Institutions and identities…


Over the last week, every aspect of my identity  has undergone some sort of institutional attack by the Trump administration.  What’s even more saddening is that so many more people; friends, family, and strangers (fellow countrymen and fellow global citizens) have experienced the same attacks and yet have had to feel them on much deeper levels. To realize this suddenly Saturday morning with my children, while attempting to shake off the remnants of a difficult work week by reading a friend’s tweet… it is all surreal. 

My identity as the child of an immigrant mother who came to this country at 19, newly married to my father… a soldier in a semi occupying army in her native land, this part of me is under an old but vigorously renewed assault by the same country that welcomed my mother with open arms. I’ve always had to deal with prejudice and misunderstandings of one of my home cultures.  It is hard to read stories like this and not feel the impact at the core of your soul when you juxtapose those with the memories of waiting anxiously outside of customs to be reunited with your family once again.  Being a Panamian – American is not as hard perhaps as some other minority bi-cultural groups, but that identity is questioned and challenged for basic legitimacy and dignity nonetheless.  As is my Mexican heritage.  How should one respond to the building of a wall to keep separate the people on the other side you call Tio and primo?  I have a few choice responses swimming around my mind right now. 

As a husband to my wife, a woman who’s entire family lineage is born of a Muslim land where people are currently being barred from entry to the country we both call home… the attack is real. Like me, she can vividly recall the beginnings and endings of summer travel to our other homelands at the Tom Bradley international terminal… immerging from the tunnel to warm smiles greeting us. Attempting to imagine what other have been greeted with as of yesterday’s America is traumatizing. 

I’m infuriated by the attacks on women in general, as a father of two young girls who will be growing up in a “democratic” society that attempts to legislate and politicize their own bodies. Incensed by the economic and social inequities imposed and emboldened by this administration’s view on a women’s worth in the work place.  I’m sick to my stomach. 

I’ve already lamented about the attacks on my profession in recent posts. But I found this UCLA interview with public education champion Pedro Noguera to be informative and semi hopeful. Yet it is clear that Inand others will have to fight for the very right to envision our work through the lens of justice. 

And what of our work?  And that of others. While this new administration, like those of the past, asserts that they prioritize job creation and expansion of the middle class, they are about to enact policies that will completely decimate it. At the same time, they are drastically attempting to limit the power of labor organizing, lying to union leaders, placating them with overinflated estimates of infrastructure jobs to be created and squeezing out any real sense of union strength that will be necessary to preserve the working class. 

These are some of the identities that make up my daily existence.  And while I won’t quite adhere to the sentiment that my existence is being completely challenged… I know enough about history and contemporary society to understand that many people are feeling the pressure of these encroachments by the political apparatus in a way that brings on a type of existential and identity crisis that typically results in two outcomes: 

 1.  You become paralyzed with fear, afraid of the possibility that your existence is no longer welcome or sanctioned by the state… and you conform, playing along with the insanity in the hopes that you will get by until the next “transition of power” wishfully thinking it may be more merciful in the future. This option unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately is only viable for a few. 

2. You fight. Fight like hell to be recognized, never apologizing for who you are and where you are from. Because your whole life you’ve known to one extent or another that your identities, complex as humanity, were never fully accepted by the state. Your existence has always been challenged one way or another. 

It is the fight that has become unclear to many. And for those who are coming out of the privileged consciousness of false peace, it’s quite a cognitive dissonance to make the leap into war, even if that war is to be waged for your own self preservation. Because you have never really had to fight. But for those who have lived their whole lives under attack, there is nothing else but the fight. 

