Hello.

I want to tell you a story, but I don’t know how to start.

This has been the general place in my life for the past six months or so. I want to write– heck, I need to write for myself, really– but I haven’t been able to sit down and sit with myself.

Honestly, I feel like I haven’t been able to truly do that in months. I got close in Montana, where I sat quietly in a house and on trails and tried to come home to myself a little. I got part of the way there, I think, but the world moves so quickly and I had set so much of a goal of writing ~my next big thing~ (which I did and didn’t, at the same time), that I didn’t really just get to sit and breathe.

And it’s hard, because it feels so overwhelming at a certain point. How could I possibly catch up on the life that has happened in the past six months? The past year? There are so many things that happened– two marathons, a trip to Europe, starting my 7th year as a teacher– there’s no way. It feels so massive it doesn’t seem worth it to start.

Then, I had the privilege of being called mentioned as of Tom Rademacher‘s favorite teacher-storytellers. It was a huge honor, but also a big call out: hey, if you want to be a storyteller and a writer, you actually have to, ya know, tell stories and write

So, I’m going to try and step away from the laundry list of “things I should have written about.” I’m not going to worry about how to start. I just want to tell you some stories.


This is not a triumphant story.

Yesterday, I quit a running work out.

After running twenty-two miles on Friday morning, I had decided to take a brief break from running. In truth, I’ve been struggling for a few weeks now. In an effort to try and get faster or push myself to do more miles, I got in my head about running. My paces were too slow. My mileage wasn’t enough. I had to do more. Slowly, running became a chore that brought me anxiety. The thought of getting out there, just to deal with the terrible heat and running so slow and not enjoying myself, there was just a pit in my stomach.

That’s a difficult thing to admit. I’m writing while my kids watch a movie right now, and as I wrote that my eyes welled up without my expecting it. I used to love this sport, to the point where other people said my talking about it encouraged them to run. I’m so sad. I’m sad that I feel like I’ve lost running. I’m sad that this thing that used to bring me so much freedom and joy now just fills me with frustration. I miss the part of myself that found joy in running. I miss the sense of limitlessness that running used to bring me.

So, yesterday I tried to take a break. I did an Aaptiv strength work out, then decided to try a 38 minute speed work out on the track.

Now, I could list all the reasons this workout went wrong. It was too hot. I had just done a 35 minute leg work out. The boys PE class was also there, and while I love my kids, they make it difficult to zone out and do my run without feeling weird and self-conscious. The music in the workout was not my favorite.

But, as I did a final half-assed sprint down a 100m straight away, it hit me what the main problem was: I hate this. I was hot, sweat beads slipping into my eyes. My chest and stomach were burning (probably from eating a big lunch less than an hour before). My legs ached. I do not want to do this right now.

And just like that, I stopped. I looked at the sky around me, a beautiful bright blue with a smattering of clouds dropping the tuahine rain that makes Mānoa such a special place. It was so lovely out. Why wasn’t I able to enjoy that?

I didn’t have a clear answer, but I knew that until I did, I needed to take a step back and figure out what was going on. I slowly sauntered off the track, the rain feeling less like a gentle touch and more like prickly reminders of what I was leaving behind, unable to enjoy as I once did, and walked to the showers.

I am working hard not to beat myself up too much this week. I am trying to remember that, as down as I was, I still ran (a very slow) 21.6 mile run before going to work on a Friday morning. Somewhere in there is a runner that can key into the part that just loves running and let’s miles fly by.

So, I am trying to take a break and invest in myself. I bought a new running watch. I invested in a coaching plan. I’m trying to worry less about my times at Honolulu and Bird Marathon and focus on a marathon in March. I’m hoping to change things up to try and rediscover joy.

This is not a triumphant story.

At least, not yet.

