I follow Ernest Crim on Instagram and have learned so much from him about being Black in America from history to present day. In a recent post, he challenged white people to list five white anti racists, and for white parents to encourage their children to adopt one or more of them as role models.
Not surprisingly, John Brown was the first person the came to my mind as he does show up in American history classes. I also thought of Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison, both from the same era as Brown. I wondered about Eleanor Roosevelt and a search found this interview with Vernon Jarrett who describes Roosevelt’s growth as an anti racist. So, I’m up to four…Jane Addams, the founder of Chicago’s Hull House, also came to mind. This time the search revealed the complexities that often surround supposedly “good” white people: Addams was close friends with Ida Bae Wells whose push back on Addams’ views on lynching helped her grow. But, there are still questions about her general views on Black people as being culturally inferior, a typical progressive white view of the time, and Hull House rarely housed Blacks, focusing instead on immigrants.
A larger Google search provided a list compiled by Teaching While White. It includes both old and new white anti racists and I encourage you to check it out. It helped jog my memory with a few more names, mostly abolitionists, and widened my perspective. I’m planning on a bit more reading and research and may choose my own role model for the year.
My twitter feed is filled with pictures of my K-12 teaching friends as they begin the year, eager to connect with their students. I am excited for them and, even after decades of being out of the middle school classroom, I always have a pang of regret that I took a different path in 2001.
That unconventional path has provided me with a variety of opportunities to work with educators across the country. But, I don’t necessarily think of that as teaching. I was engaging in professional development, which to my mind has a different quality than teaching. I have continued to teach, however, working with students in a formal setting where we have time to develop relationships, explore curriculum and create knowledge together.
This fall, I am teaching two courses, one for Old Dominion University and one for University of Richmond. Both are graduate courses related to instructional technology for a mostly K-12 educators. The two courses represent the ends of the spectrum in terms of how teaching and learning is done in higher education.
The Old Dominion course is designed for career switchers, people with degrees in other fields who wish to become teachers. It is always a wonderfully diverse mix of individuals as they come, in some cases, from all over the world. The course is completely online and asynchronous. But, we still create community using tools like Flip and Padlet to share and explore. I don’t have a lot of leeway with the content as the course is taught by multiple professors, but I am able to bring my own personality and practices to teaching online. But, it is a still a very different relationship than my face to face course.
At University of Richmond, I have taught School Technology each fall to students in the graduate education program for many years and it is most definitely MY course. Pre-COVID it was fully face to face with perhaps one virtual meeting to give them a flavor for learning online. I revisit the content and curriculum each year as well as the way I deliver the course. We have been almost completely online for the past years. This year, I am experimenting with a hybrid format that allows for us to connect as a whole group and then give students time for their own exploration and work.
Basically, I have front loaded the content into September. We work together on campus until fall break. Last year, I began using a textbook: the small but impactful volume, Closing the Gap: Digital Equity Strategies for the K-12 Classroom. I am continuing with that this year as the authors cover the big picture with the lens of equity that helps connect various topics in a useful way. They also provide a framework for students to consider their own problems of practice that lead to their final, individual projects, which they work on in November.
In between, October is given over to the students to explore on their own. I created a Choose Your Own Adventure activity that focuses on four different areas of ed tech that I don’t have time to cover in any depth. They learn a little about each one and then choose one to explore in more depth, with the goal considering how they might roll it out in their schools. A secondary objective is for them to think about how they use technology to research, reflect and report. What tools do they for curation? Collaboration? Communication?
We meet tonight for the first time and I am a little nervous, as always.
This blog post is inspired by two people. Tim Stahmer has been blogging consistently since the early naughts. I’ve had blogs setup as long as he has, but I never got into the rhythm. But, like many of us, he found himself feeling unsettled in this era of the unknown and it impacted his writing, partly because he wasn’t sure what to say.
