dramatically… and not necessarily for the better.
And so then what? How do we make things better when we face so many challenges, so much crises?
Resistance is not always transformational, as the above mentioned defiance, vandalism, and drug use of some of my students can attest to… and yet there are moments when we are fortunate enough to witness the awakening of young person to a calling, their calling. When a young person discovers the passion and agency they possess and align it with a cause they care about, there is no better lesson, no better teacher. For some of my Salvadoran students this happens not at school, much to my dismay, but rather in an alternative space. Being out of the classroom and working intervention has allowed me to become more familiar with some of these spaces and programs. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with Alex Sanchez, founder of Homies Unidos. The work he and his organization is doing with some of our young people at Hawkins is nothing short of revolutionary. And while it is difficult at times to witness students traverse the different forms of resistance often self defeating and reactionary, I have internalized even more the importance of learning that must take place outside of the classroom and often in spite of schools for some of our young people. One of our students testifies to that below:
Earlier this week I came across a blog post from a young man, Timothy Phan, I met at last year’s Civic Innovation Lab. His year end reflection had him thinking about his past convictions, passions, and the commitment at which he used to lead a life centered on these things. As I read on I began to identify with some of what he was saying. While in Portland this summer, a city that once served as a frequent summer hub at a time when my life’s work was centered on environmental awareness and activism, I was reminded of the power of this time in my life. Hanging suspended from many a places high up with young people, learning about our natural world while being fully immersed in it, and helping them to realize that this world was worth taking care of… worth fighting for. It reminded me of some of the feelings I had while reading This Changes Everything. Seeing those activists suspended from the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, I remember feeling a tremendous amount of pride for the stance they were taking, but it was tinged with a little guilt and confusion. As someone who very much believes in the science of man-made climate change and that we are abusing our planetary systems, beckoning very serious and irreversibly dire consequences, I had to ask myself, was I doing enough? Had my convictions waned with my youth? Was my contribution to the building and necessary resistance movement to stop climate change, the work of activists in Paris and the world over, even enough anymore? I could feel Timothy’s pain, his uncertainty about whether he had chosen the right path. And yet I came to realize that my involvement in environmental and social justice movements has always been about my role as the educator more so than an activist.
As I have grown to accept the role that has afforded me the opportunities to increase my level of activism in many ways on many different fronts, the guilt and uncertainty disappeared with little mention. I once again was filled with pride and a renewed sense of resolve. This time the feeling came sitting in the LAUSD school board meeting room. Our union, along with several others had organized a contingent of speakers to address the board in protest of the Broad plan to convert 50% of our district to charter schools. As I sat in the boardroom with colleagues from around the city, I heard parents and students testify to the importance of supporting their current public and neighborhood schools. Then, my dearest Jackie Goldberg, who has been frequenting my classroom for the last 2 years, collaborating around the development of our future Bruin teachers, got up to address the board that she once led as president. Her words and message was so powerful and direct that I had to share the entirety of it here below. If you have made it this far in this post, I implore you to click play and listen to her deliver what is the most concise and comprehensive summary of how public education in this country is being attacked… and more importantly watch her demonstrate how we can and will resist. It was during this that I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
The Battle for Los Angeles public schools is heating up and allies like my aunt Jackie Goldberg are out to stop the giveaway of public schools to the billionaires.
So what now? This is a question I would often ask my students. If crisis is real and resistance is real… then what does that mean for me? What can I do with this knowledge that the year 2015 has afforded me? The tension between crisis and resistance brings about a sense of agency, of power. And I speak of power not in the absolute or corrupt corporate sense of the word. But as the ability to act in one’s own self interest. What most of us are beginning to realize, despite the 1%’s efforts to convince us otherwise, is that our own self interests are aligned with a great majority of people on the planet. It is this collective interest that we have, a collective interest in justice, humanity, and peace… that collective interest is where our agency and power reside. As I prepare to become a father for the third time, I know that the lessons I continue to learn about the world, about crisis and the human response will help guide my parenting and the raising of all my children. I know it will guide the way I continue to teach and support young people. I know it will remain a central piece of both my pedagogy and andragogy in helping to prepare the next generation of educators. It will be a foundation to call upon to help build this movement and continue to fight.
