Thursday, July 21, 2016


“Equality is not a concept. It's not something we should be striving for. It's a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who's confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.” ~Joss Whedon

I tend to refrain from posting a lot of links or commentary about politics, or news, or what have you. Part of it is that I don't feel like I have anything eloquent or new to add to the conversation, and that I am not versed enough with all the details and politics to be fully confident in the complete accuracy of my assertions (though that doesn't stop most people.)

Instead of adding to the noise, I observe.

I read bits and pieces here and there, and don't unfriend "friends" who are mind-boggling set in their narrow-minded views that make me worry that there is an outside possibility that Trump could possibly eke by with a win. And while I could delete them and be constantly impressed and feel good about people in the world (despite the depressing articles posted), of friends who share my views, I think it's important to not just be aware of other perspectives, but see the face and name that goes with these views. It is too easy to dismiss others when they don't have names, and families, and post heartwarming puppy videos. When they are just this ambiguous "other", it's easy to ignore, dismiss, or treat disrespectfully. On a brighter note, the vast majority of my friends on social media have good heads on their shoulders and seem not only better at keeping up with news than I am, but also very eloquent in expressing thoughts and feelings about the goings-on in the world.

Today, I will add my voice. This blog is an outlet for my ideas on education, and I have for a while mused on how I could release my thoughts and feelings on what's been going on and have it tied directly into teaching. There are plenty of connections, but today I stumbled across an article that directly brought teachers into the conversation. After a teaching conference in Minneapolis, many teachers joined a Philando Castile protest march. To which I say, good for them! And then a police officer (and head of the police union in Minneapolis, along with his St. Paul counterpart), complained about it, saying they were appalled, and that it was a "one-sided message of blatant disrespect for law enforcement".

I'm sorry, but not only were these teachers exercising their right to free speech, but Philando Castile worked in a St. Paul school. From what I've read, Castile was a pretty solid dude who kids loved, and that is reason enough to honor his death. So when the statement from Bob Kroll calls what the teachers are doing is choosing "to protest against their union brothers and sisters," not only is that ignoring that Castile was also a union brother, but ignoring the fact that this time, this death (of unfortunately too many) was personal.
He goes on to say that this will negatively impact children of law enforcement, which, really? Okay, yes, there are plenty of problems in our schools, and plenty of teachers who let bias affect their teaching, and teachers who probably shouldn't be teachers. But I would say that any teacher, biases and all, at the bare minimum can at least separate a parent from a student.

I am a teacher, but I am still human. I am not above feeling judgmental of parent choices, but I don't take that out on a kid. If a parent is rude to me, it doesn't make me love my student any less, or treat them differently. And I am well aware of injustices in the school system, and how students of color, and students from poverty are consistently underserved. And I can't speak for all teachers, but I know most teachers, in choosing to be a teacher are not only empathetic, kind people, but are motivated to do what they can to counteract these hurdles.

Beyond the bare minimum, teacher training programs have classes about working with diverse populations, and are trained to be aware of biases they may have, and how to work to improve on providing equal service to all students. Again, teachers are also human, and have a lot of learning to do to address how their biases or privilege affects their teaching, but it's happening.

So Kroll and Dave Titus' statement goes on to defend their comrades by citing due process and how "in all those instances, [...] prosecutors, investigators and juries have found officers’ actions, however tragic, to be justified and within the scope of the law." What this fails to address is that, our justice system is not exactly the most reliable source to determine that these actions were, indeed, justified. It is a systematic issue that constantly favors those in power. For example, the first thing the media did when news of Castile's death came out was to look to his record (a bunch of minor traffic infractions), whereas during Brock Turner's trial (remember, the Stanford swimmer who raped a girl, and got off way too easy?), the media was quick to reference all of his swimming accomplishments. (Look, just because you're a good swimmer--and, might I add, white--doesn't make you a good person. And just because you can swim fast, doesn't mean you shouldn't be held accountable for your actions. but I digress. My point is that, at all levels of our society, it is stacked in favor of whites.)

