Things you can get kicked out for writing

9 Apr

(I’m still not sure the grammar in that title is correct. Prepositions in casual language can be hard, even or especially for a former English teacher.)

I want to share a post that I found, and ask you to start at the end with an excerpt from the addendum:

I was actually kicked [out] of a Facebook Principal group for posting this article and the conversation that ensued. It’s called the ‘Principal Principles Leadership Group’. Some members got mad, upset, and debated. White folks said that it was in appropriate, other folks joined in on either side. There was one troll who would add comments and then drop out of the group. Ultimately my post was deleted, I was removed from the group. That was the [sic] that.

Now read the full post and see what you think.

It’s called “White Supremacy Culture is Poisoning your School.”

Maybe you’re not even bothering to read the article (by the way, it’s not long) because all you needed to see was the title.

Now does “mad, upset, and debated” make sense? Are you thinking: what was this Joe Truss thinking, posting the words “white supremacy” to Facebook? Of course Joe got kicked out! (I mean, I don’t agree, but I get why it happened…)

If you did read the post, maybe you noticed that it gets partisan, with visual references to POTUS, even though Joe never mentions his name. So you’re thinking: well, look, schools can’t and shouldn’t get political, so…

First of all, let’s just clarify that just about everything a school does is political, from its budget to the content of its commencement ceremonies. Schools however, should watch becoming partisan, that is, blindly loyal to a political ideology or group to the summary exclusion of those who don’t agree. When I look at the two Trump references in Joe’s post, I feel the first is more unhelpfully partisan than the second. You may not agree with the cartoon depiction of MAWA hats (“Make America White Again”), so OK, let’s talk about why the campaign to make [US] America “great” again has advanced or been conflated with a campaign to make the USA “white” again.

And secondly, let’s not second guess Joe’s understanding of why he got kicked out:

White fragility anyone?

White supremacy maybe?

So my attempt to pull down the moderate veil and show the ugly truth beneath led to my banishment and silence. Score one for the status quo and racism. I couldn’t ask for a better definition of WSC and WF.

It’s perhaps human to want to rationalize for someone else that their experience isn’t what they think it is (especially if they think they’re experiencing a systemic injustice like racism). It’s also a microaggression to blame Joe (for misunderstanding or thinking the worst of others, when maybe he should have watched his tone).

As for pinning the tail on the politics donkey, I see this happen with race and racism all the time. It’s not about race; it’s about socioeconomic status. It’s not about the words “white supremacy”; it’s about bringing up politics. How about: yes, and? In this post, Joe is partisan and names white supremacy (and for the record, he does a lot more of the latter because that’s the topic of the post).

I think it’s worth noting that Paul Gorski throws the words “white supremacy” around a lot all over LinkedIn. (I don’t know about his FB activities.) And for the record, Paul identifies as white. I don’t know about Joe, but he looks brown or black to me.

This is all to say that equity practice will require each of us to say and write things that cause some breakdowns: personal, group and hopefully institutional. I don’t mean “things” like epithets hurled at each other under cover of the internet. I mean “things” like white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, fragility and privilege that are true, not just in the world, but in our own institutions, communities and interactions.

And I mean “breakdown” as in: stop to break something down, really understand how it works, and build something else/new/next, not necessarily out of the same old parts.

If you didn’t read Joe’s whole post and addendum, here’s what happened after he got kicked out of that principals’ group:

On the bright side, people came to my defense and showed solidarity with me. They dropped out of the this group and we started another.

Radical Principals.

If the shoe fits.

It was affirming, because people came out of the wood work to join. I mean they were always there, it just wasn’t comfortable to be fully political or radical. There we were able to create a brave space to move our practices and share tips. Also just encourage our work in the belly of the beast.

Since the[n] we have slowly grew our group and created formal and informal norms.

Even though it is nice to have a space that I feel comfortable and pushed in, it’s sad that this comes through being ostracized. Also, it’s sad that this allows moderate and conservative educators to stay in their comfort zone, because students lose.

Yes, sad, affirming and still moving this campaign of antiracism forward.

It’s racism. Not just “racial inequality”

8 Apr

Talking about “racial inequality” is talking about the effect without mentioning the cause. It’s like talking about 83,615 deaths globally (as of 9:45am PT today) without referring to the covid-19 pandemic.

And yet, that’s what I’ve been hearing and reading in coverage about the disproportionate rate of coronavirus-related mortality for black US Americans this week: racial inequality.

