Back–with resources!

4 Aug

It’s been a while, and about time to blow the dust off this blog. And with what better breath of fresh air than some awesome resources Gender Spectrum ( has just released to help schools support transgender students: They’re worth checking out, even if you don’t attend or work for a school, or have or work with kids. Because really, the “Schools in Transition” guide and the “Back-to-School Toolkit” are about rethinking inclusion, not just for minorities but for all folks in our communities.

Let’s start with the titles. “Schools in Transition” names the truth that it’s not just individuals who are and need to be always growing and transitioning: schools and other organizations are and need to be, too. Even if that transition is passively into greater intransigence while the world around us is changing. The fact is that schools can either choose to transition with awareness and intention, or transition by default into policies and practices that are out of touch with the students they purport to serve. And so, Gender Spectrum also provides the “Back-to-School Toolkit,” the name suggesting to me that it’s time for all of us to go back to school and learn more about what we may not understand and may even fear, but still need to know about because gender identity just is–like gravity, it’s not an optional concept.

These resources rock because they’re:

  • Practical, providing information and templates for the easy-to-answer questions (What’s the difference among sex, gender and sexuality? What pronouns can we use outside of the traditional male and female designations?) and everyday needs (see the toolkit for examples of gender inclusive student registration forms) and insight into the more complex issues that don’t have a pat, easy answer (How does gender-inclusive housing for overnight trips work? How do we provide gender-inclusive sports teams and facilities?) By providing a developmental framework
  • Useful in directly supporting transgender, agender and gender-questioning students, as well as students all along the gender spectrum, and adults of all gender identities and journeys. Yes, even cisgender folks benefit when we acknowledge that gender isn’t simply either-or. When we reconsider gendered dress codes for transgender, agender and gender-questioning students, it invites reconsideration of any dress code that requires boys to look one way and girls another, no matter how those children identify.
  • Focused on the particular needs, opportunities and responsibilities of gender-inclusion. This isn’t to say that we can’t learn more about including other identities through reading and putting these resources into action. Quite the contrary. But by focusing on this particular aspect of identity and community life, Gender Spectrum holds us accountable for examining an area of school custom and attitude that has too long been a no-brainer, in part because at an institutional level we still confuse gender and sex. We can’t just point to Title IX and feel like our job is done: we have to understand how Title IX is both anti-sexist and still genderphobic.

I’ll stop here because I’m just talking about what you should be reading. Check out the “Schools in Transition” guide and the “Back-to-School Toolkit.” And happy new school year.

On diversity

9 Mar

A quick post today, inspired by a student, who asked me three questions about diversity that were helpful to me as a way to get my day started:

What does diversity mean to you? 

While “diversity” can refer to any differences within a group, social diversity refers to differences in those aspects of identity that matter because at a group level, they impact people’s experiences, status, access to resources and opportunities, and other privileges and disadvantages within their communities. Contrary to some assumptions, diversity includes majority and normative groups (without whom there would be no perceived or actual “others.”) So while liking sneakers versus sandals can be an aspect of diversity in the broadest sense, a social justice perspective invites the question: does liking sandals versus sneakers impact the experiences, status, access to resources and opportunities and other privileges and disadvantages of whole group of people in a community? In some communities, it may very well matter; in others, not. And while different aspects of identity may be more or less relevant from one community to the next, there are some aspects of identity that seem to persistently matter across communities: age, sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, physical abilities, mental abilities… to name a few.

Why is it important to maintain a diverse student body? 

Diversity is vital in schools and actually any community because diversity makes everyone smarter. How so? Homogeneous communities are susceptible to a fixed mindset, including assumptions that we’re all on the same page and share the same values, perspectives and baselines. Communities that are diverse and in which people perceive diversity are more likely to activate a growth mindset, including the ability to notice one’s own perspective and consider others, and to think in a complex integrative way (i.e. to recognize shades of gray and weigh them). Beyond just diversity, it’s important to cultivate enough diversity (as opposed to a bare minimum) to free each person and group from the experience or expectation of tokenism and stereotype threat: the need to represent a whole group of people. Essentially, healthy, substantive diversity in a student body creates the conditions for everyone and every group to thrive and do their best learning.

How can a school pursue a more varied curriculum and student body in the future? 

