Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Lottery

Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is one of my very favorite short stories for the whallop it packs at the end, when the villagers set upon poor Mrs. Hutchinson, who drew the paper with the fatal X, with stones. If kids are are going to become peace makers (in their own lives, in the community, in the world), or at least be brought to consider deeply need for peace, we must also talk about the causes of violence. I think "The Lottery" is an amazing little tale of how many times violence just simply becomes ritual or habit. It's tradition, and no one really questions why.

When we'd finished reading, I asked the students to give examples of "real life" Lotteries--ritual violence that a society seems to believe will keep it successful, healthy, fed, safe or redeemed. They mentioned the Aztecs and the Gladiators, which I thought were great examples, as well as various methods of the death penalty and gang initiation. Some kids disagreed with this one, as the DP is, at least in theory, applied to someone guilty of a crime, unlike the Villagers in story. One student even mentioned tattoes, which I would not have thought of. I am not sure I agree, and some other students disagreed as well, but there certainly is a ritual side to many tatooes.

Today, we're going to take a look at my example of a "real-life Lottery", which is the woman in Saudi Arabi who was recently sentenced (and then pardoned) to 200 lashes for having been raped!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Ladder of Love

Sometimes the kids take control.

"Ms. D, if there's a Ladder of Hate, why is there no Ladder of Love?" (The Ladder of Hate is a graphic and discussion starter I use to illustrate how humanity too often has started at the bottom rung of stereotypes, on to prejudice, to discrimination, to scapegoating and finally to genocide itself.

So why is there no Ladder of Love? A fine question. So I put it back on them. I put "love/peace" at the top of the whiteboard and asked them what specific qualities and steps were needed to get us all there. There answers, honestly, were profound.

Risk. Tolerance. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Communication. Integrity. Honor. Knowledge. When I asked them to order them (after all, the idea here is a progression), the discussion became even more nuanced, with the kids asking themselves and each other questions like, "Shouldn't knowledge be at the beginning?" Others felt that risk should be, since communication won't start until someone takes the plunge. There was also debate about whether integrity or communication should be at the beginning. On one hand, you won't wish to communicate with someone who has no integrity; on the other hand, if you haven't communicated, how do you know if the other person has integrity or not?

My favorite, however, was one student who asked to draw his own graphic on the board. He drew "U" (which means "you" for those of us not as down with hip hop) and "enemy" connected by an arrow forming a circle, explaining that if you forgive an enemy, then that enemy will forgive an enemy of theirs, and so on, until the circle connects back to you.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Ladder of Hate

So as previous posts suggest, I center my classroom here in the Juvenile Detention Center--the discussions, writing and literature--on the themes of peace and tolerance. With a little (actually, a lot) of inspiration from the Anti-Defamation League, I designed a discussion lesson on what I've come to call the Ladder of Hate. It helps kids to think about some of the major themes of important literature, yes, but it's also a too-prevalent theme in their lives. Finally, it helps get them thinking about the concrete connections between stereotypes and actual genocide! I want them to understand how something as "little" as racial cartoons not only can but have led to mass murder.

The Ladder of Hate starts with Stereotypes. From there we escalate to prejudice, and on to discrimination (ACTING on prejudice). I lead us in a discussion of what each of these terms are and the kids never have trouble with examples. (That said, yes I have had kids who had not heard of the Holocaust!). From discrimination, we move up to scapegoating, the blaming of one group for a whole society's problems (paging Lou Dobbs!). Finally, at the top of the ladder, is genocide. I brought in pictures of Nazi doctors measuring noses and ears to determine if the "patient" was Aryan enough. I pass around a copy of the Diary of Anne Frank, as well as The Freedom Writer's Diary, which includes a copy of a ugly racial cartoon drawn by one of the students in that class. I make sure to note that "simple" stereotypes not only can but HAVE led to genocide. Some of the students literally have a hard time imagining, for example, live human crematorioms or "medical experiments" that involved removing the arm of one patient and sewing it on to the arm of another. Since we can't go to the Holocaust Museum, I am planning for it to come to us, in the form of a local Holocaust survivor. I am hoping that will bring to life the Diary of Anne Frank when we begin reading it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On Relevance

