What to Do About Ferguson

November 25, 2014

I remember Columbine.

I remember it occurred on a Tuesday.

I remember it occurred on a Tuesday because that was the night my fourth grade class always had to watch the news and bring in a current event.

All that Tuesday evening, as I watched the news, my heart went out to the Columbine students and families. I searched for a way to comprehend for myself and just couldn’t. Then I remembered my students were watching, and I felt even worse. I had unwittingly exposed a group of ten-year-olds to this. This aberration. This massacre.

That Wednesday morning, there was absolutely no doubt what story the students brought in to discuss. We spent nearly two hours talking about the events of the previous day, trying to make sense of things. When it boiled down to it, the students learned:
1. There really is no way to make sense of these things. Even for grown-ups.
2. Events like these make us look at the people in our lives with renewed love and gratitude.
3. Our parents worry about us, want us to be okay, and wish they could always protect us. They can’t.
4. See # 2.

And now.

Last night, my family sat transfixed as we watched Ferguson tear apart. My sons witnessed the burning cars, the people running to escape tear gas, the broken windows, the pleas for peace. They asked many questions, some of which I had the answers to. Others? Well…I only wished.

Being the teacher that I am, I process everything through the lens of student interactions. My mind went through how I would discuss these events with my students. Because in my classroom, we have to. We would have to use this opportunity to open our eyes to the events of history and understand who we are, where we stand, and what we individually must do.

But.

I don’t have my own class.

I’m a specialist who sees kids, depending on their grade, between one and three hours a week. I don’t get to assign current events anymore. We don’t get to have morning meetings. Or community time. These are the times I miss having my own group of students. Kids that I can love and nurture and give what they need all week long, not just for thirty to sixty minutes at a pop.

I began to think that I would have to let this opportunity pass me by. After all, I don’t have much time with my students. Furthermore, and more importantly, who’s to even say that my kids even KNOW what’s going on in Ferguson? Some of them may have parents who talk to them about the news, but I don’t think the majority of them are up on what’s happening around them.

I could wait for our next novel study. It’s a book set in the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s. I would do a tremendous disservice in allowing my children to think that this struggle is a thing of the past, that racial equality arrived hand-in-hand with the March on Washington. That we have overcome. That we now live in a nation where all citizens truly have equal opportunities, and where people of different races live in harmony.

We still suffer the ills of inequality, of racism, of injustice. Ferguson is a symptom.

And then it hit me.

My fifth graders are reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Yes, it’s a novel study, but we’re mostly using it as a springboard for studying bigger stuff: the nature of intelligence, the cosmos, dystopian societies, the Cold War. Big ideas for young minds.

Today is the day I show them the video clip of Carl Sagan’s famous essay, The Pale Blue Dot. 

Bingo.

It’s perfect. In three minutes, it communicates what I wish to get across: people’s needs, their struggles, their desires for power and agency. It seems both so critical and so insignificant all at the same time.

It’s a start.

We may not be able to have a direct discussion about the events in Ferguson today. But we just may. I just may have one student: sensitive, aware, concerned. One student who may beg the question. And when that student does?

I’ll be ready.

Watch Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot for three minutes of reflection, perspective, and, hopefully, inspiration.

A Month of Reflection: Day 22 – Dare

September 18, 2014

Thinking back to the rounds of Truth or Dare I played as a kid, dares really meant something. Certainly, pride was on the line. You don’t have to go that route, but once a dare is out there, you’ve got to do it.

But I’m an adult now. And yes, I do believe I am a bit past playing Truth or Dare.

So…now?

What do I dare to do?

A dare is ambitious. A little scary. Out of my comfort zone. Something unexpected or out of character. Something there may be consequences for.

For me, what would that be?

Without a doubt…

Speaking my mind.

It seems a little thing. But it’s a big little thing.