To be clear, if we are going to come out on the other side of this ok, we are going to need both types of folks. And the fight can take on many tactical variations and iterations. But fight we must. These words are one extent to the fight I will continue to be, for these words are me. And my government has not stolen them from me. Not yet… 

So let’s review…

She can’t commit to not privatizing public education 

She cannot be sure if, as the chief education enforcement officer in the land, she will hold educational institutions accountable to the same standard whether they are public, publically funded and privately managed, virtual or otherwise

She won’t uphold federal law to ensure equity or equality for students with disabilities 

She doesn’t fundamentally understand the important debate around authentically and accurately assessing student learning

She believes that public dollars should be allowed to go to religious education, despite that going against our nations first constitutional amendment 

She doesn’t have an opinion on how the second amendment should be interpreted to protect our schools 

She has no public educational experience whatsoever (k-12 or higher ed)

She has not been cleared by the Office of Ethics 

She lied to congress in her confirmation hearing

Her brother founded one of the most successful and dangerous companies on the planet with a business model that essentially removes public and governmental oversight of the military 

TODAY’s POP QUIZ:
Is Betsy Devos qualified to lead and improve our nation’s PUBLIC education system?

To the Hawkins Class of 2016…


I have been thinking about this day for the past 4 years. It has been this sort of dream like sequence that I have played in my head to symbolize a sort of Rites of Passage, not only for you as graduates but for us “as educators.” You see, your journey has helped to define who we are. Your narrative helps write our collective identities as teachers but also helps define the very institution that is Hawkins. And as such, the culmination of your time in our classrooms and on campus is the closing of an important part of our lives too.

It is this chapter coming to a close that often prompts deep reflection. When I look at each and everyone of you, at every turn I see evidence of your energy and passion. It is this soul of the class of 2016 that breathed an entire school community into existence. I thank you for that. 4 years ago, the Schools for Communtiy Action were still just ideas in their infancy. 4 years ago we invited you to dream with us. Today, at the end of your all’s high school journey, the dream is so much more than we could’ve hope for. 

For the students of the Responsible Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship small school (RISE), the last 4 years saw young people grow into an empowered social consciousness that inspired student action in the form of  neighborhood market conversions, voter registration drives, and felony expungements for Communtiy members. The mantra echoed in a call and response format honoring ancestral traditions of our past, also epitomized our core values. As graduates tonight you issued a statement that resonates with all who come into contact with these powerful words because with these words you invite others to dream and to fight with you. Who rise? WE RISE!!! 

For the CHASvocates the last 4 years have similarly been spent deeply unpacking and examining issues of Community Health and Advocacy.  As young people you have already made an everlasting and real impact on people’s lives. From waging campaigns to ban the sale of tobacco to minors and raising the minimum wage, to forging real partnerships with Communtiy organizations dedicated to training and fighting alongside you in the struggle for adequate Communtiy resources and real holistic health, you all have proved that good people still truly hold the power when they are organized and driven by love.  

And to my very own game changers. The students in the Critical Design and Gaming School have been busy the last 4 years expanding their imaginations to incorporate dreams of a world where games and play, that which is essential for humanity, need not be sacrificed for social justice. In fact you demonstrated many times that one is often the path towards understanding the other more deeply. From imagining and designing possibilities for  more sustainable landscapes to creating media messages that implore critical thought and inspire action, you have helped us change the game of education. 

Despite becoming comfortable and proud of your small school identities, the last 4 years has often seen Hawks of all schools come together to combat the issues that touch us all.  Understanding that mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline are very real systems that provide barriers for those that came before and hose that will follow, RISE, CHAS, and CDAGS students led the charge to Fight for the Soul of our cities and demand that our school district end its ties with the federal 1033 program and apologize to the communities. You succeeded. You trailblazed a path towards Restorative Justice and have demonstrated what those practices look and feel like when fully implemented at a school site, a commitment to transformation within and throughout a community. 

And yet despite all of these amazing accomplishments and battles, there are still many to be waged and won. This election season will mark the first that you will be able to participate in and hopefully not the last. Continue to throw your voices into the uncertainty of the future, believing that it will matter… That it is the only thing that ever makes a difference. The fight against or to realize both Trump and Hilary’s vision of America has to be tempered by your vision of America and must involve your commitment to social justice. 

As many of you enter college campuses, remember that those institutions of higher learning are just as rife with inequities and injustice, sometimes of the most egregious one can experience.  Continue to collectively put pressure on powers that be to acknowledge existence and evils of rape culture. Stand up and fight for your right to the college education that you want and deserve.  

