Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Humans...and the not humans

I recently accompanied my school director to the hospital deliver homework to a student who had gone into labor pre-maturely (the student had requested the work! totally blowing all stereotypes of either teen moms or inner city youth who are not motivated to do school work) Prepared with a special number to identify the student we walked in and asked the lady at the front desk where the birthing floor was. She directed us to a set of elevators which we easily found. An elevator soon arrived and a doctor or intern or someone got off. We got on, noticing a small cart like thing in the middle but choosing to ignore it. We requested the floor we needed, but the doors didn't close. I looked down to inspect the little cart more closely and saw a sticker on it that said "I prefer to ride alone" I pointed this out to my director. We weren't really big fans of letting a little cart tell us what to do, but then it started to move! This was most strange! We got off the elevator and the little cart followed! It even followed me around the corner where I was going to find another elevator. A little spooked I got out of its way and went back to my director, laughing about the crazy little robot cart.
When we arrived at the birthing floor, a woman briskly pointed us to a phone next to a door. We picked up the phone, dialed the appropriate number and gave the student's patient number. Since we were not on her list of visitors we could not see her ourselves so someone else came to the door to collect the work and we sent with it wishes of wellbeing and left, taking another set of elevators in hopes of preventing another robot encounter.
A good friend of mine is currently about 8 months pregnant and we have talked a lot about her process of finding a place to give birth. She was given the option of the same hospital our student was at, another hospital, or a birthing center designed to serve everyone in the community, including low income families. After calling different places and trying to get tours and things she decided on the birthing center - and she loves it. She goes in for her regular checkups as a part of a group of women all due at about the same time. While waiting for their checkup they participate in classes on breast feeding, pre-natal yoga and other health related issues. My friend told me that nearly all the staff know her by name after she has visited only three times. It is clear that they value every mother who walks through the door and do their best to serve her.
I shared the robot story with some friends the other night and one of them researched and found this article about them - One of the most telling lines i think in this article that describes all the things the six robots at this hospital can do is " The Tug [robot] doesn’t take breaks and doesn’t call in sick and doesn’t eat lunch,” Todd [director of material management] says. “I don’t have to worry about people getting married or flirting with each other.” I get the feeling that the $2.85 per hour cost of the robot is valued over any sort of human touch, or other interaction, and it is clear that this director finds robots to be less bothersome than humans. meanwhile, the birthing center is at risk of closing in january due to lack of funds. We joked the other night about robots delivering babies and performing surgery, hopefully a far fetched thought, but also a scary one.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Boundaries and Borders

I just finished reading my friend Kate's blog entry about separation and walls. She is experiencing a lot in her first few months in Haiti and writes about it all beautifully. Her latest post has got me thinking about what those around us encourage and justify and what feels right, or maybe is right based on our principles. I am constantly confronted with this in my journey (or maybe it is somethign else) into resisting the dominant paradigm, the ideology that justifies the current order that is riddled with injustice. In several of my jobs working with youth i have been advised over and over to maintain boundaries, not to give too much, or anyhing at all, not to become too attached, or think too much about my students when i am away from work. These are all justified in the need for protecting oneself, of staying "healthy". Yet all of this self-protection is leaving me feeling burnt out. I wonder what it would look like to be in a context where giving and sharing could happen freely, where "being taken advantage of" was not such a shameful thing. Of course at the root of all this is the vast inequalities that put me in a material position of having something to give and my students wanting to receive materially. We exist to in a culture so saturated with materialism that it can become the center of our giving and receiving, or our boundaries and walls.

But what I really wanted to write about was the tension between our well meaning friends and relatives, who constantly give us advice and ideas from a dominant paradigm, and the need to resist even those closest to us at times. Being new in this whole resistance thing I find it all too easy to be lulled by the comfort of familiar words and justifications. I need to keep reading things like Kate's blog, or Angela Davis's autobiography (currently my bedtime reading) to keep the walls and boundaries from being built. For over twenty years I learned the ways of building walls, and I became so good at it, that one of my biggest fears now is of living inside layers and layers of boundaries and walls all alone with myself. The healthy, full life alternative is to protect against boundaries for all who might want to stop by. It is also to move myself outside of my own boundaries to meet others.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Shock School

This is one of those things I would rather not have to post, I would rather it didn't exist. But it does, and so do hundreds of other schools that might not use electricity, but use methods just as frightening and damaging. And until they cease to exist, it is our job to expose them. A big thanks to Mother Jones for exposing this one.

Rob Santana awoke terrified. He'd had that dream again, the one where silver wires ran under his shirt and into his pants, connecting to electrodes attached to his limbs and torso. Adults armed with surveillance cameras and remote-control activators watched his every move. One press of a button, and there was no telling where the shock would hit—his arm or leg or, worse, his stomach. All Rob knew was that the pain would be intense.

