The Pillars of White Supremacy in School

This is a paper I wrote for grad school adapting Andrea Smith’s Pillars of White Supremacy to talk about how they play in schools. It is in NO way comprehensive but if I messed it up in a big way I am open to feedback. (Not like grammar and stuff remember I already turned this in) Okay, here we go.

The Pillars of White Supremacy in Schools

“The purpose of state-sanctioned schooling has been to forward the largely assimilationist and often violent white Imperial project, with students and families being asked to lose or deny their languages, literacies, cultures, and histories in order to achieve in schools.”

  -Paris and Alim, 2017, p.1

The current United States school system is built upon a foundation of white supremacy. When white colonizers first came to America, even before it was the United States, they felt that it was their duty to educate and “civilize” the Indigenous children (Wright, 1991). When Indigenous children did not conform to western-style education, they were separated from their families and sent to boarding schools (Lomawaima & McCarty, 2006). This was the beginning of schooling for students of Color in the United States. 

Contemporary schooling has continued this tradition of “civilizing” or assimilating students to the norms of white society (Emdin, 2016). American schools value conformity over individualism, pushing students to meet some “white-bread Americana” version of a child (Shalaby, 2017). An impossible standard for students of Color. bell hooks (1994) described attending white schools after Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, 1954 as a place of obedience where individual thought was a threat to whiteness.

I, myself, am a product of the United States school system and a white female teacher. I have been an actor in, and an observer of, how white supremacy operates in schools. Much of the research around whiteness begins with the idea of making whiteness visible (Leonardo, 2009), and whiteness, of course, is only really invisible to white people (Ahmed, 2004). Its violent policies of domination are clearly evident to people of Color (Leonardo, 2004).   In this paper, I use the framework of Andrea Smith’s (2006) three pillars of white supremacy to examine the ways k-12 schools in the United States uphold white supremacy.

Slavery/Capitalism

The first pillar of white supremacy that Smith (2006) defines is that of slavery and capitalism. This pillar positions Black people as property and labor. The controlling and enslaving of Black Americans has shifted from colonial slavery to the prison industrial complex, where instead of kidnapping Africans and enslaving them, we punish Black people with unfairly enacted, unjust and unequally applied laws and send them to prison.  

Even the physical structure of schools often look and feel like prisons, with large concrete block construction outfitted with metal detectors at all entrances and police roaming the halls. In the United States, more school campuses have police than social workers. Schools with majority Black and Brown students are more likely to look and feel like prisons, and many majority Black and Brown schools act as feeders for the prison industrial complex. Known as the school-to-prison pipeline, there is a trend of schools that track students directly out of k-12 institutions and into the criminal justice system (Heitzeg, 2009). This pipeline depends on white supremacy on both a macro-level and a micro-level. On a macro-level, zero-tolerance policy and police on campus result in more suspensions and expulsions for Black boys than any other group (Heitzeg, 2009); On a micro-level, Black and Brown boys are watched more carefully and punished more harshly by their white teachers (Bryan, 2017). The school to prison pipeline supplies prision with free labor upholding both slavery and capitalism. 

In schools, we also uphold slavery in the ways we control students through the discipline policies that include suspensions and expulsions. As stated above, Black students are suspended and expelled at rates triple of their white peers (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2014).  As young as preschool, Black children are suspended at 3.8 times their white peers (Shalaby, 2017). Students who are expelled and suspended fall behind academically and are more likely to be assigned to special education and remedial classes (Bryan, 2017; Hotchkins, 2016). This learning loss, combined with a lack of access to high-quality instruction, upholds capitalism by maintaining a workforce of young Black men without the societally-required education to advance in the workplace. 

Genocide/Colonialism

The second pillar of white supremacy is genocide and colonialism. Missionaries have long known that the best way to colonize a people is through their children. Since arriving in the Americas, Catholics and Protestants have built schools to force Native people to conform to more “civilized” ways (Wright, 1991).  For nearly 300 years, white religious missionaries have attempted to convince Native people to send their children to missionary schools. Most Native people refused as the schools were so misaligned with their culture and values. In 1891, Congress mandated that Native American children attend state-run schools, and by 1893 they withheld food, money, and support to Tribes that refused to do so (Adams, 1988). These schools, designed to erase the Native identities and cultures of the children, strived to make them more “white”  (Lomawaima & McCarty, 2006).

