Shame game.

rural-poverty-appalachia
Can’t find original source: Family in Appalachia–this could have been parts of my family at times

 

Our admin treated us to an engaging speaker on Wednesday during a workshop day. Dr. Donna Beegle. She is truly kind of a big deal, and offered down-to-earth ideas and perceptions about poverty, primarily from her personal life story. The only issue I had with the day was the presentation was about three hours long, with one ten minute break, and there was a small ratio of presentation:interaction component. (That’s tough on an old lady like me to sit for so long, and I think between that and the usual “you are not a human being” thing about a teacher’s schedule, I felt terrible and ended up taking a sick day, but that’s irrelevant.)

There were a few things she offered I packed in my ‘creed suitcase’ — those things I may need when I travel outside my comfort zone–reminders of ‘my home’ – where I try to live with students, and staff.  Her story is not unusual–poverty doesn’t know race–it’s embedded in our cultural narrative as old as Jamestown and the Mayflower. She said (paraphrasing) that if one judges, then the possible of communication is nil, an impossibility. And she’s right.

If I could have added anything to her presentation, it would be to add a piece that teachers do this to each other, too. And if you’ve never experienced when someone is judging you, and being hostile/uncommunicative, then you don’t know what it’s like to try to collaborate/create in that environment. It’s not about ‘skin-thickening’ or not being sensitive. (‘Skin-thickening’ sounds kind of gross.) Asking someone who’s naturally empathetic and understanding to switch that off from one’s identity is tough. And that’s what we ask students to do all the time. We ask them to toughen up, get some grit, pull-up-boot-straps and get to it. Bolstering is okay: put-downs and shaming is not. It would seem like this line is mile-wide, but it’s razor thin sometimes.

One other aspect of her lecture, (which I’m not sure others heard, but with my super-powers of subtext hearing), included her discussion about print culture. There is no mystery why it is I can’t have students simply “go read this” -there demands a context and a conversation:

“Constructive criticism” is a middle class concept. A lot of times you see teachers writing information on students papers, feedback to them about how they are doing or whatever. And the oral culture students will say, “My teacher doesn’t notice if I do the work, and they don’t notice if I don’t do the work.” Because that writing is not communicating to them. They need personal, “Sit down, go over it with me, and do it verbally”, and that’s how they get their information.

That is why my most struggling readers have always been the best verbal trackers, consistently. And unless we truly want to help, support, and educate our students experiencing poverty we must bend, break, or trash the curriculum standards that impede this by way of stealing our time, our lesson ideas, constructing intentional planning that allows for talk, even if it’s self-talk, or one-to-one with teachers.

Now the other big subtext I heard was shaming. She used her memory of teachers’ voices chiding students for being late, forgetting books, not coming prepared, having lice, etc. (I wanted to tell her that lice is way overblown, and even ‘rich kids’ get lice. I’ve know a few. And one thing I would love to chat over coffee with her is that most lives are full of many experiences: times of richness, times of hunger. I have those stories. I’m sure you do, too.)

Her point was this shaming of children for things out of their control deflates them, permanently. Why tear someone down who’s doing the best they can?

I’ve seen shaming in my own school. Shaming of teachers who come in late to a meeting because their daycare was late, or shamed because they said something in a meeting, or a lot of “kids these days” comments.

Let’s talk about the dress code.

The other day we were reviewing rules, and one of my fiery young feminists has major issues with the dress code, seeing it as sexist and double-standard. I met her argument head-on, with conciliatory understanding, and my rebuttal (no pun intended) included a conversation about professional attire –my own expectations for boys and girls –I understand the issues of rape culture in our society, all too well, and I see her point. I wanted her to consider that dress codes in a professional environment are not about supporting rape culture, misogyny, sagging/gang culture, etc. It’s just a way to present oneself to the world that is self-respectful, one of those ‘soft skills’ that helps prevent others from pre-judging us. (Remember that judgment thing? Yeah.) The next day or so there was an email from a staff member giving us warning that this student was in violation of the dress code (showing her midriff) and there was no time to get her to change. Is that shaming, or being consistent with school rules? Now I feel the need to talk to this student privately and explain again what professionalism means, and how this should not impede on her personal freedoms. Now, since I didn’t notice what she was wearing, I could see a colleague getting annoyed with me for ‘not being consistent’ in enforcing the rules (I’ve been shamed with this one, too.) It’s not that I don’t enforce the dress code, but my personal philosophy is don’t demand blind rule following: understand the nature and intent, get buy-in, and gentle reminders now and again.

