Saturday, July 09, 2016

What Can We Do?

The events of the past several weeks have been heartbreaking and overwhelming. My social media feeds are filled with posts and readings and messages hoping for change.  It is easy to become overwhelmed and paralyzed but I think many of us feel like we have to act in some way.  When I read this piece on victim Philander Castile, I was struck by the impact his death will have on hundreds of young children.  After the Orlando shootings I became more aware of the bullying and suicide rates of our LGBT students.  Our kids deserve better.  So I have been thinking about how I will act, what my role can be in changing things that are unjust.  This is what I have come up with so far.

I Will Study

I think something I've been committed to over the last year has been to truly study and learn all I can about these issues.  I have realized it takes time because so much of this is unlearning what we thought we knew.  I am finding that I need to read widely and often. That there is so much to understand about all of these issues and I am embarrassingly uneducated in many of them.  I don't have to agree with or understand everything I read but I have to expand what I read and be open to changing my thinking. I can no longer ignore the things that go against my current understanding and read only the things that match my current understanding of what it means to be white/black in America.  So committing to learning and being open about what is true is critical.

If I believe in justice, I believe in justice for everybody. Which means I have to expand my knowledge  in many areas.  Following the Orlando shootings, I did a great deal of reading trying to understand the challenges faced by our LGBT communities--challenges I was previously less aware of than I could have been.  The focus this week has been on race and police brutality and in some circles there has been a line drawn that this is an either/or conversation. I don't see it that way.  This week has helped me realize that as a white woman,  I have a lot learn about race and discrimination.  So, I have read a great deal over the last few days and I am thankful for friends and colleagues who are sharing things they feel are important to read.  Some things that have helped me to understand the issues and to relearn some things I thought to be true are (in no particular order):

The Future of Race in America by Michelle Alexander at TEDx Columbus

From Park Bench to Lab Bench: What Kind of Future Are We Designing Tedx by Ruha Benjamin

From White Guilt to White Responsibility by Hanah Adair Bonner

The Problem With Saying "All Lives Matter" : There's a Difference Between True an Helpful by Tyler Huckabee

Advice for White Folks in the Wake of the Police Murder of a Black Person by Justin C. Cohen

Deafening Silence: White Silence and Alton Sterling by Ryan Williams-Varden

Austin Police Chief Speaks

How to Raise a Black Son in America by Clint Smith at TED2015

Mothering White Sons to Know #BlackLivesMatter : Our Silence is Continued Violence by Alyssa Hadley Dunn

Marley Dias talks about Institutional Racism from NEA

Test Yourself to Hidden Bias at Teaching Tolerance

11 Common Ways White Folks Avoid Taking Responsibility for Racism in the US by Robin DiAngelo

I Will Learn More About What I Can Do As an Educator

As the mother of a Hispanic daughter, I have read a lot in the past decade about discrimination, race, multiracial families, identity, etc.  This understanding, of course, impacts my role as an educator. But I want to commit to thinking more about the specifics of how I can act to help create change in my role.

My friend Patty stated on Facebook, "Do I know what MY action will be? No. Not yet. But I do know that action speaks louder and clearer than words." I agree with Patty and I know that reading and sharing information alone will not create change. So I need to think about my role in all of this as a teacher and as a human being. These are things that have been shared and I've read this week to help me begin to think about this.

But What Can I Do? Recognizing Our Role in Systematic Racism by David Kirland

Not Just Us? Using Classrooms to Get (White) People to Talk About Race by David Kirkland

For White Teachers in a Time of #BlackLivesMatter by Chris Lehmann

We, White Teachers of Mostly White Students, We Have a Lot of Work to Do at Crawling Out of the Classroom

I Will Commit to Ongoing Reflection and to 

Being a Strong Voice For Justice

So what can I do?  I have been thinking about the first steps in my action plan.  And even though I have been committed to diversity and justice for as long as I can remember, I know I can do more.  So here are a few things I plan to DO.

1. Know the Work of Organizations Who Have Made This Their Mission

The Early Childhood Assembly of NCTE has strong resources on social justice and anti-bias teaching.  Spending a huge chunk of time on their site has been extremely helpful to me.  If you have not read the organization's Response to the Orlando Shootings and the Anniversary of the Mother Emmanual Church Murders, it is a must read. It is filled with a call to action as well as many resources for teachers.

We Need Diverse Books is a movement whose work I follow closely and learn from. 
I have been more focused on auditing our classroom library as well as the books I share with students.  This year I realized that I needed to read a bigger diversity of books and I needed to be intentional about sharing a larger variety of books with students. I realize I am limited in my own reading and am working to expand that in terms of the authors I read and the issues I read about (both fiction and nonfiction).  This will be an ongoing process for me.

Teaching Tolerance is a site I have been getting to know better. It is filled with resources for teacher understanding and for the classroom.

These are the sites I have spent the most time on but there are professional books and other sites that I know I need to get to.

2. Audit my Own Language with Students and Colleagues

When I read Choice Words by Peter Johnston years ago, it helped me understand the power of my language with children.  I have reread and revisited this book every year since, often with a particular focus. One year I paid close attention to my language with my 2 most struggling students. I was shocked to realize that I often fell back on non-empowering language with them. Auditing my own lagnague as it relates to bias, stereotypes, expectations, and identity is a commitment I have made to myself as I go into a new school year.

3. Be Aware of All Assumptions I Make About Children, Families, Colleagues and Communities

We all make assumptions, whether positive or negative.  Being aware of the assumptions I make and how that impacts my relationships and teaching is another thing I am committed to. I want to be open to an awareness of my own biases in and out of the classroom.  I think there is language embedded in any community that is based on assumptions and I want to be aware of that language so I can work to change it.

4. Resist the Temptation to Get Defensive

The more I read, the more I understand that we all have biases. Getting defensive when challenged in conversations never helps move the conversation forward.  Conversations around race are often filled with emotion and it is easy to get defensive. When our own biases are brought to light or our beliefs are questioned, conversations can become difficult.  Resisting that temptation will help me to grow in my own understandings and also help us expand and move the conversation.



  1. Important post! I hope your words ignite plans of action across the world. I am proud to know you, learn from you and be inspired.

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  3. Such powerful words, and such a powerful resource too. Thank you, Franki!

  4. Franki, Thank you for this thoughtful, comprehensive , and useful post. You have given a path to follow as we flounder -- bowed down with ever growing grief.

  5. Thank you, Franki, for this. I found myself wanting to follow in your footsteps, so I especially appreciate the resources you provided.

    Allison Jackson

  6. What a well organized, thorough, and helpful post. Thank you.

  7. Thank you for this post and all the resources. Reading and learning about what we don't know and understand is a good first step. One we all need to take.

  8. I just returned from ILA16 in Boston and couldn't help but think your blogpost was a beautiful companion to the impromptu conversation Cornelius Minor and Sara Ahmed facilitated. Coupled with that conversation, the thoughts and resources you provide and your action plan give me a sense of focus and belief that I can be part of change beyond just believing in it.

    Thank you!

  9. Thank you for this. I needed this. I also need to start unpacking my thinking as a black educator in almost all white school, what are my responsibilities? I have some reading to do.


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