Invisibility = White

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Originally published 2/2006. This was part of my Master's thesis on Anti-Bias Curriculum. However, it was also a declaration of myself as a Social Justice Ally. 



As an Early Childhood educator, I recognized the importance of this work on behalf of the children and families we serve. Without an exploration of our internal bias and recognition of the privileges that come from being white in a white society, how can we hope to welcome all families and children into the classroom? If, as a White college educated woman, I cannot recognize and be aware of the advantage that I am automatically granted as a member of the dominant culture, how can I truly advocate for all families and children? How can these families feel welcomed in a classroom in which I teach?

My mother-in-law in Detroit will often tell me that white people are crazy. I used to assume this was a kind of funny endearment. When I asked my husband about this, his response was “White People are crazy. She means it”. I have come to understand the meaning of this phrase, not as an endearment, but as an extremely serious statement.

I am fortunate. I am the white member of a black family from Detroit. They love me as a member of their family and I am afforded a unique view into a family from a race and culture other than my own. They view my questions and inquiries about these obvious issues with patience and love. The white culture in which I was raised did not openly address these topics and I am asking things to find out. I want to know because they are my family too, and because I am the mother of a bi-racial daughter, who will have to navigate these unsteady racial waters in ways that I never was required to think about.

When my mother in law says this phrase “White people are crazy” this is what she means. White People are the dominant culture in the United States. They are the holders of nearly all the political, social and economic power in our society. They design and control our government, our schools, and our legal system. White people control most of the media outlets – radio, television, and newspaper and book publishers. White people have designed a total system that grants them implicit favors and privileges as they navigate these systems. Yet, they blatantly, as a group, deny this. White people point to a select few of other racial heritage that have been successful as examples of the equality and fair treatment afforded to all Americans. White people will tell you how all of that discrimination “stuff” was in the past, that they had nothing to do with that. Most of the White people who say these things truly believe them. However, for American persons of other non-white heritage, this is a glaring un-truth. To co-opt a phrase from a twelve-step group – The elephant is in the room and only the white people can’t see it.

For my mother in law and husband, the refusal to “see” on the part of white people makes them crazy and untrustworthy. Terrance’s wife, her daughter in law and mother of her granddaughter is one of these white people. I am a white person and admit that I spent most of my life not seeing the elephant.

For my journey into the issues of anti-bias curriculum, the beginning came with my relationship with my husband. While there had been no overt statements of racial or other bias in my family, I was taken aback by the vehemence of my mother’s reaction when I announced my relationship with Terrance. The stream of racist and hateful language that flowed from my mother shocked and horrified me. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I was to go out with him that day, I could find another place to live and finance the rest of my college education. The threat was unveiled and clear. Walk away from the black man, or walk away from your comfortable life.

In those moments, I made a decision that would influence the rest of my life. I uncovered my mother as racist. I consciously walked away from the privileges of my white family. This action solidified my emerging sense that issues of race and culture were to be a crucial part of my personal and professional life. However, my liberal education and background was shaken to the core. My white liberal Democratic people were not supposed to react like this when confronted with issues of race. I was ashamed and embarrassed that my family behaved this way.

When I discovered the Anti Bias Curriculum shortly after my graduation from college in 1992, I felt as if it were a professional revelation. This was what I had been looking for! While the topic of “multi-cultural education” was broached during my teacher education at the University of Vermont, it was not a central part of the education of emerging teachers. Preparing white teachers in Vermont did not seem to necessitate the discussion of issues of race and culture in society. We were, on the whole, upper middle class white students, preparing to teach white students.

During this time, I was also falling in love with a man not of my racial heritage. I was experiencing, for the first time, the obviousness of race in an all white environment. Walking into restaurants or stores, I noticed other white people noticing us. My invisibility in my culture, of which I had never been aware, was no longer afforded to me when I walked beside Terrance. I had crossed over a line that I previously did not know existed.