I can’t truly state how proud and grateful I am that you all have allowed me to be a part of your journey. Some of you I’ve known since 6th grade, when you blessed the classroom of my life partner and best friend. We both continue to recall how special you were back then and how you’ve grown into wonderful and powerful young adults. Despite all the challenges we may have faced together and those set to face you in the coming years, I am reminded of our keynote speaker at our first Hawkins graduation, Luis Rodriguez. He reminded us of the necessity for maintaining a #criticalhope. This is what I have for you all as you make your way in the world and leave the comfort of our nest. And I will echo the sentiment of last night’s keynote message: #dontforgetwhereyoucamefrom. For we will never forget you. Good luck. God speed. And remember to always do good things. 

 Continue to always:

  1. Be respectful
  2. Be intelligent
  3. Be dignified 
  4. Be empowered 
  5. Be resilient 

Con amor y mucho cariño

Gomez

#LETSGOOOOOHAWKS!!!

photo cred: Nancy Se

Obama’s last #SOTU

It has been a pleasure to watch this historical presidency. And although it has not been perfect, Obama’s administration has inspired, or rather challenged a younger generation out of cynicism and into political activism. I sat and watched tonight’s address with my entire family; wife, 2 daughters, and my newborn baby son strapped to me during dinner… Although they could not fully understand what was happening… We impressed upon our 3 and 5 year olds the historical significance of this #SOTU. Yea.. I know we’re crazy. 

Although I do not have the energy to completely breakdown and analyze his speech like too many will do, I did want to share some of my thoughts from tonight. But because I’m so tired I wanted to do it through other people’s live tweets, an activity I was clearly not in a position to do. 

Before I do that I will say that I appreciated his framing of the speech in terms of essential questions, for rather than prescribing opinions as solutions and answers, questions offer an invitation to dialogue… and it is always encouraging when politicians can commit to this.

…progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?

So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that we as a country have to answer – regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.

First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?

Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?

Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?

And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

Here is where we should all pick up. The rest of his address was engaging and thoughtful, contrary to the whack ass opinion of Donald Trump on twitter… but he offered no real answers… just a path. Dialogue. It is what he implored the citizens of this country to commit to doing.

The rest of this post will be a summary through the eyes of others who watched and listened and began this dialogue via Twitter. It’s a start…

These ones Cracked me up!

There was enough vitriol to follow as well. But as Obama eludes and hopefully continues to inspire our “better selves” to help change our broken political system.. the rest of us must understand it is on us to do that. Dialogue. Discussion. Democracy. One day the GOP might understand that. Here is to a great last year in what I hope is a great final year of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

You remind me of the babe…


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. 

  1. Identities are complex but always justified
  2. The creativity we have as children is our most precious human resource… And should be treated and protected as such
  3. 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. 

My Y.I.R. – What was learned?

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?

To continue with my lessons learned motif…. I have also learned AND reaffirmed that:
Resistance is real
and it is the only thing that gives me hope. Whether it was the Black Lives Matter Movement interrupting presidential “debatesshutting down freeways and megamalls, or black college students forcing the resignations of university officials, the continued resistance AND resilience of the black community continues to amaze me everyday. The amount of conviction and love needed to face such blatant and daily disregard for your life, it is truly instructive on how to live a life full of meaning, cultivating our collective humanity. It takes me back to one of the most powerful experiences for me this year, in the midst of a black community stricken with grief yet relentless in their faith and hope that we will, indeed be ‘alright’…. but not without a fight.

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.

Posted by CTA David Goldberg on Tuesday, December 8, 2015

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

Writing as Healing, Finding Inspiration from NWP annual conference

  
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.

Summer book report… I know it’s Fall

Book reportIt 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.

Crisis, Creativity, and the tools of Caring

I have been putting off writing about this for some time. Mainly because I am busy being a father, husband, teacher, school founder, professor, etc. Nonetheless I have been consciously thinking about how the often unconscious processes of Creativity work in communities and individuals, ever since my nemesis invited me to be a part of next week’s Creativity and Crisis symposium hosted by Colorado State University. Unlike most other symposiums, this one aims to informally  bring together folks from different walks, academic and non-academic alike in what I hope is an applied and active dialogue.

