Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Soapbox (Page 1 of 3)

What I’m celebrating

I’m celebrating right now! I’m up eating pizza, watching tv and staying up late with the family because moments like these are worth celebrating. It’s valuable to fully experience joy when it comes. This year is proving to be the definitive example of that.

I’m celebrating Joseph Robinette Biden Jr winning the presidency. I like his middle name, I like the fact that his old home state of Pennsylvania delivered the final electoral votes. And I like that the country is going to be run by someone who knows how a government should run, and believes in why a government should run.

I’m celebrating Kamala Harris winning the vice presidency. She is the first woman to hold an executive position in the US. She is Black and Asian like my girls, and a symbol of what they can accomplish, and what glass ceilings they should look to shatter.

I’m celebrating because America told Donald Trump what they think of his toxic, selfish, rhetoric. In a race that seemed to be all about him, the 3 days that we had to wait provided a slow but steady progress of America turning it’s back on this administration, one ballot drop at a time.

But what I’m celebrating the most is the victory for the protestors. All of the people who were loudly in the streets during the spring and summer can now see their cause taken up. All the people who worked quietly to register voters and pay off the fines preventing them from voting got to see the record number of people at the polls. There will forever be this election to point to this moment and say “We did it.”

What to do, now that the election is over

The election results have now had enough time to sink in and the results, are probably “permanent”.  “Permanent” is a relative term, of course, as this is 2020. A truckload of absentee ballots could be found inside an a shipping container in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida, and trigger more media speculation and delay. But for the moment it is time to wrap your head around the fact [Joe Biden|Donald Trump] will be President for the next 4 years.

Certainly there are lots of immediate geopolitical, and national consequences. Our participation in global climate change efforts will probably [lead to a boom in solar and electric|mean the world leaves us, and our fossil fuels, behind]. National efforts against the Coronavirus will be [bolstered by a coordinated national response|reduced to crossing our fingers and waiting for a vaccine]. It will be nice going forward to not be inundated with election ads and twitter posts, but it seems like reports of [Donald Trump not participating in, or being capable of, a peaceful transition|Donald Trump not participating in, or being capable of, working with a Democratic house and senate] are part of the political news in the months ahead. At this point, I’m [happy|disgusted] with the results, but glad this election is behind us. Whatever mental capacity I’ve gained now that it is over, is quickly being co-opted by all the work left to do in our schools after the spring.

A lot happened last spring. As Covid-19 shined a harsh light on the inequality that exists in the vulnerable parts of our society it was clear that the shadows of those inequalities are cast on our education system. At the same time, the brutality of our policing system demanded system-wide reform, which requires changes in schools. Schools are certainly part of the criminal justice system, and harm is caused to students through direct acts of  violence, and the normalization of silence. These things are pervasive nationally, but won’t have a national solution. Our national education secretary can’t be expected to come in and address this now because [their appointment will take months|she’s awful]. Furthermore, the constitution prevents the federal government from making sweeping change in education. To address these things, we are going to need that action to come from a place closer to home.

At this immediate point in history, when people around the country are are [reeling in jubilation|ill with disgust], it’s nice that we’ll have some certainty for a change. Yes, history is will be watching to see if [Joe Biden |Donald Trump] will bring about the change they seek, but now that they are in place, what are the changes that you can bring about? What are the books you could be reading, lessons you could be trying, feedback you could be seeking out? How can the values you want to see in our democracy, live in your classroom? Now is the time to go work with social workers to support students in need, or work with the deans at your school to have a more restorative discipline process.  Can you advocate for school policies more equitable and anti-racist? And can your students help? It may feel selfish or myopic to focus on your classroom and your own development in the midst of national chaos. Really it’s the first step towards sustainable long term change in our schools.

The election results are definitely [relieving|revolting], but they are also helpful, because now we can focus on things we can control. The problems that have been made so clear could be addressed with things that are within inches of our grasp. Those problems might still be around in the next election cycle if they fall off of people’s radar. This is still an important opportunity to push for the things that our students and our schools need.

The kind of policing we need, given this moment.

[Note: I’ve been working on a post to reflect and to call for change in response to the rash of deaths to black people. That post became unwieldy, so I’m going to break it up into a short series of posts, of which this is the first.]

One morning my brother sent me a disturbing video recorded while a group of people asking a police officer to stop. An officer grabs an upset kid, slaps them, and throws them face down before pressing a knee on their neck and keeping it on for the rest of the video.

“I guess that’s another thing that cops do now…” I immediately thought, making another entry in the list of things that to fear in case I have interactions with police on the street, at the train station, and in my school. 

The mental recovery for watching something like this ends up demanding some active and passive work. There are plenty of sources to trigger this fear, from videos to stories from my students. These events will keep replaying in my mind for the next few hours or days. To prevent being haunted by these replays forever, I have to think through different ways that I could survive if I were in that scenario. “Maybe If I had my phone out? Maybe if I kept my distance? Maybe I shouldn’t confront the officer?” Eventually, I’ll come up with a string of ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs’ that convince me that I’ll be safe, or at least convince my subconscious to stop the haunting replays. 

