The Young Girls in My Class

Afro shillouetteI have the insane and unashamed pleasure to teach a class full of young girls with black and brown skin who are first-year college students. In my 15 years of teaching, I have not ever had more than 2 or 3 girls of color in 1 class at a time. And today I almost cried in class at the sight of them with all their color and beauty and focus. They inspired this little ditty (it needs a beat behind it):

The young girls in my class make my heart sing, my face smile, my toes tap, my belly tickle, my fingers snap, and my head…click to the side in joy & pride

The young girls in my class got sass, beauty, brains, intent, power, glitter, focus, confidence, steadiness, and all that is #blackgirlmagic

I could not have been the young girls in my class. I was shier, quieter, homlier, maybe I was as smart, but couldn’t do my hair, I had no style or sass – not at their age, and I rarely spoke up or talked back…or at least that is my recollection when I look at the young girls in my class – they amaze me and daze me and I can’t wait to hear them speak about whatever and everything

The young girls in my class will run the world. I will learn from them as much as they will from me. They are bold, empowered, educated sisters on a mission and they make my heart sing, my face smile, my fingers snap, my belly tickle, and my head…click to the side in joy & pride.

To the bad ass young girls in my class – go ‘head and do your thang!

 

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Thoughtful Tuesday

familyOur son was not yet 2 years old when Trayvon Martin was shot in Sanford, Florida. That night we held him tightly and I prayed that I would find the words as he grew up to talk to him about vulnerability, oppression, being a person of color, racism. My parents who were born in the south but grew up in the North and the West did a poor job of preparing me for the harsh realities of the isms. I was sheltered and protected. I believe my parents thought that because we moved out of Inglewood into Pasadena, enrolled me in private schools, exposed me to those upper-class activities that they did not participate in, I would be spared or safe from racism, sexism, etc. Otis Graham, author of Our Kind of People wrote a column about how privileged status does not protect our children from being called a N—- https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/06/i-taught-my-black-kids-that-their-elite-upbringing-would-protect-them-from-discrimination-i-was-wrong/

Since February 2012, so may incidents of racial injustice and violence have occurred that I have honestly lost track. All I know is that I am trying to remain calm, not panic, and talk to our son in ways that make sense. My husband and I have different approaches, which is o.k. I think. There are different ways to expose our children, talk to them, and prepare them as best we can for their futures. Our differing approaches collided when our nephew was elected president of his high school student body and social media erupted in racial slurs and threats of death. For the first time since our son had been born I was called to action. I participated in a rally, but our son did not go. Our nephew was on the front page of the paper and on the nightly local news almost daily. Our son is learning to read and pictures speak volumes. I felt we could not hide or sugar-coat the truth. We have responded simply or used religion or sports analogies to help.

The simplest response possible: “He won and some people were not happy, they are sore losers, and they said mean things.” And our son would say “Are they going to get in trouble? Did they apologize?” The truth was that no, those kids did not truly get into trouble and we were not sure they had apologized. So another type of conversation was had. We turned to religion: “Sometimes people do or say mean things and they do not apologize. God knows our hearts and will always protect us.” God is still a vague being/concept to our son, but he kind of got it.  IN other situations, we have turned to sports (his favorite activity): “You know how in a game there is a referee that monitors the players and when a player creates a super bad foul the player gets kicked out of the game and then later he has to pay a fee?” “Yes.” “In life there are referees who patrol our world and kick people out and make them pay fees.”

But then the news images of police, protestors, shot boys that look like him become too much to ignore. Even if we were not watching the news in his presence, he sees the front page of the newspaper as we bring it into the house, the news has a preview on t.v. as we are turning to his kid’s channel, our gatherings are a mix of adults and children and he over-hears our conversations. We cannot and will not live in a bubble under the guise of shielding him. So the real challenge is how to navigate this harsh reality without burdening his 5 year old mind, soul, and heart.