In so many ways, I just wish I could be braver. I just wish I could speak more plainly to people and reveal more of the truth of what’s in my thoughts. I just haven’t figured out how to do that without seeming judgmental, preachy, hypocritical or mean.

At the root, I know, is fear. Fear of being disliked, fear of angering others. Yet I know that I can be both disliked and loved at the same time. My brain knows exactly what’s going on.

Hearts, on the other hand, are much more stubborn.

And you? What do you dare?

A Month of Reflection: Day 21 – Change

September 16, 2014

I stand in the water as it
Rushes by, whirls past,
Flows around, pushes through.
So much to take on.
My bare feet
Dig in
To the sandy sediment,
My body absorbs the
Shock
Of each new challenge.
Steeled by
Proud legs
Clenched fists
Squared shoulders,
I defy the flow.

Yet
There is power in water,
An energy
That refuses to yield
To my obstinance,
That heaves me up
End over end
A fury of splash and ripple
Only to cast me downstream
Floating,
Gazing,
Marveling
At where I am now.

A Month of Reflection: Day 20 – Judge

September 15, 2014

“I just feel like I’m doing it all wrong.”

I heard people saying this more than once today. Too many times, for my taste. Once, really, is too many.

I wanted to tell everyone they had nothing to worry about, and that their fears were completely unfounded.

I couldn’t.

Because I understand.

We’re teachers.

No matter how many years we’ve been teaching,
No matter how many students return to thank us,
No matter how many parents write us glowing notes,
No matter what our standardized test scores tell us,
No matter what our colleagues tell us,
No matter what our administrators tell us,

We can’t escape the feeling that it’s all smoke and mirrors.

If only they knew how disorganized my desk was.
If only they knew how behind I am on grading.
If only they knew how much better I could plan.
If only they knew.

And in our district, we’re taking on exciting changes in our language arts curriculum and instruction. It’s not often that we teachers get to learn an approach of teaching that truly allows us to do what is best for students.

What could be bad about that?

Of course it’s more work.
Of course it’s more planning.
People will tell you that’s the gripe.

It’s not.

Taking on a new teaching approach forces us to sit eye-to-eye with our ideal selves.
Forces us to see where we are.
Forces us to see what we aren’t.

Our administrators aren’t there to judge us.
Our colleagues aren’t there to judge us.
We don’t need them to.

We’ll do just fine.

If only we could withhold judgement from ourselves.
If only we could believe what others see in us.
If only we could open the doors
And remember that we are all
Sharing the same lonely journey.

We’ll do just fine.

A Month of Reflection: Day 19 – Ask

September 15, 2014

Ever wonder

Why it’s so much easier to offer
Than ask?

Ever wonder

Why it’s so much easier to decline
Than accept?

The juggler
Never asks the audience
To hold his pins,
Casually
Laughing and joking
Never revealing
The tiresome work
Of keeping things
Up in the air.

A Month of Reflection: Day 18 – Pray

September 13, 2014

O God,

Let me live love.

Let it start with the joy that lives in my heart, and let it radiate.

Let me seek from myself the best that is within.

Let me be a source of strength and spirit and compassion.

Let me be a light unto others.

May this be Your will.

Amen.

A Month of Reflection – Day 17: Awaken

September 12, 2014

I have a confession. I read all those writings that teach us to raise our consciousness, to awaken ourselves to the world around us.

You know the directions: Pay attention.
Become aware of your surroundings.
Know and recognize what you see.
Hear. Touch. Taste. Smell. Think. Feel.

Here’s my confession. All that awakeness? It wears me out. And I like it that way.

Some nights I lie awake, and my mind races. I know some of you are with me here. For some of us, it’s the only chance we have for us to sit and listen to what our brain is telling us.

Awake.

Awake.

Thinking.

Awake.

