Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Education, Education, Education

My people, my desire to write has been so great, but...... You know how it goes sometimes!

I’ve been reading this incredibly, wonderful short story called “The First Day” by Edward P. Jones with my students for years. I normally pass out just the first page, and we analyze that page looking for literary devices to try and understand what makes this passage so rich, and we also try and make predictions. The reading and analyzing of this amazing first page is a great way to get students to start or continue to dissect and appreciate good literature.

After we read and analyze the first page, then I allow the students to read the entire story to see if their predictions are correct, to take a closer look at the literary devices, and to use this piece in order to try and figure out the message that Edward P. Jones is trying to convey with this piece.

On this read, I saw something that I have never seen before, and I have been wrestling with this idea every since.

This mother takes her daughter to the school next to her “rock,” her church, and it is described as being very old, but the inside was nice and clean, and the people were polite. However “the guardian” told the mother that she was at the wrong school, and she needed to take her daughter to another school. The other school building was new, but the inside was crowded, and dirty, and people were literally everywhere. And this got me to thinking about the idea of “If our system is designed to keep people in their places?”

You know, when people are zoned to go to schools in their neighborhoods, and their neighborhood school may be a “mess.” Or, when kids are labeled, at a young age, to be a candidate for special education, and they are tracked to be in huge classes with far to many students with Individualized Educational Plans (IEP). By the way, IEP’s are what we give to students who are labeled as a candidate for special education.

My people, this simple little short story got me thinking about all of this and paying closer attention to my surroundings. Many days I’ve been thinking about getting in my car and riding into the sunset or being courageous like Jesmyn Ward, Ta-Nehisi Coates, or Kiese Laymon and telling what I know to the whole world. So, I have been treading somewhere in the middle, trying to make a difference in my circle of influence.

I don’t want to sound like some over zealous person who believes that everything can be fixed, but I do believe that our education system can be fixed, but I wonder if that is what our country wants to do?

Why aren't we treating this teacher shortage crisis like the crisis that it is? Why are we still allowing many students to be tracked and once they are tracked, their futures are sealed? AND, this works well for students who happen to be tracked to be successful and rule the world, but my heart goes out to the other students whose tracking just may not work in their favor.

I’m thinking about the possibility of getting away from all of the politicking that goes into educating children and just doing what’s best for children: smaller class sizes, even smaller class sizes for students with IEPs, school buses getting students to school on time, culturally sensitivity training for EVERYBODY, and giving teachers and principals all that they may need to help children to flourish, and we all know, or I hope that we all know, that needs varies from school to school, county to county, and state to state.

When trying to educate the masses, there is no cookie cutter approach, and I wish that I could scream this from the mountain tops. Well, I guess I could scream these ideas from the mountain tops, but I wonder if anyone would hear me.....

My People, My People, My People!!!

Monday, September 14, 2015

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

My readings for the NEH program that I attended this summer really started me on the road to frantically reading trying to understand race and racism.....

On my return home from my summer travels, I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and this book was the first of many that I have read lately that has me really thinking and rethinking my thoughts on race. Reading up on Coates, I found out that he is a student of Baldwin, and I began to think that I need to give Baldwin some of my time. A few books after Between the World and Me, I read Losing My Cool, by Thomas Williams, and he also makes reference to James Baldwin in his book.

So, I called my professor of African American history friend to talk about Baldwin, and he gave me lots of insight, and he told me to study Baldwin for myself. My friend, Trinia, a fellow NEH scholar, suggested that I read some of Baldwin’s essays, and another friend, Rob, suggested that I read The Last Interview and Other Conversations

So, I decided to read the interviews first to get to know Baldwin better, then I read his essays where he eloquently expounds upon some of the issues in American as he saw them, and he even offered some hope. Finally, If Beale Street Could Talk, a fiction piece, was highly recommended by my friend, Julia, and so I spent one of the most beautiful days sitting at my favorite market frantically reading If Beale Street Could Talk.

If Beale Street Could Talk is told from the perspective of a nineteen year old lady, Tish, who is madly in love with twenty-two year old, Fonny. Tish’s voice is so clear and honest, and she tells about the love between she and Fonny in a manner that would make even the love doubter want to fall in love. 

However, Fonny is in jail for rape, and Tish and her entire family are doing all that they can to get her love out of jail and home to her and his baby that she is carrying. However, being that this is a James Baldwin story, it just ain’t that simple when a person is Black and living in America.

I was enthralled by this story and was believing for a happy ending, but I am coming to the realization that sometimes the happy ending just does not come, and it didn’t in If Beale Street Could Talk.

This story is short and intense and it shows the complexity of race and racism in American, and I Oh how I wish that the details of this story did not ring true today. But, sadly they do.

My people, I finished this book with an extremely heavy heart, mainly because I am a sucker for happy endings, but really because I thought of the pain that writing this book must have caused James Baldwin.

This is a book that needs to be read and discussed, and read again and discussed, and then read again and discussed...

