Community Compassion Response to Tragedy Social Justice

The Injustice of Staying Quiet

Growing up in Huntington Beach, California I often felt like an outsider, but I wasn’t- I just wasn’t aware of how inside I really was.

Sometimes I felt like an outsider because my parents and relatives spoke another language, even at home. Sometimes when we would get together as a family no one would speak English and I had no clue what they were saying. I felt like an outsider when I went to nice private schools, but my family drank powdered milk at home to save money. I felt like an outsider when I joined the punk scene and ran away from home at fifteen. Whenever I was asked to mark a racial identity box at school I would cross out white/caucasian or check the “other” box and write in: Acadian.

But let’s be real. I grew up in a nice suburb of Orange County- Huntington Beach, and while not a surfer, or skateboarder, I was, and still am, a white male and have always benefited from this fitting in whether I was aware of it or not.

Growing up I had few friends of color. Catholic schools today, and even in the 80s, were places people sent their kids to get away from public schools, but both the public, and private schools, where I lived were anything but racially diverse. I went to a Catholic school in Santa Ana. While our school was located in Santa Ana we knew nothing of Santa Ana. We were taught nothing about the cultural history of our very neighborhood.

This ignorance continued in so many different ways.

Ignorance is not just a lack of learning, a lack of exposure, it’s a lack of focus. That focus was brought to the forefront when I finally read this book in my early 20s.

Autobiography

This book cracked my mind open. I will never ever forget those lines.

I’ve mentioned Malcolm X in other blogs posts. His story reminds me in part of the story of Musashi Miyamoto and the power of books, and the willingness to continually question our current path, and struggle towards enlightenment and love. I have not one, but two Malcolm X posters in my room.

Unfortunately having posters in your room does not mean you are enlightened. I had a perceptive young lady once point out that I didn’t have many women in the posters in my room, she was right. I fixed that, but I did it because she had the courage to speak up. She was willing to shake the cage of the normal teacher/student hierarchy.

And that’s one of the points I would like to make. If you are not listening to other voices, it’s hard to move beyond your fixed notion of what is right and wrong. What we call, in my family, social justice.

Social justice has always been important in my family. While my parents and I disagreed on many subjects, I have always admired my parents commitment to compassion and social justice. They have been a part of various social justice groups since I have been born. Both of them have worked tirelessly for the homeless- even when my father could no longer fundraise and cook food at a local soup kitchen he now raises money by phone and collects hundreds of blankets for the homeless in his garage and then has people pick them up and distribute them. My parents were foster parents for kids whose parents were in the judicial system, and my mom has for the past fourteen or so years stood silently at the entrance of the Huntington Beach pier, holding a sign asking people to think about a world with peace. She’s done this with a friend EVERY Sunday, rain or shine. People are not nice to her all the time, but that never shakes her commitment to social justice.

MoniqueI’m sure this is one reason I went into teaching.

I started my career at Mayfair High School a school in Lakewood California. It was an amazing four years. I still have dreams about teaching there. This was a school completely unlike my own experience in high school and college. Mayfairs student population was about 20% African American, 35% Caucasian, and the other students a mix of other cultures and racial designations/identifications. Even though the students were wonderful and loving, racial issues and prejudice came up often. Sadly, even though the student population was an almost equal mix of cultures, our teaching staff was almost mono-racial. I’ll never forget my third year at Mayfair. We hired a wonderful ELA teacher Rema Gordon. Rema Gordon was the only African-American teacher on staff at that time. She was so smart, so strong, and yet I’ll never forget her talking to me after back-to-school night about how she had a white parent refuse to shake her hand.

I also started teaching at a continuation school in Bellflower, Somerset, located about five minutes from Compton (I say Compton because more people seem to know where that is than where Bellflower is located). I taught there at night and in the summer. Working with these students taught me lessons, gave me perspective, made me a better teacher, a better person.

When I transferred back to Orange County to teach at FVHS I remember asking the principal about the racial makeup at FVHS. He said we have 14 African American students. I said “14 percent?” he said “no 14.” I don’t think the numbers are much different right now at FVHS and we currently have 3,850 students. Right now the largest socio-group on our campus are students who identify as Asian. About 53% of our students at FVHS are “Asian.” But that doesn’t mean they have it easy, nor does it mean that we should forget the many lessons to learn from racial prejudice against Asians as my student brought up in an eloquent blog post earlier this year.

Our Asian students worry that schools discriminate against them when it comes to acceptance rates, they come back and talk to me about what it is like being one of only a few Asian students when they go to school out of state, they have other stories like many of my students. Orange County has become more more diverse in the last thirty years, but diversity doesn’t mean equality.

And of course social justice means more than racial equality. It means understanding how to address learning differences, it means how to address gender equality, it means understanding the struggle that some of us are dealing with at home. (PS that gender equality post has over 25 comments on it, and was written by a HS student)

So what can we DO?