Cultivating cultural competency and becoming more inclusive in what you’re teaching now and whom you’re teaching is where a school needs to start its intentional growth. Rather than just trying to bring more canaries into the coal mine, we need to focus simultaneously on changing the conditions in the coal mine: making it a place where everyone—including the miners—can thrive. When you cultivate the understandings, habits and skills of cultural competency, you can teach any curriculum more inclusively (that doesn’t mean politically correctly: that means you can teach the material to its fullest in a way that empowers more students to learn it more impactfully), and in doing so, you will be able to draw a student body that is increasingly varied, in a variety of ways. Increasing diversity always requires consideration of what you’re already doing because, as the saying goes, all systems are perfectly designed to achieve the results they get. For a school, this means bringing a more culturally competent awareness and skillset to curriculum and other program design, admissions, hiring, professional growth, and parent/guardian education.
** Thanks to DH for the questions.

Anyone got the list?

2 Feb

I’m preparing for a few affinity workshops: that is, working conversations with and for female-identifying students. And on a hunch, I did a little exploring to see what one of my favorite youtube resources might have to say on the topic of gender equality. If you have a few mins, here’s Jay Smooth on “The List of Rules for Women”: Very worth watching and sharing.

At the heart of Smooth’s monologue is the question: whose problem is harassment, gossip and assault? Like anti-sexism educator Jackson Katz (, Smooth argues that abuse is the problem of the abuser. And while we need to educate people who are victimized, we won’t solve any problems until we stand up to and educate the people who are doing the damage.

To be clear, the issue isn’t all women on one side, and all men on the other. To me, the messy reality of who can and does abuse or get abused doesn’t delegitimize what either Smooth or Katz has to say–it just provides a bigger context for their messages.

Got job?

12 Dec


For a few years now, I’ve been on a national listserv of Asian and Pacific Islander-American educators. Among things we post about are employment opportunities in our organizations, schools and communities. If you know of a position that you’d like to share with this group, please read and respect the directions below, created by our listserv moderator Prasant Nukalapati to serve both organizations seeking to diversify their pool of qualified applicants and applicants seeking positions within communities that put their diversity value into action.

In order to post a position, an organization needs to respond to five questions (see below), with a simple Y/N, or more fully, if desired. As Prasant explains:

The purpose of [these questions] is twofold:

  1. Highlight which schools have moved forward on some of these and similar issues with regards to supporting/empowering Asian educators and other educators of color as well as families and students. (The questions above are by no means a comprehensive list. But I thought more than 5 would be burdensome)
  1. To use job postings as a way to highlight some of the efforts that are important to Asian educators and other educators of color looking for positions in independent schools–rather than to use job postings as a way of simply re-cycling Asian educators and educators of color through schools without having to look at structural and curricular changes.

I can imagine someone of the group being able to go back to people at their school and say, for example: “These are some of the questions this group is asking to respond to put a job announcement up. Can we work on these areas so that next year we can post more “Yes”s to these questions and join ________schools as a leader in this area?

If you think about it it isn’t that much different than our students looking through college guides to see what offerings a college has, how many students of color there are, average test scores, class sizes etc.

Directions to post a job post on API-CHAI:

Please simply cut and paste the following questions (and your answers to them) after your posting. I have also put them in an attachment that you can download and save on your desktop so that you don’t have to find this email each time you need to post a job.

  • Does your school have Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) in leadership positions at the school: (Yes/No)
  • Do any classes at your school address the history, literature and other contributions of APIs? (Yes/No)
  • In addition to supporting cultural appreciation groups, does your school support affinity groups/spaces for students/adults of color? (Yes/No)
  • Does your school provide professional developments funds to attend identity focused conferences/workshops like POCC, local POCIS events, summer trainings? (Yes/No)
  • Is demonstrated commitment to participating in diversity/multicultural education work a part of faculty evaluation? (Yes/No)

Please send postings, including your responses to the above, to:

Thanks to Prasant for creating and sustaining this resource.


Antwan Wilson on “the disposable nature of black life in this society”

11 Dec

Today’s post is in two parts. First, words from Antwan Wilson, Oakland Unified School District Superintendent. Later, thoughts on it. But this deserves a post of its own. Thanks to GS for sharing.