The colonization of children of Color through schools continued beyond Indigenous people. The Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) doctrine of “separate but equal” created a system that segregated Native schools as well as schools for Black students, Mexican students, Chinese students, and students of Color from their white student peers. The schools for students of Color were woefully underfunded, understaffed, and often miles from the homes of the children expected to attend. In California, the population of Mexican and Mexican American children grew, and much likeike the Native schools that white people built, the schools for Mexican children focused on “Americanizing” them. Spanish was prohibited, and American values were central to the curriculum (Wollenberg, 1974).  In San Francisco, this same treatment was happening to Chinese students (Kuo, 1998)

The colonization of children into white culture is not just a historical problem; the erasure of the cultural ways of being for students of Color continues to this day. Chris Emdin (2016) describes American’s urban youth of Color as neoindigenous, using this term to connect the experiences of urban youth of Color to Indigenous children’s experiences. Both groups go into schooling with their languages, literacies, cultures, and histories. Forced by a system of education rooted in white as “right”, they are required to deny parts of themselves to be “successful” (Paris & Alim, 2017). Many students are even asked to change their names for the ease of the teacher and the white students (Kohli & Solórzano, 2012). If the teacher can’t say, “Gilberto”, she might call him “Gil”. Colonization here reaches in and removes the child’s name, taking away a piece of their very identity. 

The second part of this pillar is genocide. In schooling, white supremacy is held up by the erasure of genocide. Students learn about westward expansion without discussing the fact that there were already societies and cultures in the West. In California, students build mission projects creating replicas out of sugar cubes without discussing the genocide committed by the missionaries. Teachers dress up their students as “Pilgrims and Indians” and sit them down to give thanks, wiping away the disease and violence the pilgrims rained on the Native people. 

Orientalism/War

The last of Smith’s (2006) pillars of white supremacy is orientalism and war.  Orientalism creates the idea of Western civilization as right and Eastern as “exotic” or other. This pillar allows people who might have racial privilege to be subjugated under white supremacy. When Gloria Ladson-Billings (2006) coined the education debt, she spoke of the difference in achievement between White and Asian students and their Black and Brown peers. High achievement on standardized testing creates the idea that Asian and Asian American students carry the same privileges in school as white students. 

Orientalism starts by placing all Asians into one group (Iftikar & Museus, 2018). In the same way, colonizers created a category of Native Americans, erasing all differences in culture, politics, and history, it reduces Asians and Asian Americans in the United States to a monolith. In schools, this leads to a model minority stereotype of East Asian students as academically inclined (particularly in math and science) and socially inept (Lin et al., 2005). This stereotype allows white teachers to hold up Asian students as examples of students of Color who can be successful, and it is harmful in many ways. First, it creates pressure on Asian students to perform a type of academic perfectionism that is unattainable. Second, the model minority stereotype sells the idea that if Asian students are good enough at school, they will achieve some level of whiteness and, in turn, success. Lastly, it reinforces white supremacy by creating a false racial ranking system that places Asians with white people above Black and Brown people (Iftikar & Museus, 2018)

The other half of this pillar of white supremacy is war. Smith (2016) writes about the United States’ constant state of being at war. In schools, the conflicts happening in the world filter down to the way students treat each other. Since September 11th, a war has been waged on students of Middle Eastern descent, particularly Muslims. A recent study found that Muslim children are of the faith most likely to be bullied for their religion by other students, as well as by teachers and administrators (Ochieng, 2017). In 2016, the election of Donald Trump brought a new wave of terror to all students outside the norms of white supremacy. Eight of ten marginalized children reported heightened anxiety at school (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2016). War on a large scale leads to internal tension within schools and among students.

What’s Next?

The pillars of white supremacy, which were always apparent to people of Color, are becoming more visible to white people (Ahmed, 2004). America is in the middle of a racial uprising. A recent poll found that the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement was more popular than Trump, Biden, Warren, Obama, or any other government official (Linzer, 2020). Books on antiracism are on backorder, and more white people than ever are standing up with people of Color against white supremacy (Schwedel, 2020). There appears to be a national recognition that the United States’ problems are not just one or two racist people, but that systemic racism is built into our societal institutions’ foundations, including schools. 

In public schools, white teachers make up 80% of the teaching force, and with this national awakening, more teachers are examining their practices and looking for ways to improve their classrooms for students of Color. The national conversation about race provides an opportunity to shift the practices of teachers and improve schooling. Working to dismantle the pillars of white supremacy is one way to start this work.