Well I’ll tell you what we can’t do. We can’t make excuses and we can’t just ignore things and hope they will go away. I was reminded of this today by my friend Rafranz Davis

Twitter

When I saw Rafranz’s tweet I felt ashamed of my lame response. She is so sweet and nice, she let me off gently.

I usually steer away from difficult social conversations online because

  • I have a hot temper and I say stupid stuff all the time when I get even slightly upset. People being mean, cruel, and hateful to other people is a hot button item.
  • I remember just recently following and then favoriting a few tweets from a social media account that was talking about Gamergate. I sent a supportive tweet to the account and then immediately had notifications/tweets in the discussion thread from people I didn’t know saying horrible things about me as a teacher. I remember thinking what if my principal or students see those tweets when they click on my tweet, I don’t want them to see that stuff. I mean everyone knows the key to dealing with online trolls and online hate is to ignore it… right?
  • I get so sad sometimes at man’s inhumanity that I can’t even discuss it. I have a terrible time reading passages out-loud in class like Elie Wiesel’s novel Night or The Narrative Of The Life And Times of Frederick Douglass  without starting to tear up or wanting to go take a walk outside. Talking about it on social media makes it seem pithy at times. Another lame excuse.
  • Lastly, I feel uncomfortable with my role in the event/tragedy. Who am I to add thoughts/perspective on something like this? Do I even have something useful or important to say about this?

But Rafranz and Elie Wiesel are right. We cannot stay quiet: at moments like the senseless tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina or at any time.

So what can I do, well… I thought of a lot of things that I, or we, need to do.

Twitter Chats, Conferences, and other Professional Development Opportunities. 

So many of my Twitter chats are centered on my teaching subject and how we can use technology. While many of my chats are centered on things like student voice, questioning, design thinking and other areas of pedagogy, I’ve been trapped in an echo chamber of my own choosing. I’m asking you in the comments below to steer me towards topics, chats, and local conferences where I can learn more about teaching and talking about tolerance and social justice. I’ve always had a social justice list in my Twitter lists, but I’m sure that I’m missing more than a few important people and Twitter accounts.

I’m going to check in on this list regularly, see what they are talking about, and see what I can learn, and do.

I’d also like to thank John Stevens and Karl Lindgren-Streicher who have tackled several tough subjects, dealing with social equality, using the #CAedchat hashtag. I’m sure some of my other #CAedchat mods have done the same, but I specifically remember them talking with the rest of us about how they were nervous, but compelled to address these topics in our Twitter chat.

At conferences people joke all the time about what they really need at a conference

Maslow

But let’s get real. The lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are so important. How can we talk about technology before addressing equality and equity and living in a system that holds life so shallowly? People get genuinely upset about WiFi issues at a conference, but when was the last time we got upset that there aren’t more sessions about what really needs to be addressed in our classrooms? (I’m holding myself just as accountable here, and yes there ARE people who get upset about this and hopefully someone is listening) When was the last time you went to a major conference and went to a session that talked about equality or social justice? Is that a choice in a check box when you submit a session? Why not? Even at a “tech” conference you should be talking about more than just tech tools and tech discoveries.

Next time you go to an edcamp how about a session on social justice in the classroom, or prejudice in the workplace, or just talk about how to bring more love in this world. I’ve seen sessions like this before, we need to make sure this happens more often.

forgiveness

A session on Forgiveness at EdcampLA

Resources

Teaching tolerance is crucial to helping our students feel safe and that they belong. It is the cornerstone to both our school and classroom community. I had forgotten that I used to subscribe to Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Magazine. When I switched schools I never told them about my address switch. Big mistake. It’s a free magazine full of great ideas and resources.

I really like this practical list of Top Ten Strategies To Integrate Social Justice In The Classroom (From the San Francisco State University Center For Teaching and Faculty Development)

Books

I have read and love all of these books. They help me think about diversity, inequality, and social justice. Books take you on a deeper voyage and stay logged in your heart and mind.

Books 2

Please recommend more books below in the comments or via Twitter

At school and in your workplace.

Think about who you spend time with? Are you modeling diversity for your peers and students. Students notice who we spend time with, it shows our values.

Revist your core works of literature and make sure they reflect the diversity of today’s America.

In the classroom

I’m going to use the section below to start collecting more specific resources. I have some, but I’m sure there are others, please let me know about them in the comments below and I’ll add them here. Many of my students use their Innovation Projects to help others and to bring light to social justice issues. There are other assignments, like the M.U.N.I. project that resulted in a push towards public projects on equality, but I need to make sure I actively pursue this as often as I can. I’m a Humanities teacher. It’s my calling.

Poems, Essays, Art, Podcasts, and Videos:

“America” by The Poet Claude McKay 

Many Asked Me Not To Forget Them” by the poet Naomi Shihab Nye

RadioLab Podcast On Why People Do Good Things

This I Believe: a student video on the importance of difference

Unlocking The Truth: A video that might make you re-examine common assumptions

Video On Migrant Farm Workers In American. Really wonderful story on the workers who feed us all.

