eveningskies

Before We Start to Change the World

I have been consumed with doubt about my first day of school (which is tomorrow). This doubt feels heavier to me than the doubt of years past. This doubt feels consuming. It has dampened my usual excitement for the start of the school year.

Most years, I worry that I will not be good enough. Most years, I worry that my first days of school will not set the exact right tone. Most years, I worry that my kids won’t be excited about the work we have ahead of us. Most years, I worry that every child will not feel seen, will not feel heard, will not feel loved for who they are within the first few days of the school year.

But this year. It is even more than that.

This summer has been heavy. To be honest, part of me never quite healed after hearing about the mass shooting in Orlando and then about the continued killing of young, black men and women by police officers. These stories changed me. Made the world seem more cruel. Made our situation seem more desperate somehow.

And that has made the weight of our work seem so heavy. And so huge. And so important.

And I think that underneath that weight, I have crumbled a little bit. Because our job seems more important to me than ever and I also feel more inadequate than ever do the work that is required. There is so much in this world that needs fixing and I feel a desperation to help my students learn how to fix it.

But what I have been trying to remind myself is that we can not set out to change the world on day one. Because changing the world is scary. It is hard. It requires risk and vulnerability and the belief that we are in this together. And we do not feel that and we are not ready for that right from the start.

Before we start to change the world, first we must grow love and community within the walls of our classroom.

Before we start to change the world, we must trust those around us to stand by us and with us as we carry the heavy things that we are likely to uncover as we look critically at the world around us.

Before we start to change the world, we must feel as if we are worthy enough, capable enough, smart enough to do the difficult work ahead of us.

Before we start to change the world, we must know that there is goodness and kindness and laughter left that make this world worth saving.

Before we start to listen to and learn from the stories of those around the world, we first need to learn to listen to and learn from each other and our own stories.

Before we take on the pain in the world, we must first experience joy together.

Before we tackle the injustice and inequity that surround us, we must first believe that in this classroom we will work every day to ensure equity and justice for everyone learning here.

Before we learn to ask whose voices are not being heard in our world, we must first believe that in this classroom everyone has a voice and everyone’s voice will be respected.

Before we fight against hate and intolerance, we must first know that love and acceptance exist here.

And these things take time.

So tonight. I will breathe. I will remember that we must learn to love and trust each other first and then we can get busy changing the world. One school year is not a long time, but it gives us many days within which to do the work that we need to do. So these days, these first days of the school year, we need to take care of ourselves first. We need to build the foundation that will sustain us through the challenging work that lies ahead. We need to ensure that each child feels loved. And then, and only then, can we begin to change the world.

 

What do youmean there is no reading log-

What do you mean there is no reading log? Helping parents understand how to foster a love of reading without a reading log

When I first tell my students that there will be no reading log, no signature required to prove that you have read, no specified number of minutes that you must read, no punishment for not reading one night, they cheer.

When I first tell my students’ parents these same things, there is often a puzzled look.

Don’t get me wrong, in my experience, most parents feel the same way that their children feel about reading logs. But at the same time, by fifth grade, many parents have come to believe that a reading log is the only way to make reading a daily part of a child’s life outside of school. When parents sign a notebook or sign a reading log, they feel as if they are taking concrete steps towards ensuring that their child is reading. When parents set a timer and leave their child with a book, they believe that they are doing what will work in order to ensure that their child becomes or remains a life long reader.

However, as I have expressed many times, I do not believe that a reading log really does these things. Even when it might make us feel as if it is.

For parents, finding out that there will be no reading log can feel as if I am taking away the only took that they had that made sure that their child was reading outside of school. For the past few years, since I have given up on reading logs and given up on requiring a signature to prove that students have read each night and given up setting a specific number of minutes that a child must read at home, I have had a hard time sharing all of my beliefs with parents. And it has left parents feeling confused and powerless in helping their child to live a successful reading life outside of school.

So this year, in an attempt to better communicate my beliefs with parents, I have prepared THIS HANDOUT that I sent home with parents today at our “Meet the Teacher” gathering. I will have this handout ready to give to parents again at open house.

I was wrong to take away the one tool that parents knew without giving them something to replace it with. What I have created for parents is far from perfect and is really just a starting point, but it is something that I think parents deserve. I look forward to hearing comments from others so that I can continue to add to, change and revise this document.

If you’d like to take a look at what I have shared with parents, feel free to take a look:

HOW PARENTS CAN HELP FOSTER A LOVE OF READING AT HOME WITHOUT USING A READING LOG

Let Them Know Love

Let Them Know Love

Every summer, as the new school years creeps closer, I start to think about all that my students have experienced over the summer. I am always aware that not everything that may have taken place since my students last left the halls of our school, will have been positive.  Every summer, children struggle. Every summer, children must navigate through a different schedule with different routines. And while summer is so joyous, I am always aware that for some students, it is not pure joy.

But this year. As summer starts to slip away and my excitement for a new school year starts to take its place, I am more aware than ever of what my students, what all of our students, may have experienced over these past few months.