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The People Who Danced in Ashes: Some Thoughts on Costumes and Cultural Appropriation

Well, it’s that time of year. Halloween is upon us, and beyond whatever thoughts we have about which sexualized animal or Game of Thrones character we want to be this year, there’s the hot-button topic of cultural appropriation in costumes.

Listen, my culture is not a costume. I’m all for experiencing, learning about, and sharing culture, but as taking the look of a culture without appreciating the culture itself is hurtful and frustrating.

Let me give you an example.

Last year, a group of folks I knew were going to attend a “Día De Los Muertos” themed party. The party had margarita machines and a taco truck. I, predictably, rolled my eyes at the concept, and told my partner at the time that I didn’t want to go.

For me, the party they were throwing had nothing to do with the actual traditions behind “Día De Los Muertos,” a beautiful holiday where we celebrate loved ones who have passed on. We dance, sing, share their favorite food and stories of them.

“At the very least,” I commented, “they could have the party and like, have a small area where folks could leave a photo or write a little note about someone they loved who had passed on. That way it could honor the spirit of the actual holiday.”

“Well, I don’t think they’d do that,” he said, “because it would kind of bum everyone out.”

And isn’t that the problem?

The reason why Dia De Los Muertos is powerful is that Latinos found a way to dance in the ashes and find joy in death. We are a resilient people who, as I’ve written beforetook horror and tragedy and turned it into song, dance, food and, somehow, joy.

So, if you want to take our clothing and our face-paint to have a party because it looks cool, you should also acknowledge the beauty of the culture that created those things. You should respect and celebrate the community who was able to look death in the eye and laugh loudly, eat and be merry.

I hope people learn more about and want to partake in the beautiful traditions of my culture. I just want them to acknowledge the culture too, and not just the costume you can exploit it for.

 

 

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This Is What You’ve Worked For: Honolulu Marathon 2016

It has been, in truth, far too long since I last wrote. 

I have a whole list of posts on the docket– things I have started writing, things that explain my absence, things that have been on my mind.

I hope to get to them, I do. For now, here are a few thoughts on this year’s Honolulu Marathon.



Pre-Race Thoughts

The Honolulu Marathon always feels like a homecoming of sorts.

This is my third year running the marathon, and since most of my races involve a plane ride to new and sometimes different climes (last year’s CIM was a brisk 39 degrees for much of the race! Quite different from Honolulu’s consistent 70-85 degree weather), it’s nice to have a course that I’ve trained on all year and a race that I can run from my apartment as my warm-up.

This year, I admittedly felt a strange bit of pressure about the race. After 6 years of marathon racing, I’m pretty quiet about my races now. I might share a post or two the day before a race, but I’ll generally keep runs to myself, lest I set myself up for epic failure.

That wasn’t so much an option this year. After sharing my running journey with KITV, plenty of folks knew I was running. I’m not fancy or anything, and I made it a point to say that I didn’t have a time goal this year, but I wanted to have a good showing at the very least.

I’ve been running pretty consistently at a 8:15-9:00 pace this year, and I secretly had hopes of hitting another sub-4 time at Honolulu (my previous being CIM last year). I had come so close at the Kauai marathon, and Honolulu’s course is far less hilly. Still, I didn’t want to throw my hat into a ring I hadn’t trained for, so with the exception of my boyfriend Chase, I kept those hopes to myself.

I had a hard time fitting in my twenty-miler over the weekend. Cheesy, but I rarely get to sleep in with my guy since we both work early morning jobs, so my willingness to, say, wake up at 4:45 AM to run twenty miles when I could just snuggle with him, has waned. So, I did another mid-week long run, fitting in my twenty-miler after work on a Tuesday, 10 days before the race.

I felt good going into the race, but I’m always one for cautious optimism, so I got my bib and just hoped for the best.

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The photographer made me giggle hard. It worked.


Race Report

Admittedly, I haven’t had a race go this smoothly mentally in quite a while. After a nice two-mile warm up from my apartment to the course, I shook out my pre-race jitters and felt ready to go.