Relevance, as you also may have observed, dear reader, can be a dangerous thing. In preparation for reading a poem from the perspective of an Hispanic immigrant yesterday, I brought in an article on immigration policy in Arlington (only 10 minutes from where our school is located). Many of the kids even knew some of the Vietnamese or El Salvadoran restaurants mentioned in the article, as they were eager to mention in class.

One of the central and vital goals of peace education, of course, is addressing and combating racism. It is ugly, and can come from anyone, even (and perhaps most likely) those who experience racism themselves. As I suspected I might, I encountered some of the stereotypes people can hold against "immigrants" in my classroom today as we discussed the article.

"They take our jobs". This was immediately challenged (by kids clearly of Latina/o background) to note that there is often no choice due to economic or political circumstances in the home country. Other students pointed out that we're a nation of immigrants and unless you're for example Mohawk or Navajo, there is probably immigration--voluntary or otherwise--there somewhere. One student, usually one of my best and most appreciative young men, said he felt that "immigrants are perverts". When pressed on this point, he described some behavior his sister and mother had experienced at the hands of people they assumed to be immigrants (they may well have been right). We've talked endlessly about the danger of stereotypes--the false belief that if one person in a certain identity group holds a certain quality, everyone in that group does. We've talked about how stereotypes have been the seeds that sowed genocide (I call it the "Ladder of Hate", of which more later).

Because I will not tolerate intolerance, I spoke with this student at length after class, along with my principal, who shares my educational goals of character and peace education. He stated to the student that conversations like that are what education is really about, and I couldn't agree more. But I'm aware that it is also quite counter-culture in a nation that can vilify immigrants, that self-segregates and that sees violence as a way to solve problems. We've raised offending others "because it's my right" to an art form and defined it as American. That, however, doesn't mean that peace education is doomed to failure or should end because it can be hard or messy or raise difficult issues. That's all the more reason for it to exist in every classroom!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Why Do We Always Cry in This Class (or, The Affective Domain)?

The "affective domain", of course, is the clinical, detached and sanitized language we use to refer to FEELINGS and EMOTIONS in the classroom. Ironically, many of us English teacher types work daily to provide our kids with examples of language that has life, voice and power. It's interesting, then, that we used (use?) the lifeless phrase "the affective domain" to talk about emotion and its role in learning.

This struck me the other day when my students were sharing, as I invite them to daily, from their journals. Reality being what it is in the Detention Center, kids come and go without warning or notice. One young woman who has come such a long way simply disappeared today. I filled out her transfer form with a sigh, hoping that someone "downstate" (as the kids call it) will have the eye out for her that we have here. Several of the other girls in the unit wrote about her sudden departure, and the tears flowed. Mine included, I don't mind sharing. One of the girls, sniffling and laughing at the same time, asked "why someone always cries at least once a week in this class?" An answer came from one of the Detention Staff that it's because the classroom is a safe space where students can share what's really on their minds. I agree, and I think that's the magic of these journals. It makes THEM the curriculum; it also allows them to write in a space that will not be judged or graded. Hence they can practice without penalty, just like one would with any other skill. (I can't imagine learning piano as if it were a recital every time I sat down to play.)

CS Lewis once said that we "read to know we're not alone." We write for the same reason. We write to connect and be heard. Vygotsky noted time and again that writing should be taught for the natural-as-breathing survival skill that it is. Allowing and in fact creating space for "the affective domain", that is EMOTIONS, in the classroom, honors the power of language.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Telling Our Story

It's a common observation (complaint, really) that teaching can be a very isolating, atomized profession. So it was a pleasure this morning to spend about 30 minutes chatting with my principal and our social studies teacher, as the three of us were free at the same time.