He is obsessed with playing “jail.” He also loves soccer, football, play dough, and coloring. But inevitably whatever he is building with Legos turns into a jail. His soccer players end up in jail because they cause d a foul or his play dough creation is a jail. Even his beloved TMNT are in jail! My social worker antenna is buzzing!!!! So I ask “Why is everyone always in jail?” “Because they’re bad.” “What did they do?” “They were fighting.” “Oh” I say weakly, wondering if I should continue the questioning, which I do not but instead say “I think you’ve played jail long enough, let’s read….”

Our son is very intuitive, he is smart and savvy. He listens to everything people say. He is not naïve. At the same time, we do not want to give him more information than he needs at this age. We also do not want him to be shocked (which he will be) when a classmate or a classmate’s parent says something racially cruel or he doesn’t get invited to the party because the parent doesn’t like black people, etc., etc. I also do not want to be a helicopter parent, but I can easily see how trying to protect your child from injustice based on his race or biological sex or religion or ability…could lead a parent to helicopter…patrolling the books in the library, the holidays celebrated at school, etc.

I am too often overwhelmed by that state of our country and our world. I feel paralyzed and fearful. Then I remember that I need to model what our son should be (my husband does too) and I just make sure our son hears and sees me engaged in social justice. I also remember that I have gotten through it with minimal protection and I have grown stronger, more passionate, braver.

I also just hope and pray that there are parents of every race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and orientation out there who are just as concerned as I am and are having age-appropriate conversations with their children about the same issues and about how to be an ally. I just hope and pray that there is better police academy screening and training. I just hope that the post-modernists, whom I do not always understand or agree with, are right and we reach a post-label-identity society…where we are all equal and treated as such.

Do you talk to your child about difference? Vulnerablitiy? Racism? Sexism? Current events? How do you do it?

Some of my favorite articles on related topics:

  1. To The White Parent of My Black Son’s Friends – http://www.amusingmaralee.com/2015/12/to-the-white-parents-of-my-black-sons-friends/#sthash.mZuLFa7R.dpuf
  2. Respect what black America is feeling – http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/dear_white_facebook_friends_i_need_you_to_respect_what_black_america_is_feeling_right_now/
  3. Five recovery steps from a form helicopter parent http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/01/05/overparenting-5-recovery-steps-from-a-former-stanford-dean/
  4. What it’s like to be the only black kid in class http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-is-what-its-like-to-be-the-only-black-kid-in-class_568a847be4b014efe0dae77d

 

A Reflection on Teaching Religion and Diversity…online

worldI have been teaching about religion and cultural competency online since 2010.  I began doing so because (a) I had a newborn and wanted to spend less time on campus and (b) the university was asking us to create more online courses. I have tweaked the courses a lot over the years and gathered ideas from colleagues across the country.  It is a challenge and takes some fine balancing to teach such topics online. It is definitely time consuming! 😊😄Some say it is a bad idea to teach uncomfortable/controversial topics online. I think it can and should be done. I think so mainly because online offers more students opportunity to take a variety of classes that they may not otherwise be able to take because of their time and life commitments.  Secondarily, I have found that my online students are more open with their discussion than me student in my face-to-face courses (their is some literature out there about the perception of being somewhat anonymous online).

I am currently teaching an online course about religion and society. 🏯⛪🔯🔱It is a Sociology course so the readings are based on the theoretical frameworks of the traditional through post-modern Sociological theorists.  Because of where we live, I find approx 90% of the students to be former Catholics who do not currently practice a religion AND have a disdain for organized religion (LOTS of research out there on this, especially as it relates to 20 and 30 year olds). The students have been most interested in how religions address the LGBT community & people of color, and the role of women or lack thereof within some religions.

When I teach the cultural competency course (in Social Work) students are required to pick a culture that is different than their own and explore that culture’s food, socio-cultural, religious and other traditions and customs.  🎎🙇👭👬👳👲Culture is broadly defined but mostly in the course we study and discuss various social identities. In the end students tend to focus on national origin or religion, therefore most students choose either Judaism or Islam for their ongoing project/paper.  Given the state in which we live students also tend to choose Cambodian, Vietnamese, Cape Verdean, or Brazilian cultures also and thus often end up at a Catholic Church or Buddhist Temple.

