On Saturday, May 20th, the newly formed N.O.W. chapter of Ann Arbor Skyline High School held the "The Future Is Female" conference. Maybe the chapter should be called WOW! Students spoke with eloquence about issues facing women, young and old, international and local. They screened a film they made that declares and claims their feminism. Members of the state organization, teachers, families, and friends were on hand to applaud their depth of thinking and their courage to speak out. Representative Debbie Dingell brought her view from Washington D.C., while Youseff Rabhi and Donna Lasinski spoke from the state level perspective. Some of the young N.O.W. members' teachers were invited to speak. Kristal Jaaskelainen, Chair of the Skyline English Content Area and Co-Teacher of the Communication Media & Public Policy (CMPP) Magnet Program spoke with Patricia Jenkins, the founder and Lead Teacher of CMPP. They have kindly contributed their comments to this blog. I am certain that you will appreciate Kristal's J's musings, from which the title of this blog entry evolves, even as Pat Jenkins ponders the Stories Missing from History.
FEMINISM, PRIVILEGE AND EMPATHY by Kristal Jaaskelainen
Dan Juntilla made me a feminist. Mr. Juntilla was in charge of the Little League program for Calumet and Keweenaw - located at the most northern point in the state of Michigan. Like my older sister, I grew up playing baseball. She was the only girl that played in her age group and I was one of three. I remember being so proud watching her play. One game, the starting pitcher, Josh, was underperforming and she replaced him. He walked off the field angry and teary-eyed, emotions stemming from both his poor performance and the fact that he was being replaced by a girl, I believe.
So, when the year arrived that I was trying out for Little League, I expected to be placed on a team and spend yet another summer playing ball with the boys. As I said, there were two other young girls that played in my age group - one was my cousin, Amy, and the other was my best friend, Kirsti. All of us had grown up playing, and while none of us were the best, neither were any of us the absolute worst. All of us were skilled and confident enough to continue and contribute at this next level of baseball. However, Dan Juntilla didn’t agree.
When try-outs finished, only three people didn’t make a team. As you might have already guessed, it was all three of us girls. Instead, Dan Juntilla said that he was creating a softball league and we were to play that instead. I was irate! I didn’t want to play softball; I wanted to play baseball. I knew I could compete. I knew I could hold my own. I knew that the only reason I didn’t make a team was because Dan Juntilla felt that girls shouldn’t play.
That moment was formative for me. I say this experience made me a feminist because it was my first experience with inequality. This experience opened up a world to which I had previously been completely ignorant; the world of privilege.
I had been taught to treat people like you want to be treated. I grew up respecting my elders. I grew up in an all-white, rural small town, daughter of the Judge. We were rich by Yooper standards. I was smart and school came easily to me. I was athletic because my father and I shot hoops and played catch. My father, by the way, has 4 sisters, a wife, 2 daughters and 3 grand-daughters. I believe he encouraged me to play sports because he didn’t have any boys around. Except for hockey - girls weren’t allowed to play hockey yet up there, even by my father’s standards. But back to my point, I was born really, really lucky. I am blessed with many privileges. Getting cut from Little League was the first time I was on the other side of privilege. The experience taught me what it meant for something to be “unfair”.
Without such an experience, I could have lived blissfully ignorant. But thankfully, I have not.
I am in fact grateful that this happened. I am now able to understand that being white gives me unearned privileges in our society. I can wrap my brain around the injustices felt by students with disabilities even though I am able-bodied. I can conceptualize the significant and problematic inequity in opportunity that comes along with being poor. I have learned to question the attainability of The American Dream and challenge the too-simple notion that anyone can just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” - What if you don’t even have boots?
I believe that feminism has taught me empathy and I seek to teach that to all of my students. It is much more difficult to truly empathize if you have never experienced something. Too often, I have seen people think they are empathizing, but really they were condescending.
For example, I used to volunteer at Boysville - a juvenile detention center. I led improv theater workshops with some of the boys and each season ended in a performance for the entire population. One performance happened around Christmastime, and a local charity brought in gifts for all of the young men. While the act itself was kind and generous, the reaction to it showed me something much different. Some of the boys declined gifts and visibly resented accepting something from complete strangers. Some of the boys weren’t Christian and didn’t celebrate Christmas. In spite of this, the volunteers kept insisting that everyone (including me) take a gift. I, like many of those boys, felt it a very uncomfortable interaction. For some, accepting the gifts was like willfully entering into a power dynamic that made them less than. I wasn’t even part of the target population yet I was expected to accept a gift. It felt patronizing and demeaning - certainly not the intent but still the outcome.