As classrooms across the country begin to fill back in with children and teachers and learning and growing, I think about what our students have seen over these past few months.  What they have been witness to this particular summer. How it will have hurt them. How it will have scared them. How it will have scarred them. Because, this summer, our students have seen some of the worst that this world has to offer and for some of them it has hit way too close to home.  Some of them have seen some of the things that have happened to some of the people who are, in many ways, just like them.  Just like our students.

Some of our students will have seen a massive amount of people shot and killed inside of a nightclub for loving the way that our students love.

Some of our students will have seen men and women shot and killed by police officers for living inside of skin that looks like our students’ skin.

Some of our students will have heard politicians stand up and say that others are not welcome here in this country because they pray the way that our students pray.

Some of our students will have read that people in this country want to build a wall to keep people out who have come from places that are exactly the same as the places our students have come from.

As they walk back into our schools and into our hallways and into our classrooms and into our lives, some of our students are bringing back with them far more than anxious start-of-the-school-year jitters.  Some of our students are bringing back with them a deep sense of feeling unsafe and unloved by our country and the people in it.

So we have a big job to do, teachers.

We must let them know love.

It is more important this year than ever before. We must greet them not only with open arms and a big smile, but with an open heart and an open mind to who they are and all that they are bringing in with them. We must let our biggest job this year be to let them know love.

Perhaps it must be more important than making sure that they do every single assignment in the exact way we want them to do it. Perhaps it must be more important than making sure that they memorize the dates and facts that we want them to memorize. Perhaps it must be more important than making sure that they stop talking the second that we tell them to.

Perhaps our biggest job this fall and this year is to let them know love. To let them know that they are loved. To let them know that they have this love no matter what. No matter who they are or what they do. Let them know that in our classrooms, in our schools, they will be loved.  Because when they know love, that is when they are best able to learn. When they feel worthy, that is when they are best able to push themselves. When they feel safe, that is when they are most willing to take the necessary academic risks that will move them forward.

So when they start to walk in this year, make time to listen to them. Make sure that in between labeling school supplies and doing icebreakers and going over rules and expectations, make sure that there is time to listen to what our students have to tell us. Listen to their stories. Listen to what they have been witness to. Listen to them as if their lives depend on it. Because they might.

Because if we are to truly let them know love, then we must start by listening to them. By knowing them. And then showing them our love. And then we can start to love them in a way that will not erase the hate that they might have heard and that they might have known, but that will, at least, ensure them that there is love here in this world too.

And as we let them know our love, we must also let ourselves know their love. We must allow ourselves to be loved by them. We must give ourselves time to slow down and feel their love. Because it has been hard to be away from students this summer. This summer, with all of its hate and with all of its potential hopelessness. This is a summer we needed our students.  We needed them to remind us, just as we hope to remind them, that there is goodness in this world. There there is love here in this world too. And we are so lucky to be going back into classrooms that we can fill with love. It is a special job and we are so lucky to be doing it.

 

 

 

Pushing Beyond the Single Story — Part 2

In my last blog post, I shared some thoughts that I had on starting our year off with an inquiry into story.  Here, I want to pick up where I believe the heart of our unit will begin.

With looking at the single stories often told about a group of people and then looking to see what other parts of the story are out there that we have a responsibility to continue looking for.

I want to begin by modeling for my students. As I mentioned before, as a part of this work, I need to include the objectives for our units on memoir and on questioning.  So to do this, I want to model for more students how one person’s memoir or one person’s story can be a window into the lives of other people. However, if we do not question and do not allow our questions to guide us toward further learning, then we can NEVER know a person or group of people’s complete story simply by reading one memoir. We also can NEVER know a person or group of people’s complete story by listening to the narrative that is most often given to us by the media.

Before the inquiry part of this work begins. I want to share with my students a few examples of the single stories that are often told about a group of people and then show my students how we can search for other layers to the story and other sides to the story and how we have a responsibility to synthesize multiple pieces of information from multiple sources before claiming that we understand anything about a person or a group of people.

To do that, I am going to help my students to take a look at a group of people. Together we will think about the single story or narrative that is often told about this group of people, search for pieces of text and media that support this narrative and then, ask questions together to help us see who is telling this story, whose voice is not being heard, what is being shown and what is being left out of this story. We will then learn how to follow these questions in order to find the other side to the story or additional layers to the story that are not included in the narrative that is most often told.

Until I meet my students, until I know what interests them, until I hear what they want to talk about, I am not sure what group of people I will use to model this work for my students.  For that reason, I have spent time putting together a few resources that I might be able to use for a variety of groups of people.  No matter what group we end up looking at, I will be happy to have the other resources on hand for when the students then choose their own group of people to look into. These are resources that I will be able to provide to groups that are struggling to find direction.

For each group, I will first list a resource that feeds into the narrative that I believe is most often told or shown about a group of people. After that, I will list a resource or multiple resources that show a different side to this story:

Sports Players:

SINGLE STORY OFTEN SHOWN: Sports players as arrogant, selfish and caring only about money and material possessions.  