Dismantling Slavery/Capitalism

The first step to dismantling slavery and capitalism in schools is to reimagine the entire discipline system as a way to facilitate the destruction of the school to prison pipeline. Since all of the pillars of white supremacy are intertwined, it makes sense that their dismantling should be, too. One reimaging of school discipline is deeply rooted in decolonization. Instead of the typical punitive approach, schools are starting to look at Restorative Justice, which replaces a system designed to punish students for breaking the rules with a system designed to repair harm to the school community (Evans & Lester, 2013). Restorative Justice is based on Indigenous traditions, knowledge, and ceremony (Vaandering, 2010). It has the potential to allow students to own a part of their school community and participate in building and maintaining it.

Schools have adopted Restorative Justice for over two decades. While some of the results are promising (a decrease in suspension and expulsions) in many places, Restorative Justice is tied to a system so warped by white supremacy that it causes the same harm it was meant to prevent (Vaandering, 2010).  One facet of Restorative Justice is peacemaking circles. These circles are collectively designed to build community inclusive of all students and their cultures. However, when circles are run by teachers who do not examine their ties to the educational system, they can reinforce white supremacy and uplift the privileged and powerful voices in the classroom (Parker & Bickmore, 2020). This is an indication that the pillars of white supremacy cannot be torn down one at a time. Slavery and capitalism must be dismantled in conjunction with genocide, colonization, orientalism, and war.

Geoncide/Colonization

How do we stop and repair the harm from colonization and genocide? If schools are what missionaries build to colonize a people, then there is hope that schools can be a place to decolonize and revive a culture. Instead of erasing students’ cultural identities through a pedagogy of whiteness, Lee and McCarty (2017) propose Culturally Sustaining/ Revitalizing Pedagogy (CSRP). CSRP starts by acknowledging the harm of colonization, which then helps students  reclaim and revitalize their cultures. This includes art, language, food, and any other pieces of a student’s identity that has been damaged by colonization. In addition, CSRP focuses on schools’ need to be accountable to communities (Lee & McCarty, 2017)

Currently, schools are accountable to an elected school board, but to be accountable to communities, we need our school boards to reflect our students. In the United States, over 50% of public school students are students of Color (National Center for Education Statistics, 2020). A national survey of school boards found that 78% of school board members are white (National School Boards Association, 2018). School boards that accurately represent their communities with voices that have been historically marginalized have been shown to shift districts to decolonizing policies (Hughes et al., 2017)

Dismantling Orientalism/War

Orientalism and war need an enemy in order to exist. Without the notion of the “other,” there is no orientalism. Without the idea of the “other,” there is no one to fight in a war. For schools to dismantle orientalism and war, they need to focus on humanizing practices, which occur through core content curriculum, pedagogy, and social-emotional lessons. 

Humanizing curriculum provides both mirrors and windows to students; mirrors allow for marginalized students to see themselves in their books and curriculum, while windows enable all students to experience different cultures and see the commonalities and differences (Sims Bishop, 1990). Humanizing curriculum lifts the voices of students who haven’t traditionally been heard and places value on their words and experiences (Burke et al., 2008).  Students who experience a humanizing curriculum see the experiences of others as valuable and important.

Culturally Sustaining/Revitalizing Pedagogy is humanizing pedagogy. As teachers move away from the idea of students as receptacles of knowledge and begin to recognize the value that students bring with them into the classroom, school becomes a humanizing place (Freire, 2018). As schools incorporate social-emotional learning like Restorative Practices into their systems and structures, all students gain a sense of belonging within the school community. Orientalism and war cannot exist in a place where everyone is welcome and seen for who they are. 

Revolution

None of the above will work independently of the rest. Restorative Justice in a school with zero tolerance policies is not restorative. One teacher in a high school implementing CSRP cannot revive language, art, and all the other pieces of culture. Students knowing each other without an antiracist focus will not dismantle social hierarchies. It’s possible that, even together, all of this is moot. The killing of unarmed Black and Brown people cannot be extracted from the experiences of school children. Racial disparities in access to housing and well-paying jobs do not disappear when a student enters a campus. The school system is inextricably linked to the colonization of the United States and white supremacy. There is a real chance that the only option is revolution. We may need to burn it all down and start fresh. 

References

Adams, D. W. (1988). Fundamental considerations: The deep meaning of native american schooling, 1880-1900. Harvard Educational Review, 58(1), 1–29. 

Ahmed, S. (2004). Declarations of whiteness: The non-performativity of anti-racism. Borderlands E-Journal, 3(2). 

Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

Bryan, N. (2017). White teachers’ role in sustaining the school-to-prison pipeline: Recommendations for teacher education. The Urban Review, 49(2), 326–345.

Burke, C., Adler, M. A., & Linker, M. (2008). Resisting erasure: Cultivating opportunities for a humanizing curriculum. Multicultural Perspectives, 10(2), 65–72. 

Emdin, C. (2016). For white folks who teach in the hood– and the rest of y’all too: Reality pedagogy and urban education. Beacon Press.

Evans, K. R., & Lester, J. N. (2013). Restorative justice in education: What we know so far. Middle School Journal, 44(5), 57–63. https://doi.org/10.1080/00940771.2013.11461873

Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the oppressed: 50th anniversary edition. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Heitzeg, N. A. (2009). Education or incarceration: Zero tolerance policies and the school to prison pipeline. Forum on Public Policy Online, 2009(2). 

hooks,  bell. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

Hotchkins, B. (2016). African american males navigate racial microaggressions. Teachers College Record, 118(6), 1–36.

Hughes, C., Warren, P. Y., Stewart, E. A., Tomaskovic-Devey, D., & Mears, D. P. (2017). Racial threat, intergroup contact, and school punishment. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 54(5), 583–616. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022427816689811

Iftikar, J. S., & Museus, S. D. (2018). On the utility of Asian critical (AsianCrit) theory in the field of education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 31(10), 935–949. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2018.1522008

Kohli, R., & Solórzano, D. G. (2012). Teachers, please learn our names!: Racial microagressions and the K-12 classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(4), 441–462. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2012.674026

Kuo, J. (1998). Excluded, segregated and forgotten: A historical view of the discrimination of chinese americans in public schools notes and comments. Asian Law Journal, 5, 181–212.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in U.S. schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X035007003

Lee, T. S., & McCarty, T. L. (2017). Upholding Indigenous education sovereignty through critical culturally sustaining/revitalizing pedagogy. In Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world (pp. 61–82).

Leonardo, Z. (2004). The color of supremacy: Beyond the discourse of ‘white privilege.’ Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(2), 137–152. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2004.00057.x

Leonardo, Z. (2009). Race, whiteness, and education. Routledge.

Lin, M. H., Kwan, V. S. Y., Cheung, A., & Fiske, S. T. (2005). Stereotype content model explains prejudice for an envied outgroup: Scale of anti-Asian American Stereotypes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(1), 34–47. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167204271320

Linzer, D. (2020). Drew Linzer on Twitter: “#BlackLivesMatter is the single most favorably viewed national political organization or politician in America right now. Black Lives Matter 53% Obama 52% Trump 42% Warren 41% Biden 40% Pelosi 40% Sanders 39% Democrats 39% Schumer 36% GOP 33% Tea Party 26% McConnell 25% https://t.co/F6SBIAQxFN” / Twitter. Twitter. https://twitter.com/DrewLinzer/status/1270442933892730880

Lomawaima, K. T., & McCarty, T. L. (2006). “To remain an Indian”: Lessons in democracy from a century of Native American education. Teachers College Press.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). Digest of education statistics, 2019. National Center for Education Statistics. 

National School Boards Association. (2018). Today’s school boards & Their priorities for tomorrow.

Ochieng, A. (2017). Muslim schoolchildren bullied By fellow students And teachers. NPR.Org. 

Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. Teachers College Press. 

Parker, C., & Bickmore, K. (2020). Classroom peace circles: Teachers’ professional learning and implementation of restorative dialogue. Teaching and Teacher Education, 95, 103129. 

Schwedel, H. (2020, June 1). There’s Been a Run on Anti-Racist Books. Slate Magazine. 

Shalaby, C. (2017). Troublemakers: Lessons in freedom from young children at school. The New Press.

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(2).

Smith, A. (2006). Three pillars of white supremacy. Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology., In Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, 66–73.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2016). The Trump effect: The impact of the 2016 presidential election on our nation’s schools

U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2014). Data snapshot: School discipline (No. 1; Data Snapshot: School Discipline).

Vaandering, D. (2010). The significance of critical theory for restorative justice in education. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 32(2), 145–176. 

Wollenberg, C. (1974). Mendez v. Westminster: Race, nationality and segregation in California schools. California Historical Quarterly, 53(4), 317–332. https://doi.org/10.2307/25157525

Wright, B. (1991). The “Untameable savage spirit”: American Indians in colonial colleges. Review of Higher Education, 14(4), 429–452.

