WMWP: Takeaways After Reading ‘White Fragility’

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project leadership team is reading White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo and we will be having a book discussion next week, facilitated by one of our WMWP colleagues. It’s a book on my radar for some time because it has been mentioned so often in so many circles, so to read it knowing we will be discussing it together as a group of teachers is helpful. (DiAngelo, who is white, is a diversity trainer, brought into companies and organizations to confront racism and she brings many stories into the book of how difficult those conversations can be).

It became clear rather quickly that I am a target audience, all the way. White male. Living in a neighborhood that is predominantly white. Grew up in an apartment complex, predominantly white. I teach at a suburban school, predominantly white.

DiAngelo’s book frames such white experiences in a way that makes sense — once you let your defenses down — but it takes courage to step back and see it as it is. Even if we suggest we are open-minded and not racist, her message is that our culture is, inescapably, and therefore, we, the white population with much of the social power and financial capital, bring that history and those societal influences to the table with every single interaction we have.

I appreciated the various ways DiAngelo names these things, such as the defensive reactions that white people have when called out for saying something hurtful, or the excuses white progressives have for why they are not racists, or the way we use “color-blind” as our defense, or the various triggers for white people when race becomes a topic of conversation, and more.

Honestly, I started the book thinking, I won’t see much of myself in there. (And double-honest, this was not my first choice from our list of possible texts — I had hoped we would read the New York Times series about the start of slavery — The 1619 Project) I consider myself rather progressive. I am leader in WMWP, which espouses social justice and works race and equity into our programs. I teach my young white students to question the world. I run a diverse summer camp project in our large urban center. I have my own personal history, in which I was the only white soldier in a military platoon of black soldiers, the outsider for a long time. And on and on.

I was wrong. I saw myself all over the place in White Fragility.

This is her whole point.

If we don’t intentionally notice and own up to our views, we will never make progress, never take forward steps. She suggests that no white person will ever be free of racism — it’s engrained too deep in our society — but that we can make progress in addressing those issues, in making amends when we make mistakes, and in looking deeper at ourselves, not blaming others.

We live in a time — The Time of Trump — when the very issues that she writes about – defensiveness, blaming the other, turning racism around, ignoring the inequities, fear — seems to be on the front page, every day, either overtly or inferential, and on the political stage. with regularity. If Stephen Miller is whispering in your ear and if Breitbart is your alt-right source for news, then the world is skewed and will remain so.

But voting out Trump won’t change the racial currents of our country. Maybe some of DiAngelo’s suggestions can help make a different on a small scale, person to person, and that is ultimately where change can happen. Maybe it starts in our classrooms. Or so we can hope.

Peace (digs deep),
Kevin

Still Blogging: What If No One’s Reading?

Blog Stats Users 2019

I’ve been pretty steadfast in my view that this blog is mostly a place for me to think out loud and curate my teaching, reading, music and making experiences. I can’t tell you how valuable the search engine widget on my blog is to me.

Still, my blog is open and public, which makes me periodically curious about whether anyone else bothers to read what I am writing. I don’t have empirical proof (no raw numbers) but it does seem as if the reading of blogs, and commenting on blogs, has been on a trending decline for the last five years or so (probably right around the time Google pulled the plug on its popular RSS reader and Facebook emerged as the place to share, unless you’re me.) Or perhaps I am just losing traction with readers.

The other day, I went into the back end of who comes here and does what while they are here for the past year. It’s a curious inquiry to dive into the numbers, which reduces the humanity of interactions to data analysis.

So, if you are a human who comes here to spend a few minutes with my words, thank you. I appreciate it. And if you are someone who spends a couple of extra minutes leaving a note, comment or observation, thank you. I write for myself but I appreciate the company.

Blog Stats Activity 2019

Here are some observations:

  • I had 11,000 or so people visit my blog during the year. That’s a nice crowd of peeps to wander through my space
  • The average time spent for each person was only 40 seconds. Not sure what you can read beyond the header in 40 seconds
  • The top users are also repeat visitors. Probably my friends in CLMOOC and other connected spaces. We visit our spaces and interact regularly — a reminder that small is good and large might just mean getting lost in the mix
  • Most visitors only go the landing page and leave — the number of folks who go layered deep is pretty small in comparison to the larger visiting numbers
  • Only one post with the most page views of the entire year of 2019 was written and posted in 2019 — the rest of the top ten list were all from other years. I guess that’s an argument for having a curated space. It also is an argument that I am not writing much interesting stuff anymore. 🙂

None of this will change the way I write and blog my days. But I do find it intriguing to see how the space is being used by others.

