Last year, I wrote about my intention to head into the year 2016 noticing images of kindness. Little did I know that as the year wore on, there would be fewer and fewer of these images to notice.
And so I find myself here again, at thIS moment ripe with anticipation. The space between the ending of one year and the beginning of another. The space where everything seems possible and nothing seems possible all at the same time.
And this year, all I can manage to think about is how much work we have to do. How much we need 2017 to be different than 2016. How much we need 2017 to be different than all years that came before and allowed 2016 to be what it was. How much every single one of us has to do in order to begin to heal and fix this world.
And so this year. I head into 2017 choosing to notice action.
This need to notice action began as I sat in the depths of my despair after the election. As I sat in my own fear of what this election would mean for me and for my family, for my students and for my own daughter. I sat in that place for several weeks until I realized that I needed to pull myself out of it somehow. Not just for myself and my family and for those around me, but for all of those who needed me to get up and fight because there were so many fights to be fought. So I knew I needed to pull myself out, but I had no idea how.
And then, with perfect timing and brilliant coincidence, came NCTE. I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia where the theme of the conference happened to be Faces of Advocacy. I spent three days hearing the stories of those people who were bravely and boldly doing the work. Making our world better through their work with students. And they inspired me. Their action moved me.
And on the very last day of the conference, I had the absolute pleasure of traveling with one of the kindest people I have ever met to The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. And for two hours we walked through and read the stories of people who had done the work. Had done the work while finding themselves in circumstances that were much more trying and much more dangerous than my own current circumstances. These brave humans saw all the bad that was around them and they saw the dangers and they saw the consequences and they chose to act. They chose to do the work. And because of them our world got better. It wasn’t fixed, but it got better. People’s lives got better. And they inspired me. Their action moved me.
And that is what pulled me out of the deepest of my sadness about our world. I selfishly comforted myself with the actions of others. I found myself craving stories of people taking action. I took solace in the work and the action of others and I promised myself to notice action.
As we move into 2017, that is what I choose to notice. I will notice those who take action and, more importantly, I will work every single day to be someone who myself takes more action and attempts to teach my students to be ones who choose to take action. I believe that more than anything in this coming year, action is what is needed.
Because in the weeks since the election, I have noticed a disturbing trend. As we move further away from the election, many people, especially those of us insulated by the bubble wrap of privilege, have distanced ourselves from the action we vowed to take in the days after the election. Perhaps we continue to shake our heads, perhaps we continue to ask how this could have happened, perhaps we continue to talk about how awful it all is, but we seem already to have lost our promise to do better. We seem too eager to leave 2016 behind and pretend that it was just a bad year. When, in reality, it was more like the year when some of us realized way too late just how many bad years there have been in which too many people have simply turned their heads and done nothing until we found ourselves in our current mess with little understanding of how we got here and the role we played in all of it.
And while I am just as eager as the next person to be done with this awful year, I do not want to leave it behind. Instead, I want to make sure that it pushes me forward. That it motivates me. That it continues to force me into discomfort in order to push through and end up some place better. Because the work that we have to do, it will be uncomfortable. Because the work we have to do, it will be hard and it will be uncertain and we will have no idea how to begin and yet, we must begin anyway.
Because this work, it is EVERYONE’S work to do. And we, as educators, we are playing a role in all of this whether we think we are or not. We are choosing what role we play when we choose to take action or when we choose to stay silent. Because when we choose to do nothing, when we choose to say that the problems of this country are not our problems, when we choose to say that these problems do not affect our kids and our schools, then we are playing a role. The role we are playing when we choose to do nothing is that we choose to allow the injustice of the world to continue.
If you believe that your students do not feel unsafe so there is nothing that you have to do, then you are first of all probably wrong and second of all, you are choosing to raise children who will go out into the world and one day potentially make others feel unsafe. Because you have chosen to stay silent, because you have chosen inaction, you are robbing your students of the chance to be engaged in uncomfortable conversations that can bring them to some place better so that they can go out and make the world better. And without these chances for conversations, our systems will not change. The systems that allowed Donald Trump to be elected president, that disenfranchised voters, that created conditions that made hate seem like the best option, those systems will not change. And their impact will reach way farther than Donald Trump ever will.
So we must recognize our role. We must recognize the systems we are a part of and find ways to use them to take action and create change. Because no matter what platform you have, there is a way to use it to do better. There is a way to use the systems that we are a part of to take action, to speak up, even if you believe that is not the function of the system you are a part of. Even if that is not what you created your platform to do, we all need to find ways to speak up anyway.
And it cannot just be online. We must begin to demand change in the face-to-face systems that we are a part of. For me, this year will bring a commitment to speak up more. To speak up in my own school and in my own district. To move beyond doing the work just in my own classroom and to begin instead to ask other adults to do more. To ask for more action. To ask for more conversation. To ask for professional development in anti-bias education, to ask for opportunities for us as a staff to have difficult conversations, to hear people say that we do not need that here and then to continue to push for it anyway. Because within the pushing, I believe that I will find allies and with those allies I believe that we can make change.
So as the hours of 2016 run out, I pledge to take more action. To have more difficult conversations. To ask more people to join me in those conversations. I pledge to do the work with my students but also to reach out and ask to do the work with other adults who surround me so that we can begin to change the systems that we are a part of. And while I will continue to crave the stories of others who have taken or are taking action, I also hope to create my own stories of action. I hope to write the stories of my students and my colleagues and my school and my district and the action that we will create together in the year to come.