The highlight of my morning was having one of my former students find me before the race! She was running her first marathon on her own, so we talked story before the race started. That was exactly the kind of mental boost I needed pre-race: a reminder of the excitement and joy encapsulated in this sport, and the kids who help me feel this way off the course.

Some Key Takeaways From This Year’s Race

  • The Honolulu Marathon is just a really fun race. You see families running together, folks who have flown in in ridiculous outfits, locals just going out there to try something new. It really felt like there were more spectators on the course this year, and Honolulu does an excellent job of having great volunteers the entire way. For me, this is incredibly helpful as a runner. It makes a race fun and spirited, which helps me keep a positive mindset throughout the race. The Honolulu
  • I wish Honolulu had pace corrals and that folks self-monitored where they start. It’s probably my only small issue with the race. I always have to fight through folks who are walking and taking photos in the first few miles. Don’t get me wrong– if that’s why you race, that’s great! But please, don’t start towards the front of the pack! Move towards the back/sides so those folks who are trying to make good time have a clear path.
  • Still, the course is gorgeous and well-managed. Really, I don’t know if Honolulu gets credit for being such a well-timed and mapped race. Not too hilly, great weather (Hawai‘i is always unpredictable, but December is probably the best bet), fuel and medical stations well-manned and consistent throughout. I always feel like I’m in good hands with this race.
  •  This is me being an old race curmudgeon at this point, but knowing the really course pays off. For me, this being a hometown race really gave me an advantage as far as mentally preparing for what was to come. It was also a reminder that I have to study the course before I race! I used to be all fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, but I’m seeing now how useful it is to know what’s to come. Study!
  •  Train and plan for the toughest circumstances as far as fuel and hydration go. I had 5 or 6 friends talk about hitting the wall this year, and some folks blame watery Gatorade and humid temperatures. I was fortunate to miss this, and I think it’s for three reasons:
    •  I pretty much always train and plan for the apocalypse for Hawai‘i races– I don’t train with water or fuel so that on race day I run better than I train.
    •  The day of the race I follow a tip from my old SRLA race director: drink water and electrolytes at every aid station until at least the halfway point. This allows me to get ahead of any cramping issues before they happen. At the half point, I start assessing at every aid station what I think I need.
    • I’m very careful about eating and drinking in the week before the race. I start upping my water and sodium levels early on. The night before the race, I chugged some of boyfriend’s leftover Pho broth after my customary vermicelli bowl (thanks PHO’hana!), and I think the extra salt came in handy!
  • Racing without music is still the best option when I can. It sounds impossible to so many runners, and definitely was (and at times still is– I used it at Kauai when I struggled mentally) to me when I started, but I really think being super mindful as I ran helped me avoid cramping too.

I kept a solid 8:30-9:00 pace throughout. I was clocking right around 8:45 for the first 6 miles and decided if I could stay in that area throughout the race, I’d finish feeling good. Admittedly, the course generally flew by. My mental game felt strong, I smiled looking for folks I knew on the course, and just enjoyed the race. I was able to wave to and talk to some friends who were spectating, and see a few friends as I came back around from the halfway point. That’s the kind of stuff that makes racing really fun.

I finished at 3:53, 19th in my category, just shy of my PR and an 11-minute course PR! I think I could’ve hit a new PR, but since it wasn’t my plan, I didn’t push some of those early miles outside my general comfort zone. Plus, Honolulu is a hillier and much warmer course than CIM. So, I’m happy I finished with a smile on my face instead.

At the end, some former students were handing out medals. They clapped when they saw me. Needless to say, I lost it.

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Thanks Honolulu Marathon for the great photo!!


Reflections

At the end of the day, a marathon isn’t just a race, it’s the culmination of the months, weeks, hours of training you’ve put in to get to this point. Every mile you’ve run is a step toward the eventual finish line of the marathon.