With time, my assimilation into a dual cultural role became as second nature. I stopped noticing because life consumed my attention. A career, a marriage and then a new baby shifted my focus from issues of race and culture to those of every day life. Occasionally, I would be jolted from complacence into thinking about this uncomfortable topic. From the elderly white woman who approached me with my infant daughter inquiring when I “got” her to the white father who loudly inquired to me why the child care center was closed for Civil Rights Day when there were no black people here; these incidents were always unexpected and left me speechless. I had forgotten that as a white woman, without my husband nearby, I visibly re-integrated back into the dominant white culture. This invisibility seemed a tacit permission, allowing other white people to say things in my presence that they would not dare speak of with my husband at my side.

As an educator, I had done a fair amount of exploration into the topic of Anti-Bias curriculum while teaching in my own classrooms. In pursuing accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, it was a criterion to be integrated into the mission and philosophy of the child care center. As the director of this center, I led the conversations of this topic in order to infuse everything we planned with an awareness of the messages we were sending to all families. As a mother of a bi-racial infant daughter, I became more aware of the urgency of the message of Anti-Bias curriculum on the part of the families we served.

These were not always pleasant conversations with teachers or parents. I was accused of being Anti-Christian, Racist, a promoter of Homosexuality, and even told I was a person looking to psychologically damage young children by removing holidays from our center curriculum. I presevered. My personal agenda to make that child care center a place of welcome and support for all families and children became a consuming work. Those staff that did not agree with my vision of anti-bias curriculum eventually left and I found others who shared a similar vision and were willing to commit to it.

Our NAEYC validation visit was scheduled on Halloween of 1999. The validator remarked that she had never seen such a calm, peaceful child care center on Halloween in her career. There were no costumes or candy. There were no excluded children due to religious beliefs. While not perfection, we were living much closer to the intent of Louise Derman Sparks work in Anti Bias Curriculum. We were not standing on the traditions of “we've always done it this way”, but rather examining the motives behind our traditions. We asked, “Is this good for children and families?” and let the answers guide our curriculum and policies.

So, I unwittingly started this thing...

Saturday, November 01, 2014

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0053O1KHA/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img

Despite my worry that I am going to get sacked ( and not in the "sexy" way) meaning all of the dire predictions of Terrance finally come true (i.e. "Your smart ass mouth is going to get you fired, Dawn!")

I am so very proud and pleased by my other lady Ph.D. commenters.

Fight the patriarchy, ladies.

Rebel in Training

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I opt my kid out of standardized testing.

Yep. You can, you know. Did you know? Probably not, but you can.

Emily has two parents who both know how poorly constructed standardized tests are, as well as how they are effectively designed to track students into tiers of education. I call this the "We wouldn't want any poor kids to be in AP English - General English is good enough for them." mindset.

I also do not believe in punishing or rewarding any single teacher based on how well my - or any other kid - takes a test. Standardized tests don't assess quality of teaching, AT ALL. They assess how well a single kid takes a single test on one single discrete day in time.

Teachers shouldn't teach to tests. Good pedagogy speaks to this. We have boatloads of educational research to support this. And yet what do we ask teachers to do when we tie their job security to how well a class of children test? Um, duh. They teach to the test.

Pearson helped write NCLB. It should shock no one that they are making billions of dollars off of the standardized testing that has followed. Race to the Top is no better. Common Core is laughable, with it's design to fail built in the fabric of the design. The SAT and ACT will shortly be going the way of the GRE as more colleges concede that these scores are no true barometer of a student's potential success in college.

As an educator, the only way out of this stinking quagmire that I can see is to withhold my child from being a data point. No data, no stick to beat the teachers.

Emily knows all of my concerns about testing. She is both relieved and occasionally embarrassed about her mother's deep commitment to this opting her out.

But here is what I didn't see coming. Emily has started informing her peers...who inform their parents.

We had four other children opt out this week.

My school psych colleague smiled when I told her this yesterday. "Oh, I am going to hear about you!", she said, laughing.

I know. I know that I have become the over educated parent who won't shut up about this. I know.

I don't care. My kid is not a data point to be used by Pearson to make more money soaked in the anxiety vomit of young children. My kid needs all of her instructional time focused on curriculum, not hours going over how to take the tests, or in assemblies exhorting the children to DO THEIR BEST ON THE TEST BECAUSE IT IS VERY IMPORTANT!!!.

Alfred Binet, creator of the very first sort of standardized test, wrote prodigiously on why this should never be generalizable. Yet, here we are.

