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Telling Stories

A child so committed to “getting a 4”, she worked for six hours, rushing through lunch to give herself more time. 

A recent arrival to NYS, forced by the state to take a test she couldn’t read. Adults didn’t realize she was copying the test questions and answers over until she was finished.

A high achieving student so stressed by the test, she came home and cried to her parents at the end of the first day. Her parents didn’t send her to school on Day 2 or 3. 

A boy, who loves running and moving, is angry he lost PE because of tests. Again. 

I don’t know any of these children. I didn’t learn of their frustration from them. Rather, I heard their stories on social media. Their parents and teachers, who love them dearly, do not like state tests. It makes sense that when they see children they care for so frustrated by the state tests, they want to make it stop.

So they call it “state sanctioned child abuse” and spam media outlets timelines with the students’ stories. They repeat the stories and the anxiety of everyone who reads them goes up – including the parents of students who were going to take the tests next week.

3-8 testing remains in ESSA – which means unless Congress agrees to change a law they just passed, tests will remain. Is this to be the look and feeling in NYS every April? Will the stories of students’ pain and frustration be traded and swapped to try and change a system that appears impervious?

As I jot down my thoughts, I’m listening to the Linda Darling-Hammond tell the story of No Child Left Behind and how policy makers tend not to listen to the stories – and data – provided by researchers.

And so it goes… and so it goes.

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Qualified.

Setting aside politics, setting aside who is the better candidate, setting aside who said what when… last night’s quote from Sanders packs a punch: “You are not qualified …”

She was Secretary of State. Senator. Lawyer. Decades of experience in public service. There isn’t exactly a checklist of what qualifies one to be president but on its face, that’s a pretty impressive list. Meanwhile, everything Senator Sanders said about Secretary Clinton, except for her vote for the Iraqi War, applies to President Obama.

Who is qualified, not qualified, has the right to determine if others are qualified – it’s a loaded, complex concept. It’s one I struggle with regularly.

I know my qualifications. I know the research I’ve done, the courses I’ve taken, the content and skills I’ve mastered. I’m getting better at recognizing when I’m not qualified and accepting that if I get it wrong, nothing is lost by apologizing and stepping back. I don’t think I’m alone in holding those traits. I struggle with how we respond to each other’s claims of expertise, especially when their claim would trump ours.

Last month I spoke up to correct a factual error in a text in my field of expertise. I checked a textbook on the topic – yup, the fact was wrong. I googled the fact just in case the textbook had a typo. Yup. The article was still wrong. I contacted the author and was told I wasn’t qualified to make the correction.

Granted, that particular word wasn’t used. Instead, the author pointed to speakers in the article and cited their expertise.

Here’s where qualification runs headlong into socialization and self-doubt.

Is it relevant that the avatar next to my Twitter handle makes it clear I’m a woman? Is it relevant that the author of the article, and all of the sources cited in the article, including the one that provided the wrong fact, are men? I’m currently going through my semi-annual I am so terrible at Twitter I should delete my account and never share a thought publicly again phase, which no doubt feeds into my response related to the word “unqualified.”

I don’t know. I do know I was right – and I was told I was wrong. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. It’s easy enough to say, “nope. Had nothing to do with gender.” And yet… and yet..

What is the message that’s being sent when a male candidate running for office says his female opponent is “unqualified” when the list of accusations are nearly identical to the things done by a man? My hunch is that’s similar to the message that’s sent when a profession full of women says, “This *thing*? It’s not helping us do our jobs. Fix this.”

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Reflecting on an #Educolor Chat

Note: Sections of this post have been updated following conversations and feedback from people not inside my head. In a thread on Twitter, Jamie Gravell offered these wise words.

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On March 31th, #Educolor was focused on women and girls of color and it was messy and provocative; just like any good Twitter chat should be. Melinda Anderson and Dahlia Constantine were purposeful moderators who elevated and encouraging participants throughout the entire chat. The full transcript is here.

To be clear, the ponderings below are based on my reflection and wonderings. I defer to #educolor and their goals and objectives about the chats and how they see them situated within the larger system. The group is clear about their mission: EduColor seeks to elevate the voices of public school advocates of color on educational equity and justice.  

My wonderings stem from the patterns I noticed, likely because of other patterns I’ve been attending to or thinking about such as women and leadership, the messages we send boys and girls, and who is seen as an expert.