Every time he woke from this dream, it took him a few moments to remember that he was in his own bed, that there weren't electrodes locked to his skin, that he wasn't about to be shocked. It was no mystery where this recurring nightmare came from—not A Clockwork Orange or 1984, but the years he spent confined in America's most controversial "behavior modification" facility. More

Saturday, November 3, 2007

the "mess" in DC's parks

so I just picked up last weeks Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section which serves as an expanded weekend editorial. On the last page is a short editorial, couched by two large pictures, one dipicting "tourists" in Lafayette park in the middle of a bright sunny day, and the other "homeless" in Mcpherson Square on a dark winter night. The author of the editorial argues that DC needs to clean up it's parks. As the writer puts it,
After all, what self-respecting Washingtonians would want to subject themselves to walking through ill-managed, overgrown, dying squats of land sprinkled with a statue or two and a vagabond on every bench? It is a national disgrace taht the parks in Washington are such unbelievable messes.
so according to the author, the homeless are merely a part of an unbelievable mess. Furthermore, according to the author, the solution is a few landscape artists, and some cops to keep the homeless out. He is apparently embarrassed, not by the fact that there are homeless in "the world's most powerful nation." But that those homeless are visible in our parks. He ends the editorial with "Someone should stand up and fix our parks at once."

It is clear that he thinks only one group of people count as Washingtonians, and that everyone else doesn't even count as a human.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Call the Police

one afternoon while


in my blue shorts, orange top and white skin

I heard a man

sitting across the street in is

gray pants, red jacket, and black skin

yell across the street





And i wondered about the nature of pre-emptive fear.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Interview with Amazigh Blogger

I had to share this great interview with a blogger I much admire. It was written for global voices, a great website for keeping up on what is going on in the global blogosphere. Enjoy!

...Blogging was always a dream for me. It is attached to free and independent expression. I come from an area where red lines are still red. Blogging is one of many ways I chose to express myself without having anyone to report to but my conscience and my love for my country and my culture are above everything else. I blog for Tamazight, a culture and an identity that has always been oppressed and misrepresented.... more

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" is what?

I don't even know where to start.
If you work on a campus where this is being organized please do something! The following is an article, there is also good analysis at

Are You Ready for ‘Islamo-Fascism Week’?

“Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” is still three weeks away, but the event and a similar campaign from Young America’s Foundation are already setting off campus controversies and debates about tolerance and free speech.

Organizers — who are planning events at dozens of campuses — say that they are just trying to make students aware of the threats posed by radical Islam to the United States. Speeches are being scheduled on multiple campuses by such luminaries of the right as David Horowitz (chief proponent of the week), Ann Coulter, and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. more...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Let America...

Hello All,
So in the midst of my blogger silence, I thought I might put a few other voices out there. In doing research for a racism unit, I came across this piece of writing by Langston Hughes. Enjoy....
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed-- Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.") here is the rest...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Guest blog by De Wai

The little town of Brattleboro is always lost inside its own self --a great self by the way- and survives all kinds of transitions.
For humans this would be called something like frustrations, anxieties, fears... here it's transitions. One of these transitions was a big storm that hit the town and lasted 15 minutes. After the storm was still a transition that lasted longer then that. maybe a few more months.
Anonymous said on
“At just about 6pm, in case you missed it, a spectacular storm blew through town. It rumbles as I type. Strong winds, heavy rain, pebble-sized hail, and flash flooding and it was all over in about 15 minutes.”
The church, known as the church, looses its cross. The website of the town says in the saddest reporter tones: “The cross now sits on the corner of Main and Grove, and damage is visible to the steeple. Stonework litters the lawn.”
Now it is September. Transitioning into winter with cold and snow is the name of the present transition. I am sure the town will have more to tell but on the way there..there is a video. Brattstreet made by De Wai for you.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Apologies to all my readers for being away so long. I have moved since the last post, visited family, and started a new teaching job. All big exciting and wonderful changes.

More importantly I have found myself struggling and working to live and act out many of the beliefs and principles I have posted on this page. It is an exciting challenge, though at times overwhelming. What I have learned so far is that the struggle is a good thing. Everyday I teach, I run into new bumps, or find myself in different tangles. It is the process of exploring these bumps (which lie largely within myself), following the thread of the tangle that I am learning to put the ideas and principles into concrete actions or words, maybe even a certain state of mind.

My blogging silence has come from not having any of it figured out just yet, not having anything concrete to say - however, i was thinking about it this morning and the humility of struggle and not knowing can be a great antidote to the hubris that can come with books and theories standing alone without action. It is in praxis, the combination of action, thought and reflection, that we can really forge our beliefs. And i think that more often than not praxis is messy, and that is ok. it is better to wade into the mess waist deep than stand on the safe shores of our certainty. So i invite you to join me as I find my way through the swampy bog of the real world.....welcome to the bog blog!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More on "Saving" Africa

This article published in the Washington Post on July 15th nails it. For those of you "Save Darfur"-ians out there, take a deep breath, open your big heart, and listen.