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will – Fredrick Douglass
See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/1857-frederick-douglass-if-there-no-struggle-there-no-progress#sthash.EVhKVwl9.dpuf
this morning i was listening to Democracy Now cover the unbelievably “non” shocking story about another young black man, Laquan McDonald, who was shot by police over a year ago. what was slightly more surprising was the level of cover up the city engaged in to keep this out of the mainstream media and public’s awareness that this was an execution style response by police officers, responding to a crime by committing more. As journalist Jamie Kalvern puts it:
So, at every stage I mean, I think what weâ€™re going to start talking about once weâ€™re past the video is really how the institutions of the city have responded to this event. That at every single stage, at every level of the city from officers on the scene as Laquan McDonald was bleeding out on the street to the mayor and the senior officials in the city, the dominant controlling impulse has been to circle the wagons, has been to contain information and suppress public information about this crime. And, really, to maintain and enforce an altogether false narrative that they had to know from day one was false.
and only 4 days back from my Minneapolis trip, i was further disheartened to read about the shootings of protestors in front of the police department, exercising their constitutional right to free speech and public assembly, only to be targeted by the warped and racist interpretations of the second amendment by cowards emboldened by the tragically comical but all too serious candidacy of he who shall not be named on my blog.
to right my mind and spirit around such hatred and ignorance i happened on the two great examples of music and art.
the second, a heart felt track by Mos Def, off the Black on Both Sides Album… i remember running to buy this album on the day it came out with a friend. we were both so excited, much anticipating the sequel to the infamous Blackstar album. my friend was disappointed, not understanding the anger and passion this album came from… here we are almost 20 years later.
if it is still unclear to see the institutional systems and structures that are built from white supremacist ideologies, that differ from Hitler’s Nazi only in the notions of time and scale, then you are willingly trying NOT to see it… because it is all too real. and has been for far too long. here’s to more of us shining our light on this world… solidarity with all those in Minneapolis and Chicago.
the last two weeks, scratch that month, well… the entire academic year so far has been a whirlwind… so many highs and lows, often in such rapid juxtaposition throughout the course of a single day that there isn’t adequate time given to written reflection. as such, i decided to take on some inspiration from this morning’s sessions and key notes from the annual National Writing Project conference in Minneapolis. as we often suggest to our students and colleagues, engaging in the reflective and therapeutic power of writing can often help us heal. repositioning ourselves as “producers” of ideas and content rather than mere consumers is an empowering practice in and of itself… and yet too many conferences are laden with workshops, panels, and breakout sessions structured with passivity and consumption in mind, as our colleagues and partners try to “report back” and “share out” the amazing work we have all been “consumed” by since last we conferenced.
i am happy to report that this year’s NWP conference (not that i would be able to tell the difference as it is my first ever) is seeking to change all that. as a participant and presenter in this morning’s No Bells, No Walls session on sharing out the work done at several school sites and informalized learning spaces around the country per the LRNG and Educator Innovator grants, passivity was not the case. nor was it the theme of my colleague’s Cliff Lee’s keynote presentation on the great work that organizations like Youth Radio out of Oakland are doing. nor will it be the modus operandi of tonight’s game jam co-hosted by my nemesis and frequent collaborator Antero Garcia. and yet i still had to step away from the sessions to gather myself and take our own advice as critical educators… i needed to create time and space for my own personal reflection, to help sort out all the things that have been going on around me so that i may process how they are affecting me.
in a sense this is a continuation of a dialogue i have been having internally and with others as of late. shortly after this last conversation with Antero, another round of violence struck our community and school. 3 young people were shot right outside of the middle school i first began teaching at. in this most recent outburst, 1 Hawkins student was shot in the arm, another former student in the back, and 1 other current student narrowly dodged being hit. they were all sitting in a parked car after school. fortunately the two students who were hit are alive, though one may be paralyzed from the waist down and the other returned to school just this morning, with both arms in a sling, with parts of his arm and shoulder bones shattered, visibly in pain. the third student came back this past Monday, and returned home shortly after, realizing he was not in the mental space to remain in class. beyond the violence, the normalization of such occurrences, in particular gun violence, has caused many including myself to have lamented at length over the real challenges it presents when working with young people. these two students and their parents have also been impacted by the normalization, which presents as a cultural phenomenon of dismissing and disregarding truly traumatic events as trivial. this creates a unique set of challenges for me as an intervention and support coordinator. how do you intervene in the face of denial? how do you support someone who refuses to or can’t acknowledge the significance of a traumatic situation? what can you do when a parent refuses counseling for their child and themselves after their child has been a victim of gun violence?
these questions are the ones that dance around my head but are often pushed aside throughout the course of the day, because another mini or major crisis presents itself. these are the questions that i fear i will never find the time to fully examine and attempt to answer. and yet when i come to spaces like this NWP conference, i am reminded of the power of learning and teaching thru the lens of true experiences. i am re-inspired to hear and see the work of educators and students who collaborate together to respond to narratives of dominance by telling their own stories, learning valuable and transformative skills in the process; building critical media, literacy, and civic skills that offer them agency in a world filled with systems designed to take voice away from our young people.
