Facing Diversity and Race in National Park Spaces

Delaware River Gap: PEC

I took part this week in a retreat this week for a project called Parks In Every Classroom, that is run by the National Park Service in the Northeast region to connect educational opportunities with National Park and Historic spaces.

I’ve been working as a teacher and consultant with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, in my role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project site, for the past five years or so, helping to run summer camps at the Armory for urban students and facilitating professional development for teachers. This work with PEC is not directly related to my role in the Write Out open learning initiative (coming again in October) with the National Writing Project but there are overlaps in colleagues and the shared goal of Place-Based Learning for students.

This my second Parks In Every Classroom retreat (last year, we went to the Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area; this year, we were home, zooming) and I continue to be impressed by how well-run the days are, how thoughtful and rich the conversations are, and how the participants (about 40 of us) grapple with tough questions.

This year’s theme was all about diversity, equity and race, and we dove deep into systematic racism, looking at schools and also looking at our National Parks, and how we might design educational opportunities to address why people of color don’t seem to use public spaces in large numbers. This forces sites to look at its own demographic make-up, how a park space is marketed to the public, what kinds of community connections are being made (or not) with what groups, etc.

We’ve had articles to read, videos to watch (including one with Robin DiAngelo, of White Fragility fame), and discussion groups. I’ve explored issues of ‘red lining’ (approval of bank loans for homes based on race and location, creating areas of poverty), and it’s impact on the school-prison pipeline; the way standardized testing’s history, originated in the terrible ideas of Eugenics and race, still has resonate today in who is considered intelligent and who has access to college, all via tests that are often rooted in white culture stories and passages; and an analysis of children’s picture books on why only white characters seem to be shown exploring nature spaces and National Parks, and what that message sends to other readers about who owns those spaces and who is not welcomed.

We worked on site-based action plans and having deep, and sometimes uncomfortable, discussions about race and access, and White Privilege, of noticing the different experiences of people based on race. Like many gatherings of teachers, this PEC group is primarily white and female, but outside consultants have joined in to help ups find ways for us to identify problems in our own systems and begin to play for action to address it.

As a teacher who is technically outside of the National Park Service, I applaud the courage of the PEC organizers to take on this issue of systematic racism, particularly knowing our work might be at political odds with the White House, the ultimate boss of federal agencies. That there are National Park Service folks, like those in PEC, willing to move ahead on race issues and White Privilege even in this rhetorical landscape of this particular time is admirable, and gives hope that our institutions can survive this moment we are in.

Peace (working on it),

Music of the Pandemic: Sitting On Horizon

I am not sure if this new song — Sitting On Horizon — is part of my Notes from a Quiet Corner project of music written and produced during and about the Pandemic …. Maybe it’s a late add to that mix … the lyrics are inspired by thinking about the days ahead and the unknowns of that waiting …

Sitting on Horizon

Everybody’s waiting
‘cause nobody knows
today’s hesitation
is where tomorrow always goes

We walk around in daydream
sink me like a stone
We’re fingers on the touchscreen
but in the slipstream, there’s no flow

You can take me
when you need me – I’ll go

I’m writing you this letter
from somewhere in the past
I hope you can forgive me
with the shadows fading fast

I’m stuck inside the story
with the place gone mad
It’s not as if you lost me
it’s the world we used to have

you can find me
when you want me -I’ll go
You can call me
when you need me -I’ll go

maybe when we’re older
when time turns slow
we’ll sit on the horizon
and remember what we don’t know

‘Cause everybody’s waiting
but nobody knows
today’s hesitation
is where tomorrow always goes

You can take me
when you need me – I’ll go
you can find me
when you want me -I’ll go
You can call me
when you need me -I’ll go

Peace (in the listening),

TikTok, Trump, and Our Kids’ Attention

It’s hard not to think that Trump’s announcement last night that he will ban TikTok in the United States is either another attention diversion from the terrible economic news and his handling of the virus OR if it’s the result of a personal grievance after TikTok users claimed responsibility for the Tulsa Trump Campaign ticket disaster that led to nearly nobody showing up.

He cites the company’s ties to China and privacy and data issues, which is something to be legitimately concerned about and something I have tried to follow over the past year. Unfortunately, you can’t trust a Liar In Chief like our president on anything. His motives are almost always personal and fueled by grievance.

It’s also true that Trump rarely follows through on anything he says (Where’s that health care replacement he keeps saying is coming, three years later?) He doesn’t have the stomach for any real governance, just for headline grabbing. (which, to give him credit, he is a genius at).

Maybe he’s trolling us on TikTok, too.

I’ve written about TikTok before because it was the start of school last year (so long ago now in memory, in a pre-Covid time) that so many of sixth graders were not only talking about TikTok as the app of the moment, but throughout the year, they would break into popular dance movements whenever we were lined up to go anywhere. The viral nature was another level of attention. (See this blog post and this one and this one)

I also shared how we had discussions in class about the possibilities of China having an influence on TikTok and whether the gathering of information from the app on users was being shared with the Chinese government (that part is not clear but there were enough signs about its data collection to be worried, and enough worries to talk about it with my students during our lessons about digital platforms and privacy).

And I also know, with the Pandemic closing of school in the Spring, TikTok became a refuge of connection and entertainment for so many of my students, who were making videos as much as watching videos on the TikTok feed. TikTok and YouTube were the most used platforms by young people, I would venture a guess.

So I wonder what young people will think now that the president has decided TikTok should be banned outright, and may use his presidential emergency powers to do so (I don’t quite understand how, and I suspect legal challenges will tie it up for a long time, and that this still accomplishes Trump’s goals of diversion in the news and minds of the country as people are dying on a daily basis from government incompetence). He claims a ban could happen as early as today.

I also think that so much of what the president and Congress does seems intangible and removed from the world of young people, but not something like this. If the president bans their favorite app, and shuts down their main connector to friends and entertainment just as the anxiety of school re-opening is taking hold, young people may be most affected, and perhaps, may become political as a result.

Or they might just shrug shoulders and move to the next ‘big thing’ app, whose name we (or at least, I) don’t yet know but probably is already gathering steam just beyond our adult sight-lines.

I’ll ask them when I meet them in a few weeks.

Peace (plug it in),