Sites of Encounter…


As I prepare to end the year with my 7th graders and embark on yet another leg of my professional journey in a new role outside of the classroom, I have been thinking a lot about the space of the classroom. A week long schedule of online testing definitely opens up space to reflect and do a little bit of my own online writing.

I was first introduced to the concept of “sites of encounter” by one of my mentors in the profession, the wonderful Emma Hipolito (who is now the awesome director of UCLA’s TEP program… so proud!) She helped to walk me through the new history framework in order to prepare my return to the 7th grade classroom. Sites of encounter was a different way to think about historical events and interactions between different peoples that departs from the more traditional culture hopping one tends to do when teaching medieval world history. But in this post I want to use the conceptual framework to try and reflect and understand more my own historical journey this past year.

The site largely driving most of my professional encounters has been La Paz middle school. I have written before about the initial feelings I had about arriving in this new space, feeling like an outsider but not really. But I have not focused on the immense kindness and generosity I was welcomed with upon arriving here (as evidenced today by the heaping plate of homemade chilaquiles I was so graciously offered this morning.)

And yet within this overwhelming kindness from every single individual on campus, from custodial and grounds crews, to office and clerical staff, to teachers (both in and out of the classroom) and yes… EVEN the administrators (I purposefully stress this group of folks on campuses, as I know they often get a bad wrap from the teachers they support and “manage” even though their jobs are just as thankless, often times even more), I have come to understand some of the particular complexities and inner workings – collaborative and contentious – of this site. It is these complex encounters that have really occupied my mind of late, for they often defy traditional or conventional ways of thinking about concepts like professionalism, effectiveness, struggle and progress. We often hear people talk about the “soft skills” and how things like communication and reflection are more central drivers to the work we do than other professional capacities. In any case, this site – like any other I have ever worked at – has its productive and nonconstructive modes of approaching the sometimes seemingly impossible task of teaching adolescent youth…

Which brings me to the focus of what has been on my mind for the last couple of days: the classroom AND students. Every teacher, even those who burn out of the field long before their due time, has had students that they struggled to reach, let alone teach. I finally learned long ago to not take it so personally when I come across a student who for whatever reason under the sun, I just cannot “get through” to… they are not interested in further developing a necessary relationship with me to predicate the remainder of our work on basic things like respect. This is particularly possible when teaching middle school, that tumultuous time of life in the same type of system that often produces unintended and unforeseen consequences (positive or negative) but always changes a kid and often us adults who interact with these students.

Every year I have had students who fall into this category and this year has proven to be no exception. And of the handful of students whom I struggle with this year, there has been one who has confused and frustrated me just a little more than others. That one student you wish and tried to connect with more to achieve some breakthrough… but it was not to be. Some of the details are familiar; challenging homelife, instability, lack of parental involvement, economic hardship, propensity for violent outbursts, defiant… brilliant, charismatic, and young. Despite these common traits that many of these young people share, I am always intrigued how each individual materializes their own destinies, exercising both agency and free will, while simultaneously succumbing to the institutional realities that often dictate the availability of these choices. And in reflecting on this, I have been thinking about the classroom as the site of encounter for these students.

In the case of this student in question, she began the year challenging my authority in the classroom. It was clear that this would be a continual event throughout the year. It was also evident that she was very bright and that if I could help direct her propensity to create problems in our classroom towards actually solving problems, she could become quite the student. I must also state a couple of things at this point. One, I definitely held back this year in terms of cultivating the types of relationships with students that I am used to building. And I think I did this intentionally, recognizing the time and space I needed to take to begin to process and heal from some of the trauma I had been experiencing in my out of classroom role at Hawkins. Two: she did not present an existential challenge for my teaching practice, in other words she was not the most difficult student I have worked with in the classroom. For instance, my student this year quickly proved to be challenging, but nothing that ground the development of the class culture to a complete halt. I did suggest that she switch into another section of mine halfway through the year as to get away from a peer group that was serving more to distract her from achieving academically.

And yet despite the level of “offenses” being minimal to mild (yet on the daily) she was not able to engage in a productive manner in our classroom space. This was not the central problem for this student however. The social drama of middle school, in the end proved too much for her to handle. Overwhelmed by negative peer relationships and an inability to resolve conflicts without escalating to the point of violence outside the classroom helped to create a deeper disconnect within the classroom space which was irreversible. At least in the sense that she was not allowed to remain in my social studies class.