For me, this third Honolulu marathon truly felt like a reward for all the hours of training. Every step of that race was built on other training runs I had put into that course. Every mile that I felt good at was a reminder: this is what you’ve built your body to do. This is what you’ve worked forEnjoy it.

As much as I’ve been trying new sports, I think one of the reasons I come back to distance running isn’t just about the space I make for myself or the meditative calm I find, but it’s also because there a few sports that so completely test whether you’ve trained and prepped for this moment. Running for that long is incredibly humbling. There is very little room for plain luck in a marathon. You need to put the hours in to be successful. No matter how gifted you are as a runner to begin with, trying to take down 26.2 is a test even when you do put in the work, much less without.

Is that, at times, difficult? Of course. But it also makes crossing that finish line only that much sweeter. screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-8-44-37-pm

Head Above Water: On Self-Care

Side note: I wrote a piece about meeting with my students re: recent events over at EdWeek that, for me, is a companion to this.


“They identified the shooter in Dallas last night,” I am on my phone, wrapped in bedsheets, reading the news to my boyfriend, Chase, as he gets ready for work. My thumb brushes page after page upwards, the blue glow wrapping around my face in the early morning light. I scroll quickly, almost compulsively, through information.

“Oh, yeah? Did they catch him?”

“No,” I reply quickly, eyes still glued to the screen. “They killed him in a standoff.”

We talk a little more about the shootings. All the news this week– the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and now the execution of Dallas cops who were doing their job with care— leaves me with a pit in my stomach. My heart races as I read accounts, hear gunshots in videos, see images that stay behind my eyes longer than I’d like. The weight of it all can envelop me, wrapping me in gray and following me for the day.

Chase leans over me on the bed, takes his hand to the side of my face, and strokes my hair. The act makes me tear my eyes away from the screen and look up at him, handsome in his Navy uniform though he hates when I say it. I catch my breath. I have not yet told him, but feeling his hand there– fingers intertwined in my hair, palm heavy on my temple– is one of my favorite things.

He searches my eyes for a moment, before kissing me lightly. “Don’t read the news today,” he entreats softly. He kisses me again, nips my bottom lip. He is clean and Listerine-mint to my sour morning breath and tousled hair. “It makes you sad.”

My gut instinct, the twenty-one-year-old wanna-be activista, balks. Ignorance and silence are compliance, a voice in the base of my brain quickly beats back.

I know he is advocating for neither, though. He simply doesn’t want to come home and find me there still, wrapped in bedsheets and paralyzed by my own personal melancholy. I look up and give a slight nod. “Okay.”


I thought about that this morning when my department chair, Marybeth, sent me an email asking for resources not just for our students, but for herself. She noted that engaging with the news is frankly overwhelming when she is also taking care of two young children at home and, you know, being an excellent teacher and mentor.

Once you “go down the rabbit hole,” she explained, it can feel impossible to get out. “I can’t let that happen since I need to be able to care for my kids. But I decided… I need to allow my students to think and converse about this since, otherwise, I am still part of the problem.”

The email hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew exactly what it was to go down the rabbit hole. I knew what it was like to get lost in its darkness, like there was no bottom,  like there is just falling into greater depths of our own helplessness. I knew the hours I had spent reading, listening, wondering, feeling helpless.

Of course, we’d be mistaken to not see our own privilege: I am not Black. I don’t live in a highly segregated city (arguably I experience as close to the opposite as exists in the U.S.). While I have certainly experienced racism, my experience can’t compare to what other people have seen last night and for generations.

I write a lot about being up front with students. After Orlando, after Mizzou, when the system failed to indict. Even just this morning, I wrote that we must talk about it.

I still stand by this, but I want to make it clear that none of us, myself included, are built to handle seeing trauma 24/7/365. Processing trauma is not an Olympic sport. There is no correct form for it. Simply because I know that many people have it worse doesn’t mean I beat up anyone who decides to take a break to care for themselves. I am getting better at trying to include myself in that.