Thoughts on Ferguson and its Relationship to Our Work as Educators

Every so often in life, you encounter defining moments; events that contain echoes of your past, underscore the urgency of the present, and clarify the future. Recent weeks have provided not just one, but a series of such moments. Developments in Ferguson, in Cleveland, and in New York City have inspired a range of emotions from sadness and frustration to anger, disbelief, and despair. Above all, they provide testament to the disposable nature of black life in this society. I’ve witnessed these developments as more than an interested observer. I’ve experienced the injustice of police harassment. I lived through it as a young black male in my teenage years, a kid of no particular importance to the powers that be. I lived through it just last year when I was an Assistant Superintendent for Denver Public Schools. My title did not protect me; the privilege of my position was insignificant next to the color of my skin. Unlike Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Gardner, however, my brush with discrimination did not cost me my life. I survived. This is what passes for consolation. That these unarmed men, children in some cases, were killed at the hands of those appointed to protect and serve is maddening. It’s a call to action for anyone who cares about equality or who believes that the ideals of this country must be demonstrated in actions as well as in words. It’s a source of anger across the country and profoundly felt by our black youth right here in Oakland. As educators, the challenge is to help our children direct this fear and anger in a way that helps them fight injustice—while remaining alive. We must give our students the knowledge, the support, and the tools to maximize their chance at that most basic of conditions, survival, so they can reform society to the point where these lessons are no longer necessary. The essence of this reform is that we all are individuals and all individuals have worth. This is true of young black men and it’s true of police officers as well. There was a time when I was deeply distrustful of all law enforcement. As I grew into adulthood, my feelings evolved. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting and working with many excellent police officers. These are impressive public servants, men and women performing an incredibly difficult job with little acclaim. Police officers deserve our respect. Those who abuse the public trust deserve our condemnation and must be held accountable. This is for the benefit of all the officers who perform their duties honorably, for the people they are sworn to protect, and for society as a whole. As Ferguson erupted, as people took to the streets of Oakland and clogged the arteries of New York, I recalled the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote that, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” There is no time to wait. We must respond to the outrage of Ferguson, and to the same injustice that plays out in city after city, day after day. Yet, we must also work systematically to undo the structures that support the tragedy and farce that is racial discrimination. In assessing the outcomes in Missouri and New York, many commentators have said the system is broken. I disagree; the system is not broken–the system produces the results it was designed to produce. If we want to see equality, then we must transform the system into one that values and supports every single child regardless of background or circumstance. This is the foundation of a fair and just society. As we go about this work, we must keep in mind the essential humanity in each individual and operate with a generosity of spirit. I agonize over mistreatment at the hands of the law. I also reflect on the police officers I know who are upstanding professionals and outstanding men and women. I know that we will not get where we need to go by demonizing each other and by focusing on superficial outcomes while ignoring the underlying problems. To move forward as an organization and as a community, we must ensure that all employees model the values we want for our students. All adults must see the inherent good in all of our children. To do this, we must re-examine our biases and train our employees to overcome them. This includes me as Superintendent as well as each and every member of the Oakland Unified School District. Our job as educators is to prepare our young men and women to go out in the world and embody the change we need to see. Until there are people of all ethnicities, all genders, and all income levels represented in positions of power at a level reflective of their inherent potential, we will relive the indignity of Ferguson and remain a house divided. That idea is the heart of the new OUSD strategic plan, Pathway to Excellence, which states “Ensuring that each and every child receives a quality education is an economic necessity, a moral imperative, and a matter of social justice. That’s something this community understands better than perhaps any other town in America. For more than 60 years, Oakland has been a trailblazer in issues of equity and empowerment and the center of some of the country’s most powerful social movements. We are standard-bearers. No place is better suited for the fight to support children.” I should add that no place is better suited for the fight to transform this country not into something new, but into its true self, a nation that upholds its promise and lives up to its ideal. The Oakland Unified School District will be at the center of this movement. Nelson Mandela, a man with no small experience in coping with—and overcoming—harassment and persecution said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I agree and I’m privileged to serve in a role where I can help effect this change. Let’s get to work. There is much to do and not a moment to waste. Respectfully,

Antwan Wilson, Superintendent Oakland Unified School District

Quote of the day

10 Dec

“Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”

                                    — David Gaider

** Thanks to my colleague SM for sharing this quote. You can read more from and about Gaider, an insider gender, sex and sexuality activist in the gaming industry, in this article, awesomely titled “GDC 2013: BioWare’s David Gaider asks, ‘How about we just decide how not to repel women?'” by Tyler Wilde (