Google Search of Sports Stars Images:

https://www.google.com/search?q=sports+stars&espv=2&biw=1280&bih=679&tbm=isch&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwihkqLh4IrOAhUpyoMKHVAKDasQ_AUIBigB&dpr=1

PUSHING BEYOND THE SINGLE STORY:

Basketball players helping to stop violence in Chicago:

https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/what-the-city-of-chicago-really-lost-when-joakim-noah-and-derrick-rose-left-town

WNBA players wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts in protest:

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/sports/wnba-stars-angered-over-league-fines-black-lives-matter-protest-n614986

South Side of Chicago:

SINGLE STORY OFTEN SHOWN: A place of extreme violence and danger and not much else.

Infographic on violence in Chicago:

http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/fullpage/chicago-gang-violence-numbers-17509042

First pictures in Gallery: Life on Chicago’s South Side:

http://ideas.ted.com/gallery-life-on-chicagos-south-side/

PUSHING BEYOND THE SINGLE STORY:

This is Us Op-Ed Written by 5th Grade Students on the South Side of Chicago:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-elementary-children-violence-chicago-0728-20140725-story.html

Refugees:

SINGLE STORY OFTEN SHOWN: People coming to a new country and asking for the country to help them.

Cost of refugees to America:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/11/30/heres-how-much-the-united-states-spends-on-refugees/

PUSHING BEYOND THE SINGLE STORY:

Video of refugees leaving Syria:

http://qz.com/589235/this-photographer-traveled-by-raft-with-refugees-headed-to-europe/

Blog post “I am a refugee” by the incredible Rusul Alrubail:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/family-refugees-see-images-refugees-haunts/

Documentary of a girl in a refugee camp who found courage while living there:

http://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000004167019/another-kind-of-girl.html

Muslim Women:

SINGLE STORY OFTEN SHOWN: Women in hijab who do not have a voice.

Muslim women in media infographic:

http://muslima.globalfundforwomen.org/content/muslimwomeninthemedia

Google search for muslim women:

https://www.google.com/search?q=muslim+women&espv=2&biw=1280&bih=679&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjikI2E44rOAhVE5oMKHb-9Ci0Q_AUIBigB

PUSHING BEYOND THE SINGLE STORY:

Muslim woman in the olympics:

http://www.businessinsider.com/ibtihaj-muhammad-rio-olympics-fencing-2016-7

Muslim women shown by 9 artists:

https://www.globalfundforwomen.org/9-inspiring-muslim-women-shattering-stereotypes/

People with Disabilities:

SINGLE STORY OFTEN SHOWN: People we should help so that they can have moments of success.   

Helping a boy with a disability score a touchdown:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3GfMZfwL3A

PUSHING BEYOND THE SINGLE STORY:

Trailer for 2016 paraolympics:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IocLkk3aYlk

Open letter to Ann Coulter from a man with Down Syndrome:

https://specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/an-open-letter-to-ann-coulter/

So once we work together to dig deeper into the story of group of people, then I will hand it over to the students. This part of the plan comes completely from work done and shared with me by Shawna Coppola (I told you she was a genius and so very generous).

The students will work either on their own or with others to look deeper into the story of a person or a group of people. They will think about the single story that is often told about this group of people and find resources that support that story. They will then document the questions that they are left thinking about that can push them towards discovering deeper layers to the story most often told.  Those questions will guide them to discover more resources, to learn more, to think more deeply, to understand more about the group of people they are looking into.

After they discover more to their story they will choose a way to share what they have learned with others. In this way, they will be helping the world to understand more about a group of people that, perhaps, has been misunderstood.

With everything going on in this world, I think that my students need this. With all of the media that my students are surrounded by for nearly ever waking hour of their lives, I think that my students need this. If we ever hope to live in a better kinder world, I think that my students need this work. And I am so excited to join them in this inquiry and to see what we discover.

Too often we feel limited by the standards and objectives and units that we need to teach. Too often we allow this to stop us from doing the work that has the potential to truly make this world a better place. It is my hope that this work will allow us to do both of those things at once. We will learn how to learn more completely about groups of people who are often misrepresented by the media and at the same time we will learn the skills and strategies that are a part of our curriculum. By combining these goals we will have an authentic purpose and meaningful work within which we can practice applying the skills and strategies that we need to know. And I cannot imagine anything better.

 

 

Pushing Beyond the Single Story — Part 1

In my last post, I wrote about some thoughts that I had about my first reading and writing units of the school year and how to merge the two into an inquiry into story.

Since then, I have had the absolute privilege of being able to discuss and think out loud with several brilliant educators.

Shawna Coppola, she is a genius. And she lives and breathes inquiry and has been incredibly gracious in sharing with me the ideas that she had her colleagues had when they led their students in an inquiry into the danger of a single story last year. In so many ways, she is the inspiration for this work that I hope to accomplish and I am grateful for the ideas that she has shared with me. Please know that many of the things that I will share have originated with her and the work she did with her students last year. I will be forever grateful for everything that I’ve learned from Shawna and for all that she does for kids.