Join me. Opt out.

* They don't even hassle me anymore, the way they once did, because there is no argument valid enough to ask me to allow my child to be used in a manner that I find suspect and unethical. They will hassle you, though. Principals will call you. School Psych people will pester you. They will lie to you to get you to acquiesce. Teachers are forbidden to even discuss an opt out option with parents, on pain of being fired.  This is a sickness and it needs to stop. 

Can you pass that dish of oppression?

Monday, October 13, 2014

It is no secret that my politics are.....quite left. I AM that left wing bleeding heart liberal that gets demonized in the press. The fact that my spouse is a bit more left than I am makes for an interesting parenting experience.

Now, aside from the lack of godliness in the home ( which I am sure indicates a lack of "values" or whatever the hell else won the republicans the last election)- there is a decided "anti-establishment" theme to many of the books in our home.

Look, there is the Marx reader ( my husband's), See there Alfie Kohn's books on the failings of the American educational system, Behold "Lies my Teacher Told Me" on my bedside. Our child had no regular alphabet in her room - she was looking at the "Alternative Alphabet" - featuring "P is for Peace and Y is for Yoga". You get the point.

So when our daughter comes home from public school with a cut and color Columbus day ship and asks us if we are going to have a Columbus day feast to honor Columbus - you get two dumbfounded adults scrambling for a response.

Terrance's response: "Daddy isn't into Columbus. I don't do Columbus day."

Oh, very helpful. Thanks ever so much. That was quite illuminating.

I bring out the children's book "Encounter" by Jane Yolen- which we read, and re-read at this time of year. Being an early childhood person, I tend not to answer my daughter's questions with the same cut and dry responses my husband uses. I want to engage her thought process and get her to think critically. Terrance thinks that this is a bullshit approach.

So we talk about what the experience of the Native People's must have been like. That discovery isn't the same when you discover something that belongs to someone else. It would be like me walking into her room and "discovering" her Playmobil house and claiming it as my own. Not very heroic.

"That's stealing.", she says.

"Yes it is, honey. That's why daddy and I are uncomfortable with Columbus Day. He may have been very adventurous to sail over the ocean to find and see new things- but he was very unkind to the people he found living there already."

And Emily - as always - absorbs this information to the best of her ability. And says:

"Can I stay up late and eat popcorn?"

Fight the power, honey, fight the power.


Originally published in October 2006



end of summer

Tuesday, September 30, 2014




Last sundress of the season. And snazzy clear blue frames.

Translucent

Saturday, September 27, 2014

While I haven't been here, I have been here.

Busy with a new school year, all of my energy is focused outward to students and Emily.

This is good. I am better when busy. I am happy when I am busy, even when that exhausts me in other ways.

Many things don't change, for despite my fearlessness in many aspects of my life I remain a creature who needs stability. I struggle against the dailiness that I need, but don't want to need. My rebellions become small, nearly imperceptible to outsiders. Yet they are there. I nurse those tiny coals, keeping them in my mouth like Raven.

I change my sheets every Saturday and sprinkle lavender oil over them. I patch the duvet that should, by rights, be at the end of it's life...but I keep it. It is grounded in a different time. I ignore the feathers that creep out and into my hair every night.

I make small steps into a social life. I befuddle and dazzle others who have no idea what the whirling dervish I become means, and I am unable to explain my need to be liked, to be understood. To be Known.

I fret about the research I am not getting done, but console myself with the quality of my teaching and service to my department.

Summer is easing. The dreams which crowded me in the summer have let up enough for sleep.

The cicadas were singing tonight. I find the buzzing cacophony soothing.

I age. I realize that I know nothing, and that the totality of my experiences are so small.  My body betrays me in small, intimate ways.

I wrap myself in decorations and continue on. There is no other direction. Backwards is my Ragnarok and I have been exiled.


Selkie Nature

Sunday, August 03, 2014

I am a Selkie, a changeling woman.
You may capture me, but I will always long for something,

Something cold and salty and feral.

I will stay for loyalty, for my half selkie children

Until I can bear it no more and slip my seal skin back on

and slide back into the dark sea.


 
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