This does not occur outside of rushed staff meetings in "regular" schools. We currently have some extra time on our hands (very much needed "extra" time) since Units 1 and 4 are combined. This is one of the reasons I have been able to bring in guests and such--the very "extras" which bring a curriculum to life. Anyway, we shared about students and some of the ideas we have to problem solve regarding finding resources, transitioning kids back to their home schools and so on. One result of such "chats" is that my colleague has probably identified a donor for laptops for each kid! I cannot overstate how exciting this is (I had to pry my girls off the laptops and away from their Freedom Writers Diary final essays today).

Teachers need to tell their story--first to each other and then to the public, who tends to think it knows what teaching must be like whether or not this is true. These productive conversations need to be firstly recognized as such and secondly prioritized, in my view, by educational leaders. What might this look like in implementation? For one, let's carve out real time for teachers to collaborate. Yes, this probably will mean a lighter teaching load. That in turn means we need more schools and more teachers, and that will likely mean more funding (unless a particular state our country is especially nontransparent or wasteful of their resources). I would also challenge us (not sure who I mean by "us" really) to think along the lines of how we literally design the building of high schools! That is, schools should include a SPACE for productive collaboration and research. I fear we are in the 21st century building on and tinkering with an industrial era 18th century model. This is one of the major reasons why I don't think we can "get there from here."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We Just Met a Girl Named Maria

With support from my principal, other staff and community members who want to see better futures for local kids, the students of Room 5C yesterday received a visit from one Ms. Maria Reyes, Freedom Writer. If you have seen the movie, she's the one the character of Eva was based on. Jumped into a Latino gang before she was even 10, Maria became "third generation", meaning both her father and grandfather were in the same gang, believing it was what was necessary to protect and provide for their families. As she puts it, she was raised "a warrior". Otherwise, there might not be heat or food in the house. (Folks like David Brooks, who seem to think poverty in America means not being able to afford the newest Air Jordans, might do well to take note.)

To prepare for her visit, we spent the day prior making a welcome banner and generating a list of questions the kids wanted to ask her. Most of them wanted to know how she left the gang (after all, it's not like they just let you walk away) and how she found the courage to tell the truth on the witness stand and admit it was her friend and fellow gang member who had shot a bystander one night in a convenience store, not the rival gang kid who had actually been charged with the murder. That was the beginning of the end of her gang association, and ever since, she's reached out to kids who have been struggling with similar issues. To answer their question, she said that "when you know better, you choose better." She related the courage she found on the witness stand to risk her life by telling the truth to the power of education, specifically to the power of words and writing to help you find your own voice. Once education had helped her find her own voice, she said, it wasn't so hard to do "the right thing just because it was the right thing to do". (I loved that Maria was quoting Miep Gies here, the woman who risked her life to shelter Anne Frank and her family during the Holocaust.) My students had all written her letters asking her to comee, and she made a point of telling the kids that it was those letters that convinced her to make time for us. An audience for a young writer can hardly get more real!

Maria is warm and passionate in person, and she directly challenged my kids to not blame others for the choices they've made. That, I think, is the beginning of freedom. My favorite moment was when one of my students responded to Maria by saying that was being a "true warrior". If there is such a thing as "assessing" peace education, that's what it looks like. She'd truly internalized what Maria was trying to say.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Are Grades...Peaceful?

So this question has been asked by so many teachers in so many ways, and I found myself facing it again last Tuesday as I tallied up participation and class assignments and essays. Few people will argue anymore that evaluating especially writing or, say, a student's response to a novel or poem is anything but subjective. (Surely they don't still exist?)

Montessori, Freire and so many others eshew grades totally. I hear them! What do they really, honestly tell us? It's a snapshot, at best, of whether or not a kid is thinking critically and creatively and growing as a reader, writer and human being. And of course, grades force teachers into such dilemmas as what to do with the kid who has started at "zero" and made considerable progress, but might not still technically be up to what the State has decided upon as a standard?

