diversity · Education · social activism · Uncategorized

Exposing Who I Am

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Teaching can be both the best and worst job at any given time, and I have never been shy about admitting that to other people. Some people believe that teaching is a calling, and therefore, there should be no complaints on the part of those who have been called into service. Other people, of course, believe that teaching is a profession, where the skills involved in teaching have been developed over time in an educational setting. I’ll go out on a limb and say that both beliefs are simultaneously true.

However, there are simply aspects of education that are not that enjoyable, such as policy issues, state legislature influences, budget, classroom behavior issues, etc. I’d be flat out lying about enjoying much of those aspects of my job. And God knows that I hate a department meeting where we (educators) are lectured on things like whether or not we should come up with new ways to satisfy our “customers.”

Frankly, that position has always irritated me. I’ve even had students tell me that they pay tuition, and so I actually work for them. No, um, not today, love. At the college level students pay for an opportunity to learn from someone deemed to be an expert in the field, and that’s it.

My students are not my customers any more than I have been a customer for my mother to accommodate. Had my mother aimed to satisfy me when attempting to teach me, I feel fairly sure that I would be a very different person today, likely a person with less than adequate skills combined with an overinflated sense of self. My mother was tough on me, expected my best efforts, and in many cases, she had excellence in mind; at this point, I appreciate her standard for my conduct.

Additionally, I never had a coach in any capacity that did not demand my best, and the result was that I thought highly of that coach. The truth is that I worked hard for people who demanded my best and then rewarded my improvements. Set a high standard, expect them to meet it, and then praise them to high heaven when they do.

Treating students like customers, however, implies that I must aim for their complete happiness all the times. I feel fairly sure that the care that goes into good guidance cannot always leave people happy, and I am more committed to education than I am to a returning customer. Making students happy is a responsibility of the administration and support staff; I was hired to teach.

My students learn fairly quickly during the semester that I view them as “one of my own,” but never will I see them as a customer. Customer suggests detachment, where what happens after my students leave me happy with the service that I provided is no longer a concern for me. But I feel just the opposite about my students. I feel they are a reflection of me, my influence, and my ability to teach. As such, what happens to them after they leave me does matter to me.

Yesterday after a lesson on research and evidence evaluation, which included discussion about what it means to have good critical thinking skills, one of my male students shared that he was unsure why he felt so emotion (his lip quivered while he spoke and he needed to stop a few times before continuing), but he wanted to thank me for caring about my students enough to make them work, and as a consequence, think. He apparently appreciated that instead of providing the answer, I typically refuse, telling them instead to figure it out and get back to me in ten minutes. Then after they try, and only after, will I guide them to a clearer understanding of the concept.

Our students, just like our children, know when someone is holding them to a high standard out of care for their welfare or simply to be hard. A high standard in an educational setting sends a message of great concern for the success of students. Because I do care about the culmination of my students’ education efforts, I must teach with integrity everyday, whether it is the model my employer believes grows a business or not. My chosen profession is teaching, and some days my “job” is a joy!

Communications · diversity · Education · Interracialism · politics · Uncategorized

Interracialism: A Debt To The Loving Family

mildred-loving-2-800With bigotry seemingly on the rise, in general, as of late, I have noticed an increase in the amount of stares and disapproving head shakes (interpreted as disgust) my family is once again privileged to endure in public spaces.  The southern part of the U.S. has always been my home, and I remember a time (not that long ago, I might add) when things were socially horrible here for my family.  There were even times when I felt that I was in danger in the face of extreme anger.  I honestly cannot count the times that I have been mistreated in public over my choice of a marital partner and/or the race of my children.

Over time, however, my family appears to have gained some ground, so to speak, within our community.  I actually think many people here have gotten used to us, and because we don’t fit the stereotypical beliefs often held with regard to interracial couples, we’ve been allowed a certain amount of acceptance during the last decade or so. Keep in mind, however, that increase in acceptance was a long time coming; more than twenty-five years in the making, to be exact.