It was Shawna who first shared with me the idea of using the TED talk The Danger of a Single Story to launch an inquiry study into a single story and the many other layers that truly exist of a person or group of people’s story. I love the idea so much and am excited to use the ideas with my own students.

So here is what I have planned so far. It’s not much. And it will change, but I want to make sure that I capture my thoughts now so that in the rush of the start of the school year, I do not lose sight of what I hope to accomplish with my students.

Beginning to look at the idea of a person’s story:

I want to start somewhere not too serious. I want to remember that it is the start of the school year and my students have not yet formed a community. They have not yet gained each other’s trust. They have not yet decided if they can really trust me or not. We have not made the safe space yet that we will need to do our work.

So I am thinking that we will start with Taylor Swift. Or Katy Perry. I am thinking that we will look at one of their Instagram accounts (all together so that I can make sure we don’t spend our time getting lost in not so great comments). Based on the pictures that we are seeing, I want to begin to talk about what story is being told.  What are we seeing? What are we learning about this person’s story? What is being shown? What is NOT being shown? How true is this story? How is this person choosing to portray their own life story to the world?

I am guessing that while this conversation will start off in a more shallow place, I am hoping that it will lead to something deeper and eventually to the idea that there is often more to a story of a person’s life than what we see at first.

From there, I think we will look at Cale Atkinson’s Explorers of the Wild picture book. I love this picture book so much for many reasons. The first of is that I just adore Cale Atkinson, his work and his art. To the Sea is perhaps my favorite picture book of last year.  But the other reason that I love Explorers of the Wild is that it’s seemingly simple story carries so much weight and can lead to so much discussion.

When a bear and a boy meet in the wild, they each have an image in their heads of what the other one is really like. These images, at first, lead to fear and mistrust. However, when they get to know each other, they realize that the story that they had been told, was not the true or complete story at all. I think that this beautiful picture book has the power to lead many readers to think about the stories that we all carry in our own heads and how those stories affect the way that we view others and the way that we interact with people in this world. I think it also can guide us toward discussion of how important it is to push past the single story that we have of others.

From there, I want to go to some real stories, of real people. Kristen Picone, who is one of the kindest, most generous, most passionate educators I know and who will be angry at me for even mentioning her name, gave me the brilliant idea of using the Humans of New York stories to begin to think about how people tell their own stories.  I am thinking that I will find enough compelling, yet simple, stories to break the kids into pairs or small groups and give each group a person’s story to read. Together we will think about some of the following questions:

What did I/we learn about this person?

What did this person’s story help me to learn about the world?

How did this person’s story change my thinking in some way?

And here is where I want to bring in some writing.  We begin the year with personal narratives and I want the kids to see that there are many ways to tell our stories. Using the Humans of New York stories as mentor texts, I am going to ask the kids to compose their own stories of them selves. I will ask them to think about what they want others to know about them, how they want to be seen, what about their lives is important for others to know. And they will use these thoughts to compose their own stories. This will be something that we put together on our walls or on our virtual walls to share with each other and to begin to build our community.

And then from there, I believe that our real work will begin. I think that here is where I will introduce the TED Talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that will introduce the concept to my students of the Danger of a Single Story. We will spend some time discussing the single stories that we believe to be true and even the single stories that are told about us.

This is where our writing work will break off as my students think about what others believe about them and what they believe about themselves.  They will then spend some time thinking of the stories that they can tell that will prove or disprove those things to be true as they begin to take ownership over how they are telling their own life stories. They will eventually then choose how to share one or more of these stories with the world.

And then our reading work will branch off as we study how images, videos and texts create single stories for us of people or of groups of people.  We will then begin to study how we can ask questions in order to push beyond these single stories. We will look at how we need to synthesize more than one version of a story in order to piece together a more complete story of a person or of a group of people.

 

More on this, plus some resources that I hope to use in my next blog post.

You can find the SECOND part of this blog post HERE.

Working to Change the Narrative- An Inquiry Into Story

Working to Change the Narrative: An Inquiry Into Story

When I first made the decision to tell my students that I am gay, part of what motivated me was a desire to change the narrative that my students had of people who were gay. For some of my students, the only things they had heard about gay people were the stereotypes they had been fed by television and movies.  For other students, the only things they knew were the awful things they were told by others who were fearful or intolerant or ignorant.

So when I made the decision to come out to my students, my hope was that when my students thought of someone who was gay, they would not think about some caricature or television character or some stereotype or about something awful that someone once described to them. Instead, they would think about their fifth grade teacher. They would think about the teacher who loved them and was (mostly) patient with them and who maybe even helped them to learn something about themselves and this world we live in. I wanted to change the narrative.  I wanted to add to the story that they knew about people who are gay.