When we need to talk about racism. Just yesterday, I wrote about the term “food insecure.” My point wasn’t that everyone should stop saying that: rather, that it may not be helpful to say for a variety of reasons, including implied blame for lack of access to food on those who lack access, conflating systemic failings with individual circumstances, and unrelated negative connotations.

I’m closer to saying “stop saying that” today. For both “food insecure” and “racial inequality” because we can’t solve an issue if we won’t even name it. I don’t go to my doctor for us to cluck regretfully over a troubling symptom or to just mask or make the symptom go away for now (although, to be clear: it is critical to treat severe symptoms when they manifest); I go to my doctor to learn about the root cause and to see if I can do anything about it.

Talking just about the results–in this case, food insecurity and racial inequality–has an attitude of fatalism about it. As if, well (shrug), what can we do (shaking our heads in dismay), other than carry on with injustice as usual)?

And especially because we seem to care (if the conversations at schools and in the news are any indicator), we need to talk about the systemic causes, not just the anecdotal symptoms.

This all brings me to a podcast to share with you today. The Intercept‘s “PANDEMIC RACISM: THE WISCONSIN PRIMARY, DISENFRANCHISEMENT, AND THE COST OF LIFE” caught my eye not just because they write their headlines in all caps, but because they named it. Not pandemic “racial inequality.” Pandemic racism.

The anti-black racism of the covid-19 spread and response

8 Apr

Data on the race of Americans who have been sickened by the coronavirus has only been made public in a handful of places, and it is too limited at this point, experts say, to make sweeping conclusions about the national or long-term picture. But day by day, the emerging statistics show black residents being infected at disturbing rates in some of the nation’s largest cities and states.

Black Americans Face Alarming Rates of Coronavirus Infection in Some States,” The NY Times, 4.7.20

Does it surprise you that “black residents [are] being infected at disturbing rates in some of the nation’s largest cities and states”? Or that:

“For some black Americans, anxiety about wearing face coverings in public may keep them from doing so” because they fear that “they could be mistaken for individuals involved in gang activity or otherwise treated with suspicion while they try to observe best practices in public. Bandannas have long been associated with violent gangs across America’s inner cities. Different gangs have historically worn colored bandannas to communicate their allegiance, to rival gangs as well as fellow gang members.”

Maybe you weren’t actively thinking about this, much like, in issuing the general public health and safety orders to stay at home, most public officials apparently weren’t thinking about the predictable and actual threat to partners or children of domestic abusers.

It’s not clear whether the data we have about infection and death by ethnoracial group is “limited” due to incomplete or inconsistent collection, insufficient sample sizes or inability or unwillingness to share what data has been collected, but here I want to make a case for not needing (more and more) data for what we can reasonably anticipate and just go ahead and act on.

In this case, racism (and here, I’m including anti-black racism as one of many concurrent and overlapping racisms). I’ve made the point in previous posts that social injustice isn’t under any “stay at home” order during this pandemic. Why would we think that racism would rest? Racism is a system that almost seems capable of perpetual motion, but let’s be clear: racism is a campaign that requires people to perpetuate, evolve and advance it. That said, we don’t have to do anything additionally right now for the effects of what we’ve already set in motion to glide, mortally, forward. What I mean is:

  • The economic racism that puts black people and other people of color at disproportionate risk for having to continue working/not being able to “telework”; for not having stable–let alone spacious–housing where a family member can self-quarantine; not having nearby groceries and healthcare services, speaking of which…
  • The anti-black racism in healthcare that includes everything from patient access to patient care.
  • The ongoing racist voter suppression in (but not limited to) Wisconsin that arguably compelled voters to choose between life and liberty in the state’s primary this week.

So yes, pre-pandemic racism is doing fine during this crisis. And we could have predicted that. As Dr. Allison Arwady, director of the Chicago’s public health department puts it, “Systemic and institutional racism that have driven these inequalities through the years we are now seeing play out in Covid data.”

This is another instance where I’m not arguing that we should put DEI “before” this health crisis. We need DEI to combat this health crisis.

It is a relief to know that:

Officials [in Chicago] on Monday said they would order health providers to offer complete demographic information on all coronavirus patients so Chicago could deploy what the mayor called “racial inequity rapid response teams” that would monitor symptoms, offer testing and help enforce social distancing in places like grocery stores. Plans were also being put in place to offer extra buses along busy routes so commuters could have more distance between one another.

