Change Begins with Us! My Reflections on ILA 18

I just spent time in Austin at the International Literacy Association’s Annual Conference.  I return refreshed, rejuvenated, motivated, and ready to get back to work.  I’m not going to lie.  Our work in education is hard.  But it’s necessary.  Now more than ever.

The Opening Session speakers were powerful and just what I needed to motivate me to keep going.  I am saddened by the state of education today.  I love my job and know that I am where I’m supposed to be, but every day gets harder and harder. And I’m not in the classroom.  I’m on the periphery trying to support our teachers who are on the front lines.

Adan Gonzalez began with a story about his name. I am paraphrasing, but he said, “Mi nombre is more than letters and vowels put together. Mi nombre is the blood, sweat, and tears of my parents. My parents are not drug dealers, gang leaders, or rapists. They are Mexican immigrants.”  He continued to tell us about a child who became a criminal at 8.  The child was playing in the community park and was asked to leave by police officers because he did not have a permit.  The more years that passed, the more experiences that child had that shaped his life of criminality.  The life of criminality that was created because the child did not look like the white police officers.  The life of criminality that was created because the child spoke Spanish.  Adan was the 8 year old child.

“I am a criminal because I highjacked the pursuit of happiness. The system did not want me to be successful.”                                                                                                                                        ~Adan Gonzalez

I just love Cornelius Minor.  I have followed him on Twitter for the last year or so and admire his passion for equity, specifically his call to action to break down the oppressive barriers that hold education hostage for students of color, language learners, and/ or based on a student’s socio-economic status.  I hold Cornelius up with Glenn Singleton and Zaretta Hammond as my mentors for equitable education.  Cornelius spoke to using literacy as an equity tool.  We need to hold ourselves accountable to the belief that all children have the right to be taught to read and write, because teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.  As such, we need to remain vigilant in ensuring that all of our students receive the education they have the right to in spite of, or perhaps because of, the disparities that exist in our education system today.

“To know that these conditions have nothing to do with children and everything to do with a public that has simply gotten used to certain kids getting less, is to know irrepressible rage.  I will never be used to this.  We can never be used to this.”                                                                                                   ~Cornelius Minor

Dr. Nadia Lopez “opened a school to close a prison” and she is unapologetic in saying that.  She saw a need and she acted, opening a charter school in one of the poorest zip codes in the United States, Brownsville, Brooklyn.  The average income is $11,000 and the cost of living in NY is $45,000.  Just look at the disparity!  But, through her school, she is working to change the trajectory of her student scholars.  She reminds them that their “zip code doesn’t have to determine [their] destiny.” She takes them on field trips to Harvard and other Ivy League schools and shows them that one day they too, can be a student in these colleges.

“Changing the narrative gives our children voice and reminds them that they are visible.”                                                                                                                                                                                ~Dr. Nadia Lopez

Change truly begins with us. We must confront our implicit biases, reflect on our inherent beliefs, and create a vision for the change we want to see.  We can’t wait any longer. The time is now.  Our students are counting on us.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

I am reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander as part of an online book club.  This is an opportunity for me to learn and grow.  As I read, I will share my reflections on each chapter and how it relates to me as an educator.

“Proponents of racial hierarchy found they could install a new racial caste system without violating the law or the new limits of acceptable political discourse, by demanding “law and order” rather than “segregation forever.”

This quote ended the section in chapter 1 titled, “The Death of Jim Crow.”  Unfortunately, I don’t have a page number to reference because I am reading this on my Kindle.

Wow! This made so much sense to me.  As I look back on our country’s history of racial hierarchy beginning with slavery and moving into the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights Movement, I can say oh my gosh, I see it now.  I see how the powerful in our country (read: white elite) continue to try to keep “black people in their place.”  I certainly did not learn this perspective in high school.  Instead, I learned about the major events in our country related to race– slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow Laws, and the Civil Rights Movement.  Wasn’t racism supposed to stop there?  According to our history books, yes.  Everything was supposed to be wrapped up in a neat little bow and forgotten about.  If we no longer had segregation, we weren’t racist, right?  Wrong.

In chapter 1, Alexander clearly outlines how we have gotten to where we are today – mass incarceration of our Black and Latino men.  She argues that Jim Crow, and the subsequent mistreatment of African Americans did not end.  It simply changed its appearance.  But appearances can certainly be deceiving.  While it may appear to the people of my generation (born after the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, after segregation and the Jim Crow laws were seemingly dismantled) that we grew up in a country “where all men were created equal,” we simply did not.  We actually grew up in a country where the white elite were doing everything they could to continue to have a racial hierarchy, but without making it seem so blatant, hence the demand of “law and order” during the “War on Drugs” in the 80’s.  That demand for “law and order” continues today.  Our country has not evolved and changed over time when it comes to race relations.  Instead, we continue to change the appearance of what racism looks like.  We live in a country of systemic racism.  Since slavery, we have lived in a country of systemic racism.  Sure, we don’t have segregation laws anymore, but instead we have created systems that consistently keep black men and women from having the same privileges that we as white people have.  That is racism.

For me, this reflection is all about awareness.  In order for me to successfully engage in conversations with colleagues about race and equity for our students of color, I must be aware.  Aware of my own biases, aware of how my experiences with race have shaped me, and aware of the history of the racism that still permeates our country.  So, I will continue to read and learn more about our country’s history. I will continue to have conversations with colleagues and friends who have different experiences than my own. I will continue to learn from other perspectives. I will continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone.  I have to.  We have to.  Our future depends on it.

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