As teachers, we make choices all the time about which stories we bring into our classrooms and which stories we leave out of our classrooms.  We choose which stories to read all together and which stories to quietly leave in a corner of our classroom libraries. We make choices about which stories are given voice and space in our classrooms and which ones are silenced. That is a lot of power and I think we need to start to do more with it.

With all that is going on in this world, with all of the hate, with all of the violence, I have been thinking so much recently about stories. The stories we know. The stories we don’t know. The ones that are told. The ones that are hidden. The sensational ones that are fed to us by all sorts of media because they are the ones that will make someone money. And the quieter stories that are often kept hidden for fear that they will not bring viewers or clicks or dollars.

I have been thinking about the stories that play in our heads when we walk down the streets. When we encounter a person. When we encounter a person and immediately try to place them in a preexisting box that we know and are comfortable with because we know a certain story about the kind of person who fits in that box and that makes us feel like we know the actual person.  And somehow we are comforted by that kind of knowing.

But that kind of knowing is killing us.

Deciding that we know a person because of the stories we have been told. The stories that are far too often, far too incomplete.  We make judgements based on what we think we know. We make decisions based on who we think a person is. We take actions based on the stories that we believe we understand.

And for too many people, the stories that we think we know are inadequate and they are dangerous.

So when I return to my classroom in the fall, we will begin our year with an inquiry into story. I do not have it all planned yet and I know that I won’t be able to have it all planned until I am sitting there with my students.  But I know that it is where I need to begin.

I want to help my students to change the incomplete narratives that so many of them have for so many people in this world. My students are not an extremely diverse group when it comes to races and religions and ethnicities. So much of the knowledge that they have about people in this world comes not from their own experiences, but from the stories that they have been told by others. And I believe that we can work to change the limited narratives that they hold about others. The ones that can be damaging. We can work to dig deeper into the stories of others and to learn to ask questions of the stories that we think we know in order to gain a more full, a more complex, a more complete understanding of someone’s story.

I want to have my students look at stories that are told in which they can see themselves reflected. To think about how the stories of others can be our mirrors and how seeing ourselves within these stories can help us feel less alone in this world.

And then I want them to look at the stories of others in which they cannot see themselves, but through which they can see into the lives of others. I want to help them to use these  stories as windows to look into the lives of others and learn about the lives of others. But I do not want to stop there. I want to help them to learn to ask questions that will lead them to further inquiry in order to uncover the more complete stories that are waiting to be told.

I hope the examine stories that are told in many different ways. Stories that are captured in photographs, in photo essays, in projects like Humans of New York, or StoryCorps, stories that are told through Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, and stories told through memoirs and short stories and picture books and blog posts. I want them to read these stories and learn to ask questions that will help them to understand more than simply what they are given or what they find when they do a single Google search. I want them to learn to want to know more than what is nestled in the first story that they read.

We will watch The Danger of a Single Story and work to understand the powerful words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so that we go do better than just stopping at a single story. We will choose stories that we want to learn more about and we will push ourselves to change our existing narratives.

And at the same time, I want to help my students to take control of the narrative that is being told about them. I want them to think about the following questions:

What do others believe about you?

What do you believe about yourself?

And then I want them to take time to think about the stories that they can tell from their own lives in order to disprove or to prove that those things are or are not true. I want us to learn from the mentor texts that we will study as we read the stories of others and I want them to learn that they, too, have stories to share with the world. And I want them to find ways to tell these stories that make sense to them. Perhaps it will be through written word, perhaps through digital story telling, perhaps through a speech or through a picture books. But they must find a way to take control of the narrative being told about who they are.

There is a lot that I am not sure of right now. But I know that this is where I need to go with my students.  I know that there is work to be done. I know that we have the power to change some of the destructive narratives that have been kept alive for far too long in this country. I am not sure how to do it, but as I just read today in this article with the brilliant Chris Lehmann who runs the Science Leadership Academy, “Inquiry means living in the soup. Inquiry means living in that uncomfortable space where we don’t know the answer.”

So I am uncomfortable with all that I do not know and I am also incredibly excited at the work that lies ahead.  Should you have any ideas that can help my students and I along our way, please feel free to leave them below.

 

 

 

Sharing storiesis something we all can do

Sharing Stories Is Something We Can Do

Philando Castile.

Alton Sterling.

Two more names added to a list that is far too long. It’s length isn’t what troubles me the most. What troubles me the most is the fact that such a list exists. That is what breaks my heart and makes me want to scream and has had me crying in bursts for the past two days. There is a list of the number of people killed in this country by police officers.  A big list. A list that has the names of more black people than white people. Far more.

And each time a new name is added to this list, a new hashtag is started. Each time we again shake our heads and say we feel helpless and say that we don’t know what we are supposed to do to fix any of this.  Each time we have to listen to people tell us that racism ISN’T the issue here, that racism is not the reason this is happening, that racism is not what caused the death of these beautiful humans. We have to watch people we respect and admire say that if only these people would have done what they are supposed to do, then they would not be dead.