Resources for teaching about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner

9 Dec

As I was typing the title for this blog post, it occurred to me again that how we name what we’re teaching about is one of the first and most essential considerations in teaching about it. I’ve heard people refer to teaching about “Ferguson and Staten Island,” “the Ferguson and Staten Island cases” and the “Brown and Garner murders,” all of which communicate something about our relationship to and perspective on the events that we’re trying to understand individually, socially and nationally right now. My words aren’t the right ones for you. They’re the words I’ve found that name what I think is most important: the individuals who represent a much larger group of black men (stretching back to before Emmett Till in 1955), boys (like Tamir Rice), women and girls (including Keyarika Diggles) who are victims of a national and nationally-sanctioned epidemic right now. In choosing my words, I am striving to be accurate and helpful in framing a conversation that I can’t afford people to opt out of.

Today, I’d just like to post a list of resources for talking about the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and the beatings of Keyarika Diggles and Rodney King. I’m compiling this list in dialogue with educators and parents/guardians who recognize their responsibility to talk to our children and youth about these individuals’ lives and the larger context of race and racism in the United States.

Before getting to this list, I’d just like to offer my essentials for talking about injustice:

  • Know your intention. Why are you invested in having this conversation? Do you need someone else to “get it”? Do you feel compelled to demonstrate that you “get it”? Do you need an outlet for what you’re feeling? What do you intend for yourself and others in engaging in this dialogue? Knowing this can help you decide when, where and how to have this conversation.
  • Create safe spaces and opportunities for people to exhale. That’s right. Just one occasion where I have to be ready to participate and be articulate isn’t going to work for everyone. And safety is something we build through explicit agreements, practice together and experience. One way to start from inclusion is simply to begin with individual reflection and learn where people are, rather than presuming a common starting place and then having to backpedal to make room for those who aren’t standing where you thought they would be.
  • Expect and invite diversity. We can tend to invite these conversations when we presume a like-minded group (whether we think that group all agrees about an issue or all enjoys a heated debate). Recognizing that people are processing through different and sometimes conflicting filters (Singleton and Linton, 2005): intellectual, emotional, moral and social (activist) can help us engage each other more compassionately, consciously and, ultimately, effectively. Simply noticing my determinedly intellectual lens and leaning into how I feel about the deaths of Garner and Brown will help me not only empathize with others, but myself as well. And inviting a diversity of perspectives–instead of just a presumed “right” perspective–in the group will actually help everyone to grow, by cultivating deeper awareness of our own perspectives, understanding of seemingly and actually conflicting perspectives, and recognition that rather than a “them” out there we can blame for everything we think is wrong, them is us.
  • Name your own questions and that it’s OK not to know (and even not to know what we don’t know). Don’t know who Jordan Davis is? That doesn’t make you a racist. It’s OK and important to ask, learn more and reflect on what we can’t help knowing… and what we can. (What we can afford not to be aware of is sometimes indicative of our privilege. And just in case you went there again, having privilege doesn’t make you bad. Or a racist. However, not owning your privilege certainly facilitates you’re acting in racist and other “bad” ways.)
  • Follow up on questions and needed education.  Sometimes questions are red herrings: What happened before what we’ve seen on video of Garner being choked to death? Since we don’t and can’t know, dogging this question may be a way of avoiding the conversation. So we need to discern the vital questions being asked, and those not being asked. We need to discern the questions and needs that are implied by the conversation we’re having. We need, whether explicitly asked or not, to frame these conversations with an understanding of the development of human identity and bias, with an understanding of group behavior and systems, and with historical context.

And now to some resources. Thanks to all who have shared. This is a short list, mainly because I want to recommend everything on it but not make it un-useful to you by including everything. That said, I’ll keep updating…

Classroom lessons: (shared by JF)

Ferguson: Resources and Reflections for Educators: (shared by GS)

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson:

Teaching about Jordan Davis Murder: (shared by GS)

5 Tips for Being an Ally: (shared by JD)

No More ‘Allies’:

The Deaths of Black Men in America: (shared by JD)

It would have been very simple to indict Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo. Here’s how:

Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton: (for a brief overview of their guides for having courageous conversations)

Redefining Race Relations: It Begins at Home (for parents of younger children): (shared by GS)


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