luckily i work at a school site with a critical mass of educators who understand this approach and have a ton of experience teaching and learning from this framework. i am also part of a very capable and supportive out of classroom leadership team that continues to help cultivate this philosophy on our campus. and yet, our team is struggling greatly at the moment, trying to forge a sustainable model of authentically democratic and distributive leadership in a highly hierarchical structure… the usual suspects of personality, communication, and exhaustion brought on by overworking have complicated our efficiency as a team. but real issues of equity, transparency, and voice complicate the dynamics of highly capable individuals collectively trying to work and be adaptive leaders for our schools, which often are already going against the grain of the nation’s second largest district, a district being entertained by the plans of privatizing philanthropists. how does a team truly and effectively work through professional dynamics and interactions that inadvertently cause some members harm? how does a group of leaders learn and systematize inspiration and capacity building that empowers all stakeholders to be resilient through current states of reality and hopeful enough to keep working towards that desired state? how does a leadership team communicate and internalize the mission and vision of the work? how does a team repair harm to members and address real human emotions and concerns? at our school site, restorative practices such as engaging in courageous conversations in harm and community building circles is what we are trying to build into our toolbox. and yet after a 3 1/2 hour circle with our leadership team this past Monday evening after a full day of work, we left with many of these questions still unanswered for our team.
not all of the last two weeks have been a struggle. last weekend i was elated to work with some of our Hawkins students, our seniors who have been with us since the beginning, since the doors opened. 7 students from RISE, CHAS, and C:\DAGS collaborated with UC professors and graduate students from the UCLA REMAP department and Digital Cultures Lab to host the later’s first ever community event. my workshop was brought to life by the reflections of students poised to leave the high school space, looking back on their journey and articulating the lessons learned on the way. they helped to illuminate the power and impact of internalizing concepts like “designer”, “entrepreneur”, and “advocate.” they were able to collaborate on a 3D interactive mural that visualized their profound thoughts on the nature of the education they have been a part of and what the possibilities are for such expereinces. even more so they were able to share the lasting impression our young but emerging educational insitution had on their individual identities, in turn further validating the collective identity we are trying to create at Augusutus Hawkins Schools for Community Action.
as i sit and try to create a space of reflection and restoration for my own sake (a version of R & R in the educational sense) i realize that the all to real series of highs and lows may take on a tone that has me sounding depleted. and it is true that i am tired. tired enough to sit out of important sessions like my colleague Nicole Mirra and guests discussing why #blacklivesmatter in all of our classrooms. but it is the type of tired that makes me want to keep sharing out the good work our students and schools are doing. a tired that makes me want to keep on sleeping, so that i may continue to dream with those around me in building towards a more just, empathetic, equitable, and sustainable society.
Last night was one of the greatest Hawkins football moments in the short history of our program. I remember the first game we ever played as a program. I was thrilled that the first ever recorded touchdown was ran in by a young named Brent Hawkins. We lost that evening, pretty decisively.
Fast forward 2 seasons later, a battle for the ages. Crosstown rival LA high hosted the Hawks as the last regular season game for the second year in a row. Last year we lost. This year, our Hawks, who has nothing to lose, laid it all on the line and in doing so illuminated some very valuable lessons.
I’ve always had a special place for football. As a player, my best childhood friends were also my teammates. As a coach, my players were always my teachers. The game itself has a powerful way of instructing those who are around it, mainly young boys and men, the power of team over individuals. Last night this lesson seemed to resonate throughout the entire stadium, as the cheers from our Hawkins crowd began to grow louder and louder. Part of this was the complete frustration with the referees who were clearly not ashamed to grant home field advantage by way of excessively flagging our team. But more than that, there was a collective power that our crowd knew we had to amass and utilize for the benefit of our boys, our team. I think our players felt this palpable support and I believe they used it to mount a comeback that was inspiring on many levels. There was a moment of synergy, when it was clear to all who were there wearing green, white, and black that we were all in this together, no matter what.
This lesson on the power of extended communities helped our kids unlock the second valuable lesson: resilience. This is one of our campus wide norms. It’s not just an expected behavior we try to teach students to model in their lives. And it’s not of the brand that promotes continued tolerance of the status quo just because you can take it. It’s a power they often already come to Hawkins with and yet it is a skill that is often overlooked and not as easily transferable as many would hope. This is one of the reasons I absolutely adore this sport. There are many opportunities to test the mantra “never give up” and transform it into something more than a cliche. Last night our team did exactly that. They didn’t give up on themselves, each other, and our crowd never gave up on them.
