Monday, August 18, 2014

Dear (White) Teachers, revisited

If you want a handle on all this, read Jose Vilson's This Is Not A Test.

A couple of days ago I was asked by Valerie Strauss if she could share my previous post with a link back, and I said sure, while joking to Leslie that we better be ready for a brick through the window.

It has not been my most read piece by a long shot, but it has hit a nerve, as it was meant to, but not the right one.

Part of the problem of removing a blog post from its crib is that it loses context. The WaPo article uses a different photo than I did--leading off a post meant to push the discussion of race with a young man wearing scowling at the reader pushes a few of us off the ledge of reason, which I suspect is pretty much the point.

I can argue until I'm blue in the face that what I wrote is clearly black and white--but if a post is misunderstood, I take it personally, because it is the writer's responsibility to make sure the words crafted can be understood.

To a point.

Normally I'd fine tune the post on the fly (as I have done for years)--it's just a blog, not an academic paper, and I slap up first drafts then play with them. That's not to say that I do not respect truth (or grammar), but that I blog mostly to shape up ideas swirling in my head, and I have an audience of one--the woman who sits across the table from me each morning as the sun rises.

Now to the gist of the "misunderstandings":
  • The post was not an appeal to turn every teacher's classroom into America's Newsroom. Older kids of color already have a pretty good idea of how the privileged view them. I was focusing on the white adults who teach them.
  • I am aware of my contractual duties to teach biology, thank you, and also aware that my salary is paid by my neighbors.  My door is always open, and pretty much anyone who wants (and has permission from my Principal) can drop in, announced or otherwise.  
  •  I never said discuss the events of Ferguson in your classroom, or anywhere else. Ferguson is not the issue--institutionalized, ingrained racism is. Heck, I don't start school for another two weeks, and chances are we'll have yet another town in the national news by then. You have plenty to talk about in your town alone.
  • Yes, I worked on the docks briefly; yes, I worked as a tech in a booze bottling plant as well; in both cases I was happy to have a job at all, and I enjoyed working in Port Newark. Both are briefly noted on the blog, and Ms. Strauss thought it would be interesting to include in the piece. Why this inflames folks escapes me.
  • I'm entering my 9th year teaching--getting to veteran status.

Interesting (to me, anyway) is that no one challenges the one line I thought would result in new windows:
Race has been criminalized in our public spaces.
I was hoping that would be the sticking point, but silence on that line bothers me far more than any of the frothing comments found on the Washington Post site. 

So let me spell out my thesis:
If you accept that race has become criminalized in public spaces, and you, as a public school teacher, are an agent in public spaces, then you have a responsibility to address the issue.

Any misgivings on the WaPo piece?:
  • The photo chosen by WaPo was the wrong one to use.
  • My shot at Xanax was a cheap trick--I could have used any number of non-drug activities, and I suspect that Kumbaya feel-good sing-a-longs rely more on oxytocin than GABA surges.
Thanks for listening....

As much as I loved Might Mouse,  I'd much prefer Courageous Cat.


Doc said...

Hi Michael, I think the confusion about what you wrote was from the setup to your letter.

Quote from Valerie's article

"His letter, from one white teacher to his white teaching colleagues, is about the responsibility they have toward their students to discuss the issues surrounding the killing by a police officer of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., as well as the killings of other young black men by police in other cities within the past month."

I believe that is where the misunderstanding came from.

Side appears that the autopsy's of Michael Brown supports the the cops version of events. Looking at what's been happening in Ferguson , the riots and vandalism etc. Does that change your view of THIS situation?

doyle said...

Dear Doc,

The autopsy report is consistent with a struggle in the car (not sure that was ever in dispute); the questions remain what precipitated the initial encounter, why he was shot after that, the manner in which he was shot, the police response both immediately and the hours after that.

While I cannot condone the vandalism, the history of the town's police force and its questionable tactics certainly fueled the response. I was much more impressed with the restraint of the protestors. I watched live literally for hours, and found the vast majority of protestors to be courageous and kind.

I've treated too many young adults in the ED with "incidental" injuries to be unbiased, and after a lifetime of seeing over and over again the abuses of power against POC, I'm less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to folks inclined to support the party view.

This was never about just Ferguson.