Poetry Friday is hosted by Katie @ The Logonauts
There is no television up here at the farm, and our internet service is spotty and slow, even so, there was no avoiding the terrible news of the week: Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and five police officers whose names we are still learning. Gun violence. Police brutality. #BlackLivesMatter. Politicians who speak in racist tongues and do nothing to act to stem the violence, to lead us to a better place.
This morning, I read two blog posts that gave me, both a sense of hope as well as resolve: I am an educator, there are steps I can take (even though they may be just within the four walls of my classroom) to move my students into thinking about that better place. Jessica Lifshitz wrote “Sharing Stories Is Something We Can Do”, in which she said:
But we who educate children, we have NO RIGHT to say that we don’t know what to do. Because we do. We might be scared to do it. We might be uncertain of how to do it. We might feel uncomfortable doing it. But we know what we can do.
We can do better. We can teach our children to do better. We can have conversations about race. We can share stories of others who have experienced racism. We can stop pretending that these are not our issues to discuss.
Even as the wisdom in Jess’ post was rattling around in my brain, I discovered another piece by Chris Lehmann, “For White Teachers In The Time Of #BlackLivesMatter”, in which he shares some practical advice about what we, as teachers, have a moral obligation to address in our individual classrooms:
These issues come into our classrooms, whether we acknowledge them or not. And as Pia Martin (among others) reminds us, there is no such thing as passive anti-racism. We, as white teachers, do not have the luxury of pretending the world doesn’t impact our classroom and our students. Whether we choose to directly deal with the issue in our classrooms or not, we have a moral obligation to be caring and thoughtful in our classrooms – especially to those who may be experiencing trauma due to these events.
I teach history in addition to reading and writing workshop, and I know that opening up my classroom to stories and discussions about current events and their historical contexts so that students can think about, read about and write about these disturbing events, can often be dangerous. I have had parents call my administrators to complain, and I have had to justify these conversations, explain their contexts, and stand my ground. It is not easy for me, a tenured and veteran teacher of many years. I can imagine how impossible it would be for a young teacher, not yet tethered to the security of tenure, to think about venturing out into these dangerous waters. And yet, he or she must, we all must.
And so, as I mull over these dark and complicated thoughts this Poetry Friday, I turn to Billy Collins and his wry and true poem:
The History Teacher
Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.
And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.
The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”
The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,
while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.
Being part of the solution begins in our classrooms.