In other words: there are some things that are not a big deal. I propose an end to conflating teacher quality with ability to enforce rules without reason.

The Pew Research Center published an article, “Who’s Poor in America: 50 years into the War on Poverty, a data portrait.” Our nation is struggling. And I would like the conversation about poverty and kids to include how teachers are supported, too. How we get our oxygen masks on so we can help others?

And help stop the shaming. If they don’t bring a pencil to class, so what? They’re there. Teach them.

Highly recommend: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson.

So is the judgment of “misusing privilege’ made us ‘lose our capacity for empathy’ (Jon Ronson)? How are we using our privilege for teaching children, and being kind to one another?

 

Through new eyes…

Rey-face-1200x750
“Not a Mary Sue.”

 

Innocently a young colleague, not much older than my eldest son, asked me if I had seen ‘Force Awakens,’ and if I liked it.

Poor guy.

Never believe that asking a simple question to  an English-teacher-quasi-nerd-fan-girl-turned-Jedi-master-saw-original-Star-Wars-changed-life is going to produce a simple answer.

I hesitated, and he said, “Oh no.” He knew.

So…hesitated, and responded: “I learned that ‘Star Wars’ is our cultural entry, our collective consciousness doorway, to providing accessible analysis of narrative.” Or something to that effect.

Basically: it’s our doorway to being able to discuss literature/narrative, in an informed, impassioned and to us, when we’re discussing plot, character, story arc, decisions, we own it, we create and recreate, and we feel smart. And when we feel smart, we feel confident. And when we feel confident, success is inherent. And nothing succeeds like success.

Think about it: when my husband and I left the Cinerama (our boys having seen the film: older one not in love with Star Wars, in fact hates it, younger one loved it and shared the Belated Media clips below–more on that later) we both knowingly rolled our eyes at each other, and waited until we were out of earshot of other fans to dissect Kylo Ren’s character, plot points, comparisons, and develop our own fan theories. My husband leans toward Star Trek, I sit on the Star Wars side, but somehow we manage to still love each other. This huge epiphany slammed my noggin like a tri-chappe lightsaber: Star Wars doesn’t have to be good, high art, elitist cinema or literature: its value is in our ability to want to own it, and its simple story is its beauty of accessibility.

This is why–oh so very, very why–it’s important to understand how to open that door for our students.

And do not — DO NOT — get your “teacher” all over it.

DO.

NOT.

If you use Minecraft, don’t add a learning target.

If you use Dr. Who, Harry Potter, or Star Wars, don’t put a standard anywhere near it.

If you talk about Journey of the Hero, unreliable narrators, game lore, Dungeons and Dragons, or the poetry of the songs from your youth, be the Obi-Wan to their padawan, and allow them to be the Jedi Master when teaching you about what’s important to them. If you’ve ever spoken to a Whovian, you will be thoroughly schooled in all things Dr. Who.

Allow yourself to be the dork once in awhile. Show them the passion and excitement you have when you talk about a movie you love, or characters you feel like you know personally. I have no shame in telling students I cried when I found out Alan Rickman passed away. If you can watch the scene between Dumbledore and Snape when Snape reveals his motivation (no spoilers…just in case)…then you may need to check for your humanity. Back to Star Wars: a young female colleague told me she thought Rey was better than Leia. Oh, smart lady, please don’t make me bring up context and constraints of time periods.

We fans of fiction, games, lore, and the accessible story unite in pure love of the conversation.

All I can say about that.

Anyway, my colleague showed this to me — so fun to watch fan theories:

JarJar? Master Wizard?

And my younger son shared this series with me and my husband, and we loved them: (there may be some language: apologies).

