Sunday Rant: #BonerForPresident


SCORCHING HOT TAKE DISCLAIMER- TeachPoet is not a political analyst. Consider the following blog post with the same grain of salt by which you are considering the value of this lovely picture of these humble Americans.

Gawd! That Saturday Night Live skit was funny. Or too close to home. Or horrendous. Or pandering. Whatever. It’s just…whatever.

I mean they captured Donald perfectly, right? He is a racist. Or, wait. Maybe he’s just playing to a racist crowd. Maybe he is the smartest guy in the room. Whatever. It’s just whatever. There’s no way he’ll win.

That’s the feeling I get from my students. Whatever. He’s a jackass. He’s a this. A that. They’re plugged into the political process now. They seek out John Oliver’s tele-editorialism. That’s cool. They might’ve heard about #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter now. That’s a step in the right direction; they have to take in many sides of any issue. In some ways Trump is exactly what we need. He’s the stark wake up call. My students realize at least that much.

But the media has a huge #BonerforTrump right now. It’s tremendous, I can assure you. I’m not referring to the televised media solely. New York Times, NPR, Slate, Esquire, Five Thirty Eight, Democracy Now, The Intercept, The Drudge Report, Breitbart. All of it. Largely I am thankful for the abundance of coverage; a Rubix Cube needs to be toyed with in order to solve it. But more and more, it feels like we are being trolled. Or scammed. Maybe we’re the jackasses. Maybe we’re the Rubix Cube!

The #BonerforTrump has obfuscated everything. Everything about his campaign and the political Dark Ages we find ourselves revisiting/entering. Trump sells, so we only hear his most virulent moments and not the hours of boring stumping his rallies usually look like. Trump excites/incites, so we consume his flashiest/crassiest turns of phrase. The #Boner has already won.

Yes. I hear you. It’s important to understand how he wants to reinstitute torture as a pillar of our foreign policy. It’s important that he has no foreign policy. It’s important to understand his rhetoric about immigrants and walls. It’s important to contextualize his jockeying to be the savior of the working American. It’s important to understand his juxtapositions are as much intentionally nuanced as they are blatantly obvious to create a level cognitive dissonance that can only be described as Trumpian. Maybe Americans are too lazy to parse through the farce?

It’s also important to understand what Cruz is selling us as the reasoned, positioned GOP candidate. I know! That’s crazy! It’s important to grapple with the rhetoric he is selling. It’s important to know a lot of all of this. Keep watching, reading, consuming.

Remain glued, America.

But, we have some serious blinders on right now. The thinking goes: If the Republican establishment, or Hillary, or Glenn Beck can discover his kryptonite in time for the general election, American values will be restored. It will go to show that we have not lost our minds. If we can just find a way to isolate the man, we’ll be fine. But, the #BonerforTrump isn’t going limp any time soon. There may not be any kryptonite.

His supporters, win or lose, are now politicized and engaged. They are voting like never before. The vicious, the vociferous, the vain have emerged from the shadows of the American electorate and are showing up en masse. Yeah, in some ways, it’s that simple. They are voting more than other political blocs. Maybe that’s temporary.

But we cannot disregard the vehemence and violence and vitriol this voting bloc foments. If #Boner wins, the marginalized and largely white audience will be vindicated in their passions for bigotry, celebrity, empty policy, free speech, free guns, greatness. That kind of mandate for a new president will be dangerous, we fear, for the entire world.

But let’s get honest with this bleak American political landscape. These Americans are not going to recede into their exurbs, insularity, whiteness after this election if he loses. His victories in Massachusetts, Virginia, Kentucky and Nevada exemplify this reality. This take back. Their worldview has already been validated.

Let’s play the If game.

If Trump wins, calm down. Won’t he get shutout by Congress? The political gridlock will continue even more than what Obama has endured. But, his rhetoric, in response to this stalemate and increasing ungreatness, will discover more scapegoats, more channels for voter frustration. Understand, if #Boner can’t achieve anything as President, it won’t be his fault. The anger that may put him in office will only increase.

