Facing white discomfort
I only have four articles to share today. I had dozens, but most dealt with the ongoing problem of teaching during a pandemic. I also found that I had a lot to say about each of the four articles I chose, so fewer seemed better.
GUILT AND LOSS IN RETIREMENT
I read once that the most common cause of death for men in America is retirement. Since I’ve made it ten years past my retirement date, I think I’m relatively safe, but retirement isn’t always easy and, for some, it’s hard to let go.
Peter Greene, who blogs at Curmudgucation, has been retired from teaching for about three years. In this post, he discussed the guilt he felt about not being in the classroom…leaving unfinished business when he retired…and some implied feelings of abandoning his fellow teachers.
For me, as an elementary teacher, there was something else, though the guilt he talked about was surely a part of it. As an elementary classroom teacher, each year was a new start. Everyone started fresh. At the end of the year, we said goodbye to our kids knowing that we did what we could; we’d taken them as far as they could go. The end of each year came with a sense of loss for the students who moved on.
I felt the same sort of loss when I retired, which is why I returned to school the following school year as a volunteer. I missed working with children. I missed reading to them. I missed the daily problem solving and the challenge of dealing with students’ learning issues.
The emotions brought on by retirement don’t always fade away.
This is a must-read for those teachers who are thinking about retirement.
One of the hard parts of retirement is managing the guilt. You’re leaving your friends and colleagues to continue the work. And it’s important work, work you value. And they’re going to keep doing it while you walk away.
This is unavoidable, because the work in schools is never done, ever. Every year some stories end, and some other stories begin, and most of the stories continue somewhere in the middle. There will never be a moment when you can brush your hands together and declare, “Okay, everything’s wrapped up, so this is the perfect moment for me to peace out.” Never going to happen.
So to retire, you have to shake the notion that you should really stick around and help (it took me months to shake the notion that I should run for school board). You know, intellectually, that you are not indispensable or irreplaceable. You moved into someone’s spot, and someone will move into yours. In the meantime, your actual legacy is out in the world. You taught a bunch of students, and now someone else will teach another bunch
PROFILE IN COURAGE
I saw myself in Brayden Harrington’s story of stuttering, too. As a child, it was hard for me to talk without blocking, especially if I was excited or upset. I was, like others with similar problems, mimicked, teased, and bullied and told things like, “spit it out,” or “c-c-can’t you t-t-t-talk?”
I had speech therapy when I was a child for dysfluency and articulation problems and that helped. When I was in college, studying to be a teacher, I came across and purchased a textbook on stuttering for speech and language pathologists in training. I wasn’t in the SLP program, but I read the book carefully and learned a lot about what stuttering was, who is affected, and how it’s controlled. I also got help from the speech and language pathologists I worked with during my thirty-five years in the classroom.
The teasing doesn’t always end in childhood. The last time it happened to me was by a co-worker after I had been teaching for 20+ years…a person who dealt with children every day…who never would have teased a child with a stutter…who probably doesn’t remember the incident at all. I remember, though. Being humiliated is traumatizing no matter what your age. It helped a little that I was old enough to call her out on it…though I doubt it sank in.
If you can read this article (it’s behind WAPO’s paywall) you’ll learn that there are “covert PWS” (people who stutter), like me, who hide their dysfluency by avoiding certain initial sounds of words, or who pause before speaking, as if thinking of a response to a comment.
When I watched the video of Brayden giving his speech…the video of him continuing even after getting “stuck,” I was impressed. Dan Rather called it “pure unvarnished courage.” I agree. Stuttering is frustrating and can be embarrassing and humiliating. Cheers to this young man for having the courage to speak so that the entire world could hear him.
His was by far, the best speech at the 2020 Democratic Convention.
My favorite part of this year’s Democratic National Convention was 13-year-old Brayden Harrington speaking about how former vice president Joe Biden helped him with his stuttering.
For me, it was deeply personal. I cried as I watched Brayden tell his story. Growing up as a person who stutters (PWS), I never imagined that I’d ever see someone stuttering openly and comfortably in front of millions of people.
Stuttering affects approximately 3 million Americans. It’s most common in kids, with 5 percent of children struggling with this speech impediment at some point in their childhoods.
CLOSING CHARTERS IS A FEATURE, NOT A BUG
For the charter industry, failure and closures of schools are a feature, not a bug. When a school is bad it will attract fewer students and then close. The market rules all.
Unfortunately, students from closed charters get bounced around from one school to another as parents try to find one that will stay open. This can be traumatic for students. They become an “outsider.” They miss their friends. The academic requirements might be different.
Frequently, children from closed charter schools end up at the local public school (and no, I don’t consider charter schools, paid for with public tax dollars, to be public schools).
Public schools are the only schools mandated by most state constitutions. Diverting public money to support privately run schools wastes taxpayer dollars and shortchanges the vast majority of students who go to public schools.
The current Republican Party platform (unchanged from 2016) calls for increases in school “choice” — meaning more charters and more vouchers — more tax dollars into private pockets because, to them, the private sector does everything better (it doesn’t).
The 2020 Democratic Party platform is against vouchers as a violation of the separation between church and state. It also calls for banning for-profit charters. Unfortunately, there’s not much difference between “non-profit” charters and for-profit charters.
Marketing and lack of oversight have obscured the failure of the charter school industry. The latest research reported by Carol Burris and her team at the Network for Public Education (NPE) documents the atrocious going out of business rate among charter schools.
The United States Education Department (USED) has invested more than $4 billion promoting the industry but has not effectively tracked the associated fraud, waste and failures. After 25-years of charter schooling, Broken Promises is the first comprehensive study of their closure rates.
IT’S TIME TO FACE OUR WHITE DISCOMFORT
Talking about race can be uncomfortable. As a white male, I will never truly understand how it feels to be a Black man in America. As a white teacher, I was never able to know what the world looked like to my students of color. Open discussion — at a level appropriate to students’ maturity — is important for students and teachers. It’s especially important for white students and teachers. It’s time we faced the discomfort and listened.
Let’s take Lee’s lesson — and my professor’s — to heart. Let’s not just accept discomfort as part of the educational process. Let’s create the structures that encode discomfort into the educational process where necessary — doing so, of course, with the emotional (and physical) safety of young people in the forefront of our minds.
There is a huge body of research that demonstrates that learning is impeded by feeling unsafe. But feeling uncomfortable is not the same as feeling unsafe. Schools are often among the most psychologically and emotionally “safe” spaces in the United States, for their white teachers and students. It is people of color who are far more likely to feel and be unsafe in our schools. We white educators have to demonstrate our willingness to make ourselves — and, yes, our white students — uncomfortable if we want to do anything tangible about that fact.
How, precisely, can this be done? Any given department or division must ask that question in the context of its students, faculty, and program. I’ve worked for more than two decades in literary and cultural studies, so the first examples that come to my mind are in that arena.
…work across the curriculum to create the kind of discomfort that breeds thoughtful self-awareness. So often, we talk about finding ways to engage our white students with whiteness without, you know, making them “feel bad.” This is a mistake. In an educational context, discomfort is a powerful tool.