I did not have a say in this. In fact, I worked hard in the last few weeks to avoid this seemingly inevitable fate. You see, in our district and at our school site we have am option for students who continue to face difficulty in the classroom or on campus and it is called modified scheduling, which in essence reduces the course load and time spent on campus effectively by a third. Students thus identified are given “opportunity” to focus on a limited amount of classes and are sent home after 4th period. In my two years of intervention work in Los Angeles I had never come across this method of “intervening” and remained unconvinced of its merits in helping move a student like mine from beyond the margins and into a space where they can begin to re-engage with school and the classroom. Nonetheless it is a real intervention here, and one that this student in the end was purposefully trying to achieve. So much so that she would come into class and purposefully try to get removed, as to end up in the counselor’s office just one more time, thus triggering this “opportunity.” I refused to comply in this game. But I was not, in effect teaching her anymore, despite her presence in my classroom space. Our relationship had reached its low.

Until yesterday… when she attempted to sneak back into my class after morning testing had concluded. Despite doing this in a very nonchalant way, I pulled her aside and naively questioned what the deal was, knowing that she had been removed from my class administratively and was no longer on my roster. She momentarily played coi, revealing a bright smile that simultaneously communicated that she had been caught but that we were “cool” enough to have a cordial conversation. I let her know that she was no longer on my role sheet and then she relented on her efforts to enter the class with her friend, the sole reason for her wanting to gain access to our classroom space I suspect. And that essentially, would be the last time I encountered her in my classroom as her teacher, so it would seem.

And then I ran into her in the office, in her usual spot.. waiting outside the counselor’s office, even though her favorite counselor was on maternity leave. This site of encounter, often very different from the classroom space, has the potential to invite different interactions with students. I know this from many firsthand experiences with students in offices these last few years. This juxtaposition is rather fascinating when you come to think of it as I did. For this interaction was markedly different. Although we only exchanged a few words and a cookie, the feeling of formal authority and traditional scripts of interaction was waived for a less tense and common understanding. I told her that I wanted for her to figure things out and “get it together” so I could eventually see her at her high school graduation.

I plan to stay in this district as long as that would take but I also realize that even if that were true, the chances of her and I being in a classroom together as student and teacher were very slim. And I believe she realized that in a different way. And it is this the thing – long wait I know – but this shift in context and space drove a completely new interaction. Animosity ceased to exist in that moment. For there was nothing left for her to fight towards, as she had expressed her desire to be on this modified schedule and not be in my class any longer. She had “won” and I was left with yet another student whom I could not, for my part “reach.”

We passed each other on the way home at dismissal. I again made a simple joke. “Stop following me.” And she played along and laughed, “YOU stop following me.” We parted ways. Our last site of encounter… for a little while anyway. Whatever happens, I know that I will remember this particular student and all of our encounters, no matter how ineffective they may have been retrospectively rendered in a traditional sense as ineffective. And like all my students, even those I personally could not reach, I wish them nothing but the best until our next encounter no matter where it may be. And as I prepare to depart the classroom setting once again, I look forward to seeing from a different vantage point the successes and learning opportunities of my colleagues and our students that lie ahead.

“Sell your cleverness…”

Yesterday morning’s #superbluebloodmoon was awe-inspiring for those of you up early enough on the west coast to witness this celestial event.  I felt blessed to have this otherworldly scene greet me first thing as I opened my front door at a quarter to six.  As I pulled up to the gym parking lot, a little later than I would’ve liked, I was compelled to suspend my routine (albeit it very new… as in 2 weeks new) start time.  I sat in the back of my car, just staring at the eclipsed moon, in all its darkened red glory.  I felt a little silly as people passed by me, some already having been productive in their personal fitness and some rushing towards whatever physical health goals they had previously established, while I sat dressed to work out and instead gazed at the sky.  The shyness quickly turned into shock and then sadness.  One person saw me gazing and stopped just long enough to ask me. “What is this all about?”  I responded as a matter of fact, but this seemingly innocent inquiry really got me thinking about the crisis of our modern relationship with our surroundings.