Broken slipper.

Dang, home in my slippers and warm fire.
Dang, home in my slippers and warm fire.

Tonight is the Technology Expo for my district. Normally it’s in April, which is why I find myself somewhat nonplussed that I am home, not at a booth with shining, imaginative and articulate students representing the best of the digital world and its powers to educational leaders from all over the world. Not even close.

Because I missed the e-mail asking for participants.

Yup. That one blew right past me. Was told it was sent in October, or around then.

Right I am finding ironic is that this is the first year I’m teaching in the Technology Academy portion, and I understood historically the KTA is expected to present at the Expo. Of course, in years past when I’ve brought students, I was in the “regular” part of the school. Somehow we managed to show off incredible heights of thought and critical thinking. I’m still so proud of my students who created blogs and discussed hard, burning questions like children in armies, or other worrisome issues. Last year the grace and independence of normally shy students discussing the merits of Minecraft, and sexism in games, would have amazed anyone. They were the epitome of professionalism.

Well, I missed the boat on that one. There is a little thorn in my heart though, because I wish the person organizing it would have noticed I hadn’t responded, and singled me out and asked me personally. But she didn’t. That’s not her job. That’s just me feeling like a dork, and that what my students did didn’t really matter. Consider that ‘special snowflake on hot griddle’ moment.

Some of my students asked me if we were going to be there this year, and I apologized that I missed the deadline for signing up. Maybe someone looks at me like a flake, a loser, or dingbat. Well, perhaps. (But I don’t like to talk badly about people I like, and overall I do like myself.) This speaks more to the fact I’m not on a team this year that meets regularly or talks about these events, and I miss that, very much. There are all kinds of great ways to team, to talk, to plan and share ideas. I know that’s the one area in my life that makes my professional life lack luster and sparkle.

Ultimately, I let my students down this year, but as one young lady said, shrugging kindly, ‘there’s always next year.’

There sure is, my dear.

There sure is.

Teachersonomia

hand of fate

I have wakeful insomnia when my husband goes to bed anytime between 12:50-1:15 am. Aside from being grounds for divorce (JUSTKIDDINGIAMSODAMNTIRED), thought I would open up my brain to see what also is stirred up that prevents me from getting back to sleep. Be warned. It’s not safe.

What do I think about between 1 and 3 am? 

The student whose mother left.

The student whose mother died.

The student who has a concussion and can’t attend to discussions.

Wondering if I was too ambitious in my unit.

The students who send me emails they turned something in.

The students with Fs.

The students with As.

How I need to exercise more.

How my son is doing.

If my husband’s new job will work out.

If I will ever write a little fiction.

If our puppy will ever be rid of her demodex.

If our older dog will ever stop barking at the puppy.

If my older son is going to be okay with a Math Minor/Russian/German majors.

If the kitchen will be cleaned (it wasn’t, and won’t be).

If the ceiling is going to cave in.

If I’ll be able to get the bathrooms redone. (And what is that black spot under the flooring?)

If I’ll be able to finish the book club book before next week.

Trump.

Trump followers who can’t stop being angry.

If I’ll get some creative mind or physical space in this household. (It seems unlikely unless I make some radical changes and requests.)

If we’ll make it to payday. (We will.)

What do I not worry about?

Whether or not Kenye makes a Bowie cover album.

 

 

 

 

 

Cooped.

ryanlerch-the-mad-hatter-800px

This–this is why I am not sure I can be a History/Social Studies teacher anymore, and why I should be more than ever…

Ah, Internet. So bountiful, so giving: it allows students from all over the world to communicate, to understand and empathize with all kinds of species, including their own.

But a few weeks ago I hit a hard truth: sometimes I teach students whose values, beliefs, and systemic ideas take root in the worst examples of rhetorical blunderings. (Translation: I don’t  agree with them, and have to check my own biases.) While I adamantly defend a students’ Constitutional Rights and remain effectually neutral, I am not sure I have the will or the strength to fight this brand of illogic: the conspiracy theorists.