And then we ask, “What on earth are people supposed to do?” It’s been said so many times. It does not matter what people do. People are being shot and killed because of the fear that white people have of black people. White people who have guns and who have been shown time and time again that they have permission to kill black people and not get in trouble for it.  How is that not about racism?

Today my Facebook page is filled with people saying that they don’t know what to do. That they are angry and sad and heartbroken, but they don’t know what to do.  And, of course, none of us can do one thing, in one day, and make racism go away. It obviously doesn’t work like that.

But we who educate children, we have NO RIGHT to say that we don’t know what to do. Because we do. We might be scared to do it. We might be uncertain of how to do it. We might feel uncomfortable doing it. But we know what we can do.

We can do better. We can teach our children to do better. We can have conversations about race. We can share stories of others who have experienced racism. We can stop pretending that these are not our issues to discuss. Because we can sit around and wait for the politicians to fix things, but I sense that will lead us only to frustration. We can sit around and wait for the media to do a better job. We can sit around and wait for the publishing world to do a better job. We can sit around and wait for humans in general to do a better job.

Or. We, the educators of children, we can simply start to do a better job. Because as the country began to expose the obvious racism that exists here today, too many of our classrooms stayed silent on any issue of race. As protestors and activists bravely fought  in the streets of our country, too many of us stayed silent on any issue of race. Because as writers of color began to expose the many, complicated issues of race that infect our country and the people living in it, too many of the stories we shared with children left all of that out.

So today, I will stop saying that I do not know what to do and instead I will start to say what I do know how to do and that is to share the stories of others.  One simple thing that I can do is to read and listen to and seek out the stories of others who have experienced racism in this country and then share those with my students. Because if we do that, then our students will not grow up believing that race doesn’t matter or that there is not racism left here in America. Our students will not be the ones saying that none of this has to do with race. Because they will know. They will know because they will have learned from the stories of others.

So many people of color are generously making themselves vulnerable in order to share their stories so that they can be heard. So many people of color are shouting their heartbreaking stories into the world so that we will hear them and learn from them. So many people of color are willing to tell their darkest moments so that those of us who claim we didn’t know how bad it was can finally start to see the truth.

Those stories are a gift.

And sharing stories is something we all can do.

Here are some stories that I will begin with:

The story of #ITooAmHarvard

Traffic Stop from Story Corps

Your Stories of Racism from The Atlantic

Alton Sterling and Facts a blog post from Matthew R. Morris

Being 12: Kids Talk About Race

Color Blind or Color Brave? TED Talk from Melody Hobson

How to Raise a Black Son in America: TED Talk from Clint Smith

If you know of other stories, written or spoken, please share them with me in the comments below. The more stories we can share with our students, the more hope we can have that they are going to be the ones to do something to make the world a better place.

 

 

 

Please love more loudly

Please Love More Loudly

Today there was tragedy.

At least 50 people killed, over 50 more injured, while they danced and celebrated at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Today, as we grieve, there are familiar messages filling our walls on Facebook. Love conquers hate. Love is greater than hate. Love will win in the end.

Today, these messages feel shallow to me. I know that they are supposed to express support. I know that they are supposed to fill us with hope. But, today, for me, they just aren’t cutting it.

Today it feels like hate is winning.

And I know what everyone wants to say about that. I know. I get it.

But today, for this moment, it just isn’t enough. Not for me. Not right now.

Because today it feels like we might be using those cliches to allow us to sit back and wait for things to get better. I worry that we say that love will win out and that somehow excuses our silence.

But the problem is that hate is loud. It is violent and it is active and it is deafening. And our love and our support. It tends to be much more silent. Much more passive. And until we find a way to love more loudly, then hate is going to continue to gain the upper hand.

There are so many different discussions that need to be had in this country. Discussions on gun control. Discussions on mental health. Discussions on terrorism. But those discussions are not the ones that fill my mind today.

Today, for me, it is the hatred.

The hatred that was directed to members of my own community. The hatred that fueled these murders. The hatred that did not need to be inspired by some far away terrorist group because there is plenty of it running rampant in our own country. The hatred that is now being written into laws that exist in our very own states.

And yes, I do believe, with all of my heart, that love can destroy that kind of hate. But I am just not sure that we are loving loudly enough right now.

We are not loving loudly enough when we allow books with LGBT characters to be banned from our school libraries. We are not loving loudly enough when we allow laws to be written that deny equal rights to people who are LGBT. We are not loving loudly enough when we ignore hateful comments and hateful words because we do not know exactly how to confront them. We are not loving loudly enough when we refuse to change the pronouns we use because it upsets our sense of proper grammar. We are not loving loudly enough when we are not actively bringing in books to our classrooms that portray families of all kinds. We are not loving loudly enough when we do not speak up when parents tell us that they do not want their children in the classrooms of teachers who are gay. We are not loving loudly enough when we praise religious leaders even though they continue to spread the message that people who are LGBT are not acceptable and are sinful simply by being who they are.