This is a great piece of writing and is creating a lot of discussion.

Stop Trying To 'Save' Africa

By Uzodinma Iweala

Sunday, July 15, 2007; B07

Last fall, shortly after I returned from Nigeria, I was accosted by a perky blond college student whose blue eyes seemed to match the "African" beads around her wrists.

"Save Darfur!" she shouted from behind a table covered with pamphlets urging students to TAKE ACTION NOW! STOP GENOCIDE IN DARFUR!

My aversion to college kids jumping onto fashionable social causes nearly caused me to walk on, but her next shout stopped me.

"Don't you want to help us save Africa?" she yelled. More...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


So I wrote this post sometime last week thinking it was a little silly, and not well written. I asked the friend who got me started on all this blogging business if I should really let myself blog every thought that comes to my head, his reply was something like this...
i am thinking a blog is a description. etymology. a cripted, coded idea that you want other people or yourself to see through language or some form of decoding. you can't censure yourself. or build a police station inside.
So the police station has been closed and we are letting all the bad ones out. Here goes...
Sweat. Its something almost all of us are acquainted with. Its natural, and it helps keep our bodies cool. I have been thinking a lot about sweat lately while walking around in 90 degrees heat with oppressive humidity. I said to a friend that I felt disgusting with all the sweat on me, and he insisted that it is not a disgusting thing. I replied that when I run, I love it. Thinking about this further took me to the ideology and sociology of sweat. Historically, naturally, and currently, those who do the most ardent physical labor are those who sweat the most. They are farmers, construction workers, sweatshop workers, and factory workers. Those who live relatively sweat free lives probably do so in air conditioned offices with ergonomically correct chairs and keyboards. Those with power, in general only sweat when they choose to; perhaps at the gym, or over the grill.

What I am getting at here, is that maybe we see sweat as being disgusting because it is something associated with those who work (physically) for a living. It is also associated with those who don't have air conditioning, or cars. Here in this country we even go so far as to try to get rid of sweat by way of chemicals we call anti-persperents. We try to cover up the smell when we do sweat. Is sweat a part of the classist ideology that permeates this country? I think so.

But sweat is good. It provides temperature control, can attract the opposite sex, and detoxify our bodies. It is not something gross or disgusting - it just is! So lets stop turning up our noses at sweat, and even more importantly at those who sweat, and appreciate what our bodies can do.

Friday, July 6, 2007


I recently ducked into an exhibit of photos that a woman had put together after a trip to a hospital in Rwanda. The pictures were mostly of very thin Rwandans lying in hospital beds with different tubes or bandages attached. The commentary on the photos described the impoverished condition of the people, the high level of HIV, and the womans struggle between feeling the need to stay and help, and the need to take her ailing son back home to the United States where he could see a proper doctor. Also prevalent in the commentary was the genocide that happened 13 years ago.

I was with some close friends of mine and one of them asked the other - What is the point of showing those pictures? Now for some of you that might seem like a strange question. Just a few short years ago I would have thought the exhibit a wonderful brave and courageous thing - I would have donated a few dollars to whatever non-profit the artist had worked with, patted myself on the back, and left feeling great about my awareness of the poor people in Africa. But lets take another look. What has led to the extent of poverty and war in this small central African nation? Lets start with colonization, first by the Germans and then the Belgiums. Both groups took what had been some loosely defined groups, divided more by occupation and power, and racialized them. They distributed identity cards to make clear who the Hutu were, and who the Tutsi were. They then used the Tutsi (who comprised around 15% of the population) as their slave masters essentially, forcing them to force labor on the Hutu in order to provide the resources demanded by the Europeans. This, of course, did not make the Hutu and the Tutsi best of friends. Indeed it created a lot of anger, so when independence came in the 1960s, and the Hutu majority gained political power, there was a lot of bloodshed. The poverty created by colonialism, and growing global capitalism have forced these two groups to share, or fight over increasingly scarce resources. Not only did we set the stage for genocide, we probably provided the weapons. in 2005 82% of weapons were manufactured in five industrialized countries including the United States, Germany, and France. Over two thirds of the worlds weapons were bought by those living in Africa, Latin America, or Asia. Further more, when looking at those pictures, we not only fail to see our historical and present day contribution to the photo, we have an unspoken tendency to either blame the person in the photo or to see them as only a victim, waiting to be saved by white hands, or money. Both of these lines of thought are founded in white supremacy.
Essentially this is all to say that we go and look at pictures of Africans on hospital beds, we give money, money that was at one point stolen from those same Africans, we feel pretty good about ourselves, and we shake our heads thinking "wow, those Africans sure are violent, they just can't seem to get it together, good thing we are there to help." And we go on our merry way. I am sure the woman who created the exhibit had the best of intentions, as did many people who saw the exhibit and dropped some cash, or wrote a check. But we are only returning stolen money, maintaining our position of power and control, deciding who should be saved when from the nightmare we created.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Jim Crow 2007 Style

I have been following this story for just over a month and am appalled. This is the most recent article. There is also a BBC story from just over a month ago...