This semester in the Religion and Society course, no student has chosen Islam. I asked if anyone had interest in exploring Islam for their research paper and that I had often sent students to a specific Islamic Center in our state and that the center is welcoming, etc., etc. A few brave students emailed me to say that they were interested but scared to visit a Mosque or Islamic Center.  We discussed back and forth about their fears and the pros and cons of this research topic.  In the end, no student chose Islam. I was disappointed, but each year I am learning new things about teaching topics that some students find uncomfortable, challenging, and/or are afraid of.

teacher

Facilitating Learning

  1. Even though our college and universities push us to teach online so that more students have access and can take courses, some courses really are best taught face-to-face.
  2. If I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online then I have to require students to engage in more discussions than usual. There is typically a question/topic per week and students respond to me and to two other students. I then compose a lecture-like post based on all of their responses so and ask them to respond to that post.  So that’s at least 3-4 opportunities to discuss a topic and engage in some teaching & learning.
  3. Again, if I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online I should think about requiring at least two (at the beginning and at the end) face-to-face meetings so that we can all see each other, have an open discussion, more forward, and end together.  This seems to defeat the purpose of teaching online, which is why hybrid is usually a good option.
  4. I like students to think about the possible wide range of topics and choose for themselves, but… it is an undergraduate course and even though it goes against my pedagogical style I could pre-select topics and say “Pick from these topics only” thus pushing students out of their comfort zone. This might be helpful to some students and patronizing to others.

If you teach about the broad topic(s) of diversity:

  1. Do you teach online, hybrid, or face-to-face?
  2. Do you allow students to select their own topics or do you have a pre-selected list?
  3. What other suggestions would you give me as I move forward in teaching this solely online?

Respectful, constructive comments and discussions are welcome, please.  Thank you.

YAY for Malala: Honoring My Mom Day 13 (or there abouts)

teacherAs a woman of color living in American I never take my education for granted. The two oldest siblings in my grandmother’s family were the only two who were allowed to & able to go to college. They are proud Tuskegee and Fort Valley State graduates. My mom, who did not grow up in the south but still faced obstacles as her New York guidance counselor told her she should go to trade school. She ended up earning a Master in Social Work degree from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). My path was made easier through the scarifies and struggles of my grandparents and parents, although not without challenges. Like many 1st year students I goofed off a lot and skipped some classes and that first report card shocked me back into shape!

Each academic year in one of my books I put a picture of Charlayne Hunter-Gault;  in another book I put a picture of the Little Rock Nine; and in another book a picture of James Meredith.  The pictures are my inspirational reminders.  I think I am going to add a picture of Malala Yousafzai.

Today I sent all my students an email and challenged them to:

  1. appreciate fully the privilege of an education,
  2. come to class prepared,
  3. not procrastinate,
  4. be engaged and proactive learners,
  5. think critically,
  6. inspire someone else to pursue a higher education or complete high school,
  7. pledge to tear down any obstacle they see for others in receiving an education, and to
  8. hold me accountable for facilitating discussion and learning.

I, in return challenged myself to give them 100%+ each day I meet them and to hold them accountable for being responsible for their own learning.

We should ask ourselves “What would Malala do?” http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/10/10/355054344/pakistani-teen-malala-yousafzai-shares-nobel-peace-prize?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=2034

A Vent: Those CJ Majors in My SWK Courses

teacher(Based on anecdotal course observations over the course of 7 years and not based on any actual rigorous data collection or analysis…which gives me an idea…):

One of the beautiful aspects of being in higher education is that each academic discipline really does attract a specific type of student.  In our undergraduate Social Work courses we tend to get a significant number of students who vote with the Democratic Party (or are not registered); are not particularly religious, are female, young, and Caucasian.  Social Work majors also tend to have had some personal interaction with or connection to the greater social service/welfare system.  As opposed to the stereotypical Criminal Justice major who is either Independent or Republican, maybe not religious but with a penchant for following rules, male, youngish, and Caucasian.  And contrary to my SWK students the CJ students I have encountered, have had some negative personal interaction or connection with the CJ system (victim of a crime) that leads them to their professional choice.  There are also some suspected personality traits that typically go with each major, but that I will not even touch (but you can use your imagination).