While our tolerance as a nation for celebrity interracialism appears to be on the rise, I’m not sure that the same attitude persist with regard to “average” interracial couples, at least not in the South.  More, it’s important to note that celebrity status affords many things that “average” people are not afforded, both materially and socially.

This resurfacing of the old attitudes surrounding interracialism has made me reflect on the intensity of the fight to marry a man of my choice; it was significant, to say the least. Being a White woman in the South, often the belief is that I am the problem in the relationship, and therefore, in the past I often encountered social rejection, name calling, obstructive behavior by co-workers, and ostracizing by extended family, to name a few, all in the name of showing me what I could look forward to if I continued the relationship. Additionally, we (me and my husband) experienced all of the previously mentioned things plus police harassment; the specific reason for the policing was mostly aimed at my husband, and never once did the police encounters involve anything other than nonsense. As a result, I unfortunately no longer trust the police, and that’s a shame.

Last night I watched Loving with my husband, and today I’m thinking about the history of our group members, something that has been hard to define in a country where race is almost never viewed as a fluid construct.

Since America’s inception virtually every aspect of society has been entangled with the myth of racial purity.  As a consequence, interracial unions have historically been at the forefront of social equality concerns.  Miscegenation has a long history in the United States with profound consequences for social life and cultural norms.  Even presently, the language used in the United States indicates the pervasive essentialist thinking among American citizens, as it was invented out of a history imbued with dichotomous race thinking. According to Maria P. P. Root in Racially Mixed People in America, Americans often have a difficult time with the notion that someone is both Black and White.  The average American’s restricted ability to think about race beyond biology has resulted in a nationally limited race based discourse (1996).

In Tripping Over the Color Line Dalmage (2000) stated that in the United States families are overwhelmingly presumed to be single raced families, and the lack of positive language available to describe American citizens who do not fit neatly within prescribed social categories is a direct reflection of a country which has historically been at odds with anyone who challenges the color line.  There is little doubt that both interracial families and the offspring of interracial couples have historically raised questions about how we define race. According to Multiracial Couples: Black & White Voices, biracial children and interracial couples challenge both individual and group thinking that involves discrete, non-overlapping categories (Rosenblatt, Karis, & Powell, 1995). “Multiracial family members, by their very existence, threaten essentialist and racist thinking and thus endanger the color line. The discrimination and hostility directed toward multiracial families reflect continuing efforts to maintain the line” (Dalmage, 2000, p. 31).

Unfortunately, long standing American anti-miscegenation laws have left multiracial people and families “categorized as belonging in either one group or the other” (Dalmage, 2000, p.22).  It is likely that this type of essentialist thinking has left many multiracial family members feeling socially stigmatized.  Interracial marriage has historically signified a rejection of White supremacist values.  As such, those who love across the color line often sacrifice personal reputations and social status while enduring cultural stigma. Interracial love in America has long been interpreted in political terms (National Urban League, 2007).  And the political conversation is not decreasing as contemporary multiracial families are increasingly in search of new family customs and new language that more accurately and positively expresses their experienced social location.

According to Yancey (2007) in Experiencing racism: Differences in the experiences of Whites married to Blacks and non-Black racial minorities, to know Americans intimately is to understand the historical significance of race as a strictly defined social concept with very real socio-political and economic consequences.  While much of American history has been fraught with racial distinctions and the subjugation of certain racial groups within American society, more contemporary views of miscegenation are emerging as prideful family claims aimed at changing America’s dichotomous racial conversation, change that has been more than 400 years in the making.

These changes to the racial conversation surface in the form of new words, family customs, social classifications, and a growing number of multiracial family members gaining access to positions which include opportunities to engage in scholarly research. This opportunity to engage in scholarly research has resulted in a more balanced view of multiracial families and multiracial individuals, invalidating the long held view that multiracial families and individuals are abhorrent or unnatural (Root, 1996).