I see you...
I see you…

Students love to bandy about The Illuminati, and shouting “Illuminati” is their go-to punch line, a warding off of evil juju, much like my ridiculous practice of tossing salt over my left shoulder. (Yes, I do that, and knock on wood. Stop it. You don’t know what calamities I’ve prevented!) Some theories are fun, such as these literary ones. (Well, I think they’re entertaining: and I think that Poe one being Cooped has merit.)

A student's conspiracy theory on Drake, chicken wings, Blake, money, and the Illuminati. And some math, too.
A student’s conspiracy theory on Drake, chicken wings, Blake, money, and the Illuminati. And some math, too.

What is the real danger in believing a conspiracy theory? Those enduring ones, from the moon landing was fake to Obama’s birth certificate linger, and then get re-branded. Consider the Ted Cruz eligibility for being President. One legal argument from Mary Brigid McManamon says fairly clearly and logically, and more important,t legally, no, he’s not. This may have been in response to Jonathan H. Adler’s piece, also in the Washington Post prior to McManamon’s piece, that yes, Ted Cruz is. The author of this article provides an update and revises some of his original nuances or misinformation, so I give him credit for that:

UPDATE: Several readers object that this post simplifies what is, in actuality, a very difficult constitutional question. The precise original public meaning of “natural born citizen” may not be as clear as my post or the Katyal-Clement article suggests. For reasons why, see this 2010 essay by Lawrence Solum.

In contrast, McManamon states:

Article I of the Constitution grants Congress the power to naturalize an alien — that is, Congress may remove an alien’s legal disabilities, such as not being allowed to vote. But Article II of the Constitution expressly adopts the legal status of the natural-born citizen and requires that a president possess that status. However we feel about allowing naturalized immigrants to reach for the stars, the Constitution must be amended before one of them can attain the office of president. Congress simply does not have the power to convert someone born outside the United States into a natural-born citizen.

But is this a conspiracy theory? No, it’s a legal clarification and debate over wording and intent in the Constitution. That’s what our justice system does.

So how do we describe the difference between conspiracy theory adoption and critical debate and speech? What is the danger in ignoring these nuances? The danger is allowing Fear to sit at the table and take all the food. Fear is my current personified monster that is at the root of all heartache. Fear is the student who thinks an author is a Nazi, and then denies herself the joy of reading his works. Fear undermines the mother whose child has Autism and in desperation wants to believe in Jenny McCarthy versus the decades of science and people of medicine. People we used to hold in high esteem and trust. Fear breaks parents’ hearts over and over again when someone doubts their loss. 

But, Fear gets a punch on the snout by Buzz Aldrin:

In this article, Here’s how scientific misinformation, such as climate doubt, spread misinformation,

The researchers conclude that the diffusion of content generally takes place within clusters of users known as “echo chambers” — polarized communities that tend to consume the same types of information. For instance, a person who shares a conspiracy theory online is typically connected to a network of other users who also tend to consume and share the same types of conspiracy theories. This structure tends to keep the same ideas circulating within communities of people who already subscribe to them, a phenomenon that both reinforces the worldview within the community and makes members more resistant to information that doesn’t fit with their beliefs.

 

Confirmation bias holds the key:

Confirmation bias is the tendency of individuals to pay attention to or believe information that confirms the personal values and beliefs they already hold, rather than allowing their beliefs to be changed by new information.

People tend to believe in the theory that fits or is relevant to their situation of culture, race, religion, etc. Stress (and my monster Fear) team up to push us toward our lizard brains, abandon our front cortex in fight/flight mode. The problem with all of this is the “real” world is doing a dandy job of being nut-job crazy coco puff bananas. If a conspiracy theory is meant to explain, all it ends up doing is deflecting.

Just what Fear wanted all along.

So how do we truly help students, and ourselves, sort fact from fiction? Is it even possible?

My husband told me last night that the tapes of the moon landing were “lost,” and we were the last generation to witness the moon landing, and the memory is only in our minds. I had not heard about this, or even thought about it, because moon landings are in my own memory bank, clear and present. How is anyone going to believe us now?

Keep teaching. Keep learning. Keep connecting. And try to be a credible source.