It’s a weird thing, sometimes, sharing piecemeal on this site, in my other writing, on various social media platforms. Like anyone else, I suppose, I only share the parts of myself that I’m willing to– because they make me happy, or they feel important (and safe) to share. As a writer (who even sometimes gets paid to write), I also admittedly think about my audience, what will be interesting, or what people will actually care about.

Yes, I am the girl at the top of the story with the handsome boyfriend who reminded me to take care of myself. It’s a sweet story with a nice ending.  I also watched him close the door, and had a lightening-flash of worry. What if something happens to him at work?

Then, I buried my face in my hands for five minutes and cried, still wrapped in bedsheets. I cried because I was sad that I had thought that. I cried because I was still terrified that it could happen. I cried because there are people who fear much worse every day.

I’m a huge advocate for being vulnerable and upfront as often as possible. Still, please  don’t think for a second that I don’t have parts of myself that are hidden and scared. I hope I never paint a picture that I am not terrified at times, that I have no idea how I will discuss this with students or, one day, my own children. There are days where I worry that I simply will be unable to.

There are days when I can’t stop crying, and there are days where I close my computer and decide, “that’s enough.” It is a privilege to be able to shut it down, I know.

I also know, though, that if I don’t, my ability to also be the girl who sits in the diner and hears her students talk about these topics, or encourages them to write about it, or tries to elevate their voices when they raise them, can get washed away in tears.

Those are the days that I don’t always write about, but those moments of quiet self-care, of seeking out light in the darkness, that are just as essential.

‘Often Imitated, Never Duplicated’: Black Womaness in the Classroom

This piece originally appeared in EdWeek.

This month, I’ll be featuring the voices of female educators in honor of Women’s History Month. More written about this is here.

Guest post by Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price.


“Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Ms. Aryee-Price, you’re not going to believe this. I’m writing an essay that was assigned to the 8th graders!”

You see, that’s Aida. A seventh grade, Afro-Latina student of Dominican descent whose thirst for knowledge reminds me of myself at her age. She gives me life within an oppressive system I find myself having to navigate and negotiate every day.

As a Black woman teacher who is also a numerical minority in my district, I often feel like a sea otter in a bed of sharks that are waiting to attack and devour me at any given moment. Making the wrong move, uttering the wrong sounds will cost me my life. That’s real. My Blackness and womanness intersect in ways that I cannot escape, so survival becomes the ultimate goal. My students are my survival.

I grinned; her enthusiasm for school gives me a unique kind of energy that keeps me coming each day.

girlreading.jpg

In a classroom discussion about The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton and the protagonist, Ponyboy’s obsession with Gone with the Wind, I encouraged students to critique this problematic story of the Old South. Aida’s constant questioning and wondering led us into a brief exchange.

“Next year,” I shared, “you all will read To Kill a Mockingbird, a text that explicitly tackles racism, power, privilege, and what justice looks like for some…”  She was intrigued.

I could see the wheels spinning in Aida’s head. In the only way that she could express, she blurted out, “I’m going to read that book.” And she did.

My hope is in the children I teach each day. Our language arts classroom discussions center their lives, their stories, and the experiences of people who look like them. It is important they get to see themselves represented in the classroom. It is important they get to see humanity in its fullest form and what happens when an oppressive system attempts to dampen their hopes and desires. And it is equally as important for them to see when people like them fight this oppressive system: win, lose, or draw.

 So when Aida told me that she did not pass language arts class last year, I questioned how that could happen. What went wrong? Did our system fail this child? How can a system that is not intentional about educating students of color, predominantly Black and Latino, succeed? Having a colorblind approach to teaching our students not only invalidates their lives but discourages them from seeing the divine and magic within themselves. As a Black woman who teaches mostly Black and Brown students, and as one who approaches the classroom from an anti-racist and social justice lens, it is imperative that my students see the divine in themselves. That’s their survival.