No doubt living back in the Monterey Bay region has reawakened a sort of environmentalism that has been lying semi-dormant for a long while.  This is after all the area where I put my finger on the brand of educational and spiritual training I felt most drawn to.  I have also been prompted reexamine what exactly I mean when I say “environmentalism” by some pretty profound writings of Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain fame.  His collection of essays entitled Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays has been helping me survive the massive onslaught of “bad” news in the past year.  But in reality its been several years if not decades since the roots of extreme global capitalism have taken shape, forming a type of global consciousness (or lack thereof) devoid of any true connection to land and environment.  This is what became clearer to me early Wednesday morning.  How could anyone witnessing this eerie celestial event not pause to question and reassess their position in the “grand scheme” of things?  Even if only for a moment, a break in one’s gait long enough to view the sky through eyes of wonder.  How would our ancient human ancestors have viewed this gigantic blood-red sphere, hovering above, so differently than every other day?  How would they have rearranged the sublunary events of their day to accept a larger, profound, and more universal one?

I wondered about this and other questions as I stared into the early morning sky.  I also took a few pictures, with the intent of sharing.  I soon laughed at the silliness of this, not the instinct to share this with others like friends and family whom I texted despite the hour to see if they were fortunate enough to be awake and experience this, but the absurdity of trying to ‘capture’ this amazing image with my phone camera.  I walked away in awe and also distress.

Admittedly I have not been the best optimist of late.  I have real concerns about the state of just about everything in the world.  From the state of our own nation, to geopolitical realities that are unfolding, humanitarian crises, and the ever-growing threat of nuclear war.  But at the center of my pessimism is the absolute realization that we are not, by and large, not making this world a better place.  And I don’t just mean for people.  There are many who would argue, even quite successfully that we have. I mean making the world better for all life.  And I think there are also just as many (hopefully more) that could counter the argument of unlimited growth and progress leading to better qualities of life by recognizing that those processes that we engage in the name of progress are actually the main drivers of death.

And it is not that death is necessarily supposed to lead to pessimism.  We all are supposed to die.  All life leads naturally to death.  It is the obsession with staving off the natural declines and deaths of everything in favor of a false philosophy of infinite growth and wealth that eats at my soul daily.  Knowing that this philosophy drives most everyone in the modern world, including myself to live in ways that are murderous to everything that is actually sustaining to our lives.  And the cognitive dissonance is so real, that it has taken those of us who feel a drive to “save” our planet from the unnatural destruction of our own making to a place where we are dependant on the human solutions of technology and innovation, the ironic drivers of this destruction.  Kingsnorth pulls at this idea throughout his entire book of essays but utilizes the soul-stirring words of mystic poet Rumi to really drive home a much-needed paradigm shift.

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion; bewilderment is intuition.” – Rumi

In my attempts to heed this advice and combat this pessimism before it devolves into permanent paralysis and inaction, I have recommitted to some key principles in my life.  The first is to get out in nature and be a part of it.  This has developed into a sacred and spiritual Sunday outing where our family explores the wonders of the wild and untamed world, recognizing our very small but important place in it. This may even turn into a more disciplined practice of something I used to enjoy many hours of in my youth, nature journaling. My wife recently stumbled upon this dandy of an idea, suggesting that we even consider taking his class as a family!

The second thing I have dedicated energy and time to is involving myself with a local organization working on a very important social and environmental issue, specifically in our local region. Salinas being the salad bowl of the world, industrial agriculture has bestowed both the blessings and the curses of mass food production. Pesticide use as a “reasonable” byproduct has long been questioned and challenged in the region, as far back as Cesar Chavez’s work with the UFW. It still is today. A local community organization called Safe Ag Safe Schools, a part of Californians for Pesticide Reform, is leading the charge to help change regulatory policy of pesticide use near and around schools. After attending one meeting, I was energized to continue to deepen my involvement with this dedicated group of people. From banning chlorpyrifos to eliminating the use of Round Up on school campuses, there is still so much work to be done with regards to challenging the ill and often catastrophic impact of our modern-day food systems.

These are the things that have helped me to begin reintegrating my spirit into this land again. That and being able to spend more time with family and friends. And even though there are many moments where things feel hopeless and strange, there are still many more moments to embrace the grandeur of where we are and what is actually possible… when one invests in bewilderment.

Fiction in a history classroom?