It's not like positive, practical (yes, practical) alternatives do not exist. In my view, Montessori's model of narrative evaluation is solid. I say solid, I mean revolutionary. That is, the teacher observes the kid and his or her work and composes a paragraph or so on the student's behavior and scholastic work let's say weekly. Each quarter or semester, parents, the student and the teacher could then sit down and discuss. What a rich record of the kids' growth this would be! No hierarchy or abstractions needed. And yes, it IS possible, if we were to rethink our schools. Why have we not cut class sizes in half yet? That's a start. Yes, it will mean more teachers and more schools themselves, but that's a mere matter of funding our schools like we think they mean as much as we say we do.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Don't Go It Alone

Rule #1 of really trying to reach your students: don't go it alone.

Rule #2: If in doubt, refer to Rule #1.

I was reminded of the importance of seeking support from parents, volunteers or others in the community today. I've been trying to nail down plans for Maria, one of the original Freedom Writers, to come visit my class now that we've finished the book. I want the kids to see someone who empowered herself through writing and "came out the other side" of the violence and hatred that marrs so many of their lives. As things began to unravel when the date of her visit approached, I found myself looking at having to foot the $400 myself. As I'd put the ball in motion, I was willing to do so, but not looking forward to it.

So, I rallied the troops and called my Angel Parent. Her son was once here at the Detention Center, so she truly gets it. Within a few hours, she had made a number of emails and phone calls to various faith groups who work with both youth and prision ministries. By the time I had finished lunch, she'd found the funding. Not only that, but our beloved funders are interested in a meeting to better understand our long term needs! SCORE!

As a teacher, it's so easy to become isolated in your classroom. But if we want rich, relevant curriculum that is impacting the lives our students, connections to the community should be the norm, not the exception.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Behold the Power of Chocolate

Yesterday of course was Halloween, and so I took the opportunity to hold a "special" freewriting. Usually the rules of freewriting are that there are no rules. As long as things are basically, tolerably school appropriate (I suggest to my kids that the Freedom Writer's Diary is a good guide), the topic is wide open. Yesterday, though, I met my kids with Reese Pieces Butter Cup and the Five Senses--sight, sound, touch, smell and TASTE. The idea was that we went through each sense, to build vivid description in our writing. Even in this quick exercise, I was delighted by some of the results. One ESL student, who is always game to try but struggles with standard ESL issues, wrote that the sound of chocolate "makes your ears perk up like a dog who hears his master". Another wrote that "When you first eat a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, it is like your away on a vacation all by yourself sitting in a hot tub tastes like the world has stopped for you." One of my girls, a naturally gifted writer, said the sound of chocolate was the "sounds of screaming children craving more".

I loved it and will work to find more devices like this to bring out the fun and creativity they naturally have. When encouraged to think in terms beyond just description in terms of sight, the images began to shine.

And hey, maybe if I write Reese's, they'll sponsor us! Bring on the laptops for EACH KID!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Making the Writing Real

As my students and I finish The Freedom Writer's Diary, we've written letters to one of the Freedom Writers whom we hope (God? Are you there? It's me, Ms. Duckworth....) can come visit us. Some barriers still stand in the way of this happening but I find myself determined to do all I can, including considering nutty things like paying $300 myself for a copy of the books for each kid if that's what it takes. I've approached folks for funding and am hoping the city will see the importance of an event like this too. I will be persistent.

While there were a number of "grammar and style" aspects of the kids' letters to work on (at least in some cases), I was impressed especially by some of what the kids shared with our Freedom Writer. They took to the spirit of what I'm tryin to do. They wrote about relating to her struggles, making mistakes (of course, that's why they're here at the Detention Center), and respecting her strength to overcome it all. I'd love for them to be able to tell her that themselves. I don't want this to fall apart as the last pieces fall into place. Two students in particular stand out because of the difficulties they have with writing (one of whom I suspect is dyslexic); despite this, they wrote with detail about the book and their lives. It's amazing the difference that a "real" audience makes. So many writing theorists know this, and yet it seems to happen in so few writing classrooms. I sure don't recall it as a student at all.