Unfortunately for many of us, we are born into this white heteropatriarchal society. It’s an oppressive society that we have all inherited, so anything counter to that reality runs the risk of being silenced, isolated, and defeated.

And because we were all born into this unjust system, we cannot escape it’s oppressive ways unless we actively and collectively work to disrupt it. As women, we internalize this oppression, and see it manifested and perpetuated in various forms between our daily interactions with each other. But as a Black woman in this system, I need to go into work fully armored.

So yes, I will be punished more harshly than my white male counterparts, and even more severely than my white female counterparts. No “bad days” because that courtesy is rarely, if ever, extended to me. There is no room for me to mess up. No do-overs, even though others may be allowed that courtesy.

Therefore, I stride into my classroom knowing that the world is going to be unforgiving to my students. So I forgive them endlessly. Yup, seventy times seven, I forgive each of them. I walk into my classroom knowing that the world has very little love for them. I shower them with love. I strut into that classroom knowing compassion sees them not. So compassion and empathy are the center of the approach I take with them.

I remember the very first comment Aida made to me when she introduced herself, “Language Arts is my worst class, Miss. And I don’t know how to write well. I just want to let you know that.” I smiled because I saw something much more brilliant in her than she thought I did.

Now, Aida has not only proven her ability to write well, but one of the other eighth grade teachers has collaborated with me by allowing Aida to sit in on her class discussions of To Kill a Mockingbird and to complete the work assigned to the eighth graders. If only you could see the pride on her face.

We sat over lunch last week to discuss the book. I remember sitting there, deep in conversation and seeing the determination in a child who needed to see herself represented in her classes. She needed others to see and know her brilliance. Aida knew it; the rest of us were slow to the party.

I am consciously aware that my Black womanness informs my teaching and my approach to engaging the learners in my classroom. My Black womanness is acutely conscious of the ways in which oppression intersects in my daily life, in and out of work, and the lives of my students. And that knowledge and awareness cannot be duplicated or experienced by those who do not share in this.

It is because of my experience as a Black woman that I commit to justice within and outside the walls of my classroom. This is not to say that white teachers cannot do this work; they must. There just needs to be more intentionality when approaching the classroom. It must be free of paternalism, and full of self reflection, equity-driven, justice-driven anti-racism education.

I spent most of my years in public schools in the United States without having one Black teacher until my senior year of high school. I was desperate to see someone who had a similar experience as a Black woman, so I took accounting, a subject I hated, only because I wanted to experience having Ms. Holloway.

I envied the students who had Ms. Mack as a teacher, or Ms. Bolden as a guidance counselor. Those students appeared to be seen, heard, encouraged and loved so much more. I longed for that in school. As a teenager, I immediately recognized their value and power and wanted to be that for my students. Hence, it should come as no surprise to me that my students understand the value I hold for them, even if others pretend they do not know. But in the words of Fabulous, we’re “often imitated, but never duplicated.

Image via Flickr.


Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price is a grade 7 Language Arts teacher, a part-time Organizational Development Consultant with the NJEA, and a member of EduColor. As a partner and mom of two, Okaikor still finds time to do the work she truly loves: community and teacher organizing that centers anti-racist principles and social justice.

280 Words on the Radical Non-Conformity of Cam Newton

I’m not a huge NFL fan. I follow the league in a roundabout way, since I follow college sports. All this to say: I was neither a Panters fan nor a Broncos fan when I watched the Superbowl. I’m still not particularly tied to a winner.

That’s not what’s been sticking with me. What stands out is the fascinating debate between Cam Newton and American consciousness.

Props to Jose Vilson for sharing this article from SB Nation, which had this quote:

“I don’t have to conform to anyone else’s wants. I’m not that guy. If you want me to be this type of person I’m not that and I’m happy to say that. I am my own person and I take pride in that.”

In an earlier interview with NBC, Newton said:

“I’m doing what I want to do, how I want to do it, and when I look in the mirror I see me.”