In a small, still mostly segregated, section of rural Louisiana, an all white jury heard a series of white witnesses called by a white prosecutor testify in a courtroom overseen by a white judge in a trial of a fight at the local high school where a white student who had been making racial taunts was hit by black students. The fight was the culmination of a series of racial incidents starting when whites responded to black students sitting under the "white tree" at their school by hanging three nooses from the tree. The white jury and white prosecutor and all white supporters of the white victim were all on one side of the courtroom. The black defendant, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, and his supporters were on the other. The jury quickly convicted Mychal Bell of two felonies - aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. Bell, who was a 16-year-old sophomore football star at the time he was arrested, faces up to 22 years in prison. Five other black youths await similar trials on second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy charges. More...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Wrong Question

In a recent phone interview, I was asked if I thought all students should be held to the same standard regardless of race or class background. This is a loaded question. My immediate response was "no." In the same classroom I may have one student who comes from an upper-middle class family, whose parent is a college professor. The student has a computer in their room, receives support from their parent whenever necessary, has a car so they can stay afterschool and get help. Another student comes to class most days hungry. After school goes to work for 4-6 hours. Maybe the student's family just received an eviction notice. when she gets home she helps take care of a sick parent, makes dinner and tries to stay on top of house cleaning. The family has an old computer that doesn't get internet and frequently shuts down. How can I possibly hold these two students to the same standard? At the same time, how can we let students graduate from high school who can not read. Obviously I am talking in extremes here, but they are still a part of reality.

The question that should be asked instead is "How can schools make it possible for all students to reach the same standard?" There are some things, like universal health care, that schools may not have to take care of themselves although they can advocate for it. There are many things that schools can do better. They can work more to ensure that every student has a full stomach in a way that does not make obvious which students are receiving free or reduced lunch, and does not ostracize students. Schools can provide resource rooms both during and after school where students can get extra help. Computer labs could stay open late, with late buses running to take students home. These are all manageable steps that the last school i worked at failed to take. The results were painfully obvious. When students were held to the NCLB standard of a standardized test, lower income students failed while higher income students excelled. If schools are going to create equality and opportunity in this country, they must start thinking outside of the classroom. they must become radically restructured, and also radical in the demands they make on the government and society to provide services beyond the scope of school. Only then can we truly say that we are striving to bring all students to excellence.

Of course another important question in this debate is that of whose standards one is held to. We will save that for another blog...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Caterpillars and Standardized Curriculum

the other day i was helping some folks with some crafts at an outdoor event. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, there was a nice breeze, good people. The craft I was working with was block printing t-shirts. There was a mother there with her two kids, maybe around age 8. She really wanted to do the t-shirts and seemed to think the kids should want to do it too. At the same time, she wanted the shirts to be perfect, so she would only let them help by pressing on the block once she had painted it and placed it. The kids were interested in the caterpillars. there were dozens of caterpillars, hanging from the trees, landing on people's heads, crawling on everything in sight. They tickled when they were on your skin, and if you didn't keep track of them they would crawl all the way up your arm and onto your back. Collecting them one by one the two kids created little families of caterpillars that they would watch vigilantly. The mother, frustrated by her kids lack of interest in the block printing would force them to remove the caterpillars in order to help her press down on the blocks. This juxtaposition of the mother's desire for perfect "kid made" shirts, and her children's interest in the caterpillars made for some tense moments. As a spectator I worried about the missed learning opportunity and the squashed curiosity.

Not wanting to be critical of the mother without looking at myself I thought of my teaching. How many times do I shut down the curiosity of my students by forcefully redirecting their attention to something they have no interest in? Is it any wonder that students hate school, or learn to stifle their questions, their natural desire to learn? Genuine, authentic, and memorable learning happens when education responds to the curiosity of students. Teachers face many challenges in doing this. The structure of schools and of the school day puts huge limitations on a teacher's ability to have a creative, responsive classroom. Standards, created by businessmen, professors, and politicians and enforced by legislation like No Child Left Behind squelch the learning experience of students throughout the country having a greater impact in schools that are already struggling with inadequate resources. To make education authentic in this country we must drastically change our methods of teaching so that we are no longer forcing children to put down their caterpillars and climb into a box that fits our ideal of who and what they should be.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Teaching Courage and Action

Liz Davis, a drafting teacher in a Washington DC Middle School has turned her classroom into a center of self-discovery and activism. She is a small woman, with a commanding presence. At the beginning of this year when she found herself in a basement storage room that hadn't been used for fifteen years, with a decaying rat in the corner and asbestos from demolition efforts in another part of the building swirling in the air, she gave her students cameras, she taught them how to draft letters, and she took them to school board meetings. Three months later the school got moved to a different building and Ms. Davis got moved to a different school. Principles in the DCPS are afraid of her, they threaten to retire if she is transferred to their schools. And she is afraid of them. But that fear is overcome by her drive to give students a fair and decent education in a healthy asbestos free environment.