And so, I keep making phone calls and writing emails am willing to come in for her visit on a day off (Veteran's Day) if that's what it takes. I want to deliver for them and see what the results may be.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Practicing What You Preach

A quick note today, but I couldn't let this conversation with a student today go by. We're in the middle of Freedom Writer's Diary and of course one of the major themes is how these students grapple with racism and stereotypes. One Middle Eastern female student of mine raised her hand and said she'd just earlier that day been stereotyped by another teacher here. Apparently the teacher had asked her if she ate couscous! The student--quite rightly in my view--felt demeaned. I asked her if she'd shared how that comment by one of my colleagues had made her feel, and she said yes, but apparently the teacher didn't really respond. This left the student with the impression that the teacher "just didn't want to own up" to what she'd said.

It also left me thinking, as I sometimes do, of the invisibility of my own ethnicity as a white woman. My race is the standard. No one will ever look at my skin color and ask me if I, say, eat burgers or hot dogs. I am therefore expanding my call for peace education in every classroom; let's be sure it is a part of every teacher education program too!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Keep on Moving

Komplex's third and final visit was today, and I was blown away by several of the poems my kids shared. One was called "The Next Great Black", wondering where the next MLK could be hiding. It was inspired by our class conversations on the Letter from Birmingham and "Beyond Vietnam". A second student read a poem about past pain and the reality that here, locked up, is not where he wants to spend the rest of his life. I hadn't heard either of these poems before (apparently they wrote them in math class *sigh*) but I was amazed by the coherence, voice and images. I wish more students had shared, but I wasn't about to force anyone, and I think it's especially intimidating to share your work with a professional hip-hop poet whose work is so strong.

I have been building on KOM's presentations to impress on my students that they already know a lot of what in previous English classes may have seemed so removed or obscure--alliteration, metaphor, plays on words, rhyme, rhythm, this is what poems and hip hop are both made of. They already know it! It's just a matter of, as I said to them, realizing you already know it. Their reaction to his presentation convinced me that more slam poetry and creating a class book (even if it's "just" online) is the way to go. Publishing is the most powerful experience I think a writer can have.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Can We Get There from Here?

First, a shout out, much love and a thank you to Komplex, who came to visit us today to share some of his music and hip hop poetry. If you haven't had a listen, treat yourself. I can't wait for his final workshop for us on Tuesday, our poetry coffeehouse.

I'd asked him to focus on the themes of the course, which are peace building and non-violent conflict resolution. The kids free write daily, as a way to "get their heads on paper" and focus. Daily writing builds fluency. It also makes the curriculum about them (always everyone's favorite subject) and I can see it's also allowing them to really connect with the characters in the Freedom Writer's Diary. They've asked if we can bring Meip over to visit; she's in her 90's now, so that's not likely possible but why not a "real" Freedom Writer or two? I don't see why we can't make that happen. I'm looking for grants and will challenge the kids (and my colleagues) to think of ways we can fund raise. But at the same time, I find myself asking the question I always ask when funding raises its nasty ugly head: don't we all pay taxes? Isn't this why I pay taxes? Why are teachers being asked and encouraged to write grants for "special projects" when those are kinds of things that bring a curriculum alive and that therefore should be the standard, not the exception. And doesn't expecting grant writing discourage overworked teachers from doing that "extra mile" thing, when precisely the opposite incentive is what we want? Do I feed a broken system by helping it continue to limp along? Educational leaders and theory types talk so much about "teaching the whole child" (including character and citizenship education, for example), but when educators are atomized and disincentivized, is this possible?

I was reminded in reading Freedom Writers with my students that over half of teachers leave within 5 years, and understood again as I prepared to research a grant or two why.

Can we get there from here?