James Baldwin is someone whom we all should read, and I almost never use the word should, but should is an appropriate word when it comes to reading James Baldwin.

So, my people, for awhile, I must escape this intense world of reading that has completely engulfed me in order to give my heart and brain a little break. So, I will be reading The House Girl by Tara Conklin. I sure hope that it offers the relief that I need...

Friday, September 11, 2015

Highs and Lows!

This week has had its share of highs and lows, and that’s just how it is sometimes.....

Monday, I woke up at ReHoboth beach and walked to have breakfast, and afterwards, I walked to the beach to get one last glance at that beautiful body of water that God created just for us.

Gazing at the water, gratitude overtook me, and I sat there and gave thanks to God for a perfect summer, great friends, a mom who lived to see her 80th birthday, good health, and this beautiful beach that he created just for us. I drove back home later that evening ready for whatever God had in store for me.

Well, Tuesday was the first day of school, and I am grateful for a school that eases us back into that stampede that is called school. School on the first day did not start until eleven. So, we got to use the time before the students arrived to do those last minute things.

We met all of our classes briefly, and I scurried to the gym for a workout, and I made may way to DC to do a quick bike ride.

I ended my day feeling hopeful and happy!

However,  Wednesday brought with it a whole ’nother set of emotions....

There are some things going on at school that do not sit well with me, and I just had to let my voice be heard. I went to my administrator to voice my concerns and while talking to him I wanted to cry. I held it together while in his office. However, when I got in my car, I cried a little, and I wanted to go back inside to resign. Instead, I called a friend who reassured me that it is ok to advocate for children, and this gave me just the peace that I needed.

Thursday, I was able to introduce diverse novels and this blog to my seniors, and they were so receptive about reading books that are off the beaten path. I passed out a list of titles, many from this blog, and my people, we talked and talked and talked about books. This was so good for my soul; you know that I love to talk about books...

At the end of the day, one of my students told me about the school that he came from, and in his words, “It was ghetto.” Looking at his curious face, I thought about him attending a school that he considered to not be a good learning environment, and I am so happy that he is in a place where he feels safe and a place where he thinks he can learn. AND, I get to teach him.

Yes, my school has things that we need to work on, but at least “The school is not ghetto.”

"Change the way you look at things, and what you look at will change.” Wayne Dyer

Today, was a continuation of the feelings that I felt on Thursday: happy and grateful. It was an absolutely perfect day: the students were pleasant and eager to talk about books, we were able to get everyone logged into google classroom, they openly expressed themselves etc., and I thought that I must be one of the luckiest people in the whole wide world.

I’m extremely grateful that I have more good days than bad days!

I guess from my emotional experiences this week, I know for sure that our emotions are fickled, and we can’t trust them nor act on them. We must ride them out and be ok with them, because they do change just like the weather, people, tides.........

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One for the Record Books...

My dear friend and fellow NEH scholar!

Over the weekend I had time to reflect on this summer, and it was one for the record books....

Blessed and High Favored!!

By the way, the first day of school was well with my soul.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

So, today at the beach I read The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin....

The Fire Next Time is autobiographical, and its starts when Baldwin is around fourteen years old when he and his peers start to change: “And there seem to be no way whatever to remove this cloud that stood between them and the sun, between them and love and life and power, between them and whatever it is they wanted.”

My people, this book gave me much to think about, and I will be thinking about the ideas in this book for quite a long time. In the racial charged times in which we are living, this is a book that can generate great discussions on race, and at the same time, offer some solutions. I am beginning to believe, like Baldwin that “color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality.” Why can’t we all just be American????

I’ll leave you with the words of Baldwin on how we can heal this country or burn: “If we - and now I mean the relatively conscious Whites and the relatively conscious Blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others - do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not dare everything, the fulfillment of the prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time."

My People, read this timely classic, and let’s talk.......

I am going to read one more book by Baldwin that was recommended to me by a friend: If Beale Street Could Talk.

You MUST experience Baldwin for yourself......

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin

I spent the day in one of my favorite places, Rehoboth Beach, and I finished Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin. Not necessarily a beach read but....

You know, reading James Baldwin’s thoughts are so liberating. This man was a thinker, and he had no trouble speaking his truth. (I totally admire his courage!)

In this collection of essays that was published in 1961, we get to read many of Baldwins’s candid thoughts on what it means to be an American, the American South and North at that time, inner cities, William Faulkner, and Richard Wright. Many of the essays made me read and reread and ponder.

If nothing else, these essays show how important it is to be a critical thinker and to know that once we write our thoughts and share them, we have no control over how they will be received or percieved. (Pay close attention to the chapters on Richard Wright.)

Here is an article from 1961 on Nobody Knows My Name that basically sums up this entire collection of essays.

I’m not through with James Baldwin yet, and as I soak up the sun tomorrow, I will be reading The Fire Next Time.....

I just love me some James Baldwin!

Happy Holiday Weekend, My People.......

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