So what is it that connects these concepts together? Crisis, Creativity, and Caring? At first attempt to get my internal dialogue going, I thought about the areas of my life where I have or am currently experiencing “creativity.” I then began thinking about the tools I use to manifest this energy into the “real” world. Pen and Paper have always my go to weapons of choice. Doodling and jotting down ideas and connections that I see. Many folks who know me identify my scribblings with my personalities at work or home. For me, the lines on the page create or perhaps are manifestations of the connections forming in my head. Hearing one person’s ideas and recalling another’s, I often find points of connection and intersection… but knowing that these Aha moments can vanish quickly in the ocean of the mundane… I try to scribble them down. Original I know, but my scribblings are not just notes. The are usually more “artistic” and filled with doodling or actual drawings. And clouds… a lot of clouds. Why is this important? I am not sure that it is beyond a personal level, but there is growing evidence that it may be. Though many of my colleagues poke fun at my icons and symbols, they also often volunteer me to “chart” out meetings and discussions. Students seem to appreciate the class notes even on just an aesthetic level, which I feel should not be minimized in terms of significance. No one wants to stare at “important” notes if they look hideous and unruly! At least I don’t and that is where I would leave this conversation, but others have moved it forward at least in the educational sense, as this fantastic article helps us remember. And not only remember… but also help us connect.

  

The next two “tools” that have reawakened some of my other creative neural outlets have been the last two years’ father’s day presents from my wife and daughters. As the previously mentioned creativity often finds my head in a permanent space of professional work endeavors, my hammock and ukulele were gifted to me by my family in an attempt to ground me back in my most personal and closest moments of home. Relaxing and enjoying the life I have helped to create. These tools have been “instrumental” to say the least. As I have been immersed in helping to build my second home, the Schools for Community Action , my home and family have been my everlasting source of renewed energy. Yet, like most wells, you have to actively partake in the process of replenishing. My hammock has been my partner in crime on many occasion in sparking impromptu and spontaneous naps and cuddle sessions. This has helped to remind me of the importance to taking and making time for the most important and often overlooked aspects of one’s life. Home and family are essential.

  

All of these things are “homegrown.” And the last real bastion of creativity for me as of late has been my actual house and the standing or sitting structures that I have been a part of designing and bringing to fruition with my own hands. Building backyard gardens, benches, and fences (yes, city boys can build things too!) has been very cathartic for me recently.  Something about working with your hands and elements of Earth once or currently living, reminds us that we are part of nature. And everything we create is an extension of ourselves and our visions and intentions of and for the world. 

   
   
Of course there are other tools and times when I feel creative  Riding my bike to work and choosing the “lines” that won’t get me crushed by a bus. Playing games, figuring out puzzles, building, acting, drawing, or basically doing anything with my kids. Riding waves on the ocean. Teaching students how to ask important questions and then how to go find answers, how to organize oneself for change. But all of these things, if you think about it involve crises, big and small. Problems that beg to be examined and solved. 

  
The crises I have been dealing with, the problems that have required my creative thinking; 1) how best to be a good and decent husband/father? 2) how to continue creating and sustaining schools rooted in authentic community action and self determination? 3) how best to re-examine and redefine my truth and identity as I grow older in this life? 4) how best to exist in this world and answer our Earth’s call reform our capitalistic practices in favor of culture and climate? 5) how do we begin dismantling systems and institutions of oppression and build towards economic, social, and environmental justice for the most marginalized people in our society?

These are the questions I care about pondering and working out solutions to. And if we don’t care (actively) then we lose our ability to create, to solve problems. Capitalism requires this of us. Capitalism craves consumers and not creators. 

What are your crises? And how do you use your creativity to combat them? In essence, what do you care about? 

Voices from a Teacher’s Summer…

I have been meaning to write this post for over a decade. But I am a slow learner and it has taken that long for me to figure out how to respond to people who still believe that teacher’s get 3 months off. Well… it doesn’t quite work that way. When we stop teaching for the summer (which many of us are actually teaching summer school) we begin some intensive learning. Not that we are not learning during the academic calendar year as well but… let me explain.

