Why Silence Still Equals Death

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“Hope will never be silent.”
— Harvey Milk

A new chapter in the history of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people started today. Forty-nine people were murdered in a gay bar in Orlando. At least 50 other people were injured. With so many deaths by gunfire in a single incident, this is the worst mass civilian shooting in the modern history of the United States. The victims were targeted by a killer who, according to his father, was recently upset  at the sight of seeing two men kissing. read more at my other blog

Spring 2016

The last update was just after Lent and right before coming back from spring break. Reading what I wrote then (mostly about the doubts and contradictions within teaching) it’s hard to put myself back there, considering all that has happened in my work as a public school teacher over these past two months. I am glad that I was thinking so much about how to do this work, given that I needed to be grounded in order to contribute to what would soon follow.

Soon after returning from break, our community lost one of its own in the tragic death of a student. I did not personally know the student – Jaylund – who died this spring, although I knew of him and knew who he was. Many of the students that I work with directly knew him well (as did almost all of my colleagues and many of my neighbours and other community members). His death is painful for the entire community and his loss affects us all.

As a teacher, who is new to the field, new to the school, and new to the community, the death of a young man hit me hard. Of course, it hit others harder. But I, like everyone, felt his loss and was shocked by his tragic death. Being witness to a community of young people – our students – in mourning and grief took everything I had. I am still drawing from my reserves and I am coming to appreciate that nothing can prepare a community for such a loss.

It has been two months. Like many students have told me, even though we are back into the much needed routine of daily life, everything is different. For the friends and family of Jaylund, his loss changes everything forever. And for those of less directly affected, we are changed in how we have come to know each other and ourselves. As a teacher, I see how much school is first and foremost a community whose first task must be to support everyone within it. While the purpose of school is education, or growth through empowerment, this purpose can only be fulfilled when there is a supportive community. We all need to be cared about and part of a community in order to thrive as learners.

I learned how much students have and how much students contribute to the life of a school. The school depends on everyone within it and students have a special role in this mix. First, schools exist for students. Without students there would be no school in the first place. Second, students empower everything within the school since it through the learning of schools that our mandate is realized. When students are unable to focus on the prescribed curriculum of the school, we – the teachers – must respond and listen. Students will guide the process, our only choice is whether or not to respond this guidance. Finally, schools are not just students – as the relationship between students and staff is essential, too. My experience in the past two months has been grounded in the “coming together” of the entire staff for our students.

This blog post cannot begin to touch on how much I have learned since March – when I was on break. I have grown and changed – both personally and professionally – to such a extent that it is hard to relate to the feeling of “doubt” that I expressed in my earlier entry. In place of doubt is not a certainty of how to teach (I don’t know the way), but instead is a sense that so long as I and others act in loving and caring ways toward each other and the students with whom we work, then it will be okay.

Seattle Layover

We managed quite a lot on our layover on the flight from Sacramento to home. I flew into Seattle and had time to see mom, Janice, and Luke (who happened to be in town for business – bonus). Ron and I attended a concert, too. Then it was up early for the final two legs of the trip.

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Final Lent Reflection

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. On Ash Wednesday I wrote about plans to write throughout Lent, especially on liberation learning, and I said I’d cut back on social media. While I managed to stay away from social media I did not write much this season. Why?

Short answer: Too much and not ready. Meaning that I had too much to think about and that I’m not ready to share – at least not here. But the exercise worked in terms of getting to thinking. Lots of thinking, about me. Not about liberation learning, but about teaching and learning as it relates to what I do. I am exploring limits, contradictions, and uncertainties (doubts).

So what will I share? Human relationships are not just but are just. Human beings are not compassionate but are compassionate. Public education is transformative and respectful but it is also neither of these qualities. Life is meaningful but life is meaningless. Limits, contradictions, uncertainties (doubts).

I want to focus on doubts. When I was a labour organizer I felt certain about what I did. Now I don’t. Back then, I helped empower workers through narrative and relationship. I identified opportunities for a change of condition – including wages.

In this job I found a deficit (in certain power relations between workers and their  boss) that could be balanced, and I worked with people to change the balance  of power in the relationship at work. This resulted in higher wages and better working conditions. I believed that the process was centred on liberation, in thought and action.