I teach a course on “diversity” and “cultural competence” in the human services. The course is required of SWK majors and also meets the University’s graduation requirement for diversity.  Thus, I tend to have 85-90% SWK majors; 5-10% CJ majors;  and 2-3% “other majors” (Business, Education, Sociology).  Did that add up to 100%??? The course is taught from the ethical & value-laden perspective of the SWK profession with my own twist (middle-aged female of color with a variety of life experiences and lots of opinions).

And here is what I’ve noticed and how my patience and acceptance has been tested:justice scale

  1. CJ majors sit in the back or on the far sides; never in the front or the middle
  2. CJ majors have no problem challenging the information presented and often do so from the perspective of personal experience as opposed to presenting factual data
  3. SWK majors tend to agree with everything I say (equally as annoying as challenging everything I say)
  4. SWK majors tend to roll their eyes at the CJ majors and vice versa
  5. CJ majors deny that there is any injustice based on a specific social identity (race, ethnicity, gender in particular).
  6. SWK majors think everyone has been wronged or oppressed (in fact when I give an exam I am the oppressor)
  7. CJ majors claim that our country and it’s social institutions are based on and operate under the premise of justice.
  8. SWK majors say justice is not SOCIAL JUSTICE
  9. When discussing a specific type of oppression that a specific group has experienced (i.e. Antisemitism or Homophboia) the CJ majors say “Well, that’s like the time I…”
  10. SWK majors say “NO. It is NOT like the time you…” and then they over empathize.

I am challenged to really TEACH as oppose to PREACH to the converted SWK choir. It is a challenge. I am embracing it.

  1. I am breathing deeply
  2. I am counting to 5 (sometimes 10) before I respond
  3. I am looking up tons of CJ facts to bring to class for rebuttal purposes.
  4. I am consulting with my CJ colleagues (thanks, you know who you are!)
  5. I am welcoming the CJ majors who keep me on my toes AND making sure they get a good does of social work values & ethical principles

I want everyone who wants and can access an education to receive an education (I really want higher education to be more accessible, but that’s another blog). And I want to encourage students to explore courses outside of their major (that’s what liberal arts is all about right?).

helpingAND I really want to convert all those CJ majors in my SWK course to become SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATES as opposed to the deliverers of justice.

NO CELLPHONES IN THE CLASSROOM

teacher  I have recently been introduced to a different meaning for cellphones in the classroom.  Most of us in academia have policies about NO CELLPHONE USE IN THE CLASSROOM!  In K-12 I think phones are not allowed inside the classroom, in college we ask students to” turn the ringer off.”  Students often find a “good reason” why they are texting in class…I find no good reason in any circumstance…if it’s that important – go home!

But recently some situations have arisen that have made me think twice about the uncomfortable union of academia and cellphones:

(1) A student without a textbook the first couple of weeks of class took a picture of the assignment questions so that she could complete the homework (I wondered why not borrow a book from a classmate or go to the library…..?)

(2) Another student who was unable to use the computer software to create her diagram (ecomap & genogram) drew them by hand, took a picture, then sent them as an email attachment with her paper (I was thinking…you could scan them…)

(3) A student whose paper got lost in the e-learning system, took a picture of her paper and sent it to me via email….the same with a student whose test answer truly disappeared from my view sent me a picture of his answer to prove he had indeed taken the quiz!

(4)Some colleagues text their students reminders or check-in if they’ve been absent from a class because “Students don’t check their email” (I still don’t want students to have my cellphone number!)

(5) And of course you can use cellphones as “clickers” in the classroom to do class surveys or quizzes

While I am not sure I like the cellphone as the first choice for solving some of the above problems, I am impressed with the creative use of this technology (I am no techno-phobe, but #1-3 had not occurred to me at all until I saw it done).  It makes me wonder about how my 2 year old will interact with teachers and faculty int he future.  I hope not primarily by cellphone.

cellphone