Almost every teacher I know right now is working on something. Whether they are attending mandatory or voluntary professional development, teaching other teachers, attending, presenting, or organizing conferences… Teachers all across America are LEARNING how to become better teachers, better people, for our students.

Some examples.

A colleague of mine is facilitating working sessions at UCLA for teachers to develop their abilities to teach Computer Science (in between helping to put on an amazing Game Jam AND running a CS camp for our summer bridge program where she teaches kids to code and build robots!) She recently posted this on social media:

Hearing a teacher say “race is not an issue” in lieu of everything going on in our country right now filled me anger. Knowing that my views influence how my students perform, I found myself full of anxiety. How do I address this as a teacher guiding other teachers? I can’t shut voices down. There’s no chance for growth if I do. It’s tough to wait. To listen. To validate. Even when I don’t agree. To choose my words with deliberateness and intentionality to frame the discussion and steer the conversation in a way that challenges current belief systems. How do I empower teachers to learn computer science content and equitable pedagogy strategies within the bigger picture of addressing structural and historical inequities. The same way I must design lessons so students understand why they’re learning what I’m teaching, I have to design discussions so teachers understand the importance and urgency of teaching with equity and inquiry to broaden the participation of female, latino, and african american students in computer science. Guys. It’s fucking Tuesday.

Another colleague of mine recently returned from what I could only gather was an AMAZING time in Chicago with Action Civics LA and the Mikva Challenge conference on New Civics. He wrote this email about another upcoming set of workshops around incorporating Urban Ecology into the Science and Social Studies curriculum. Imagine the power of BOTH of these pedagogical approaches combined!

Hi Mark,
I’m all signed up and pumped up for it.
Hope to see you there!

Still others are leaving conferences feeling empowered, inspired, and rejuvenated to evolve their pedagogy towards more transformative aims.

Leaving the 2015 Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice Conference with a full heart. Thank you 2015 Fellows for your brilliance and corazón. You inspire us beyond words. You are our (r)evolution.

I could go on for days, posting about bookclubs (i know its a conference but don’t tell them that! 😉 and MOOCS that teachers are immersing themselves in. Online discussions and researching other people’s ideas for syllabi here, here, and here. And on this historic day we look for ways to engage our students with our changing notions of civic identity, political involvement, and progress.

Teachers are catching up with old students, scheduling lunches together and talking about college and the future. I spent part of this week in the wilderness, enjoying family and friends… and the FIRST conversation I happened to hear stopping into an Applebee’s in Visalia was a teacher – identifiable by the “excellent teacher” shirt he was wearing – talking about his work that week. Undoubtedly an excellent teacher.

Even those of us who are traveling or taking time at home to rest… we are learning about ourselves, reflecting on who we are and why we are like that, which will ultimately translate into being better versions of ourselves when we re-enter the classroom. As evidenced here by another colleague, a media arts teacher:

Havana has been unlike any other city to me in that I have made crazy connections in a very short time by simply walking through the city. Sitting on the Malecon ended up being a day being led through a bar and an arts space. Another Malecon encounter was during a shoot I was doing with my futurstic lightpainting tool called the Pixelstick, when a Woodbury University professor who knows Jocelyn showed up!! I found a screenprinting studio with decades of history while checking out Habana Vieja. The artists welcomed me immediately and 10 days later I have almost finished print runs of three designs. Another art space I found led to being presented with a soccer and art project proposal. And I also walked right up to a capoeria practice which I had heard may be active in a park near the Morro. They welcomed me in and I got to play in my first practice and roda abroad.
While sitting in a tiny food spot the Cuban next to me asked how my chicken was, and after introductions a day later we began a collaboration with his high school students using the dispoable (sic) cameras I brought. That led to me today sitting in Old Havana´s chocolate shop doing interviews I scheduled, one of which is dance portraiture for a new company that wants to ensure Cubans have access to dance classes that presently are only available to tourists. On the way home I then ended up location scouting for the dance images, making images of the narrow streets with the old buildings that are labeled things like ¨Ano 1904¨ as I walked. One more week to stroll!!!

Teachers… we just don’t take summers off. We are always thinking about how to be better teachers. We are always thinking about students and learning. What are you doing for your summer?