It appears as if mixed race families, in increasing numbers, are fighting for the right to define themselves for themselves (Dalmage, 2000), rather than allowing the larger population to devise the definition.  The Census Bureau has been principally involved in creating race in America, and previously “designated racial categories left little room for complexities and differences” (Dalmage, 2000, p. 144).  However, the multiracial movement has led to the Census Bureau offering a new way to racially classify members of the American population, classification that was once legally limited to the social distinctions of Asian, Black, Native American, or White.  The American kaleidoscope which began as the earliest English settlers arrived in the new world is becoming less and less of a social burden for those who cannot nor want to deny their mixed race heritage.

While contemporary American mixed race families may, indeed, relish their multi-dimensional family life in increasing numbers, getting to this point has not been easy nor is the journey complete.  Much work continues to be needed in terms of understanding the complexities of multiracial families, and specifically Black/White multiracial families, as these families have been at the center of the race mixing debate throughout American history.  Multiracial families often “travel through hardship, anger, solidarity, unity, hostility, terror, growth, happiness, fear, and uncertainty”  that results, in at least some ways, from life lived between the color line (Dalmage, 2000, p. 17).

I am thankful for Mildred and Richard Loving.

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diversity · Education · politics · Uncategorized

Just Musing About Education And Democracy

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I’m presently pure-n-tee (as we say in the south) disgusted with the idea of DeVos for Secretary of Education, and now the new commentary surrounding Falwell’s potential involvement as head of a panel ordered by Trump to address issues of higher education has had a “Trumpian” effect on me, a term offered up by MSNBC’s Joy Reid in an effort to describe something unbelievable but fully expected.  That’s how I feel today-utterly disgusted with the notion that any ole person off the street knows what is best for students.

Further, I have full blown dread about all the Trumpian moves to come, especially involving education, which I either have to tackle full on with cortisol pumping as fast as I can make it or try my best to mentally dodge in an effort to self preserve. At any rate, today I’ve spent some time considering why I feel so irritated with Trump’s negligent approach to education in the U.S. The following is what came to mind:

Though in some ways critical rationality leads to a questioning that is unending, members of a democratic society must be able to question aspects of societal life that are deemed worthy, as well as those aspects viewed as unworthy.  This is the only way informed decisions can be made.  It is also the way in which societal roles are redefined, a primary role of effective education.

In Democracy and Education, Dewey posited that “no subject, custom, or value was so sacrosanct that it could not be thought about, reflected on, and reconstructed, if necessary” (Dewey, 1916, p. IX).  He asserted that humans are not predestined to follow any particular path in life, but rather have the ability to analyze consequences of projected actions and thus create plans for “life-enhancing” activities (p. X).  Dewey viewed the school as a miniature society that had the ability to serve as a catalyst for promoting a democratic society.  As a major contributor to the field of education and philosophy, Dewey, as a pragmatist, contributed to the argument that philosophy’s primary concern was to solve human problems in the real world of experience.  This particular philosophical approach deals with the belief that ideas need to be tested and consequences determined to either solve a certain problem or satisfy a specific need.  Dewey’s beliefs surrounding education were informed by the notion that “informed and enlightened citizens were capable of reforming and regulating their own lives” (Dewey, 1916, p. XIII).

Dewey stated, “As a society becomes more enlightened, it realizes that it is responsible not to transmit and conserve the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as it makes for a better future society” (1916 p. 22).  Dewey argued that the school is the chief agency to bring about this end.  He also believed that it is the job of the school to provide students with a balanced environment, where they can escape from the limitations in which they were born, and therefore come into contact with a much more diverse environment.  “The intermingling in the school of youth of different races, differing religions, and unlike customs creates for all a new and broader environment” (Dewey, 1916, p. 23).  Ultimately, Dewey believed that society would benefit from an integration of various life experiences and believed that a member of any isolated group could have no more than a limited world view.

