January Readings, Part I

As we kick off February (and with a snow day here so I’ve got time to read, reflect, and write!) here are some of the things I read in January that really stuck with me.

This piece combines Jose Vilson and Matt Kay so it is at a pinnacle. Matt has written a book titled, Not Light, But Fire about having conversations about race in the classroom. The man teaches students English and knows of what he speaks. Jose’s review does a far better job of explaining why you should read this book than I could ever do. But this gets at it:

In the next chapters, he skillfully does three things:

  • He explicitly discusses conditions and dissuades the reader from using words like “safe space” uncritically.
  • He pulls in student examples regularly and uses their voices as a way of pushing the narratives forward.
  • He doesn’t make himself out to be the hero at all.

The review is worth your time, but then you should also get your hands on the book!

This next piece should have been in my last wrap up, given when it was written, but clearly I got behind. Shocking. James Ford started a blog to write this post (if I remember correctly) and I’m so glad he did. The story was all over social media but few were willing to take the time to dig as deeply as he did. It’s about the Black student wrestler who had his hair cut in order to participate in a meet. Cut right there in the gym. In 2018.

By now you’ve likely seen it. The haunting video of Andrew Johnson, a teenage boy in Atlantic City, NJ faced with the unnecessary ultimatum of cutting his dreadlocks or forfeiting a wrestling match. The grimace on his face alone elicits nausea, as his coaches and teammates watch on and offer “encouragement”. He eventually decides to comply with the request by the white referee. The sight of a young woman hastily taking shears to his locs has gone viral. He went on to win the match, but the question of what he lost in the process remains open.

James writes about his own personal history when it comes to being Black and dealing with how white folks see his hair. He helps us white folks gain some understanding by opening a window into his reality. That’s no small thing and I greatly appreciate it.

Franki Sibberson wrote about reading goals and what it means to be a teacher and a reader. I’ve struggled in the past few years with balancing the reading I want to do for my students, the reading I find fun for me, and the reading I want to do for myself – much less the professional reading too. I’ve tried to let go of some of how I see myself (or want to see myself) as a reader.

But, I’ve realized that sometimes my goals get in the way of my bigger life as a reader. I’ve been following Katherine Sokolowski as she has added romance reading back into her reading life, letting go of the guilt and knowing that she still reads plenty to recommend books to her students.  I love reading middle grade books–they are not work to me–I think they are some of the best books out there in the world. But when I limit myself to reading only the books that I might share with my students, my own reading life feels more like a job than an authentic life as a reader.

I appreciated Franki’s reflections on this. It helped me clarify my own thinking.

The idea of texts as mirrors and windows is an important one to me (and one I’ll be writing more about, I hope) so it isn’t surprising that this post caught my attention.

I worry that books that are gaining the most attention might also be creating a new set of stereotypes. If every book that has a Black main character involves police brutality, the assassination of unarmed black men, single mothers, “the hood”, and Black vernacular, are we just shifting the focus from creating one story full of biases and stereotypes to another? These novels are important, but I still don’t see “myself” in these stories. I only see one layer of my identity. I almost feel guilty about those other parts of who I am, as if those parts of me are not allowed to exist in the mainstream. This feeling is the “crack” in my mirror. I wonder if there are kids reading “mirror” texts in our classrooms who feel just as unseen as I do.

Again, I am so grateful to people like Jodi-Beth Moreno who take the time, emotional and other energy, and more to write pieces like this to help others grow.

I love it when I read a piece and it puts into words something I’ve been struggling with or that’s been nagging at me. Thank goodness for all the brilliant folks out there who can articulate things that I can’t and who will take the time to do so! Shana White did that around criticism and critique.

We do not do everything right and people calling out problematic things we do or things we say isn’t hate or negativity. Sometimes our methodology is outdated or our pedagogy stale. Sometimes our privilege creates blind spots we are oblivious to or not cognizant of. Sometimes there are lanes not meant for us or things outside our knowledge base. It takes a critical eye and sometimes a different perspective to dissect those things we cling to, resist changing, or always do to actually make us better. The problem with criticism and critique oftentimes is our perception.

She goes on to write about how this plays out on social media, especially as it interacts with privilege. Her writing is thoughtful and thought-provoking and has helped me see criticism (both shared with me and me passing on to others) in a different lens.

One last piece here from KQED’s Mind/Shift blog: Virginia Study Finds Increased School Bullying in Areas that Voted for Trump. Virginia is a state that has large swaths of red across it with pockets of blue throughout. It also happens to be where I live which likely added to my interest in this story. I still have many questions.

Seventh- and eighth-graders in areas that favored Trump reported bullying rates in spring 2017 that were 18 percent higher than students living in areas that went for Clinton. They were also 9 percent more likely to report that kids at their schools were teased because of their race or ethnicity.

In the 2015 data, there were “no meaningful differences” in those findings across communities, the researchers wrote.

The researchers make it clear that their findings only say so much. They are not arguing that the election of Trump increased bullying. They are suggesting that families be aware of how their media consumption and conversations at home could play into this however.

That’s a lot for one wrap up so more to come from January!

2 replies on “January Readings, Part I”

  1. […] recently read a post by my friend, Jen Orr. She posted links to and summarized the things she’s read in the last […]

  2. […] Eddie Fergus, this is actually the white people addition of the January readings. If you missed my January Readings, Part I, check it out for brilliance from many educators of color. Sigh. Note to self, keep a better eye on […]

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