And, before the next crisis–heck, even without needing one–can we just agree right now that while a pandemic, wildfire or other natural disaster “doesn’t discriminate,” the systems that we’ve built do? Can we just already collect demographic data about access, interventions and impacts; and anticipate that any response to support “all Americans” will be unequal, especially if we keep talking about “all Americans” as if that’s a real group that shares day-to-day living, access and thriving in common?

I don’t mean that being a US American isn’t a real thing. I mean that when we generalize about “Americans” (or “our students” or “the community”), who are we really centering? And who’s fallen into our blindspots or completely out of the picture? And if we really want to strive for an ideal for each and every US American, then the only way to do it is to confront the truth that we’re not they’re already.

People’s Historians: online mini-classes

7 Apr

This is a heads up that the Zinn Education Project, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change are offering Online People’s Historians
Mini-Classes, with historian Jeanne Theoharis and high school teacher/Rethinking Schools editor Jesse Hagopian, including:

Friday, April 10, 11:00am PST/ 2:00pm EST: Teenagers in the Civil Rights Movement. Did you know that teenagers played leading roles in the Civil Rights Movement, at times against the objections of many adults in their lives? Join a conversation on the role of young people in the Civil Rights Movement, from the teenagers desegregating Montgomery’s buses to the student sit-ins to the high school walkouts of the 1960s.

Friday, April 17, 11:00am PST/ 2:00pm EST: The Civil Rights Movement in the North. Did you know that the biggest civil rights demonstration of the 1960s happened in New York City? Did you know that at the same time people were pressing for desegregation in Montgomery and Birmingham, they were doing so in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Boston? Join us for a conversation on the Civil Rights Movement outside the South.

Sessions are interactive with a presentation, small group breakouts and Q&A with the facilitators.

Participants will need access to Zoom (on computer or phone). Register here. A day before the session, you will receive a confirmation, the Zoom link (with a password), and an optional pre-reading.

What’s up with saying “food insecure?”

7 Apr

Let me preface with: I’m not saying “STOP SAYING ‘food insecure’!”

I’m asking: Can we consider why we use the words we use and maybe not say them if they’re not helpful?

I’ve heard the term “food insecure” a lot more frequently as schools respond to the needs of their communities during this pandemic. For which I’m glad, because the “public school kids” versus “private school kids” dichotomy does not hold up. Just for starters:

  1. Several independent schools offer financial assistance to families.
  2. In addition to those families who accept financial assistance from their tuition-charging schools, there are typically additional families receiving financial assistance: the families who are taking out loans, tapping trust funds, and grandparents’ and extended family’s gifts.
  3. This pandemic is impacting employment and income–not equally mind you–across the US and global economies.
  4. Including contract workers at schools: some institutions contract out food, maintenance and other services. These workers may not receive any regular pay even as administrators, faculty and staff do.

This is to say: financial, socioeconomic and class diversity are present in independent schools. So they, too, need to talk about whether and how kids, employees and families will have enough to sustain their basic living needs not just during this shutdown/stay at home period, but in the transition out of it, which already sounds confusing, at least to me.

So I’m hearing schools talk about “food insecurity.”

Did you know that coin was termed in the late 1970’s? (Surprised me.) It looks like “food security” preceded it. (Less surprising.)

“Food insecurity” basically refers to an inability to access food (due to a variety of factors, including availability and affordability).