Beyond this she incorporates writing in her drafting classes. The students write about who they are, where they come from, what their hopes and dreams are. In her classroom is a sign that says, “Writing is...mind traveling, destination unknown.” Her students have a clear love and affection for her. She has ways of insisting that they all stand up for themselves, sometimes literally. In all of our school visits she was the only teacher that insisted that every student introduce themselves to us, after we had introduced ourselves to them. Yes, it took time out of class, the students were squirming in their seats, half of them had to be asked to speak louder. What a beautiful thing though to be asked as a middle schooler to be louder, not quieter.

So at the high school i am interning at I have yet to find a deteriorating rat in the corner, and I don't know of any asbestos problems, but I have seen teacher detentions where the students are treated almost as animals. I have seen students yelled at for looking out the window or rolling their eyes. There are military recruiters in the halls, and more importantly outside where kids who don't have cars wait for the bus, or a ride, or just hang out after school. I have talked to students who tell me that the “haves” and the “have-nots” are definitely treated differently, that some teachers know who the beautiful ones are and they talk to them more. I have seen department videos that make an almost seamless connection between the human beings that live in Africa and the wildebeests. The toxicity of of the high school is not anything that could be found with the instruments of natural science, but it is just as deadly and my students could still investigate it. They could still speak out about it. We could critique the videos and DVDs in the social studies department and demand that some be removed and others purchased. They could observe student detentions, track those who are assigned to ISS (In School Suspension), question the administration's actions, demand something better.

On a personal note there is the fear question. I have acted as a silent witness to most of the things described in the above paragraph. Students have looked to me with pleading eyes, asking to be treated as human beings and I have responded in silence and eyes that plead for some sort of forgiveness. I must find a way to act in the fear, because the fear of what is happening in this world must be greater.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dignity Defense in an Offensive World

A New York Times article covering a press conference held by the Rutgers women's basketball team today showed more defense than offense. While the headline "Rutgers Women Show Anger, but Agree to Meet Imus" brings back stereotypes of angry black women, the article itself spends more print on defending the worthiness of African American members of the team by highlighting grade point averages, community involvement and music playing abilities than on attacking offensive statements made by Imus...

Stringer noted that the team had a combined B-plus grade point average. “Let me put a human face on this,” she said. “These young ladies are valedictorians of their class, future doctors, musical prodigies and, yes, even Girl Scouts. They are all young ladies of class. They are distinctive, articulate.”

I find this defensive strategy strange when what really needs to happen is an attack on the racism that breeds the kinds of comments that Imus made. The statements made by the women on the team were not in denial of the names they had been called, they were a defense against all the things we believe about black women and in having to make that defense they prove that the racism and sexism behind Imus's words still exists.

On the other end we seem to be struggling with how to go about punishing Imus, and I would suggest that it is because we are missing the point. Imus and MSNBC may be easier targets for our upset, he can be fired, advertisers can withdraw (and are withdrawing) their ads. But how can you attack words? those were what we all found so offensive right? Again, we miss the point, it was the racism and the sexism that we found so offensive. Attacking, or erasing those is a much bigger job than can be done in the two weeks this incident will stay in the news cycle. More importantly it is a job we all have to do, we can't just point a finger at someone else's offensive language we have to look at ourselves, or education, our beliefs. By publishing an article in defense of the Rutgers team the New York Times was re-enforcing an offense by making an unnecessary defense. The space would have been better used defending the women by making an offense on racism and sexism.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Drugs, Imperialism and Supremacy