Through critical thinking and intentional action, people could work together and make the world a better place. I believed that this was “just” – it was justified because it was the right, morally so, thing to do. I also believed that the work of organizing was sacred, as is all work, and that we did more than raise wages. We demonstrated dignity.

In my old job, I spent (almost) all of my time thinking about how to change the balance of power between workers and their bosses, or the institution that they worked for. This was both stressful and immensely satisfying.

I didn’t realize how satisfying it was until I quit doing it. Almost every conversation had a purpose and was with someone who was interested in what we, I, were taking about. Things were urgent and had to be done. My work style was built on objectives that were hard to meet and impossible for others to ignore. I enjoyed the challenge, the attention, the sense of doing right, and the power of it all.

But as with anything there were tradeoffs, and these went beyond “stress”. The work took me out of the moment and brought me into to conflict, most meaningfully into conflict with those whose pay and conditions would improve because of the work I did.

I mostly ignored this part of what I did, not in terms of not paying attention but in terms of not accepting. I told people what I did, but I did not ask permission. And even if I had asked permission, few could imagine what I had in mind. Every step and every outcome, to the day, was planned long in advance. When I stopped not paying attention I quit, rather than resolve.

But did I? Did I quit? Yes and no. I am a public school teacher now, working as part of another system that changes lives through education and empowerment. Unlike my work as an organizer, now I work in a system that is big, noticed, publicly accountable, and transparent in its intent. But like my work before, the public school system changes people in ways that you can only understand when looking back. Teaching is bound by ethics, ethics that I prefer to those of labour organizing (which was as much politics as education), but these ethics operate within a bundle contradictions.

What is teaching? Empowering students and communities through education, at its best. Oppressing students through compulsory indoctrination into a system that goes against the student as a human member of their community, at its worst. How’s this for a contradiction: Consent as continuum, ranging from recognized by the state as an individual right; the recognized and exercised right of the parent to raise their child; implicitly exercised by the student herself in the form of compliance; to explicitly exercised consent of the student who wants and understands the value of education, but does not understand until the process has run its course.

I feel less certain about everything. I imagine that this is a good sign. I hope that I am finally resolving, or responding, to the question of respect as response. I fought labour campaigns through narrative. I’d like to teach through dialogue. But I have so much to figure out first. We do. And that is, absent everything I am withholding from this blog, what I thought about this Lent.

To be continued…in good time.

Visit to San Francisco

Not too many photos from today’s “Day in the City” but here’s one as the train left along the Bay, heading back to Davis:

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Lent Update

Lent happens during spring. Both are times of renewal. I haven’t had the time to write (or, more honesty, not the focus to write), but Lent has been on mind. I stopped drinking coffee, an unplanned departure for the season. This has cleared up my thinking, given me time to feel a bit more, and allowed me to consider why I am here, what I am doing, who I am, and how to be. And today I started to write. Not here. But out of my head and into the world – locked on a screen but freed nonetheless.

Movie Night

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Lent

I am still not ready to join a church in my new home. I am not entirely sure why, but I will continue to wait and reflect on this. This leaves me with the same strong desire to continue traditions – even without a church community within which to carry them out. (Perhaps once I have practices in place, I will feel ready to join with others.)

The season of Lent is special for me. As a child (and young adult) I took the sacrificial and reflective tradition of the season seriously and I especially like to draw on these memories in this stage of my life. I want to be reminded. I also want to do, not just reflect. But herein lies a tension, since meaningful sacrifice is essentially impossible given my circumstances; I would need to disrupt to truly sacrifice and that’s not what I am doing at this stage in my life. But I can refuse, symbolically, and I can do more. Usually, during Lent, I fast and reflect on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during the season. I also give up something that’s not a sacrifice, but a good reminder. And I add something that makes a difference.

So here is my plan: It was good to be intentional around home ceremony during Advent (light candle, readings, etc.). I will do this every night starting this Wednesday, and I’ll post reflections on my blog to hold myself to this and to have something to look back on. I’ll continue with fasting on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. What to “give up”? Social media after 5 PM and on weekends. And what to add? Giving a serious go at writing about liberation learning with a community of writers. (During Advent I researched some blog networks of the sort, and I think I will go the next step and write four reflections. And it’s time to focus: Liberation learning is what I am writing about for the season. Let’s see how that goes, but for now it’s time to focus.)

Rainbow

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Pop Culture Night

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