Sounds like a useful description, actually. Yes, and…

  • It seems to me like one of those words that ought to describe communities and eras, not individuals and families. Food security and insecurity is a systems issue, not a personal characteristic (as in, “they’re just a little shy and insecure”). In this way, “food insecure” reminds me of the term “gender expansive.” The first time I heard that, I thought: Whoa. That’s a lot to put on someone. If anyone should be expansive, shouldn’t it be the institutions that have traditionally been gender-limiting? And yes, I believe that everyone has the right to self-identify: if you identify as gender-expansive, of course that’s who you are. And I still hope society is undertaking its responsibility to expand its restrictive gender-izing.
  • “Food insecure” connotes personal weakness, in a society predicated on ideas like “it’s a dog eat dog world,” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” and “just suck it up.” This isn’t just my opinion. Webster‘s top two definitions of insecure are:
    • deficient in assurance beset by fear and anxiety – “always felt insecure in a group of strangers”
    • not highly stable or well-adjusted – “an insecure marriage”
  • Once again, food insecurity is a circumstance, a great deal of which is outside of any individual or family’s control. Do you set the prices at your neighborhood grocery store? Or even get to determine that you have a neighborhood grocery store? Are you able to guarantee the continuous production and distribution of milk, grains and vegetables, not just within the US but across the globe? But I guess it’s not surprising that in a capitalist society we’re talking about people going hungry and starving with terms like “food insecure” because that’s how we think about being poor: it’s your own fault for not working hard enough, never mind the systemic oppression and exclusion blowing like gale force winds directly in the face of the efforts of poor working people.
  • And I can’t help but wonder: are some of us just trying to avoid saying “hungry” and “starving”? In my admittedly non-scientific observations of the use of the term “food insecure,” I’m not hearing it from people who are themselves allegedly “food insecure.” I’m hearing it from people who are “food just fine.” This happens a lot in my field: we “break” the words and move on to something less uncomfortable. To wit: because “diversity” has “become so divisive” in some communities, the word is now verboten, and instead, “community building” and “inclusion” are the lexicon du jour. Those latter, are, of course, helpful words. The issue is that they don’t mean what “diversity” means. And if you don’t talk directly about the differences in your community that, at a group level, correlate with disparities of status, access to resources and systemically activated privileges and disadvantages, then your community is likely to be doors you just never noticed were locked. The other language pattern I see is one in which greater abstraction and more syllables are preferable, whenever given a choice of terms, in well-intended, private educational settings. African-American over black (regardless of whether you’re talking about ethnicity, race or ethnoracial identity). Caucasian over white (just for fun, check out a map of the Caucasus region… those are some tan people, no?) Maker space over shop (this is more an example of having a shiny new term to make an old, perfectly workable idea seem worthy of tuition-charging education in the 21st century). Food insecure over hungry. I can’t help but think of George Orwell’s warning:

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.

  • Hey, are you calling us insincere? No. The point is that euphemizing, “covering up all the details” can lead to insincere action. And especially if you and I care, we should do everything in our power to align our actions with our intentions. Including just calling something what it is, even if it’s more uncomfortable to say, and therefore, to admit to ourselves.

So no, the world doesn’t have to stop saying “food insecure.” I just ask that when we talk about ensuring access to basic needs and the capacity to thrive in our communities, we talk as people about people, admitting when we don’t know how to say what we’re trying to say and asking for help, being brave enough to try anyway and to accept criticism and feedback with an authentic growth mindset, discerning what’s about people and what’s about systems (and yes, systems require people to trundle on), and speaking as humanly about human experiences as we can.

I recommend Long Way Down, and Jason Reynolds

6 Apr

Long Way Down is a powerful read. Like much young adult literature, it’s not just young adult literature. Here’s an excerpt:

Long Way Down DON’T NOBODY
believe nothing

these days

which is why I haven’t

told nobody the story

I’m about to tell you.

And truth is,

you probably ain’t

gon’ believe it either

gon’ think I’m lying

or I’m losing it,

but I’m telling you,

this story is true.

It happened to me.


It did.

It so did.

I really encourage you to check it out, and to check out Jason Reynolds, the author. According to The Washington Post:

On Thursday morning [April 1st], he tweeted to his 79,000 followers: “Anybody need groceries?”

“People thought I was joking at first,” Reynolds said in an email Friday, “until one lady said she needed food for her children. I told her to send me her cash app information, and I sent her some money. Then they started rolling in, and I took care of as many as I could. Probably about 20 to 25 people. Of course, people were texting me saying ‘Don’t let people scam you!’ But that’s never a concern of mine. I do what I’m supposed to do and let the cards fall where they may. Once it got too overwhelming, I implored other people to help out and started to retweet the requests. More people got fed, as it trickled out into something bigger.”

Reynolds didn’t deliver any groceries himself — as a safety precaution, and also because these messages were coming from all around the country. But the stories were so compelling, his desire to lend a hand grew. In one case, a woman with six children told him she’d been laid off from work, he said. “She was telling me how she actually has a job interview next week, and was hoping it would work out. I believe she was in Kentucky. She told me she’d taken the kids down to school, because they were giving away free lunch, and how the kids were upset about eating it, and how she tried to explain to them what was going on, and how hard that was. There were tons of those kinds of stories. College kids far from home with no clue what to do. Middle-aged folks trying to figure out how to provide food for elderly parents. The list goes on and on.”