As the sun and dust settled, it was clear that each and everyone of us were collectively trying to take our own fate into our hands. Self determination; It is what great football is made of. From the moment I entered the stadium and we were down 24-7, to the moment I was running alongside one of my favorite students #3 Greg Johnson towards the tying touchdown and subsequent 2 point conversion… I never stopped believing in their ability to achieve and our ability to support.
Football for me often reflects life, both the best and the worst of it. The brotherhood, the violence, the commercialism, and the liberation. It is like war, but a more internal one for the players. A war against doubt, fear, and individualism. Last night Hawkins battles with a great rival. And despite the 31-31 score as the officials called the game, applying the sundown rule to their 23 flags and 225 yards of penalties already ruled against the Hawks. Nevertheless, we knew we had won the battle. We had learned these valuable lessons.
#community #resiliency #nevergiveup
Even though my favorite sports season is over for our mighty Hawks, I know we will continue to work hard in creating opportunities to utilize these lessons learned on our campus, our classrooms, and in our communities. We need to… For it is essential for our continued transformation.
Today a community came together, as they have many times before, to celebrate the life of a young man taken too early. This young man, Elijah Galbraith, was loved by many. That was evident today, as the services at Beulah Baptist Church in Watts, left standing room only for folks who came to pay their respects to Elijah and his family.
The power of communal healing, strength, faith in the face of fear… I’d never been a part of this type of space before… An African American church in the midst of crisis (something that seems to be engulfing my professional being as of late… Haven’t written a blog post without that word in it for quite some time) and yet in the middle of what would be chaos… Peace and celebration. The songs, psalms, and scriptures guided the gathering of at least 500 people spanning generations. The services eliciting the full range of human emotions. I was in awe.
And although I have reservations and some out right fear about when this may happen again, I was allowed into a space of faith and encouraged to check my own. I know I have it in some capacity. Waking up every morning and doing what I have loved to do for the last decade isn’t always easy and sometimes it makes you want to give up on the system, on people (mainly adults and to be completely honest… Sometimes kids, but far less frequent than the adults) but there is always something that brings us back.
The last day I spoke to Elijah, I celebrated, however momentarily in those minutes during passing period, his accomplishments. He was improving and moving the needle forward on his academic meter. He was honing in on a focused pursuit of his goals to play football and attend a college. Today when we spoke to Elijah, we celebrated the same thing. We are proud of his life, though so very short and so unnecessarily violent in end. But it is the possibilities in life that keep us coming back.
My students are always teaching me things. Elijah taught me to smile in the face of chaos. Smile for peace. I will try my best to remember this lesson.
It has been awhile since I have written a book report. What used to be the bane of my existence in elementary and middle school English classes. I realize now why, having always enjoyed reading but never fully embracing the reporting out on what you read. Partly because the book report models I was forced to use never really prompted me with an inquiry of any depth and meaning. They were summaries of plot and never really asked for critical literary analysis or personal meaning making. But more than that they were assigned at such a rapid rate that they rarely gave a student a chance to digest, reflect, or contemplate any deeper meaning. A reflection of our consumptive educational models set to the Reaganomics era of the 80s I guess.
I half joked with teachers in welcoming them back from summer break to begin our fourth year of the Augustus Hawkins Schools for Community Action startup adventure, that I had finally finished a book for the first time in years (I’ve started quite a few) and was very excited about the connections I saw to our small schools missions and the curricular direction of educating young people towards a sense or urgent agency, critical thinking, problem solving revolutionaries. And what better project to tackle than climate change?
Hence my book report on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Climate vs. Capitalism. I’ve been reflecting on this very powerful read since I concluded it the day before school started. I’ve had the time to process and connect some of the ideas in the book with my own ways of thinking about parenthood, teaching, organizing, and just living as an individual human being connected to so many other individuals and systems that are continually facing the threat of true violence at the levels of extinction; permanently altering all ways of life that have come before us, before now.
I began this book on a plane ride to Denver, attending a conference engaging in similar dialogue. Writing this post at 40,000 ft. and having the imagery to support some of the walk aways from the book helped to inspire a semi comprehensive share out of this very important piece of writing.
First off I was impacted greatly by Klein’s framing of the entire book around her experiences and struggles as mother, sharing a solidarity with Mother Nature that I could never fully realize as a man, but have on numerous occasion attempted to relate to, a communion with and within nature that helps me understand the deep interconnection and pure magic of the life giving and sustaining force we are all part of on this planet. Her honest, personal reflection and cathartic sharing of the insights of multiple miscarriages resonated with me as well, having similar experiences with my wife. Thinking about what mothers go through, as I fly towards Portland to reunite with my pregnant wife and daughters (who took this same trip days before by themselves… Imagine that scene for a moment; single pregnant mother with two toddlers navigating LAX) and looking down at the islands, farmland, oil rigs, wildfires and ocean… The power of Naomi Klein’s words settled in a little more.