True empathy requires understanding and knowledge. Positions of privilege, by nature, prevent one from whole-heartedly knowing what it is like. So instead, we must listen and learn. I am an English teacher because literature and writing are venues through which we can do so. While I will never know what it is like to be black in America, I can read The Souls of Black Folk, Race Matters, The Color Purple and Still I Rise in order to learn. Although I was born in America, I can read Americanah, The House on Mango Street, The Woman Warrior and When I Was Puerto Rican in order to become conscious. As a teacher, I can validate the diverse perspectives in my classroom through purposeful literary choices, and encourage critical thought and compassion. I encourage us all to be thoughtful, engaged readers of diverse perspectives.
Feminism is the lens that taught me to see inequality. Because of feminism, I am now able to see and seek other lenses, as well as recognize and conceptualize the intersectionality of each. Feminism taught me to become aware of areas where I am privileged and as an extension empathize instead of patronize or condescend. Whether your lens is race, class, ability or gender, we must challenge the ignorance of privilege and instead spread compassion and empathy.
Literature is just one way to learn and challenge. My amazing colleague Ms. Pat Jenkins is going to discuss the Stories Missing from History.
STORIES MISSING FROM HISTORY by Pat Jenkins
The importance of the story in developing empathy is something I’d like to talk about, too, with focus on feminism and the future of social studies or civic education. I am a social studies teacher. Let me put on my teacher hat for a moment.
History – HIS STORY – Not HER story or THEIR story but HIS tory.
You see the problem.
It’s an age old one…
Did you know the word “history” comes from the Greek word historia meaning ‘finding out, narrative, history.’ The word Historia evolved from an earlier Greek word HISTOR meaning ‘learned, wise man,’ History (or the study of the stories of smart men) is only one facet of social studies education.
Did you know the first official definition of social studies called it "subject matter related to the organization and development of human society and to MAN as a member of social groups.”
The premise behind social studies is an admirable one – teach students about different places, different times – to make them aware of cultural differences and aware of their place in the structure of a larger society. The problem – the lessons or stories are, even today, told through the lens of the dominant patriarchal majority.
Like Kristal, I can remember the moment when I realized there were major gaps in the stories I learned in school.
The daughter of an educator (my mom was an elementary school teacher) and a spy (my dad work in intelligence for the National Security Agency or NSA), I grew up in middle class Washington DC during the 1960s.
I am the product of a stellar education: I attended a public middle school in suburban Washington and a private all girl’s college prep high school.
Freshman year. Dartmouth College. I enrolled in a course called the History of Black of America 1700 to 1860. We read John Hope Franklin’s History of Black America from Slavery to Freedom. It was the first time I learned from an academic institution that slaves weren’t docile, obedient weaklings. Other readings delved into the rich history and culture of Africa before slavery. To satisfy my thirst to hear more stories, I took the History of Latin America and courses in Women’s Studies.
Unlike the history we learn from the majority perspective, the stories of women, African Americans and other minorities don't start with the Civil Rights Movement or the Feminist Movement.
A side note – in my experience, women and those who gender identify as females tend naturally to be more empathetic and compassionate, more open to understanding the view of the other side, more willing to engage in compromise. Qualities we desperately need in our political discussion today.
WHAT CAN YOU DO in terms of creating a better future for feminism and social studies?
Ask for more courses like Community High Schools’ Alternative Perspectives on US History. The foundational text - Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
Get involved. Like Ashi and Brooke and other members of the planning team having the courage, imagination and energy to get a NOW chapter and plan this conference.
Support the Communications Media & Public Policy magnet program. It is the magnet for students who want to change the world. (Acknowledge Students currently or soon to be enrolled in the CMPP magnet -- please stand.) On behalf of myself and Ms J, thank you for stepping up and helping to change our world.
Finally, support the building of a National Women’s History Museum. It took 30 years from its first introduction in Congress to the opening of the National Museum of African American and Culture. 15 years for the Holocaust Museum. Support the building of the National Women’s History Museum – a permanent home for HER story!