Anyway, they finish their statement by starting to make sense: "teachers are in a better position than most to understand the critical importance of forging constructive and meaningful conversations that can provide positive pathways forward. The future stability of our communities will be secured by building relationships and increasing trust." Yes, and because "teachers are in a better position than most," maybe you should give them some credit that they did not "rush to judgment along with radical activists hell-bent on destabilizing our communities" (their words), and in fact weighed the pros and cons, thought long and hard about how to best make a difference, and decide that it is not radical activism to recognize that black lives matter too, and this protest was one way to help instigate conversation and awareness.

Furthermore, what is actually destabilizing our communities is the status quo-- the status quo that lets so many white people get away with murder, and so many black people dead for no good reason. Perhaps in some of those cases, the cop technically followed protocol (but then I see much more threatening white people get the utmost patience and not get shot, and it certainly makes you wonder...) But it's not that the police have a few bad apples. It's that these bad apples aren't held accountable, and I haven't seen many steps taken to address helping police officers recognize bias and act accordingly. It's not public perception that's the main problem, but a system that has let police brutality go unchecked, so that shooting first, instead of as a last, last, last resort becomes more commonplace. I believe that most people are doing their best to do the right thing, but that they grew up in an unbalanced system that gave them a skewed sense of what that is. And so you end up with the circus that is Trump et al. because the status quo, left to simmer, ended up boiling. Equality is hard work. You can't just pass a law, and boom, problem solved. It's like the white walkers in Game of Thrones: you may create some steady peace by keeping them at bay, but even if you cut off their heads, they're going to come back. It'll take constant effort to eradicate them--no thanks to the rest of Westeros and beyond who think their silly Game of Thrones is more important. (I just binge watched seasons 5 and 6, so that's the only analogy I can come up with right now, so I hope it made sense. That and it's almost midnight and I should be asleep.)

I also call bullshit on this statement: "As the union leaders of State’s largest police departments, we stand at the ready to begin just such a dialogue, particularly with our union brothers and sisters.” Here's why: at a recent Minnesota Lynx game, the players wore shirts in support of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Black Lives Matter-- and also referenced the fallen Dallas police officers on their warmups by the way. Kroll commended the officers who walked out on their contract and naturally took offense that the Lynx would support this radical notion that black people are also people, and deserve to be treated as such--and that people who die deserve to be mourned. If he is commending others for not even acknowledging that there is another side to the conversation that is very valid, then I can't imagine him being ready to have a fair dialogue. I'd like to believe he truly wants to have a conversations, but the old cliché is true: actions speak louder than words. (Though in this case, your other words speak louder than this sentence of words).

What was a good idea happened in Kansas: Instead of a protest, a police chief worked with Black Lives Matter to have a cook out. Which allows the situation to be less "us vs. them" and more "we're all in this together." The initial reports and pictures I saw just after Castile and Sterling's deaths were of police basically confirming all our fears about them, coming out in riot gear and treating protesters roughly. Because what helps, more than statistics and facts (it seems pretty clear that Americans aren't too big on those), is making it personal. When it is so "us vs. them" and this perceived BLM vs. the police, it makes it easy on each side of the issue to dismiss the other because they don't have to see the "other" as real people, with valid thoughts and feelings and lives, and we become much more divided.

That may be why many teachers joined this Black Lives Matter protest. Because not only was Castile a living, breathing, wonderful addition to their community, but because many of these teachers work directly with "the other," whether it be police officer's kids, or black students, or literally every other population, and care deeply about all their students. Granted, many teachers work in homogeneous areas, but I would wager that, in simply dealing with the drama of getting students who are all the same race/socio-economic status to simply get along and treat each other kindly, they are predisposed to translate this idea to a grander stage.

What I'm trying to say is, while I haven't really gotten involved in social media past a few shares of some related links and liking/retweeting others posts, I haven't said much in my own words, and now I have. A little rambling, and perhaps just adding to the noise, I suppose. But we are living in a country where far too many people in power lack empathy and retain racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic views that make it unsafe for a large portion of Americans to live. So, kudos to those teachers in Minneapolis who went out and did something. I stand with those teachers, and I stand with Black Lives Matter. It's not radical, and it shouldn't be inflammatory. It's simply recognizing and admitting that America, while great in a lot of ways, still has some growing to do. We can't make America great again because we have yet to reach being completely great.