I understand why some folks are irked by Newton. I do, and don’t particularly fault anyone for that. I think, like many twenty-six-year-olds, he will probably grow and change as he gets older.

Stillthere is something radical, powerful, and exhilirating about something who so unequivocally is themselves, unwilling to twist themselves to the dominant culture’s demands. Like Beyoncé’s Superbowl performance and Formation video (and Jessica William’s marvelous response afterward), the notion that Black and other PoC people have to function along the same cultural systems as white entertainers is a false.

In a world where “professionalism” is often tied to whiteness (reading 1, reading 2, reading 3), it is thrilling to see culture figures actively and purposefully move away from that.

 

None of this is to say that I think this means we’ll get rid of existing cultures of “professionalism,” or that I don’t understand how it ties into existing American culture.

All I’m saying is that the more we make radical choices towards non-conformity, the closer we get to busting down the oppressive systems that often make non-conformity a threat against “American” culture instead of celebration of one’s individuality.

Image via The Root.

When You Realize You Are Complicit

The post initially ran in EdWeek Teacher as “The System Wasn’t Built for Us”


First, it was the lack of an indictment for Sandra Bland’s death. Then, it was the lack of an indictment for Tamir Rice’s killing.

As days and verdicts pass, I am only able to ask this question: if the basic structures built for “safety” will not protect us, then what will? 

Moreover, as a teacher, what does this question mean for my students and for me?


For students:  Students need the space to learn about and discuss these stories, as well as process what is going on. Thumbnail image for 17130711447_ca7635c0cb_o.jpg

I’ve seen some teachers say, “I don’t know how to talk about this, so I’m going to move past it.” That fear is understandable, but we must also understand that silence is compliance, and silence is violenceWhen the system is failing, we are compelled as educators not to act as “a cog in a wheel,” as John Dewey once said. We must support our students as they deal with and question the mechanisms in our society that allowed this to happen. We may feel rage (which can look like a lot of things), and that’s okay. Even acknowledging current events, as well as our own frustration and lack of answers can be powerful (Teaching Tolerance and Youth Radio had some great resources if you’d like to do a more in-depth lesson).

Even if your students, like mine, may not directly feel a personal connection to these stories, part of our job is to expose them to questions regarding the larger world and teach them to empathize with communities frustrated and hurt by these situations. For students with whom these events hit closer to home, it’s important to remember this, from Ta-Nahesi Coates’s Between The World and Me:

…all our phrasing – race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy – serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.

If racism is a “visceral” experience, the space to heal from it is all more important.


dewey.jpgFor educators: We must begin to reframe our understanding of the system that we work in and, thus, are compliant in. Current events have only strengthened my belief that, frankly, the system wasn’t built for me and other people of color or people from marginalized backgrounds. The system will consistently perpetuate existing hierarchies of power.

Unfortunately, our current education system is one of those hierarchal structures. We can either remain silently and willingly compliant, or we can question and change the powers that be at work in our schools. The questions might appear small at first: whose values am I measure by in a teacher evaluation? Do my students feel like they have a voice at my school? Are the parents I work with feeling valued?

As we move forward, though, those questions will get bigger, and the commitment to the work gets stronger. Hopefully, all educators (and administrators and entire communities) will understand this: our job is not to feed content to students. Our job is to prepare young people to dismantle systems that are currently failing them, and help them uplift the voices, and ideas that showcase the best of their generation. 


Recently, Trent Gillis of On Being posted a reflection about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final Christmas sermon. King’s feeling that we were a “bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without…” resonate now.  

The sermon goes on, though, to reminder us of the need for hope:

Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.

I leave these words here, as a reminder of what we must hold dear in 2016. Our students still have dreams. We do too. We must continue to push so that those dreams can reach the full majesty of their potential.

 

Protest image via Flickr: Fibonacci Blue
Quote image via Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price.