These notes are from a post on my photography blog at Bryan Farley Photography.
Ashanti Branch, one of the first day plenary speakers, shared an exercise with the large audience about masks. Audience members drew a mask on the front and wrote three words that described how they wanted people to see them. On the back, people wrote three words that described what they feared people to learn. The differences were drastic. On the front, everyone was smart and caring. People were hiding their selfish, stupid, broken selves who lacked confidence.
... and this was a room primarily of successful educators.
Many of us are so successful at hiding our fears that we forget that our students walk into classrooms afraid and insecure. Instead of assuming that everyone has been affected by trauma, we act as if this is the exception. Am I oversimplifying? Probably, but not much.
Trauma was a large component of the first day. Uncovering or defining "trauma triggers" was discussed in several first day workshops. In one of the workshops, participants learned how they responded to trauma. Some learned how to support each other when triggered, so that teachers could also support students better. By learning to take care of ourselves, we can help our students. By sharing our fears, we can help students with their fears.
Weaknesses can become strengths.
In one of the workshops, I was asked how I responded to triggers. I do not know. I think that I responded situationally... and by that I mean, it depends on the trauma. The more I considered this question during the three days, the more I realized that I feel trauma often. For many years after my father shot himself, even the word "trigger" was a trigger.
Yet somehow, I feel lucky. I have learned from many of my misfortunes and I have learned how to relate to more people. When my students learned that I had epilepsy, they seemed to be more compassionate towards me. Perhaps they realized that I was vulnerable... not all powerful. They saw that I risked my health to be their teacher. At two schools I had seizures in my classroom. In those classrooms, it was as if I showed my students the words I had written on the back of my mask. Somehow, my students liked me more... another paradoxical intervention.
As of 8/22 I am still considering how trauma and prejudice are passed down by family members. During the three days, I had been thinking about my grandmother, trauma, children, discrimination and disassociation. My grandmother loved me. I loved her. She was also full of shame, guilt, and racial slurs. She tried to pass all of those on the her son and me. I think it created a sort of trauma that I can't make sense of yet. Even when I was still in my 30's, I can remember my grandmother walking into a hair salon with my father and saying, "I am not going to let that N----- cut my hair." My father was still shocked at his mother as was I. We couldn't believe that she still talked and acted that way. I remembering him telling her, "Mom, you CAN'T say that." He and I were both adults and we were still shocked... and she had always been that way. Why were we surprised? Why couldn't we believe it? We knew she was a racist, yet she somehow managed to surprise us often... and when she surprised us, we felt dirty. We felt ashamed. We felt traumatized.
And if we felt traumatized....
Today was the first day of school. After I dropped my son at school, I read a 1963 James Baldwin article addressed to teachers where he discusses, among other topics, "the paradox of education." Baldwin delivered the speech on October 16th 1963 (five years to the day before an important event in Mexico City). His speech was printed in the Saturday Review in December.
Baldwin's article begins by acknowledging that we are living in a dangerous time. He further explains how our country has a mythology that is confusing for white people and black people. (He uses different language... he is a better writer.) The mythology can cause more confusion for those who have unlearned some of the American stories. I wonder what he would say to teachers today. I wonder what he would think about vocal proponents of school choice.
School choice sounds like a great idea, but there is something crazy about it too. When people who have access tell those without access that school choice will solve poor people's problems, there is an intellectual dishonesty. People who can afford the best public schools do not really mean that poor people can choose to attend those same "elite private schools." Many proponents of school choice do not argue for wealthy people to send their kids outside of their neighborhoods to poor schools. School choice is about choosing to send your kids out of a poor neighborhood to a wealthy neighborhood (or a "better" neighborhood). Why would anyone be opposed to THAT?
One of the first speakers Tuesday quoted someone from a different Alliance for Art event... I forget the quote (so I need to source it), but the idea is that if we knew the answers, we would have already solved the problem. Really? If we already knew that we needed to wage war on supporting our neighborhood schools, would we do it? If we knew that we needed those with more capital to send their prized possessions to other neighborhood schools, would we do it? Would families who send their kids to the elite private schools send their children to poor public schools if we knew it would solve our national problem?
"School choice" is not a real choice. It's a political slogan invented to solve a political problem.