Radio Diaries: Women Pilots of WWII 

Before Brown vs. The Board Of Education- the Mendez family fought school segregation in California. I had the honor of hearing their daughter Sylvia Mendez tell her story in our school library this year. Listen to the Mendez story here.

.
Lessons, activities, and websites: 

Classroom Resources From Teaching Tolerance

Stanford University Liberation Curriculum

more to follow….

Most importantly here is a link for those who want to respond to the tragic killings on June 17th, 2015 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

*UPDATE 6/20: In an interview in 2014 “South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said that voters should not be concerned that the statehouse flies a Confederate flag because she has gotten no complaints from the CEOs.” If you would like to change that you can find the email and twitter account of every CEO of every major company in America here.

***

So how do I feel about the tragic killing of nice people who were seeking spiritual answers and community in a place of worship?

I feel sad.

I feel sad that once again this will only be a news item for many people and that no one will vote, or raise money, or spend time changing what needs to be changed in America.

I feel sad that we allow someone to walk around wearing clothing that intimidates others and feel comfortable enough with that, and the other racist things they may have done or said, that we have no hesitation in giving them a gun for a birthday present.

I feel sad that someone heard a message of hate enough that it convinced them that taking another human’s life was the best solution. I feel sad that we too often turn to violence as a solution for anything.

I feel sad that so many Americans feel alone in their fight for freedom from oppression here in America. Sad that their longing for true equality is only addressed so long as we don’t actually have to change anything. The America I know is willing to give their lives overseas to help others in need, but we falter at home due to politics, power, and the uncomfortableness of truth and necessary change.

I feel sad that I stayed quiet online and created excuses for my uncomfortableness with a topic so important. I don’t know exactly what to say all the time, but I can listen more actively, and respond more openly. I need to trust the voice of my heart to say what is right.

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. -Elie Weisel

8 comments

  1. This is such a beautiful post and articulates so clearly how I’ve been feeling. I, too, hesitate to use social media to discuss the social justice issues that weigh heavily on my heart and dominate so many of my real-life and Voxer conversations.

    And my reasons are much the same as yours. Some of it is fear of backlash from inadvertently saying the wrong thing (sometimes the “trolls” are the people who are on the same side of the issue as you are, but they don’t like how/when you expressed yourself). And there are other kinds of backlash, too. I use Twitter solely for professional purposes and my income is tied very tightly to what I say and do online. There are repercussions that come from tweeting about controversial issues and I weigh my words carefully.

    But mostly, I end up staying silent for the other 2 reasons you mentioned. “I get so sad sometimes at man’s inhumanity that I can’t even discuss it” is something I relate to. Using social media to discuss something so frustrating or heartbreaking almost seems to be making a mockery of it. I don’t generally use social media to express any intense personal emotions of any kind–I hold those feelings close to my heart and can’t bring myself to condense them down into 140 characters.

    Also: “I feel uncomfortable with my role in the event/tragedy. Who am I to add thoughts/perspective on something like this? Do I even have something useful or important to say about this?” Yes. This. Always, always this.

    Thanks for explaining the silence. And thanks for explaining thoughtful ways to break that silence.

  2. My only regret on the post about feminism is that I didn’t address the nuances of gender equality in my post and how it plays into the idea of intersectional feminism. It was simply because I was ignorant of the idea that people can be “more descriminated” against based on their class, race, etc. (If anything, I had experienced it, but never really understood it until after I made the post.)
    I’m more than glad that you have taken it upon yourself as an educator to really mold the minds of young adults to be aware of what has happened and is happening in this world and to speak up about it. As a former student, I’m glad to say that I had the opportunity to be in your class, and I hope you continue to encourage students to speak up.

    1. I miss you and hope you are doing well Jean. I understand what you are saying, but I hope that you are amazed at times at the courage and will you had at such a young age to handle such an important topic, so well.

  3. Thank you for taking on so much at one time. When we open ourselves to the public as we do online we open ourselves to a whole new world of opportunities and risks. We have the opportunity to share our best thinking, to contribute to important conversations. We also risk being misconstrued, having our words taken out of context and becoming targets of mean-spirited commentary. We open ourselves to all manner of possibility. And I continue to opt for opening, sharing, bearing witness. And in this post you are doing such powerful important work which takes courage and staying power. As a white male speaking mainly (I’m guessing) to a white audience, your message is doubly important. May it be received in the constructive spirit in which it is offered. Please stay open, keep sharing and encouraging others to take up the struggle alongside the rest of us. Thank you, again.

  4. Thanks for saying what’s what and for stepping up to do this difficult work. The dialogue needs more voices like yours and I appreciate both the courage and conviction it took to share this piece. You’ve covered much ground in a single post and it could not have come at a more appropriate time.

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