When people started to retweet the grocery tweet, he says, “it ballooned into a huge thing and the tweets were coming in at a rate I couldn’t quite handle. I also know myself, and I’d keep giving and giving until it jammed me up, y’know? I had to pull back a bit.”

That’s when various Twitter users, including fellow author V.E. Schwab, began replying to the requests with promises of help. Last month fellow author Roxane Gay also turned to social media to give help, offering donations by Venmo and asking others to do the same.

“I made it clear that NO ONE should feel bad if they can’t give, or if they’re uncomfortable with giving this way. But for those of us with a little extra, who don’t mind this, let’s stretch out for our neighbors. No guilt trip. No ego trip. That’s it. Just be a human. People are struggling. More people than we can even imagine.”

It still doesn’t feel like enough, Reynolds says, but he’s going to keep trying to do a little bit at a time.

“I just checked my twitter and there are so many requests, still,” he says. “I’m probably going to go through them and pick a few each day to give to. That’s the best I can do right now. But I’m going to keep retweeting as well, in hopes that somebody will lend a hand. To me, it’s been a reminder that people are inherently good. We may need a little nudge sometimes, but we’re still GOOD.”

I appreciate every reminder I get that people aren’t just “good people,” they’re people who are actively doing vitally good things on all scales.

* Thanks to my friend and fellow reader EB for originally recommending this book to me.

Quote of the day

5 Apr

“There’s no such thing as educational content. Content is always neutral. It doesn’t become educational until there is an interaction. And there is a particular way of interacting with content that constitutes an educational engagement.” 

—Jordan Shapiro, Joan Ganz Cooney Center

Shapiro is addressing “Myth No. 4 [about home schooling]: Finding the ‘perfect’ resource is key” in The Washington Post perspective “Five myths about home schooling. No you, don’t need to keep a rigid schedule.” Other myths, partially excerpted below, include:

Myth No. 1: Home-schoolers perform better than traditional students

… everything we know about home schooling up to now has been based on families that choose it. Conversely, research on places where schools have been forcibly closed because of natural disasters or war, such as one study of girls from Afghanistan who had either informal schooling or home schooling, shows that the outcomes are dismal in terms of educational achievement and social-emotional development. During the pandemic, children who would normally get special accommodations in the classroom, children who rely on school meals or those whose homes are not safe are likely to fall far behind. And children who simply thrive in the social atmosphere of a classroom, or miss the predictable order, will not make as much progress as they ordinarily would.

The upshot is that forced home schooling is likely to intensify existing inequalities. Families with the time and resources can nurture their children’s capabilities, but families with less of everything will have less to give to their kids.

Myth No. 2: The most important thing is to keep a rigid daily schedule

… It is true generally that children thrive on routines, especially in uncertain times. But individualized instruction, by definition, means spending more time on the areas where kids both need and want to work, which requires flexibility. Children also need ample breaks, including going outside while maintaining social distance, even if they aren’t scheduled. If your kids have an attention-deficit disorder, research shows, they may concentrate better after a walk in the park — a 20-minute “dose of nature” with its relaxing sights and sounds has been shown to improve attention. And home-schooling parents might allow their teenagers to get up later in the morning; most teens don’t get enough sleep.

This is a terrifically stressful time, and everyone in your house has serious social and emotional needs to attend to. That will require flexibility as well.

Myth No. 3: Teaching by video is the best option

“… [Video-conference learning is] engaging for kids, because it’s not like they just sit there passively trying to digest content,” Amir Nathoo, chief executive of Outschool, told Fast Company. “They’re interacting with other kids and the teacher.” One teacher in Fort Myers, Fla., said her kindergartners who read with her using Zoom “were involved, they were with me, they stayed with me, so I think they know this is our time together so they take it seriously and value it.”

But this is not the best practice, online-learning researchers say. According to Justin Reich, who studies online learning at MIT, “Young people don’t have the attention or the executive-function skills to be able to sit and learn online for hours every day on their own” when learning from home.

Reich said in an interview that research shows better results with a “blended,” “hybrid” or “flipped” model, which combines some computer-based, real-time teaching with self-paced work and plenty of breaks — a rhythm similar to what remote workers follow…

Myth No. 5: It’s impossible to home-school kids with disabilities

… Amid the outbreak, the U.S. Department of Education has weighed in with new guidance, urging school districts to come up with solutions to serve students with disabilities and not to avoid offering remote-learning plans. Services like speech therapy, tutoring and even physical therapy are available online, and districts are still required by law to connect families to these services…