Dewey argued that democracy serves the primary goal of associated living.  Dewey stated that although any education given by a group tends to socialize its members, the quality of the education given depends largely on the habits and goals of the group (1916).  The concept of democracy in education aims to allow for free play back and forth among members of the social group in an effort to keep things from becoming or remaining one sided.  The only way to effectively keep from educating some members of society into socially superior roles while others are educated into socially inferior roles is to ensure a large variety of shared undertakings and experiences.  “Lack of free and equitable intercourse which springs from a variety of shared interests makes intellectual stimulation unbalanced” (Dewey, 1916 p. 93).  Dewey believed that isolation of a group made for the institutionalization of social life and for selfish ideals within any given group.

Education is important in terms of preserving a democratic society.  When thinking and questioning is restricted, the ability of people to control the outcome of their lives is also restricted.  Conformity and compliance are not, and should not be, educational goals of democratic educators.

Communications · diversity · Education · Uncategorized

How the Movie Hidden Figures Saved My Saturday

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Earlier today Wolf Blitzer tweeted about how much he enjoyed the movie Hidden Figures.  I saw the movie last week and immediately told my husband that I was going to write about my experience because it was simply inspiring.  Not only was the movie fantastic, but the experience of watching the movie was uplifting in a time when I could certainly stand a little lift.

As I have written before, I live in a very conservative community in the Florida panhandle (otherwise known as lower Alabama).  The number of confederate flags that I see on the bumpers of cars or flown off the backs of trucks on the average day is more than I can count, quite frankly.  And while there is approximately thirty percent of our population that consist of people of color, the divide between the rich and the poor is astounding.

I’ve lived in this area my whole life. As an adult, I chose to stay in spite of being able to work elsewhere because I wanted to raise my children near family.  And while there are many things about my hometown that I don’t appreciate, there are many things about the south that I love, mostly things that fit into my romanticized notion of the south in terms of land, creatures, and culture.

However, I do not by any means ever pretend that I do not know what exists here in terms of ideology, or what took place here before I was born.  I’ve heard more racial epithets over the years than the law should allow, and as a woman who married and had children with a Black man, my family and I have endured a special kind of bigotry that exists to this day. This particular type of bigotry can manifest itself among majority and minority racial group members; social scientist have labeled it borderism (Bélanger Robinson, 2011).

What my lived experiences here in the south have taught me, however, is that you can only take them one at a time, and by them I mean people.  I have learned that I can never tell from appearance alone when someone will support our family, or go out of their way to try to make our lives miserable.  Sometimes I brace for the worst reaction possible, and then find out that there was absolutely no need to brace for anything.  I’ve found good and not so good people in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Watching Hidden Figures with my husband and youngest son was one more example of that important lesson in my life.  As I watched people fill into the movie theater I was struck by the fact that I only saw two other Black people enter, aside from my family.  The theater was composed almost entirely of White people, and at least half of those people appeared to be middle aged people.

I was delighted that so many White people paid to watch the movie in our community (some movies don’t even make it to our theaters), but even more I was delighted with the comments and cheers that arose during various parts of the film.  At the end of the movie, the most amazing thing happened; My community members sporadically burst into applause.

The south is a complicated place with long held complicated relationships, and my place in the south is about the most complicated relationship that I have ever known.  By no means does the sporadic applause for the film cancel out what I know to exist here in terms of overwhelming attitude; that would be naïve thinking on my part . However, what it did do was remind me that there are people embedded in my otherwise conservative community who are open, tolerant, accepting, and proud of all of American history.  My guess is that I am not the only person here with internal anguish regarding my simultaneous appreciation and rejection of the south.

I’ve always gone out of my way to take my children to films such as Hidden Figures, as well as to talk about other African American historical figures with them. I have always felt that those lessons were important for all Americans, but in particular for children of color.  I am thankful that my son got to witness a film highlighting significant historical contributions made by African Americans.  Additionally, I am thankful that he was able to witness other people in his community also appreciating those particular contributions to American history.  Overall, going to watch Hidden Figures with my family made for a great Saturday!