I'm poised on the brink and holding my breath for the TEDxYouth@AnnArbor event that launches tomorrow (Saturday April 22 8am to 4pm) in the Ann Arbor Skyline High School auditorium. (livestream at tedxya2.org)
(I wrote this for TASL Talks: Legislative Advocacy and You, Texas Association of School Librarians, March 21, 2017. Thought it worth posting here as well. Thanks to Dorcas Hand for the opportunity to address my Texas Colleagues!)
Hello Texas School Librarians! I’m up here in Michigan where the crocus started blooming in February. A chance meeting in an airport shuttle after an ALA Conference connected me with Dorcas Hand, TASLTalks Editor. And here I am to offer you some Big Ideas.
School Librarians consistently follow research on the impact of their work on student achievement and the learning environment (i.e. School Libraries Work, etc.). We teach a curriculum that supports 21st century fluencies and stretches students to think critically and problem-solve. Our impact is statistically significant even in an organization where we see students only once a week for an hour or randomly throughout the week. As the District Chair for Secondary Library Services, I seek out ideas...lots of ideas. Big ideas. Small ideas. Ideas for how school librarians can create opportunities for any and all students to practice self-motivated, responsible inquiry along with the 21st century fluencies (Lee Crockett & Global Digital Citizens Foundation) - opportunities beyond the release time I am required to provide for my colleagues. Opportunity. That’s my focus these days.
Opportunity. How does a school librarian create broad impact on student opportunity in the school, in the community, in the world? To answer your immediate question - No, my friends, it’s not a question that’s too big for us. We have to think like teachers of the future. We have to BE teachers of the future, today. I keep this short poem hanging at my desk. I read it every day.
What is a teacher?
What is a teacher? A guide, not a guard.
What is learning? A journey, not a destination.
What is discovery? Questioning the answers, not answering the questions.
What is the goal? Open minds, not closed issues.
What is a test? Being and becoming, not remembering and reviewing.
What is learning? Not just doing things differently, but doing different things.
What is teaching? Not showing them what to learn, but showing them how to learn.
What is school? Whatever we choose to make it.
Allan Glatthorn from Literacy Is Not Enough by Lee Crockett, Ian Jukes, Andrew Churches
I am inspired by Allan’s precise spare poetry. I aspire to fulfill that vision in the practice of my profession, in the evolution of my school.
Action. So, today I want to talk to you about just one of the BIG ideas that I use to create opportunity in our school, the community and the world for all students. No kidding. This BIG idea touches all the standards - ALA, ISTE, Common Core, state, etc. It moves students up to “Transform” on the SAMR model of technology integration. It stimulates my natural role as “a guide.” It insists upon student choice and promotes self-motivated inquiry. It gives Youth Voice a global platform and stimulates community participation at many levels. All of this is outside of the classroom. Whew! That asks a lot of a single good idea. Here’s the story.
The Activism Committee of our Student Action Senate (student government) wanted to reach out to kids from the dozen or so public and private high schools in our town to create a dialog among youth and figure out a way to amplify youth voice to impact the future of our city. I don’t know about you, but on my Student Learning Network Resources page I have always linked “TED Talks - Ideas worth spreading” in the Open Coursework/Experts category. I watch TED Talks often and recommend them to teachers as appropriate for the curriculum. I curated an independent TED event for teachers in my district to share good ideas and future forward practice. I had a pretty clear idea of what it would take to organize a TEDx event. So, I put the idea of an independent TED event for, by, and about youth on the table. I didn’t give an “assignment” or defend the idea. I didn’t, in fact, say another word. The kids in the committee pulled out their devices and began collecting information on how to get a license for TEDx (x = independently organized TED event). One of the kids projected his favorite TED talk. They began a discussion of how they could attract kids from every high school to an organizers committee. Without me saying another word - they took flight with an idea that intrigued them. This flurry of research and discussion became TEDxYouth@AnnArbor.