Peace (and thanks for spending more than 40 seconds today with me),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: Amazons, Abolitionists and Activitists (A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights)

Amazons, Abolitionists and Activists (A Graphic History of Women’s Fight For Their Rights) by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico is a powerful statement about the past and ongoing struggles by women to find equal footing with men in the world, or even respect (we still see this playing on political stage, don’t we?). I could not even begin to list the dozen and dozens of women who are profiled in this dense and packed illustrated book.

Suffice it to say, this graphic novel — told through a narrative lens of a group of young women learning from a mentor about the many women who have fought for change on gender issues  — covers a lot of ground. Many of the profiled women — politicians, warriors, tribal leaders, cultural icons, everyday people — come to the reader in short biographical sketches, with just enough information to spark an interest that could lead to further reading or inspiration to take action.

Seen through this larger quilt of historical perspective, one realizes just how many brave women — of all races and of many countries — have risked their lives to ensure a better path for the generations behind them. And even with many modern day gains, there are a still many glaring gaps in equality. There is still work for all of us — women and men and as the book notes, transgender people, too — to push for a better world for all of us.

The book also repeatedly reminds us of how our history books so often, too often, ignore women’s role and leadership in the stories told of the past, or reduced powerful women to mere figures of compliance to the men around them. This book seeks to counter that narrative.

“Welcome to the history you clearly never learned,” the mentor/teacher/guide tells the group of young women. “You’re where you need to be. Pay attention.”

My complaint upon finishing the book is that it felt as if there was so much information, so many women to be admired, so many situations and conflicts to learn about, so many countries with such different histories, and so many pages jam-packed with wonderful art and images … that it began to feel like a blur to me. I ended up forcing myself to read shorter sections at a time, to put the book down for a day or even a few hours, and return to it with a fresh and attentive mind.

This graphic novel would be appropriate for high school and above, although much of it is also appropriate for middle school.

Peace (in the push for equal rights),
Kevin

Slice of Life: No, Virginia, Minecraft is NOT Shutting Down

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

This year, Minecraft players in my classroom suddenly became a ‘thing’ again after a few quiet years. I have clusters of sixth graders talking about building, playing, exploring, and as we are in our Video Game Design unit, there’s plenty of chatter about how Minecraft is different from other games they play.

There’s also been a lot of conversation about Minecraft shutting down. A lot of worry and concern. Questions. Some heard it here. Some heard it there.

This news of Minecraft closing up by the end of the year is false, just so you know, but the fact that so many of my students have heard it and passed it along to each other in our classroom space — never mind across whatever apps they are using — gives me a chance to revisit with them a Digital Life lesson from earlier this year about false information and the viral nature of social media sharing.

And how to debunk fake news.

Last night, I did a little investigative work. I was already wary of the reports because of the “this doesn’t make sense” common sense test — Minecraft, owned by Microsoft, has more than 100 million users who pay a pretty hefty fee for the game. If Microsoft were truly closing it up, it would be more than a ripple. It would be an uproar.

I searched “Minecraft Closing” and saw a slew of articles, including the one I was really looking for at Snopes (don’t know Snopes? It’s a site dedicated to researching news items for veracity).

Snopes clearly labels the news of Minecraft’s demise as “FALSE” and then goes into the back story. It all began with a prank that went viral when an openly prank news site first published it as a joke (sort of like The Onion does) and Google’s algorithm temporarily grabbed it for a news item. Oops.

You know the rest: prank becomes news, becomes shared.

Here’s a Minecraft Vlogger, explaining all this, too (while wandering Minecraft world)

I’ll be going through this thread of discovery with all of my classes today, to remind them of techniques for investigating fake news and to ease the minds of my Minecrafters.

And it looks like I need to add a new slide about this into my Fake News presentation …

Peace (true and truth),
Kevin

Sketch-er-ama Collaboration

I was part of a small team of strangers, becoming friends, from around the world who were taking part in World Sketchnote Day on Saturday by playing a global game of “pass the sketch.” The idea is that one person starts a sketchtnote, and passes it to the next, who adds to it and passes it along, etc.

The whole thing was organized by some real passionate sketch-noters and I had signed on because it sounded interesting. And it was. The team of five of us made an interesting canvas, and all of the teams involved — not sure how many there were but quite a few — were sending sketches around the world via Twitter, too.