Our love cannot be a silent love. Our support cannot be silent support. Because no matter how many laws have been passed. No matter what kind of marriage has become legal. We are still the targets of a terrible hatred.

So today, do not tell me that love will conquer hate. Instead, please show me that you will love more loudly. That you will speak up. That you will not stay silent.

Because today, I was afraid to walk to the park with my wife and daughter. Today, I was afraid to hold my wife’s hand. Today, I was so scared. For me. And for my wife. And most of all for my three-year-old daughter. And it was so tempting to stay holed up in our house. And to hide ourselves away from a world that can be so hateful. But my wife and I, we have already done that. We have had our years spent hiding. We will not do that anymore. And I will never let my daughter know the terrible feeling of thinking that the only safe thing to do is to hide who you are. I will not allow her to know what that feels like.

So we walked outside. I held my wife’s hand. My daughter pushed her doll in her stroller. And we walked together hoping that others will start to love more loudly. And then, and only then, will we really get to say that love will conquer hate.

 

These books-They can save lives.We have no right to hide them.

These Books: They Can Save Lives. We Have No Right To Hide Them.

What if some doctors found a medicine that had the potential to save hundreds of lives, or even just one life, or even to just make some lives immeasurably better? What if these same doctors, who had this potentially life-saving or life-enhancing medicine, decided to hide it, to pull if off the shelves, to tuck it into corners because it could cause some difficult questions or it might even make someone upset? What would we think about these doctors? What would we say about these people who were supposed to be in the life-saving business, who instead decided, for their own comfort, to hide the very thing that could make an enormous difference in a person’s life?

Perhaps we would call them selfish. Perhaps we would suggest that they should no longer be doctors. Who knows. Perhaps we would go so far as to vilify them or to demand that they change their choices. I am not sure exactly what we would say, but I am almost positive that we would say that it was wrong.

And yet.

Right now, in today’s schools and libraries, we are making very similar and very dangerous decisions. We are not hiding medicine. We are not denying a pill or a vaccine that could save a child’s life. Instead we are withholding books. We are hiding truths. We are denying children the chance to see their own stories written within the pages of books. All because it might make us uncomfortable. All because it might raise questions. All because it might make someone angry.

Recently Phil Bildner and Kate Messner, both amazing authors who write amazing books for children, were disinvited to two different schools. Phil, most likely because he made the important choice to book talk the book George, a book about a transgender girl, on his school visits last year. And Kate, because her most recent book deals with drug addiction.

These authors, who are writing and talking about the kinds of books that I truly believe could save a child’s life or at least make a child’s life infinitely better, they were asked not to come to visit these schools because they might raise some questions that adults don’t yet know how to answer without some level of discomfort. They were asked not to come because the adults have decided that their books and their talks might make people uncomfortable. And instead of teaching our children how to deal with the things that make us uncomfortable. Instead of providing a beautiful opportunity to learn about others in this world and to grow and develop the empathy that could be the only thing that saves our world from the sea of hatred that we are currently drowning in, instead they were asked not to come. These schools made the decision to hide these books, to hide these truths, to hide the lives that most likely resemble the very lives of some of the children who would have been sitting in those audiences.

And that decision, it is costly. It is costly because something happens to children who do not see themselves reflected in the world around them. I know because it happened to me.

When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who was out as a lesbian. When I was growing up, no one ever handed me a book that had a lesbian character in it. When I was growing up, there were still no lesbian or gay characters on t.v. or in movies. When I was growing, I did not see representations of anyone who was a lesbian. So when I started to think that maybe I was, in fact, a lesbian myself, I immediately decided that this was something that I needed to hide. So I pushed it away and spent a lot of really lonely years trying to convince myself that it must not really be true. Because if no one around me was out as a lesbian, that had to mean that it was something that we were not supposed to accept and it was something that made me so different and so wrong that it would be better to just deny that it was there.

And it is not just that I tried to convince myself I was gay. I also started to believe that something must be wrong with me. I started to believe that I was not worthy of being loved. I started to feel like I did not belong. That I did not fit in. That I did not have a place in this world.

It was not until I moved, as an adult, to a place in Chicago that had a large gay population that I started to unlearn some of these things. And the truth is that many of them, in some small way, remain there today. Though I am happily married to the absolute love of my life. Though we have an incredible daughter who is so proud of her two moms. Though we live in a very different world than the one I grew up in. Still it is rare that I ever feel like I fit in when I am in places outside of my own home or my own classroom.  That feeling of not belonging, it dug so deep inside of who I was that it is something that I will never fully get rid of.

And I often think, what if? What if I had had just one teacher who had handed me just one book that had had just one lesbian character in it. I think that things would have been different. I am not saying that it all would have been magically fixed. But something would have been different. Something would have been better. I would have had some hope, some small glimmer of belief that I had a place in this world. That I could be both be who I really was and find a place to belong.