That’s where I fight wakefulness with wakefulness. I challenge myself to pay attention to everything around me: the feel of the covers
the sound of the refrigerator clicking on
the whisper of my breath
the fatigue of my muscles
the whirr of the heater
the wind in the trees
the hum of the earth

It’s a lot of work. Bit by bit, my brain flags with the effort. The sheer exertion of grasping every moment, every sense. It chips away at me until I feel myself, slipping, slipping.

Awakening into slumber.

A Month of Reflection – Day 16: Understand

September 11, 2014

I’ll say this about understanding.

I can work as hard as I can to understand certain people,
Or their situation,
Or their choices,
Or their words.

But for some people,
Try as I might
I just
Can’t.

Can’t bring myself to picture why they
Say
Don’t say
Do
Don’t do
Do differently
Live that way
Think that way

Yet

Peeling away the layers of
Words
Choices
Actions

I understand that I can
Love them
All the same.

A Month of Reflection – Day 15: Learn

September 11, 2014

Yes, I have skipped a few blog posts.

Back on the wagon now.

So…what did I learn yesterday?

Yesterday. I was in the kitchen preparing dinner. My 11 year-old came home from playing with a couple of friends of his. He started complaining about a couple of kids who showed up while they were hanging out. Kids he doesn’t really like, kids who bug him. He mentioned that one kid started telling racist jokes. And that some of the jokes were about Jews.

And then he told me the jokes. Both of which were of the concentration-camp variety.

I did my best to contain my anger, but I know some of it probably leaked out. Maybe that was actually a good thing. My kids need to see that racism and anti-Semitism are real, and terrible.

I almost called that mom right away, but I’m glad I’ve held off. For starters, it turns out my boy had joined in on some of the jokes to a lesser degree. I also don’t know that mom. At all. I wasn’t quite sure how to approach the whole thing.

I’ve been going over what happened yesterday in my mind like a stone I hold in my palm. I keep turning it over, looking at it from different sides. Watching as one point of view gets polished, and then another.

Was that kid a racist, or an Jew hater? Could be. Could also be he’s heard that joke from some other kid. Or from some dumb online source. Could be – praying not – that he heard it at home. I keep turning the possibilities over in my palm and can’t really come up with an answer to that one. I have a feeling I won’t get one, and I think I’m okay with that.

Do I need to call the kid’s mom? Still polishing up this one. I am not always going to be there to run in when someone hurts my child. My boy has learned what he needs to learn from this lesson. I lean towards it, then away. Towards it, then away. Most likely, I will call when I have found the words. Words which say we had some tough conversations in our house. That I would want to know if it were my kid.

And then?

I need to let it go, and pray that there will be some tough conversations in their house, too.

As for me and my boy?

  • We learned that it really IS hurtful when people tell jokes about you or your culture.
  • We learned that even if you live in a place where there are lots of Jews, there’s no guarantee you’re free from hatred of Jews.
  • We learned that a good response to rude or racist jokes is, “Dude. That’s not funny.”
  • We learned that if people are telling jokes about you, and you laugh, or tell one of your own, you’re telling people those jokes are both funny and okay to tell.

Chalk it up to a lesson learned the hard way.

A Month of Reflection: Day Eight – Believe

September 3, 2014

The word “believe” suggests that there is a choice for us.

We can choose to believe something, or someone.
Or not.

We can choose to believe IN something, or someone.
Or not.

Yet the most important beliefs for me are not an option. I don’t know HOW to not believe them, to not believe in them.

Teaching is the best job in the world, and children are the best co-workers in the world.
People hold immeasurable potential.
Science, nature and mathematics will never cease to provide amazement and wonder.
There is a higher power. Whatever form people say it takes, something unites the universe on a deeper level.

Elul is that time of the year to reflect and prepare ourselves mentally for the High Holidays approaching. Each day of Elul, I’ll reflect on a theme and invite you to come along on that journey. Feel free to comment with your reflections on the theme, post your own blog or Facebook thoughts, or just quietly give yourself a bit of spiritual space.

blogelul2014


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