A list of things I control in my physical classroom

  1. Where students sit
  2. When students talk
  3. Who I call on
  4. The music
  5. When student write things down
  6. When students eat
  7. How student demonstrate competency
  8. The language students use
  9. When students leave
  10. How I deliver content
  11. The stuff on the walls

I am not sure all of these are bad. I am just starting to think.

Control and Freedom: part 1 of infinity.

“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be” ― James Baldwin.

“Bussed to white schools, we soon learned that obedience, and not a zealous will to learn, was what was expected of us. Too much eagerness to learn could easily be seen as a threat to white authority.” – bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as a Practice of Freedom

When I speak of a child’s right to freedom, I mean that by virtue of being human she is endowed with the unassailable right not to have any part of her personhood assaulted or stolen. -Carla Shalaby, Troublemakers

“It’s just that Señora’s classroom is more free than yours” – my 11th grade student January 2020

I am really nervous about all the new things teachers are going to try to control now that we don’t have physical classrooms.— Me, yesterday on twitter (@sophgermain) July 26, 2020

I am trying to write a proposal. I have for about a year now been thinking about my classroom and how I run it. The balance of control and freedom. I am trying to cohesively pull together 500 words about that and how I am working to shift away from a model of control to a model of freedom. I truly don’t know if I can.

By the time students get to me they have been in a school system for a least 10 years that has continually worked to teach them obedience. I am thinking about the teacher in Carla Shalaby’s Troublemakers who said, “I have to sort of bring them into a place where their behavior is commensurate with the expectations of the classroom because this is a white-bread Americana school.” I know that in their at least ten years of schooling my students have had teachers that thought things like this. I know this because I have been that teacher. I thought for years that my job was to teach students to fit into and work in a system. That to belong in the system was success. Until recently, I had never considered the problem was the system itself.

When they get to me they are not only holding the pain of a system that forces them to a shape their bodies in to seats build for someone else but also they see me. I am white and I teach math. I remember listening to Marian Dingle interview Naomi Jessup on the Heinemann podcast. Dr. Jessup talked about this one bad (read: probably racist) math teacher her child had had and how after that she became her child’s at home math teacher. That even if the kid had had good teachers later her kid was done with them. I imagine that by the time kids get to me many of them have hit that point but without a math teacher parent at home to help them.

Now, I am thinking about next year. About the 2020-2021 school which has the potential to be entirely online. I am watching teachers build bitmoji classroom (see: Kelly’s great thread here), spend hours sorting out zoom, and transfer entire curriculums online. I am seeing threads about expectations for video conferences and uniforms and physical spaces. (Just to be clear some of your kids are gonna zoom from their beds because that is their only personal space. Some of them share a bed.)

Here’s what I am thinking about:

  1. Nothing matters more than taking care of my kids. This means knowing them and listening to them and honoring who they are.
  2. This is an entirely new world, if I want to try to do something different or cool or something that doesn’t work this is the time.
  3. This is also a time for honestly and co-building. By co-building I mean, asking the kids what they think and want and then doing that. (If not now, when?)
  4. Lastly, and permanently on my mind, how do I educate for freedom? How do I make my room a free place? How do I encourage kids to take it? How do I help them reignite a zealous will to learn?

Muscles.

I am the definition of an indoor kid.

As a child I played sports only until my parents lost the ability to force me to do things.

Unsurprisingly this was very very young.

I was routinely deemed “uncoachable”.

It probably don’t help that I have no desire to win.

This year I have read over 20,000 pages of fiction that’s not including my research.

I read the way other people go for runs, lift weights, or swim.

I go to the beach, when I remember the sun is good for my brain, with a book.

I go everywhere, with a book.

For 2 years, I climbed at an indoor gym.

It was repeated lessons in doing hard things and in figuring out my body.

I failed a lot, I got better a lot, I climbed 15-20 foot walls without ropes.

I fell and I didn’t fall.

I could do three pull ups. (I had visible muscles?)

Then grad school and work and reading, then quarantine.

Now I write, every day like I used to climb.

The muscles I use are different. The old ones are soft.

New ones are sharp.

If anyone figures out how to have both, will you let me know?