Monday, October 8, 2007

My Native Costume

We've been reading The Freedom Writier's' Diary for about a week or so now, and the kids are responding well. It's so accessible and relateable for them that there is plenty of time for real discussion, which is my highest priority. As I say, I'm anchoring our curriculum around the themes of nonviolence, tolerance and peace building. FWD of course is perfect for this, but I am bringing in a number of other role plays, speakers, news articles, poems, short stories that are centered around these themes.

Along those lines, we began class (after our daily free writing) with Martin Espada's "My Native Costume". It's a sharp, funny, sad and powerful poem all at once. With some guide questions to lay the mental groundwork (how does the narrator see himself? how does the teacher in the poem see him?), they readily connected this poem to the Freedom Writer's and our themes of the dangers of stereotypes. As they put it, all the teacher in the poem sees is the he's Puerto Rican.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Can Language Be Violent?

As a professional in conflict resolution, as a student of history, and as an educator, I think the connections between language and violence are incredibly salient. I want my kids to understand that language--language the dehumanizes and demeans and stereotypes--is linked to all kinds of "real" violence, including rape, assult, even genocide.

With a little help from, I had Oprah "visit" class today, featuring part of the town hall she hosted after Don Imus referred to the women of the Rutgers basketball team as "nappy headed hos". I dislike even typing the words, but there they are. We watched several clips featuring different perspectives on hip hop, race, treatment of women in our sexist culture. My kids overwhelmingly agreed that language can be violent, sometimes even worse than physical violence. Yet when it came to connecting that with the language Imus used--and the language that hip hop, rock and roll, movies, use to define and lable women, but especially women of color. I was amazed to hear some of the students (and a couple of staff! yikes!) suggest that Imus's comments didn't make sense because there were white women on the team. I was saddened but frankly not amazed to hear that especially many of my male students felt that that language was OK for women who shake what they've got on videos (but not all women, they hastened to add--only the actual hos). I opened the floor for discussion, but of course had my say as well. Wanting them to understand the connections between those attitudes and staggering rates of domestic violence and rape in this country, I mentioned the actual case of a judge turning over the conviction of a man who had raped a young girl. I believe the victim was 7; she might have been 10. Either way, the judge overturned the conviction because the girl was "dressed provocatively".

The problem we have in this culture is far larger than Snoop or Nelly or any of the others. We have a culture that finds it OK, even admirable and funny, to belittle and dehumanize. And ultimately, such language is precisely what legitimizes violence.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Isn't Radical Bad?

As we finish up our essay responses to Dr King's amazing speech, "Beyond Vietnam", one of my students honed in on King's reference to himself as desiring a "radical revolution" of American values. (Amen!) "Isn't radical bad?", he asked. I waited a couple of beats before answering, in the hopes that another student would pick up from his comment, and sure enough the response came from the kid next to him: "Depends on what you're radical for?"

This struck me because I so often reflect that if we were more radical sometimes--more bold, more audacious--we'd possibly be so much closer to the vision of "a brotherhood of man" which Dr. King describes in this speech. He identifies "militarism, materialism and racism" as three main causes of war, and my students overwhelmingly agreed that these are still problems today. Identifying the social values so many people (not just Americans, I rather suspect) have internalized, such as militarism and materialism, as linked to war is a truly radial, even revolutionary thought now. Recall the way so many of us who spoke out against the Iraq War in 2003, calling it a false war for oil, were ignored and disparaged. Alan Greenspan, by no means even centrist left alone liberal, just said the same (about four years too late).

So no, ladies and gentleman of Room 5C: radical isn't bad. Your classmate had it just right. Depends on what you're a radical for. Given the authoritarian culture we continue to absorb, though, isn't not surprising that some kids would think so. Nor is it any wonder that MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech is so often taught--but not so the speech where he presciently calls the US government out on the major foreign policy mistake of his day.