Now in its fourth year, organizers are recruited to represent every high school (public and private). They form into sub-committees (Speakers, Tech, Hospitality, Marketing and Design). They plan and carry out every aspect of a one-day event according to the TED Guidelines. They audition potential speakers from all the high schools (this year including middle schools) - all twenty speakers are students. They mentor the speakers to develop the talks. The organizers recruit students to volunteer. They speak with businesses, museums and the public library to set up active spaces for inquiry and exploration between sets of youth speakers. They train with the local Community Television Network to operate the cameras, direct the stage and record and edit the video for upload to the TED sponsored TEDx YouTube Channel. They recruit musicians, dancers, poets - all youth. They design the advertising, the set and themes. They make an introductory video. They decorate the venue and sell tickets. They set up a webcast of the event (webcast.tedxya2.org April 22, 8am - 4pm). They plan and execute advertising in print, on radio and online. Then they invite the community, their City Council Members, the Mayor, business leaders, the School Board, University of Michigan students and professors and other city leaders to come and listen to what they care about and what they think is important. The Youth Curator, usually an experienced senior, proposes and tracks the budget, holds the credit card and oversees the bank account, motivates grant-writing and fundraising, runs the weekly meetings and meets with each committee to track and oversee progress. I am the curator of record with TED, but I encourage the organizers to solve the issues that arise and point them toward resources. My standard response is, “I don’t know. What do you think?” Of course, I won’t let them leap off a cliff, but I do let them try out solutions until they find what works. They keep detailed records each year so they can learn from past experience. I look to their safety and encourage creative solutions. I sign papers when they need a legal signature. Other than that, I sit and watch and stand in awe of the capabilities and scope of interest of today’s youth.
The enthusiasm is spreading. This year we are launching our first TEDED Club at the elementary level. The club meets for 13 weeks with a TED-planned curriculum to identify an idea the students care about and create a persuasive talk to share out. The club experience culminates in a mini-TEDx event at the school with other students and families as the audience and the kids as the speakers.
Okay. TED. That’s one BIG idea. In my own recently launched blog, Invent the Future (http://www.a2saraduvall.com), I intend to highlight more big and small ideas - ideas that I’ve successfully tried in my iCommons and ideas that other brilliant school librarians share with me. Inventing the future of public education and school libraries is my passion. Follow my blog if you want to join the exploration. Also, follow me on Twitter @a2duvall.
I want to leave my Texas colleagues with one last thought. No matter our political biases, the students we guide today are the leaders of our democracy tomorrow. Our work matters today as it never has before! Our role is to invent ways to expand our students’ experience, so that they can flex their 21st century skills into becoming ubiquitous. To open minds not close issues. To guide not guard. To do different things than our predecessors to change the paradigm of school library services and promote what students actually need from their education today. We, individually and together, CAN make that difference.
To launch a blog in these days of declining blog participation is a leap of faith. It's a bit like falling backwards into the digital void, naked and terrified. My only companions...hope and a promise. Hope that engagement with the wider community will help to achieve insight in a frenetic world; a promise to persevere against the pressures weighing down progress and change.
Alvin Toffler said,
" You've got to think about the big things while you're doing the small things,
so that the small things go in the right direction."
Over the last 2 years I have immersed myself in big picture thinking (and thinkers) about the future of education and the future of libraries. Conferences, webinars, research, visionary reports and conversations have compelled me into a wider dialogue. ALA, AASL, ISTE, MACUL, MAME, 21st Century Fluencies, etc. have all opened doors and windows, allowing me to breathe through the tough times in education so much more easily than I was capable of even a year ago. I find the big ideas compelling. My enthusiasm for the challenge of inventing change is renewed.
My intention here is to come out of my solitary rumination and directly engage in the wider dialogue with as many of you as I can. I've spent days and hours both conducting and participating in professional dialogue about what skills students actually need beyond school; about a world where we cannot conceive with any reliability what "employment," "career," "work" will look like even next year. Again, Alvin Toffler, "The illiterate of the future will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and re-learn."
In this space, I will share what I read, who I follow, which ideas seem to resonate with our students' reality. I will share process and resources. I will share your comments to further the conversation. I will highlight the most innovative ideas that I discover out there. I will invite futurist thinkers to address us with cutting-edge visions.
At the same time, I will continue to innovate in the high school library where I serve and steadily transfer ownership of the space and the program to our iCommons Student Advisory Council. I will continue to lead our 34 school librarians to form a new and innovative vision of what school libraries should be to meet the unpredictable needs of our students. I will lead them to action to promote and serve the agenda for district-wide change as led by our innovative superintendent.
I hope you will join me on this journey. I promise that I will fill these pages with the most innovative thinking that I find. Let us fall into the void together with the certainty that our collective experience will enhance our understanding and keep our spirits afloat. Now is the time to invent the future.