As a participant in the chat, I got to ponder and learn and bonus! got to chat with and follow some cool people whose paths I hadn’t crossed before. All of the questions were compelling but two stood out from my perspective as they connect to the other writing and thinking I’ve been doing.

Q5: What is the responsibility of men to uplift women and girls of color? (Example: teachers, principals, dads)

Q6: How do we teach boys about their role in the patriarchy and the effects they have on girls?

I had no answer to either one. In fact, I had to borrow someone else’s tweet to even give an answer and then offered up my cats in exchange for an answer to Q6. The group, though, offered up a bunch of ideas. Because I am, at heart, a data nerd, I did a quick and dirty coding of participants’ responses to both questions and four themes emerged.

Listen – listen to women of color when they talk. This means stop talking.
Acknowledge power – men hold positions of power. See it. Use it.
Amplify – celebrate women and girls of color through words and actions.
Equality and Equity – Women and girls belong first to themselves.

These things seem like clear and explicit advice any person seeking to elevate the voices of women could take.

Shortly after Q6, someone RTed a response to an earlier question and it caught my eye:

Alia’s tweet gave me pause for two reasons. First, I’m reading Pushout, about the criminalization of Black girls in school and her tweet connected to a theme in the book.  The author, Monique W. Morris, devotes several pages to the history of education for Black girls – a movement that was – and is – often lead by Black women. My take away was that even though Black women are doing everything in their power to ensure they and their daughters, sisters, and nieces receive a quality education, their efforts are often blocked by policy makers….

… policy makers who are more often than not, white men.


 

A Twitter exchange with Melinda, one of the chat’s moderators,  helped me realize that the question I was mulling was less “where are the white guys?” and more “what does it look like to listen?” That is, how can one be an ally on social media while not re-centering the conversation? 

Running parallel to the issue of listening without re-centering, is understanding what it looks like for white educators to do the work of learning about social justice and resolve their own issues without imposing upon people of color’s time, space, or shoulders?


 

Not long after, I started to notice that most of the avatars belonged to people of color or white women. (Every tweet is accompanied by an avatar – a small picture. In most cases in the eduTwitter-sphere, users provide a picture from which a viewer can infer race, gender, or sometimes religion. Not always and sometimes a viewer may infer incorrectly. I guessed at gender based on name and avatar and made hashmarks. An exact study this was not.)

#Educolor was a well-attended chat with lots of avatars representing a diverse set of educators and experiences. It remains, though, that there weren’t many avatars suggesting a white male at the keyboard.

(Edited to add: it was so inexact, that I missed five. I’m keeping the above section, as to me, it’s a clear example of confirmation bias on my part. I had a hypothesis -> I looked for data to confirm my hypothesis -> I rejected or overlooked the data that challenged my hypothesis -> Success! I was right!)

To which, I wonder:

What are the implications when the majority of educators who show up for a discussion about supporting people of color are themselves people of color?

What are the implications when the majority of educators who show up for a discussion about supporting girls and women are women? 

How will things change if we cannot get those with the power to listen, to acknowledge their power, and amplify the voices of women? Are they unaware of that power? Unsure how to use it? Uncomfortable with the implications? In what ways does listening translate into amplification and support? 

There are likely a hundred reasons for why there didn’t appear to be white men in this particular chat. Including the fact that many may have been lurking, seeking to learn and listen, rather than chime in.  The reasons, though, seem simultaneously irrelevant and critically important in terms of making changes and supporting girls and women of color.

In addition to Pushout, I’m also reading a great book by Robin DiAngelo  about developing white racial literacy and she speaks at length about changing systems and the dilemma in Audra Lorde’s quote about the “master’s tools.” As a part of laying the foundation for her anti-racism work, she says:

I believe the need for white [educators] to work toward raising their own and other whites’ consciousness is a necessary first step. I also understand and acknowledge that this focus reinforces many problematic aspects of racism. This dilemma may not make sense to readers who are new to the exploration, but it will later on.

The dilemma makes sense to me – which gives me hope. I know, though, I’ve still a long way to go in terms of unlearning messages I picked up along the way.

Many thanks to those who offered feedback on this post. Sharing thoughts publicly is always a frightening adventure. Doing it around issues related to race and gender borders on terrifying. Yet, I agree, in my bones, with Jamie. It’s awkward. We’re going to f it up. We have to make conscious decisions every day.

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