If I get sick…

if I get I will be in my house alone. I have told my 38 year-old brother he will have to come. If I get sick my mother will want to come. She is 67. If I get sick my father will want to help. He will call. A lot. If I get sick if will be because I went back to work. If I get sick even with reduced class sizes and a hybrid model, I will be in contact with 100 teens. If I get sick they will be in contact with their families, easily 500 people. If I get sick it will be someone’s job to track down all 500 hundred of those people. If I get sick people will die. Maybe not me. If I get sick, will you take care of my cats? my students? my friends? my brother? my dad? my mom?

Types of Friends

not mutually exclusive.

  • the one you call when you have a bad day
  • the one who calls you first with big news
  • the one who is your biggest cheerleader
  • the one who gives out baked goods
  • the one who calls you on your bullshit
  • the one you sit with at lunch
  • the one who is online but have never met
  • the one with all the wisdom
  • the one with the good instastories
  • the one who rages with you about societal bullshit
  • the one who sends you pictures of their baby/dog/cat
  • the one you talk to about money
  • the one who always hosts
  • the one you introduces you to the best people
  • the one who forces you to work
  • the one with the same taste in terrible media
  • the one you can share clothes with
  • the one who pushes you to be better
  • the one who knows how to mix a drink
  • the one who you have known since diapers
  • the one who hates your nemesises for you
  • the one you only talk to once a year
  • the one who believes in you more than you believe in yourself
  • the one who is just consistently there

I, like you, have no plans.

I am starting this under the assumption that I will be teaching fully online for the foreseeable future. Cases in San Diego are on the rise and I am leaning into believing in my school district will see this and not open schools.

I want to use this space to think through some ideas I have. To dream big, as Lizzie told me was my job.

Before I do that I want to explain what my situation is: I will teach one 9th and two 11th grade math classes next year (all homogeneous, no tracking). It’s about 100-120 kids. I see them for 75-90 5 days a week usually, although for the purposes of this let’s say 75 minutes a day 5 days a week is my assigned time in the virtual schedule. Also, in both of these classes I work in a team of 3-4 teachers who are pretty much teaching the same thing as me on any given day/week.

Okay, Big ideas. (All of this is open for feedback and questions!)

  1. I need minimum two weeks to meet with and get to know my kids: I am thinking all class zoom games and activities, small group bonding (think table groups), and individual meetings with every kid.
  2. I am thinking about the fact that we give kids notebooks every year. So I think I need to drop one off, maybe with an intro letter, and some pencils to all my students in the first week of school. I know this is a lot but then they can see me. This feels important.
  3. What is content in this world? I am not 100% sure but I also know I work in a district so I have somethings I have to work with in. Maybe all class meets Monday and Friday. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are small group work meetings. Groups of four meet, I listen and chat to gauge competency.
  4. These midweek meetings come be used to build questions we can answer around the content of the week. (maybe they push us to other content too). Fridays the students report on the questions they’ve developed and we make plans for the next week to answer. Maybe some groups change their questions to other groups. Maybe some discover they want to save their’s for other weeks.
  5. Monday is for check ins always (some during the week too). We do our circle questions. We build trust. We learn about each other.
  6. I am also thinking about the fact I teach in a team. Does it need to be just me working with kids or can all three of us push into break out groups and talk to kids? Can we hold classes together? Can our kids present to each other? How do we build trust across a whole grade level?
  7. Assessments as videos of students explaining their questions and the math they did to solve them?

Will you tell me what innovative things you are thinking about for next year?

Just to be clear I only did about 6 weeks of emergency online pandemic teaching this year and I did a mediocre job. I am trying to think about what better looks like this year.

maybe it was always glass

slowly my fingers unroll from my fist

one by one, I count to ten, my breathing coming easier with each finger.

the system and I have been together for 29 years

a new book, a hard problem, a debate

understanding how the system moves and flows

where to push and where to follow

my favorite game was always to avoid the sharp bits

the parts that would catch and end in my unravelling

once i missed 45 of 90 days of a class in a term

i cried

i was given a B.

ten years later i stood in a different place

inside, with useless tools

a hammer, sometimes

a chisel

hitting, carefully or not

always trying, rarely denting

pounding at the unjust cogs

right is confusing and wrong?

i am so often wrong.

stings a little. sometimes a lot.

my personal eradication of public waterworks, tears no longer weapons

rivers of frustration flood my home

and now

the system, so indestructible

come hammer, come chisel, come bulldozer, and even cement trucks

it had stood so tall, replicating itself.

harm, over harm, over harm, over harm.

now, it stands still, looks more and more as though it has always been

glass

shatterable with one small hard stone

one two three four five six seven eight nine ten

listen.

with the system still

voices come through

possibility

possibly.