You can see some of the collaborative work and passing of the drawings via the hashtag: #passthesketchnote

And this video is a nice overview by Carrie, a main organizer:

 

I do have my students do visual-notetaking/sketchnoting in class, particularly when doing active listening to stories. While not much of an artist myself, I enjoy the process, and always appreciate the opportunity for collaboration with others. Thanks to my team — #14 — for their wonderful art, and for allowing me a corner to do my own bit as the canvas traveled the world.

Peace (ink it),
Kevin

MadLib-ification Remix-ification of Poet-ification

MadLibification

This is a response to Terry’s post about Madlib-ification. I decided to respond quite literally … creating an interactive Mad Lib (via Mad Takes), based on the poem he riffed off, which I riffed off … with apologies to James Wright … go on and play it .. make a remix poem …
Peace (fill in the blanks),
Kevin

Mad:)Takes - free online ad-Lib word game similar to Mad Libs™

MadLib-ification of a Poem

PART OF THE BODY
COLOR ADJECTIVE
COLOR ADJECTIVE
ACTION WORD
COLOR ADJECTIVE
BUILDING
TIME OF DAY
CHOOSE LEFT OR RIGHT
NAME OF TREES
ANIMAL SPECIES, PLURAL
COLOR
KIND OF BIRD

Graphic Novel Review: This Place (150 Years Retold)

There may not be a more beautiful pushback against a prevailing cultural narrative than This Place (150 Years Retold), a collection of graphic stories that dig deep into the indigenous peoples of Canada, and all the myriad of ways their lands have been stolen from them, and their heritage, reduced.

I am neither Canadian nor indigenous to the soil I live on, so I openly profess much ignorance and little knowledge of the background of these stories. Alas, I can hear the echoes in the ways my own country has treated Native Indian tribes here, and in the ways other natives of other lands were treated when white Europeans stepped ashore and decided the land was theirs. The pattern of removal from communities, abuse in state-sponsored schools and foster homes, the theft of language, forced assimilation and more is a terribly familiar one.

It’s hard for me here to capture the powerful scope and artistic merit of this collection. So let me say that the variety of graphic novelists here — there are 10 different stories — have different styles — some more modern than others, even as they tell of ancient tales — that neatly connect together the narrative of a people constantly being pushed to the brink by the Canadian government.

The stories almost always center on the people, and the mystical nature of people and the land come through in ways that tap into the creative power of comics and graphic arts. The medium does justice to the stories, as the stories inspire the push at the edges of the medium.

The editors also enacted a brilliant move to complement the stories. They included a running timeline that begins in the 1860s and stretches to the current day by the last story (which is a look ahead into the future of the tribes). I learned more about Canada than I ever knew. What emerges in this collection is a love of tribal nations, the skills of powerful tribal leaders, and a love of the land and of the past, even as both are systematically encroached upon with relentless might of the government.

This Place (150 Years Retold) is appropriate for high school students and older, and it would be a powerful supplement to any historical inquiry into Canada as a nation, or to a study of native people pushing back against assimilation. In the ideal world, this graphic novel collection would not even be the supplement, at all, but would be the main text. But I know that day is probably still far off from this day. Until then, linger on the stories.

Peace (in the lands and people),
Kevin

Annotated Sound Files: Turning Terry’s Poem into Song

Terry Poem Song Annotated

Yesterday, I shared the song I created after reading Terry’s poem. This morning, after reading some lovely comments from him about process and time and effort, I went back into my sound project and began to annotate where his words influenced what sounds. I found it a useful bit of reflection and I suspect Terry might find it a bit intriguing, too.

Note: Shrinking the project to see all the tracks made everything tiny. Apologies.

Read yesterday’s post to better understand the annotations

Peace (sounds like dawn),
Kevin

Words Translated Into Song

My friend, Terry, posted a beautiful poem of a morning with his wife, on the porch, at his blog on his birthday. I read it a few times and thought I could just hear the glimmers of a song simmering below the surface of this lines. Luckily, I had some time to make just that — a song interpretation of Terry’s poem, with sound files, beats, loops and small snippets of his poem (read by me).

What I find interesting is how I was both trying to capture my own feeling of reading Terry’s words but also being intentional in taking it in a new direction. If you read his poem, you should hear some of his moments. You may also wonder what I was thinking, as you listen to other elements. Mostly, I was trying to capture the heartbeat of his piece.

Doing this kind of work brings you deeper into the text, a closer kind of reading. Every word has the possibility of something to give. I hope Terry enjoys the interpretation, left for him as a gift for his birthday.

Peace (in song),
Kevin