Klein begins with honest admittance of her own denial to face the reality of climate change head on, and articulates the moments of clarity and transformation that led to her book with a refreshing and very relatable view. She breaks down the psychology behind all of our collective denial in the Global North/West through a blistering and critically comprehensive unpacking of the history of our global economic model and its current day presence as the largest obstacle the planet’s life systems have ever faced.
Her chapters on billionaires and their disingenuous claims of environmental heroism and hope, juxtaposed with chapters on the environmental movements own complicity and direct involvement with life extinguishing capitalistic practices painted the clearest picture I’ve come across, showing in one volume the interconnected ways humans are involved in our own demise. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and the Nature Conservancy star in these instructive and enraging sections.
Her chapters on debunking the mythology of quick and easy solutions to the biggest problem our species and all others have ever contemplated also extends to a dialogical confrontation of scientific and technological world views that continue the western centric cultural model of dominance over people and places not western and rich. Her exposure of geo-engineering projects to “dim the sun” offer sobering look at the power of our “most powerful and talented” minds examining the problem from the wrong end of the equation and proposing grandiose solutions left unscrutinized by any percentage of the populist worth deeming their ideas “peer” or people reviewed.
It’s worth the wait of the last chapters to feel, as I did, thru the disillusionment and despair, a growing sense of rage mixed with hope. Both feelings were present from the beginning. Klein’s thoughtful ethnographic style research and storytelling puts the voices of indigenous communities and the most hard core climate activists front and center. Entire chapters are dedicated to the clear message that there are many (way more than we think) people dedicated to the daily war against corporations hell bent on ignoring or actively lying about their destruction of our planet in the pursuit of profits. She offers many examples of how this daily war is waged, from the revisiting and utilizing of treaties signed by generations past, to the divestment strategies of educational institutions, to the direct tactics of native communities and climate activists engaged in an all out “Blockadea” movement (while I was in Portland, the repelling Greenpeace activists were in the middle of their direct action to block Shell from sending their ice breaker to the Arctic… they were forced to move by the time I had left) to disrupt the supply and distribution chains of energy multinationals. She takes this contemporary hope and harkens to the history; the great and revolutionary struggles of the abolition movement in the face of a global system of human slavery, making it very clear that despite not having a precedent of human resistance on the scale that will undoubtedly be needed to make the necessary changes in time to avoid catastrophic global impact, abolitionism was the closest thing to a mass mobilization and resistance worldwide. If we are to have a chance to slow down the warming climate and all its consequences, both projected and unforeseen, then we MUST engage this type of defiance, refusing to accept that the current corporate and capitalistic model is the only way to live… for it is surely not.
This is easier said, obviously, than done… particularly for us in the global north. Yet it is a parameter for the continued global life systems that are under such stress, many of which are unable to adapt to the changing climate in time to avoid collapse. And what is clear at the conclusion of this must read book is the notion that if we are to rise to the greatest challenge to ever face humanity, we will have to change everything… but perhaps more comprehendible and less daunting is to realize that we will have to change… ourselves. The universal inevitability, we have the potential to do always. My hope is that we do this using our “response” ability rather than blind reaction. And that we do this in time.
Are the things that many of our students might like to forget. Reading the latest article in the New Yorker (please read it) by friend and writer Daniel AlarcÃ³n was yet another reminder as of late about how much more complex educating young students in South Central Los Angeles, many of whom have recently migrated from El Salvador. If they haven’t recently immigrated, then they have family there, coping daily within nightmarish landscapes of political corruption, gang violence, drug wars, and seemingly hopeless cycles and downward spirals.
Much like the warring local gangs, corrupt institutions, and cycles of violence in the community they’ve migrated to, only not as bad. Maybe. The point is that it’s really hard to concentrate on school; learning a new language, a new culture, and your own place in the world as a young person.
In the classroom I had to remind myself of this constantly. Not even a couple months out of the classroom and there have already been more reminders of how serious educators need to help our students deal with the often trauma that is at the center of who they are, where they come from. Making this last push of summer reading all the more relevant for my new intervention position.
And although I’ve always worked to help students write different narratives that counter the often deterministic and disparate stories of futures many see for themselves… It is imperative that we all face the truths that are part of who we all are. This is the only way we move forward. Nobody said it would be easy.