Go figure… So I’ll admit that the two previous years I spent out of the k-12 classroom saw certain instructional skill sets accumulate some rust. In particular my abilities and propensity for fostering an environment of creativity and imagination have been largely overshadowed this year by an intense focus on all things reading and writing academic. Of course this is not all bad, we had a killer Socratic Seminar discussion on Islamic extremism and immigration policy… but it is not necessarily as good as I want it to be. So this week I took some inspiration from the DBQ project and began preparing my students to write their first historical fictional narratives.

Although nothing fancy about it, no groundbreaking gaming technology or social media implications (though I was really hoping that storium.edu was up and running already) the mere act of dreaming up their own character fostered such animated and lively discussion that I felt the slightest bit of guilt for not having yet attempted more creative assignments like this.

This was not a groundbreaking realization admittedly. History teachers are taught that strategies like role plays and first hand experiences help students to internalize some of history’s lessons. This was more of a wake up call to not to forget to have fun and create with students while they are “studying.”

In the lead up to this lesson on West Africa, I took the advice of a colleague of mine and created a scenario based lesson where students were treated like special agents. Recycling some of my old IG posts of my time in Washington D.C. visiting the DOE, I momentarily convinced many students that they were indeed helping the government to determine whether we should use federal gold to purchase unidentified substance (salt).  It was another fun reminder of the power of imagination and play in unlocking avenues  for academic and real life inquiry.

The best part of this has been reading the amazing stories the student came up with. Some of these kids already have real talent in writing.  They were able to create emotionally complex characters and connect them to both the history and me, the reader.  This is definitely something I want to do again.

Imagine, the scariest thing

This morning I woke up defeated. Too tired to even think about facing my favorite holiday, unprepared and uncommitted. Having stayed up way too late the night before scrolling through “last minute costume idea” threads on Pinterest, until I eventually gave up and succumbed to the vortex that is YouTube.

I went to bed defeated so it makes sense that I woke up this morning in this state. I tried to claw at plausible answers that would help explain how I’d arrived at this point. I dismissed the thoughts that’s posited simply: you’re old. You’re not as creative or fun as you thought you once were. I dismissed them with excuses, I’m just too busy and tired with three kids (1 still in diapers). These did not suffice to quell them as much as I’d hoped. And the alternative scared the crap out of me. What if these thoughts were true?

A longer car ride to work and my awesome new office staff (I’ve been blessed in my career to have such great clerical staff helping me to develop into the educator I’ve become) helped me to realize they were not, they couldn’t be! My students deserve better than that. My family deserves better than that! And so do I! The great thing about Halloween is the ease in which you can circumvent the commercialism damning the holiday and hack it with pure imagination and simple creative hacks.

So I sat down, with two sharpies and a pair of scissors, and a smile… drowning out the excuses. Planned a lesson that would inspire creativity, productivity, new learning, reflection, and ultimately what I hoped was engagement.

The result was a day both the students and I will remember. If anything for the mere fact that I spoke no words, made no utterances the entire day. Just an intense and creepy gaze that my students couldn’t shake. I managed to not only instruct my students through a continued examination of Islamic culture but also a little Halloween history and imagineering. Using one of my all time favorite children’s book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, I set the tone from the onset of class. More importantly, I set the tone for myself and how I want to approach this current phase of my career.

It’s been difficult to leave Hawkins and the South Central Los Angeles community. I’ve felt lost at times, not quite knowing my place. Days like today help remind me of who i am fundamentally as a teacher. And how I want to teach. With a smile.

A letter to my little graduate…

This post has been incomplete and in draft form since July 5th, 2016… Thought I would complete my thoughts and now seemed as good a time as any.

I’ve been to a lot of graduations in my time. I’ve been moved by many a speech, affected  by many a pupil. And yet of course, none other has broken me down as fundamentally as my daughter’s recent ceremony commemorating her transition from preschool and into kindergarten this coming August.  It didn’t break me down in the way one might expect. I didn’t weep because of the actual program, though it was one to remember and as such I took copious amounts of video footage of everything from a play written, directed, and starring the children, the final circle time which included a rendition of “Happy Trails” and some pretty funny gift giving. All of this was pretty heart wrenchingly cute.

What really got to me was what it meant for my child’s future… the prospects of an education by and in a system, designed for conformity and lacking empathy. A system where play is limited at best and completely forgotten at worst. One where a unique identity as a learner is often a liability. And where children get lost… sometimes forever.