By now I have a little database of expected violence and imagined responses, and it’s maintenance is a big part of what gets me out the door when things like this surface. Imagine how it must be for a kid who has to process facing a lifetime of these kinds of violent cases. I’m a 38-year old man and not only am I still haunted by Trayvon Martin’s 911 call, I still haven’t watched the full George Floyd video. How quickly are we expecting kids to process police violence they witness online, in their neighborhoods, and in their lives knowing they have to face uniformed police officers when they walk in the door? Who pays the consequences if they aren’t able to immediately get past these violent events?

Jerks In Schools 

Let me start by saying I am a huge fan of the officers in our building. Some students have better relationships with the officers than anyone on our staff. When incidents happen, they can de-escalate students, and manage the crowd, and collaborate with our Restorative Justice coordinator. I’ve worked with great youth officers and community engagement officers for our local precinct as well. We are lucky to have these awesome people. The only downside with them is that they all have to operate within the larger NYPD culture where people often act like di… for now let’s call them ‘jerks’.

One of these jerks will swagger into our school and make snide comments about or towards our students, ignore our school culture and approach, and/or attempt to intimidate and post while they do what they came to do. These officers embody the antithesis of any school culture, they also represent a big part of the police culture. Kids have lots of awful, triggering stories about cops safety agents acting like full-on jerks in school. Yet it seems like the NYPD and even the President, support and defend this approach. You’ll see awesome officers moderate get quiet and tighten up around the jerks come around, while the jerks seem to dial it up. As big incidents involve more officers, it’s more and more likely they a jerk will get involved, and all of a sudden, everyone starts acting like jerks. An organizational culture that defers to this kind of policing is poisonous, especially poisonous for Black and Brown students who most often bear the brunt of these jerks’ wrath.

What do we want cops to do?

The cops are doing their job, and we, as Americans, define that job. We, as Americans, also have a lot of bias, especially when it comes to people of color. When turn over unsettling events in their subconscious, many Americans find resolution by imagining violent police officers showing up and beating the bad guy. Amy Cooper’s subconscious imagined a cop that would show up and fight violently on their behalf against the “bad guy”. Police officers should be there to face our darkest fears, but some of America’s fears are VERY dark. Deep down, enough of us want police to relentlessly arrest black and brown teenagers and get them into the prison system early that we have an internationally unprecedented incarceration rate as a result. While extreme, Amy Cooper, BBQ Becky, and Sidewalk Svitlana(?) are examples of what some people expect the police to do. We need to nationally redefine what it is police are supposed to be doing and include in that clear ideas of how to support black and brown teens. If we can’t do that quickly, then let’s create a school security department that seeks to put the student needs first? 

We would have to change society to see the change in policing that we need. We don’t have affordable housing, adequate services for the mentally ill, and racially disparate economic outcomes, for starters. Unmet needs can eventually become police issues, and when they address it, it can put people in our huge, expensive prison population, or worse. Eric Garner, facing scrutiny for selling a cigarette Eric Garner and George Floyd both had minor economic infractions that ultimately had deadly consequences. One alternative to having massive police departments and correctional facilities is investing more in programs and benefits so fewer police actions are needed. Another is to not have cops escalate situations and make them violent. However, if we continue to have this brutally unequal society, there will be calls for violent police officers to police it, and we should consider how to shield our black and brown students from the negative consequences of this policing reality.

There’s a rare window to talk about mental health athletic boys that is opening

It’s rare when you see people talking about mental health, especially athletic boys. I don’t have any proof for this other than my own experience, but I imagine other have seen this as well. When I was an athletic boy I had a real disdain for mental health because my dad was diagnosed with mental illness. I thought it was a personal failing. “It was a weakness. I mean, who can’t keep their own head together?” Yet, only 5 years later I would be working through the exact same illness as my father at mental health facility near Michigan State. It is a rough thing to deal with because you have to it all alone until…

All of a sudden a number of professional athletes are talking about their own struggles with mental health.  This small acknowledgement that mental health is something worth taking seriously is really important for all of those athletic boys who don’t have any positive examples.

Preparing for the inauguration

I’ve written on here about how to make this inauguration into a teachable moment. This year’s transition of power is certainly a memorable moment, but there are a lot of issues that surround bringing it into the classroom. On one hand, it is important to address it. Voter apathy is a big problem, and not engaging with moments like these can tell students that “this political stuff doesn’t matter.” At the same time, mandating that students engage with ceremonies that violate their own political belief is insensitive to the kids and can be damaging to their civic-mindedness. Don’t forget that in our role as teachers, we can’t promote political views and we can get into legal issues around those things. The sweet spot may be some activity that can give students space to think for themselves, while not allowing them to tune out.

The best thing I came up with was a game of Inaugural Bingo! I realized though, that this could work for the state of the union, or really any political speech. I asked kids to break into groups and read up about this new administration. What are their positions on certain issues, what kinds of things are hot topics on social media, and what can we say about the way he uses language and argues his points. Afterwards, people made lists of things that they thought would be mentioned in the speech, and shared these on the board. We were not picking apart items on the list as right or wrong, but they wanted them to be supported by some source. After that the kids had enough time to make bingo cards to watch the inauguration. Those bingo cards can be used during our school’s optional viewing of the ceremony later today.

Here is my power point:

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