In a recent conversation about how individuals who are confronted with contradictions in the ideology that dominates the United States, a friend brought up the use of prescription drugs as a way of suppressing anxiety, lifting depression. When those who have been a part of the middle class find themselves falling into the ranks of the working class and can't explain why using the "bootstraps" belief we have grown up in, there are several possible responses. One would be a growing class consciousness, or understanding of the lines that divide and reproduce class in our country. Another response would be drugs. Prescription drugs can be the perfect anesthetic to the pain of the contradiction of a supposedly classless society. These thoughts took me back a few years to when I was working in a youth crisis shelter in Washington DC. Nearly half of the youth we served were medicated for some psychological or neurological ailment. When youth had to go off medication because of pregnancy, or simply running out of pills everyone would brace themselves for the "real person" that they would be confronted with. Suddenly I saw this as an effort of middle class institutions to suppress the class consciousness of the proletariat, or working class. From here my mind jumped to the spread of western medicine to the rest of the world. Medicine in the literal sense, but also in the figurative sense of prescriptions for structural adjustment plans, open markets, and cash crops. These solutions, like the drugs given to inner city youth, create much more harm than good. they also shift the focus of blame from social inequality and the forces that create it, to some sort of personal sickness, whether it be the mental/emotional ailments of a youth or the structural failings of a country and its people. Obviously these ideas are still forming in my head, any evidence, supporting or negating thoughts are welcome...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Grocery Store Clerks and Hair Nets

The summer after I graduated from college I took a job stocking shelves at our local supermarket. For the most part i enjoyed the activity of the job and the atmosphere of the store, however, I also felt shame for working there. I felt that as a college graduate and the daughter of middle class parents I should be beyond such low-skilled labor. My interactions with my friends at the store and friends of my parents exacerbated this sense of shame. The first few days I would say hello to anyone I knew or recognized. The responses I got were looks of surprise, mild disgust, and sometimes silence. I soon realized it was easier for me to try to hide from those I knew, or pretend that I was very busy than greet them. They seemed to have no problem "not seeing me" or ignoring me if they did see me. I got the message loud and clear that there was something wrong with me working there and that shelf stockers in stores are and should be invisible.
Several months ago I started another "working class" job. This time I am delivering trays at a hospital. I wear a uniform that consists of some not very flattering pants, a polo shirt that is too big, an apron and a hairnet. I almost always have on bright blue gloves, and I might have more education than any of my supervisors. My co-workers are all high school students, one of whom is in my class. I was surprised when I started this job to feel the distant but familiar pang of shame that I had felt at the super-market.
Especially with the super-market situation I am painfully aware of how invisible the workers are. Sometimes they are not seen, other times they are discounted. People rarely regard cashiers as community leaders, or persons of status. The other day I was volunteering in our local co-op, stocking the shelves and my mentor teacher walked right past me without even seeing me. When I stopped her and said hi, she said she hadn't seen anyone at all. This invisibility is bad enough, but it goes far beyond that. How do we react when someone tells us they are a fast food worker, or a custodian? What about kids at school whose parents hold these jobs? do they ever learn about heroic acts of people like their parents in text books? Does anyone ever want to be what their parents are? How do these prejudices impact who gets to make decisions in our society and who doesn't? How well do we hear what a cashier says to us once we have found out the price? It is time we start dismantling these class hierarchies in our heads, and start to value work, and more importantly human beings. I have a long way to go on this, and as a teacher the urgency is great. Take some time, mull if over, share your thoughts. There will be more on this later... we need to go a few levels deeper, just wanted to get a start...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Revolutionary Love

Sometimes someone else just says it better. This is a note in Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, chp 3, enjoy...

I am more and more convinced that true revolutionaries must perceive the revolution, becase of its creative and liberating nature, as an act of love. For me, the revolution, which is not possible without a theory of revolution - and therefore science - is not irreconcilable with love. On the contrary: the revolution is made by people to achieve their humanization. What, indeed, is the deeper motive which moves individuals to become revolutionaries, but the dehumanizationf of people? The distortion imposed on the word "love" by the capitalist world cannot prevent the revolution from being essentially loving in character, nor can it prevent the revolutionaries from affirming their love of life. Guevara (while admiting the "risk of seeming ridiculous") was not afraid to affirm it: "Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality." Venceremos - the Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara, edied by John Gerassi (New York, 1969), p. 398.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What I'm Reading...

Just wanted to spread news about a good book. I am currently reading Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami. She is a Moroccan woman currently living in Oregon and this is her first book. I am approaching the half-way point. It is based in Morocco and opens with a boat of people migrating to Spain. It is an easy and enjoyable read that brings up some interesting issues. Nothing too deep yet, although I could be entirely missing something.....
My apologies to the author, I wrote this too late last night, I was missing something. This book so far is incredibly important in that it seeks to look at the forces that make a person decide to risk their life and leave everything behind for something better. A friend recently told me there was a group of phds in Morocco who burned themselves because there were no jobs for so long. What creates this lack of jobs? What about the organization of our society makes it so that people can look for a job, in Morocco, in the U.S., in Mexico, and not find one for years and years? Just a few questions. The exciting part is that Laila Lalami also has a blog, a very interesting blog, read it. Enjoy it. More coming soon on this blog, til then...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The View from Under the Rock

So this is the one week anniversary of this blog!!! Very exciting. Though it has been a short time I have thought a lot about this little corner of the great world wide web that I get to share my thoughts on. The questions I ask myself revolve around things like "What do I know to be writing in a blog?" "What do I have the authority to write about, and what don't I?" These questions led me to this post.