What I know now after having seen my daughter survive kindergarten in her first public school experience in the second largest school district in the nation, is what I knew at that moment when she closed out her time at Neighborhood Nursery School (NNS)… that she will be alright. As long as we, her parents are vigilant and strive to build community within her schooling, relationships with her teachers, her peers and their families. This fortunately happened at Elysian Heights Elementary where she attended. And despite moving out of Los Angeles and having to home school her this past year in Monterey, she still talks about her teacher and her classmates with love and fond overwhelmingly fond memories.

I often write on this site about education from my vantage point as a teacher. But what I have been more keenly aware of lately is my experience as a parent of school aged children. I have had to complicate my thinking on many things, my notions of where different institutions and policies fit into the theoretical and practical landscapes of education, in my head and in my children’s lives. Since that day in July of 2016 (again, when I first typed the beginnings of this post) I have had my second daughter leave the beautiful community of NNS. We have transitioned out of LA into the communities of Seaside, Monterey, and Salinas. My focus and the majority of my attention and energy has rightfully been diverted to my own kids and my role as a parent. I anticipate writing from this head and heart space more and more as time moves on as well as I expect my identities of educator and parent to merge more holistically as one better understood entity.

Remaking Easter… on the fly!

  
So… yes. I forgot it was Easter, until about 9:00pm yesterday evening. Despite being told by my wife several times that week, as well as being told by friends of the impending family egg hunts on the agenda for the weekend. I am pretty sure that last example clarifies for me what is seeming to size up to selective and subconscious listening. You see, traditional family celebrations aren’t always that easy for me. They really never have been. But when I was younger, being a child of divorce didn’t always seem that bad. The windows and doors into families expanding and changing did afterall provide me with my only siblings… all 5 of them!

Fast forward to today and it is a little more complicated. More familial factions and just plain old geography has made it impossible to experience anything resembling traditional backyard egg hunts with the cousins and grandkids. Being married to someone from an entirely different cultural background with her own distinct holidays and traditions has made something like Easter even more foreign to me. So it is with great pause and ponderance (anxiety and sometimes straight up ignorance… in the active sense of the word) that I approach the response to my Persian wife’s question, “What do you want to do for Easter?”

So I did what any self respecting parent in the 21st century would do in a pinch… I googled Things to do in LA with kids Easter! Of course the magic of the internet provided plenty to that query. What it did NOT provide was an adequate response to my eldest daughter’s question. “Do you think the Easter bunny will come to our house tomorrow?” Cue the Homer Simpson Doh! I had packed away last year’s memories of Easter most likely for the same reasons that I had avoided this year’s impending Easter. But my daughter doesn’t forget anything, for good or for worse (more on that later.) Last year did somewhat resemble the backyard egg hunt of my youth. So what was I to do now? I had to think fast… but instead I put it off till morning, until the day of… Easter.

Here is what I came up with.

  
I had to quickly type this up while making breakfast, all the while debating whether it was even worth the trouble. My wife and I decided that the cultural tradition of celebrating Aide de Norouz (Persian New Year) was our preferred spring time celebration. No weird bunnies or battles over massive amounts of candy (those Cadbury Eggs and Peeps will get you every time) or explanations of the dead come back to life. And this is not a knock on my Catholic upbringing… well, because it wasn’t really a Catholic upbringing. I never attended Easter mass on Sunday no matter how many times my Mother may have wanted it. My issue was with the consumer spin on this holiday, like most others. This country begs you to purchase your Pascua. Even if I wanted to I could not do this… I merely don’t have the time to go running around buying whatever is necessary for an Easter Basket full of junk. And I sure as hell don’t want that to change anytime soon. So I didn’t. Instead I attempted to change Easter for my family, so that it fit more with who we are and who we want to be. The reaction from my kids was validation enough.

