I love New Year’s.
I do NOT mean this in the sense that I love getting dressed up, walking into overly crowded and mostly unfun places and drinking myself silly. In fact, I will most likely be asleep way before the new year actually arrives.
What I love is the chance for reflection. The moment’s pause that the world seems to take before this new year begins. The moment we stop and breathe and give ourselves a chance to think about the year that has passed and the one that is about to start. This moment when we think of what we loved about the year and what we promise that we are going to change. This moment when we grant ourselves permission to see the flaws in the year we just lived and then allow ourselves to envision a better year ahead. I love this time of natural reflection.
So I cannot help but sit down to reflect here. In this space that I have created for myself this year. My own teeny tiny plot of real estate in this vast and crazy internet world. This space that has helped me to think out loud, to reflect deeply, to find an oh-so-much-needed community of teachers. In this space, I want to think about what I have learned in this year that is ending.
This year brought me to Twitter. It brought me to a world that I did not understand, but ventured into anyway. And I will forever be grateful that I have. Twitter has inspired me, challenged me, opened my eyes, driven me crazy, frustrated me, appalled me, motivated me, and done one million other things to me and for me. What it has done though, without fail, every single day is that it has opened up the world for me. It has taken me outside of myself, outside of this small bubble of a world that I exist it and it has shown me so much more.
But here is the thing about Twitter, it will only show you what you are willing to see.
Because some of the things that I have seen on Twitter, well, frankly, they break my heart. This world that we live in, it is sad. There are things that are so unfair. So unjust. So unkind, that it can break your heart a million different ways. And so many people. So. Many. People. They just can’t bring themselves to look that stuff in the eyes. They turn away. They keep their eyes focused on things like iPads and new apps and new couches in classrooms. And yes, all of that stuff matters, but it matters so much less than the stuff that breaks our hearts. Because this stuff. This stuff that breaks our hearts, our students are dealing with it every single day and when we turn away from it, we are also turning away from them. And even worse, when we turn away from these issues, then we are teaching them to turn away from the things that maybe one day they can work to change.
When the issues involving race in America and police brutality began to fill the world of social media, I was drawn in to something that I had never understood. I am embarrassed to admit that I had no idea that black mothers and fathers in America were teaching their babies, their children, what to do in order to not get shot by the police even if they weren’t doing anything wrong. I didn’t know that. And when I realized it. It broke my heart. And I wanted to look away, to go back to what I understood, but I couldn’t. And I couldn’t let my students look away either.
Because here is the other thing. Yes, these things, they will break your heart AND there are all these people out there in the world, good people, who will sew it back together again. They will show you things that will bring you to your knees, but their dedication to making those things better, that is what will get you standing back up again. And if we don’t look at the awful stuff, then we won’t ever see the incredible work that is being done and find a way for ourselves to be a part of that work as well.
Just today. There was a story, a terrible and tragic story of a young transgender girl named Leelah Alcorn. She committed suicide and left a heartbreaking note explaining that this world was too cruel for her to remain a part of. This story. It broke my heart.
It broke my heart AND reading the words of this courageous young woman also helped to sew my heart back together because even as she left this world, she tried to make it better for others. She was dealing with so much pain and she still wanted to do something to make this world, that had been so unkind to her, better for someone else. That is worth seeing. That is worth knowing. That is worth celebrating. That is worth teaching to our students.
So, yes, we can continue to look away from the things that might break us, but then we had better be prepared and willing to admit to our students that we are teaching them to shy away from the things that need fixing. We are teaching them to stay where it is safe and warm and cozy. We had better not pretend that we are teaching them to be resilient or have grit or to persevere or to go out and make the world a better place. Because to do all of those things, we must teach them to see the things that make us hurt. To do all of those things, we must be willing to look injustice and pain right in the face. To do all of those things, we must be able to see the incredible, brave, upstanding people in this world who are working so much harder than I am every single day just to bring a little bit more justice to this world. To do all of those things, we must teach our children how to find the problems, understand the problems, learn from those trying to fix the problems and then buck-up and join in the fight somehow.
That is what I have learned this year.
There have been other things. So very many other things that I have learned, but these are the things that I cannot shake. These are the things that I needed to say and to write and to document. These are the things that have changed me this year. And I will carry them with me into next year and use them to attempt to be a better person. These are the things that I will bring with me into 2015 as I work as hard as I possibly can to make my students better people so that one day they will be the ones who will be sewing hearts back together again.