I have a colleague in the masters of education program I am a part of who is constantly saying that she feels like she has been living under a rock her whole life. This sentiment, shared by many of us, comes from the content of our program which has a strong social justice focus and highlights the voices in our world that have so rarely been heard here in the United States. This process of learning new things keeps us constantly aware of who we are and where we come from. More importantly we are now aware of the importance of that and how it limits or expands our view on the world. So I wanted to talk about the rock I have been living under...

I grew up in a small mid-western town. My parents are middle class, well educated, heterosexual, and white. Until recently I was avidly involved in the church, many churches actually, from Episcopal to Argentine Pentecostal.

This makes me little more than an expert on my own experience and all the paths that experience has traversed, which is mostly common to that of the white middle class US American. Thanks to some classes and friends at times I am able to look at my mind from outside itself, look at the origins of my thoughts and beliefs, the impact of media, education, and middle class ideology. I find this process to be exciting, challenging and so important. I have spent time in the Middle East and Latin America but can only speak about these places as seen through the eyes of a foreigner.

I hope that all of you readers out there (I think there might be two right now) will call me out if I ever overstep my bounds, that you will challenge my assumptions and interpretation of the world and that the dialectics of our discourse will bring us all to a better understanding.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Racial Profiling in Brattleboro?

This is an editorial I wrote recently (never published, it was too long) about an incident that happened here in Brattleboro VT, a small liberal, mostly white town...
I got a call from my house mate yesterday telling me that she and a friend of hers got stopped by the Brattleboro Police while walking home at 5:30 in the evening. They were asked for their names, and then to show the officer identification. Apparently, two black women had run away from the Retreat, and the police officer was just checking to make sure that my house mate, and her friend, also two black women, were not the culprits. Now in a town as white as Brattleboro, some may easily understand how two black women walking down the street was a rare enough occasion that it warranted the policeman's stopping them in light of the two women who had fled the Retreat, a facility for those struggling with mental and emotional illness. However, this wasn't about two women escaping from the Retreat...
First, let me point out that not all black women look alike. I would be curious to see just what sort of description the police had been given. Were they tall? Short? Did they wear their hair long? Was it braided, or in dreads, or combed out? Were the women fair skinned or dark skinned? Were they thin or thick? Were their any pictures of these women? Or were the Brattleboro police so confident of the limited number of African American women walking down the streets of town that they thought a simple description of gender and race would suffice?
If two white women were to escape the Retreat, would the police be demanding picture IDs from every pair of white women shopping in Sam's, or enjoying a meal at Amy's Bakery? Would the police fail to trust the verbal self-identification that two white women might give? The truth is they never would have stopped white women hanging out together in Brattleboro. They would have had more thorough descriptions, they would have been more careful in who they approached. This was a case of racial profiling. My guess is that even without the women having fled the Retreat, my friends may have been stopped just for the color of their skin.
The fact that the police department feels that the escape of two women from the Retreat gives them the right to terrorize all the black women they find walking around Brattleboro is an outrage. “Terrorize” you ask? How could this be called terror? If you take even a passing glance at the history between the police and the black community in this country it is easy to understand how just the sight of a policeman will send many black youths in the opposite direction. The shootings of Sean Bell, and many others are proof that the lives of African Americans in this country are frequently not saved, but endangered in the hands of police. As the officer was getting back into his car he told my friends that he didn't want to cause any trouble, he just wanted to ensure the safety of the community. Clearly, he is only concerned about the safety of those with white skin, like my own, and is willing to terrorize other races in an effort to protect his.
We may be appalled by the actions of the police, however our own silence is equally damaging to the community. Brattleboro prides itself on liberal values, fairness, and being open to all of humanity. We may even feel so good about ourselves that we assume we are no longer racist. However, the danger with communities that feel they are good enough in this way is that they cease to work on these crucial issues. There is no such thing as being free of racism or classism. The world we live in today is saturated with hidden messages, images, and omissions that bombard our psyches constantly. It is our never ending responsibility to work on ridding ourselves and our communities of these forms of prejudice and hate.