We did indeed do all of the things the “Easter Bunny” had urged us to do. A quick train trip to downtown saw our little family unit celebrating life self sufficiently. A beautiful downtown lunch date was followed immediately by one of the most bizarre and scariest things a parent or child could think of on an Easter Sunday. A chance run in with the 3 most horrifying Pirates one could ever happen upon. They were coming out of the Stillwell Hotel lobby, which apparently houses a “Pirate Bar.” Mind you these weren’t your average Pirates of the Caribbean, no no. These fools were down right scary! One had to have been at least 6’8″ while the shortest one boasted 3 decapitated heads on chains.. yes all in front of my 3 and 5 year old daughters. It. Was. Awkward. Here we were preparing our girls to see a 6 ft. bunny (though there have been scary versions of that for sure, thanks Donnie Darko) and here we had to contend with three Piratas out of the blue. Luckily the tall one wised up and turned good guy Pirate, as good as a 7ft. tall Pirate with maniacal contact lens reminiscent of the Walking Dead zombies could be, by offering fool’s gold to the girls, who surprisingly accepted. The shorter one kept making jokes about free baby sitting and cages while waving his 3 heads on a chain around. Needless to say that my wife and I were taken aback and I am typing this while awaiting what I anticipate to be the first of many calls to put out the midnight fires of justified nightmares. Happy Easter!!! Side Note: If one should ever find themselves in a similar situation, pick up the closest makeshift sword and swashbuckle your way into the realm of the role play. Of course I realize in retrospect that power of play (and play back) may be enough to avoid the traumatic childhood memories.

After this we moved on to the actual event that we had planned for… waiting in line… uh I mean a community egg hunt put on by the New City Church of LA. I only mention the line because while waiting to get let in with what I estimated to be a thousand people, THOSE DAMN PIRATES CAME BACK!!! WTF?!? This time there were plenty of children screaming, and not about the long waits. On a positive we were also fortunate enough to see Ecto 1 drive by while waiting to be let in… only in LA. Once inside it was very pleasant day hanging with families and their children in the city. The diverse crowd was happy and ready to celebrate with young ones. The volunteer staff were super cheerful and gracious in sharing that cheer around.

At the end of the day, we returned home having accomplished all that the Easter Bunny had implored us to do, learning even more along the way. The girls indeed made a new friend while waiting in line. We had found the city eggs, though the hunt had more of a dash feel to it. No matter, for we hid the eggs more stealthily in the backyard upon returning. And being the text-based child that she is, Nilou cross referenced the bunny letter to make sure that we hadn’t missed anything, while simultaneously questioning how the bunny managed to sneak past everyone again.

And I was reminded again of the importance of reclaiming and taking ownership of one’s family’s participation in tradition. Traditions are instructive. They teach us about ourselves, our families. They help us learn who we are and where we come from. More importantly they send us messages and instill values in us long after we’ve grown up out of the childhood wonderment and fantasy of it all. I can only imagine that is what those Pirates were really trying to hold onto with those decapitated heads. A sense of wonder in magic that is actually real, because in pretending with passion you made it so. For however brief that moment was. Today’s activities is not our family Easter tradition set in stone but it is the foundational building blocks that our children and myself will have to play with next year and the coming future after that. And I am no longer anxious about holidays I haven’t fully reclaimed for myself or with my family. I am excited to keep learning and playing. This is a resurrection worth celebrating today.

Voices, Ethnic Studies, Movements, and Challenges…

There was a lot going on these last two weeks at school. It seemed that even more was going on after school hours. I had the privilege and great pleasure to watch students learn about very important matters in different spaces outside of the classroom. I myself may have benefited even more by watching all of this learning take place.

On Thursday night we had the distinct pleasure and opportunity to take a group of 20 students to the Japanese cultural community center to watch the 10th anniversary Voices of the People’s history performed by several actors and musicians. This important in seminal text was released my first year teaching. I remember going to Immanuel Presbyterian Church and watching Howard Zinn (rest in peace), who is still alive and well in the hearts and souls people, his spirit fiery with inspiration around the education of the complexities (read atrocities) of our nation’s history.

It has been a long time since I have seen kids light up with the essence of true learning and excitement. Not that I don’t strive for that in my class everyday, but to have a completely aesthetic experience, as Sir Ken Robinson would say, in the service of critical thinking and learning? Where you won’t be quizzed immediately after for retention but rather continually reminded of that moment when you were fully alive and connected (not separated) by time and space to other human beings, other lives. This is what I witnessed with my students.

Of course the star power of actors and musicians like Kerry Washington and Tom Morello helped connect the voices of the past; Sojourner Truth, Malcom X, Bartólome De Las Casas, Muhammad Ali, and more… to the hearts and minds of my students. These are the times when there is nothing greater than being a history teacher.