If they learn nothing else from me, I want them to learn to think for themselves. That is truly both a survival skill and a skill of peace building.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jena, LA

So I called another audible today, and I'm glad I did. As I've mentioned, my students and I have been reading literature focused on civil disobedience, nonviolence, peace and justice. Given the rallies and demonstrations on behalf of the "Jena Six" today, and the all-day coverage of it, I decided to just turn on CNN. We watched and discussed. Needless to say, my students (a good 97% of whom are black or Hispanic) had a lot to say. Much of it was simple disbelief and sadness that there are still schools where nooses can be hung on trees. Unbelievable. As an educator, I shared with them how upset I was in particular that a fellow educator (the principal of the school, if memory serves) would refer to hanging nooses on a "whites only" tree as a prank. That simply cannot be. I was also gratified that many of the detention staff joined in the conversation. Tomorrow we'll return to MLK's amazing and under-taught speech on Vietnam.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Responding to MLK

We have finished our creative exercise on MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail today. The kids had four choices: be a defense lawyer and write Dr. King's Defense, be a journalist and write an article covering the story, respond in a creative form like poetry or write a letter back to Dr. King.
While the kids made different choices, poetry was the most popular by far. Several students were asking to present to the class, so I called an audible (as they say) and made time for that. The poems were tributes to King, really, on his courage and how much strength and the word I'd use is godliness it must have taken to respond to violence with nonviolence. There were kids who took prodding and several who spent more time sketching than writing, but over all, I'm so pleased. When I asked them if they'd ever been asked to do something like this before--that is, respond in some creative written way to a piece of literature--most of them said no. I'll continue learning about these kids as time goes on, but it would not stun me to learn that most of their assignments have been worksheets they were to fill in.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Suicide Watch

We began today with an all-staff suicide watch training. Apparently a bit ago there were a couple of suicide attempts made by a some of the kids here that were not handled quite as they should have been. I'm familiar with some of the warning signs, such as not enjoying any more things a kid used to love. But I have to say, learning that suicide was the 2nd cause of teen deaths was shocking, although perhaps not as shocking as learning that it's 2nd to the leading cause--which is homicide! I ask again: why is there not peace and conflict resolution education, explicitly and unapologetically, in every single school?

When classes did start after the training, we continued reading the amazing and inspirational letter by MLK, written during his time in jail in Birmingham: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The kids were actively discussing, ideas like slavery, just and unjust laws, and civil disobedience. This was especially rewarding since discussion was a bit more like pulling teeth yesterday. I especially loved the observation by one student that hate is really about fear of the unknown.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Addressing Stereotypes

I was rather horrified the other day to hear a news story on CNN about protests against a public school in NYC teaching about Isalm and teaching the Arabic language. Naturally, the rhetoric against it is peppered with use of the words, "madrassa", "terrorist" and "immigrant". (The linking of those two itself could be the subject of a dissertation!) I showed the kids the video clip of the story and printed out copies for each student to read. As I'd hoped, this lead to discussion of racial stereotyping and fear of the unknown. For example, I was pleased that my students, in the writing activity I designed to prepare for discussion, wondered whether a public Arabic school would be a problem for people at all before 9/11.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The First Day

First impressions can mean everything. Committed to establishing from day one that my classroom would be about exploring peace and peacebuilding, I decided to establish a "baseline" with a written response to the question of "What kinds of things do you think cause conflict or violence in our world and our communities?" I was so pleased with much of the thinking that I got in response. The kids identified alcohol, drugs, gangs, sexism, racism, stereotypes, oil, war, poverty, miscommunication and "trying to change people" all as possible causes of conflict. They also even asked if conflict had to always be thought of as a negative thing, leading to some disucssion of nonviolent conflict. I hope that laid some good groundwork for looking at the lives of men and women like MLK and Gandhi.

Tomorrow we'll take the next step and do some written reflection and discussion on what then can be done about violent conflict? I also have an article that profiled kids from several places around the world (including a U.S. city) working against the violence in their communities.