Jennifer Orr, meanwhile, has been giving us all a glimpse into the world of teachers right now. As always, her courage to share her deepest fears and griefs and joys inspires me.
I started the year with good intentions and enjoyed blogging in January, partly because I gave myself permission to write about whatever I wanted. I posted a few thoughts early on in the crisis but, like Tim, I ran out of energy and wondered what I had to share.
I admire Jen’s courage to speak her truth. Through her eyes, we also see the lives of her students and their families. And, she reminds us that the wires and switches are about connecting people and supporting community. We can fix the technology problems, but there is an emotional toll that will be harder to repair. We need more teachers to tell their stories all the time but never more so than now.
So, to Tim’s question, what can I say? I think I’m going back to my January philosophy and writing about what comes to mind. I am back to baking regularly with two different sourdough starters. My flower gardens are coming together and there are lots of lessons to learn while weeding. Meanwhile, my husband is putting in extra tomato, squash, zucchini and cucumber plants this year, thinking that our local community, a food desert, will benefit from fresh produce this summer. I will be channeling my grandmothers as I pickle, can, ferment and freeze. I’m back to reading after struggling with concentration.
For now, I’ll end with a potentially helpful resource for those who are struggling with connectivity. The Commonwealth Coalition, of which VSTE is a proud member, has created a wifi hotspot map for the state:
I like that one near me is at Moores Swamp Church. But it is a picture of inequity as well. Rural folks expect to drive longer distances for services but, at this point in time, Internet is like electricity. It needs to come directly to the house.
I am inspired by Austin Kleon on a daily basis and eagerly awaiting my copy of his new book. The first chapter grew from this post about doing the work every day even if it is small steps.
So, today, instead of starting with Twitter, I started with Feedly, and the writers and thinkers I have assembled to challenge me with their ideas. Here’s my brief reaction to two items in this morning’s feed. I would encourage you to explore both these writers in more depth.
Jose Vilson, in his piece Writing as Threat, points to the challenges faced by writers of color who must operate in space controlled predominantly by white people and cheers those who are meeting that challenge:
My favorite writing happens when the margins throw pinchos at the hot-air balloon that is the zeitgeist
But, his description of the insecurity of writing is universal. Jose and I share a love of language and reverence for the writers who can wield words like swords or solace. It makes us hesitate to call ourselves writers but, I agree with Jose, his own words have called him out. He is a writer.
Tim Stahmer, in his post No, They Are Not Skills?, reflects on a question I used to ask during leadership workshops: can we teach creativity? We would do a needs assessment around those “soft” skills like creativity and curiosity and then ponder how we get them into an already packed curriculum. Often, the participants came to a similar conclusion as Tim: creativity is a mindset rather than a skill and one that needs space and time to develop, something that may simply not be possible to do in our current iteration of “school.” At some point in the workshop, someone might ask how we define creativity, and that is a whole other discussion but just consider your answer to this: am I “creative” when I build a Lego model from the directions provided?
This is the question asked by Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund at the end of a powerful essay that describes the deep cuts being made in education programs. Education has not been a big part of the Republican debates unless they are talking about reducing the federal government’s role. And, indeed, the track record has not been good for the feds as they have led to a national obsession with test scores and now with teacher evaluation.
The government hasn’t always been such a detriment to education. The response to Sputnik spurred new interest in science and federal money helped fund summer programs and teacher development.
Unfortunately, helping poor kids succeed doesn’t seem to compare to concern about the Soviets as a national crisis, and yet we know that those in poverty are more likely to drop out, which leads to a whole host of issues from higher incarceration rates to lower employment earning. But there seems to be a desire on the side of conservatives to blamethepoor for their lot, suggesting it is easy to escape the cycle. Most of these suggestions, of course, are made by people who have never had to worry about paying the rent or feeding themselves.
So, while we say we value education, we have all sorts of excuses for why we don’t show those values in both access and funding. It’s a simple, but powerful question: what are our values?