The next day I had the pleasure of hosting our Taking Action students film night. They were screening a very well made documentary on the struggles of students and teachers against the Tuscon Unified School District to dismantle their Ethnic Studies program. Precious Knowledge examined the most extreme and polarizing of ideologies that clash on the battlefield of current day educational reform. As I watched the movie, it was difficult to control my emotional responses to statements like:

With ethnic studies there’s a desire to develop ethnic solidarity. Uh… you know. This group, we’re the… we’re Latinos, that other group they’re the African Americans, that other group they’re the Asian Americans, that other group they’re the Anglos and so on… In the human being there is, uh, there is a primitive part that is tribal. And that will say, I want to be with members of my own tribe, members of my own race and that sort of thing. The function of civilization and the function of our public school system is to get people to transcend that… There are better ways to get students to perform academically and to want to go to college than to try and infuse them with racial ideas.” – Tom Horne, Former Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction

I can’t express enough how tired I am of the misguided (at best) and intentionally misrepresented (at worst) narrative of the state of race relations in this country, where many “well intentioned” people like to believe that we live in a “post racial” society where race and ethnicity (two different things) don’t matter any longer or as much as individual merit. And I wonder how we are to measure transcendence now! If I am helping to facilitate any type of transcendence in my classroom, it is of the type that helps students find agency to combat the dominant narrative of white supremacy that has them internalizing ideas about individual or collective success, like this.

The following Tuesday the students and teachers of Los Angeles, and in a rare moment the school board of Los Angeles, renewed my hope that the struggles towards a quality and dignified educational system is still possible when people organize and listen to the real stories that are being lived. People organized to ensure that what happened in Tuscon would never happen here in Los Angeles. Ethnic studies is now a graduation requirement in LAUSD.

Two days later, teachers, students, and community members rallied at 5 different locations around the city to voice our demands for quality schools that Los Angeles Students Deserve. 719a69f1-8d16-49bc-a6b6-6f5f18937b50 Our teachers and students, including our marching band, helped to provide not only voice but the soundtrack of our demands from the district.

As the last 2 weeks have provided me with plenty of challenging work in and out of the classroom, it is transformational learning experiences like these that keep me coming back for more… well… and the much needed time off.

world history by design?!?!? bring it on!

design can be hard work. anyone who has ever wrestled at any length with their “perfect idea” can testify that at some point, your creative will is tested by the juggernaut that your ingenious idea may have become. creating this world history by design course feels this way right about now… there are so many possibilities… that they somehow place newly realized constraints.

the main design challenge i am having as a history teacher by trade, without real world graphic design experience… how to teach a rigorous course that applies this rigor to both principles of DESIGN and historical content???

i have of course been thinking about this ever since i agreed to teach the course a couple months ago. talks with industry professionals, designers, teacher colleagues, community organizations and others have generated many possible solutions to this challenge. anything from online collaborations, guest teaching opportunities, further development for myself the instructor. this particular presentation also struck me.

knowing that lecture/slide based presentation of information is not always the most helpful to my students, embedded in this solution is its own design challenge. how do you create authentic learning experiences that are integrated and rigorous across such seemingly different content? this is the challenge of the week. hopefully our UCCI institute combined with our Linked Learning work will continue to push my own design solutions as a teacher in this regard. and they say teachers have the summer off… HA!

Life in the desert… (my campus after 3pm)

What do our kids do after school? For all the complaining we as educators participate in about the lack of character, discipline, decision making… And the fact that we are constrained to a certain extent from teaching these things throughout the course of a standards-based curricular day, it would seem that afterschool programming would be ideal to address the multiplicity of issues some of our students are facing… Yet everyday for the past year or more, my campus, so filled with loud and vibrant life during the day, instantly transforms into a barren sea of unused space where kids should be playing, hanging out, learning (it takes place after school whether we support it or not)… The few programs that are on campus, one of which I am very much a part of… are exceptions, trying to survive amidst the complete absence of funding or support of any type for that matter. The garden club, the drum club, the Boys to Men rites of passage program (forgive the outdated link, one of my charges as a board member of this organization) I am involved with working for at risk youth without male role models in their lives to help steer them thru adolescence… These outliers exist on the fringe of the school culture that sends the strong message: leave, your time for being tolerated is over. Go find something to do, but don’t get in trouble…