Kneading Dough and the Discovery Channel

On a recent test I gave to a ninth grade world geography class I asked the students to list five things new they had learned about Africa (the region we had just studied). One student's response was "that Africans aren't cannibals." When I saw it, I smiled and wrote down next to it "I am so glad you learned that!" A little strange you may think, but on one of the first days of the unit I asked the students what they knew about Africa and this student raised his hand and said (in all seriousness) that he knew Africans were cannibals. It was one of those moments when you want to jump up and down, and pull your hair out. Instead I said, "oh really, where did you learn that?" He replied that he had seen it on the Discovery Channel. This brief incident gave me an idea of where I needed to start: Africans are not cannibals. As an intern teaching at the high school level, I sometimes feel like I am fighting a useless battle. I know my students watch hours of TV every day where they receive all kinds of messages about how savage, exotic, or strange people in other places or the world are. A possibly more subtle message comes from a set of National Geographic DVDs that we have in the social studies resource room at the high school. They are about different aspects of life in Africa, one highlighting a soccer team from Zanzibar; another, two women in Kenya and Tanzania. These films all switch back and forth from human stories to the stories of animals who live in the African wild with classic National Geographic scenes of the leopard getting its prey or of the wildebeest mother protecting her calf. For me the images of the animals too closely parallel the soccer players (on the team called the Leopards) or the Kenyan woman carrying for her child. They send the not so hidden message that Africans are closer to the wilds of the animal world than white US Americans are.

I can't say I know a whole lot about the world, but I do know, as a Euro-American, how these ideas and images of others as cannibals, or animals get folded into our minds, into our being. Not unlike the flour that I was just kneading into some bread dough, these ideas become so much a part of us that we don't even know they are there, let alone how to remove them. As I take my first few steps as a teacher I am daunted by the task of teaching about the world without furthering these stereotypes, and hopefully at times pulling them out of students so they can look at them, examine them, and discard them. This time in the Africa unit we focused on lot of the pillaging of the continent by Europeans during colonization. However, in looking back I am realizing that I didn't do much to make the people there more human. That will have to come next time. The great thing about teaching is that you get to try again and hope that you don't do too much damage along the way. If there are any suggestions out there they are welcome. Thank you for your time in reading these musings, e.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Painful Protests

Last month I found myself on an overnight bus to Washington DC for UFPJ's January 27th protest against the war in Iraq. We were on a bus filled with students from UMass Amherst, Smith, and some other area schools. To pass the time, the coordinator of our bus MC-ed an open-mic for all those who wanted to share political views or musings. During the time several people identifying as socialists, anarchists, and or communists spoke. While I was impressed with their intelligence, I was struck by their constant bashing of G. W. Bush, liberal democrats, and republicans. The attacks tended towards a more personal and less political nature. The theme was continued the following day at the protest with many of the signs that people brought including one that said "send the twins" meaning Bush's daughters. My concern is that socialist, communist, or pro-peace ideals when expressed in this way do not reflect a concern for all of humanity as I believe they were originally intended, instead they reflect a desire to be right and to be better than others - instead of being used for the common good, these statements become a tool of individual aggrandizement and the belittling of others. Attack people's ideas, or actions in a productive way that seeks change and you may have an impact. Attack people personally and you are just wasting your time, and your cardboard.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Rigoberta Menchu

Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and now presidential candidate will be speaking in Amherst. Check it out

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Labor's Response to la Crisis

Here is a great story about how Argentine's are responding to the economic crisis of 2002/2003.

Argentina's “Recuperated Workplaces”

What happens when a group of workers take over their workplace and try to run it without private owners, professional managers, or the government? 10,000 workers in 200 workplaces in Argentina are trying to find out.

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I recently had a friend ask for reflections about anger and politics, the following was my response...
Thinking about what makes me angry lately I am finding it in seemingly very small things, small things that are large. I find it in places where I feel I cannot be fully human. Freire speaks of our current world order (one that has worsened since Freire's time with neo-liberal policies of free market capitalism) as being one of dehumanization, one that belies humanity's true destiny. Destiny is its own topic, but the inequality and injustice in this world breed inhumanity, and maybe those small pieces that are inside of us, still fighting to be human, still fighting for love courage and compassion are angry. We may not recognize this deep source of anger, it may manifest itself in political, interpersonal, or video-game-killing rage; actions that further dehumanize. Yet its root is a deep and undying desire for true human interaction, exchange, and love. This may reflect an idealistic hope in the goodness of humankind, or it may reflect the shaking ground we try so vehemently to defend.

Origins of the name

Yerba mate (Spanish) or erva mate (Portuguese) (Ilex paraguariensis) is a species of holly (family Aquifoliaceae) native to subtropical South America in Argentina, southern Paraguay, western Uruguay and southern Brazil.

The infusion called mate is prepared by steeping the dry leaves (and twigs) in hot water rather than boiling water like black tea or coffee. It is slightly less potent than coffee and much gentler on the stomach[citation needed]. Drinking mate with friends from a shared hollow gourd (also called a mate in Spanish, or caba├ža or cuia in Portuguese) with a metal straw (a bombilla in Spanish, bomba or canudo in Portuguese) is an extremely common social practice in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, eastern Chile and southern Bolivia and Brazil.

Its use has also been introduced into Lebanon and Syria, particularly among the Alawi, Druze and Ismaili minorities. It's a very popular social drink in Salamiyah, Syria.

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