Hello, Beautiful People. Easilyriled here. I haven’t written anything ANYTHING (besides comments on students’ papers and the odd email, oh, and a few dozen text messages–but that ain’t really writting) for months. It’s been a whirlwind around here. So, I tell you what–in the last few months, i’ve todl stories at a Senior’s home in the West End of Vancouver; started doing the Grouse Grind once a week with a friend from school (the grind is a terrible thing. so steep it’s almost upside-down, and in the early morning, populated almost exclusively by very buff people of all ages, wearing hardly any clothes and earbuds and going faster than necessary–looking all fresh and tidy even near the top when we are all sweaty and disheveled and wheezing. once a week we do this. one wonders); been to a conference in Kitchener-Waterloo (where i had a lot of questions and comments from women about my poster that showed some of the stories of the women I interviewed for my study about harm reduction policy and anti-violence and social-service practice in relation to prostitution–and not a whisper from men); said goodbye to a solid mentor and friend–a pioneer for women in Canadian Theatre, Jackie Crossland; had the honour of serving as MC at her last show on June 17th; swam in the ocean a couple of times, and only wheezed a little bit; and started teaching a course called “Social Foundations of Education” for secondary school art teachers. Also gone to the gym, cleaned off my balcony in preparation for major repairs (an Herculean task, let me tell you), started work on a history project of a significant Canadian feminist organization, and met nearly weekly with my dear friend Sue to write memoir.
Teaching, teaching is consuming. I love it love it love it. And it’s frightening and exhausting and energizing. For this course, we’re reading Jonathon Kozol’s book, The Night is Dark and I am Far from Home: A bold inquiry into the values and goals of America’s schools. It’s been out of print for 20 years. the first edition came out in 1975; the second in 1990. His tone is damning. Strident. Outraged. His analysis, that America’s schools train the children of the wealthy to become “ethical incompetents”; to become disengaged from the suffering of others; and to rest (sometimes uneasily) with their wealth and privilege and accept they are impotent.
Kozol wrote this book 40 years ago. The civil rights movement was deeply influential. the women’s liberation movement was gaining ground. the people were becoming politicized and even the wealthy were starting to take notice–were starting to become uncomfortable with their comfort.
Now when we talk in my class about class, and sex and race–when we excavate to the roots of oppression and begin to reveal to each other our place in ‘the matrix’– it’s rattling. Some of my students are angry with me. “It’s not my fault I have all this stuff” some of them write in their essays. “my parents worked hard and made sacrifices so I would have a good life”, they say. They are angry with me for ‘making them feel guilty’.
Not all of them, though. it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, i’ll say. Your feelings are fine–sit with them a while. And keep reading and talking and looking around.
Hey, there’s a guy walking in front of the building i’m in with a giant British flag. the Summer Olympics are going on, I guess he’s celebrating something.
But it’s not enough to read and talk and think, either. It’s important to act. and they’re going to be TEACHERS–One of my storytelling friends, Dunc, he came to my class and he told them, “You are going to have one of the most important jobs there is. You’re going to influence young people. You can offer them the world, or you can keep it from them.” He taught for thirty or more years, and loved every minute of it. Even the heartbreaking, frustrating, confusing ones. He loved all of his students, too. “I couldn’t reach them all, but I tried. and i liked all of them.” He’d read Kozol, too, and Freire and he tried a lot of things to help young people take up space, and challenge oppression, and think and act in the world. I watched my students as Dunc talked. Every human emotion was visible on their faces. Except for a couple of people who were using the opportunity to cruise around on their little tablet things–but for the rest–I say tears, and smiles, and furrowed brows.
We all want to do good. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We don’t want to be incompetent or passionless. But we don’t want to be afraid, either. And sometimes teaching in this way, and really trying to make and nurture connections with others, and challenging the powerful –even (or especially)–when the powerful is us–that’s frightening. There’s so many places we could look that would show us that we’re doing just fine where we are. It’s much easier to teach about recycling and capital cities and grammar than it is to teach about the systemic injustices that we’re supposed to perpetuate. It’s harder to teach that there really is no difference between girls and boys, and that the boys do not have a right to sexually harass the girls, and that even though yes, we now talk about fire fighters, not firemen, and police officers, not police men, and trades persons, not tradesmen– it is still the case that women in those occupations are unwelcome interlopers in a mans world, and their male colleagues pose a real danger to them. The language has changed, the structures of domination have not.
My friend Lyn came to talk to my class, too. She talked about Aboriginal Educational policies. How much and how little they have changed since the Residential Schools. Now we talk about Indigenous knowledges, and Native culture and how important it is for Indigenous children to have access to their culture. So, said, Lyn, “the Aboriginal kids make dream catchers at school, and take them home to show their parents. And their parents say, ‘what is this? these aren’t even from our culture!'” and the children still don’t know about the history of their own people. Lyn told me about Susan Dion, who’s a professor at York University, and I went to see her speak. She said, too, “We are not teaching about the relations between Aboriginal people and Settlers from the War of 1812 to now–we teach about the past, we teach a little about contemporary issues–but nothing in between. Nothing about the Colonial history. Susan said, “You live on this land, you have relationships with us.” When we say, “but no one taught me” and assume the role of “perfect stranger”, we avoid accountability.
More discomfort. Good!
Hard. Well. there ya go. I have to go to class now. Today we’re talking about the sanitization of great men and women–how political activists and leaders like Florence Nightingale and Helen Keller and Martin Luther King Jr. were all de-politicized and shrink-wrapped into non-threatening, ‘nice’ historical figures and pasted all two-dimensional into text books. And how we’ve been trained to impotence–to ‘perfect-strangerness’.
I’m bringing chocolate cupcakes.