And at least I can look back at my own education and not find fault with my teachers. Because the truth is that they did not have access to the kinds of books that I needed as a child. There were not many books written for young kids that had gay characters in them. Not like there are today. My teachers did not have that choice. So at least I cannot fault them for that.

And that is what I find so disturbing about what is going on today. We DO have the choice. We, as teachers and parents and librarians and administrators, we have access to so many incredible books that are written about so many incredible lives. AND WE ARE HIDING THEM FROM THE CHILDREN WHO NEED THEM MOST. There are books that could make children’s lives so much better and we are pulling them off shelves and we are hiding them behind shelves and we are disinviting their authors to our schools.

In my opinion, it is immoral and it is criminal.

What happens when kids start to grow up and they look back at their own school years and they realize that we could have given them the books that would have made their lives better and we chose not to. We are choosing not to. How do we explain that to the children who are struggling? How do we explain that to the children who feel alone and unaccepted and like something is wrong with them? How do we explain that to all the other children who could be learning how to help their friends who are struggling? How are we okay saying that we know of the books that could help you, but we are not going to make them available here in our schools?

We have the tools that could help the children that we teach and we are keeping them from our students. We should be buying these books in bulk and handing them out as our children walk through the door. Or, we should be putting them on our shelves and talking about their content with every student that we encounter.
These books. They can save lives. They can make a child feel less alone. They can make a child feel like they belong. They can make a child feel like there is not anything wrong with them. They can make a child feel like its okay to be who they are because there are others just like them who stories are worthy of being told.

These books. They can save lives. We have no right to hide them.

 

 

 

When You Are Gone, So Much Beauty Will Remain- My End of the Year Letter to My Students

When You Are Gone, So Much Beauty Will Remain: My End of the Year Letter to My Students

As my school year ends, I sat down to write an end of the year letter to my students and their families. Here is what I ended up with:

To my students and your families,

Over spring break this year, my family and I drove to South Carolina to spend the week at the beach. Each day we headed down to the water and each day I found myself wandering with Millie along the sandy beach.  One of her favorite discoveries was that when a big wave came in, the water would rush up to meet us where we were walking, and as the water began to pull away we saw so many beautiful treasures that the water left behind. As the water retreated, what we saw left behind was incredible. Seashells, rocks, tiny animals, jellyfish. The truth is: When the water is gone, so much beauty will remain.

As our school year quickly begins to slip away from us, I find myself thinking of these moments rather often. These moments on the beach were not unlike the moments that we have spent together during your fifth grade year. And as the year comes to a close, I find myself thinking about the things that will be left behind when the wave of your 5th grade year begins to recede. I think about what I hope will be left behind with you after our year together and I think about what I know you will have left behind with me.

So here are the things that I hope will be left behind with you, in your hearts and in your heads, as you leave our year together and head out into the bigger world of 6th grade. I hope you will be left with:

The knowledge that being who you are, exactly as you are, will always be enough.

The belief that you have incredible things to give to this world and you do not have to wait until you are older to begin giving them.

The knowledge that reading can make you feel as if you are a part of something bigger than yourself and that it can also help you to understand the world outside of just yourself and your own life.

The knowledge that writing gives you power and that you can learn how to be a better writer every single day by continuing to read the words of others and then you can use that power of writing in order to demand change for the better in this world.

The understanding that every human being, including you, has a story to share with the world and that if we are brave enough to share our own stories and listen, really listen, to the stories of others then we can start to make the world a better place.

The belief that we all have a responsibility to learn about the problems that exist in this world and not to hide from them.

The knowledge that you all, starting right now, have the power to work towards changing the problems that exist in this world.

The belief that goodness and kindness and empathy will take you much farther in this world than a good test score ever will.

The understanding that there are people in this world who are not treated fairly or equally and that speaking up for the rights of others is one of the greatest things that anyone in this world can do.

The belief that good reading and good writing will never look just one way, no matter what anyone tries to tell you.

The feeling of being loved and accepted for exactly who you are.

These are the things that I hope our year together has left behind with you.  And as for me, please know that you all are leaving so many things behind with me as well. Remember, like the water, when you are gone, so much beauty will remain. As you walk away from Meadowbrook, here are the things that you are leaving behind with me:

Hope for this world. Because when I listen to you talk and when I watch you all work, I truly believe that our world is in better hands.

The understanding that what I think kids need is not always what you really need and that the best way to figure that all out is simply to ask you.

The belief that I need to listen first before I begin talking, especially to my students.

The knowledge that the greatest learning happens when I get out of the way and allow you to explore this world and create things to share with others.

The truth that laughter is an important part of any classroom community.

The belief that children have the ability to be way more open minded and loving and accepting than many adults in this world and that you are all capable of so many more things that we sometimes realize.

Those are the things that will stay with me, close to my heart, as you all begin your journey away from Meadowbrook and off to the junior high. This year you have taught me, you have made me laugh, you have amazed me and you have inspired me.  For all that you have given me, I thank you. And now, I will share you all with the rest of this world and I know that you will all do incredible things.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Lifshitz