Communications · Education · politics

You can only teach those who you love

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A couple of days ago I had to speak candidly to my college students.  I had one student who referred to me as a “Hillary loving democrat,” which in my area of the country is interpreted as evil traitor by many.  I rarely, if ever, tell my students how I vote, so I was a bit caught off guard by the comment, not to mention the hurt that I felt at the disrespect and seeming disdain buried in it.

The context in which this revelation about my political affiliation surfaced had to do with an example I chose to use in a public speaking course while discussing Aristotle’s ideas surrounding ethos, pathos, and logos.  We were discussing what sort of elements make for good speech practice, as well as ethical guidelines for responsible speaker conduct.  We talked additionally about the impact of ethnocentrism on a speaker’s ability to effectively meet the intended speech goal.

During this discussion, I simply asked the class whether or not they believed that Trump would be appreciated by more people if he refrained from his disparaging words.  Most of my students agreed that he could potentially earn more support by making better language choices and refraining from sharing his negative views related to group membership publicly.  I expressed that as a future professional it would be important for them to remember that language choice makes a huge difference in how people feel about individuals and corporations.

I was actually surprised that anyone decided on my political affiliation based on that question.  In particular, I was surprised that the question reached far enough to make me a “Hillary loving democrat,” because it seemed to me that anyone of any political view could see the need for improvement in terms of Trump and public perception surrounding his public comments; perhaps I am delusional.

As I previously indicated, I was disappointed with the accusation because of the intent behind it, so I slept on it for two nights before deciding how best to handle the situation.  A class can easily get way off the rails, so to speak, when a new semester begins, and the last thing that I wanted was to have to regularly enter a room where I was not appreciated.

As a result, I decided to tell the class that I was going to do my job and teach my subject.  After telling them that I was disappointed by the comment in the previous class session, I reminded my students that we were sitting in a public speaking course, and by extension, I planned to critique various public speaking events as I deemed suitable, something that I have done each and every semester when teaching that particular course.  I told them that learning is of the utmost concern for me.  I noted that my teaching contract did not call for pandering, but it did demand that I effectively teach the subject.  I additionally reminded them of the importance of using real world examples in our classroom and attempted to clarify the notion that inspection of examples for the purpose of comprehension and improvement in the subject was a necessary component of meeting the learning outcomes designated for the course.

Eyes rolled, huffs surfaced, but so did nods of agreement and smiles.

Before I finished I said, “Like my favorite education reformer, I don’t believe that you can teach someone who you don’t love.  When a parent corrects a child, I believe that the correction is most often done in love because the parent wants the child to succeed.  When a teacher corrects a student, the same thing should be true.  I plan to love everyone of you as hard as I possibly can all semester, even when it challenges your world view.  That is my commitment to you.”  Many smiled, a few laughed, and the student who made the Hillary loving democrat statement apologized and offered that she also believed it was important for everyone to accept what another person does with his or her vote.  I thanked her for her kind words, and we moved on with our scheduled class discussion.

My students largely come from low income backgrounds and are most often first generation college students.  In some cases they are attempting to redeem themselves after a troubled past.  As such, inspiring critical thinking is important in terms of their ability to advance in their college careers and succeed as future professionals.  I know that certain perspectives are bound to surface more often than others in the classroom because of the area where I live, but I also know that other, more muffled and suppressed views exist in the room; those views should also be heard.  In addition, the ability to critique the world and make decisions that result from in depth investigation is an important part of the democratic process, so effective teaching is also a commitment that I make to my country.

As usual, this semester my students and I will challenge each other, of that I feel sure, and in that process we will learn from each other, of that I also feel sure.  The one thing that I have learned from years of teaching is that the classroom is always a place of adventure; just as it should be!