If he loses this election, the voters who are fed up with career politicians and corruption aren’t going to take it in stride. What good is Hillary or Cruz going to do that will redirect our ungreatness? Imagine Trump running again in 2020 as the antidote to a four-year lame duck Executive. Even if he doesn’t run, the media isn’t going to stop covering his takedowns and insults of the person who wins come November.

The two-party system is on life support, if it even exists at all. Hillary is no more a Democrat than Trump is a Republican. The Democratic base is just as schizophrenic and wildly angry as the right side of the aisle. But, the media has not covered their fracture nearly as intently as the Republican side of the circus tent.

As much as anything this election demonstrates that America is the midst of the greatest con of all time. #Boner’s lack of policies and political acumen aren’t going to set up the next generation for a better America, but many Americans may not really care. And Hillary’s is a campaign that all but acknowledges 8 more years of a 21st Century status quo (endless war, pro-Corporate economics, a Machiavellian class of wealth and power controlling the coffers and the drones) as the lesser of two evils. The candidacy of the Left is an assurance that there will be nothing but gridlock. Think a Sanders White House is going to get anything done? This stalemate will perpetuate our infrastructurally unsound country. The ungreatness will abound.

Trump or not, this abundance of ungreatness will open the door to more scapegoating policies by future candidates. Don’t kid yourself. The next generation of politicians/entertainers/con artists are taking note of the excessive success of the #Boner campaign. In the future, it’ll get uglier. More platforms of racial divisiveness. More of the determinism that America needs leaders of strength and tenacity. Leaders who quash dissent. Who bully their own colleagues and citizens. Who dare the world to fuck with us.

When balancing our options in an election, sure, decency usually wins out. Yes, rationality, or something akin, unites us. But if there is one thing I am learning this election cycle, it’s that we’re participating in a game that no longer give points for decency and rationality. Those metrics are for pussies. And, we can’t forget, there are more people playing the game than ever before. Sure, they’ve always been able to play, but they preferred to jeer from the sidelines. Now they’re terrorizing the field of play. Louder and more incendiary. Angrier and less patient. More apt to gravitate toward candidates who say what’s on their mind than someone who says what’s actually believable.

So, let’s continue gobbling up the hysterics as if we’re simply binge watching Season 4 of House of Cards. It’s exciting to be watching something so brazen and alarming take place at political rallies and in our streets. It’s reassuring to know that no matter whom we elect, our children are no better off—because think of the possibilities for what’s to come next season! We won’t be making the world safer. And that’s entertaining too!

My students are going to be so lucky when they’re my age: Can you imagine what the 2024 season of #BonerForPresident will be like? I think I do. We’re gonna wish it was as benign as 2016 again.




Pedagogy as Poetry: What if you never taught again?

Say it all ends tomorrow. Say I contract something nasty and can’t beat it. Say I say the wrong thing and can’t get ahead of the lawsuit against my license. Say I never show up again. Say I just disappear. How would I account for my last week of teaching? Would I look back with disdain? Regret? Accomplishment? Solace? Sadness? Relief?

In a Film class we watched Philadelphia. We witnessed a stirring performance by Tom Hanks wasting away. AIDS. 7:45-9:15 AM Monday and Wednesday. Homophobia. Opera. Discrimination. Mortality. Philly. I feel like these topics are important. Maybe wrong hour of the day but more than important. I feel like identity—who we are…creating…what we can do for the world—is something especially real for my students these days. If this was my last class, I’d be glad I made my students uncomfortable.

During 2nd Period on Tuesday, our school shut down regular class to boot up a practice test investigating whether our rural connectivity is ready for a week of PARCC testing in April. This is the second day in three weeks we have sacrificed an entire period on this issue, let alone the dozen or so student-hours devoted to testing since August and the next two-dozen ahead in April and May. Students log on and see how far they can get with the test. I’m the monkey dancing between tables troubleshooting and noting the issues. They are not supposed to breeze through the 24 question session; students should answer a question roughly every 3 minutes so we stay logged on long enough to measure if institutional readiness (not mastery-readiness). An hour crawls by on the back of a tortoise. If this were my last day of fake testing, I would die a full-filled teacher, filled with all the wrong things associated with education.

But during this fake test, I get to be a real person. I ask students about whether they have plans for a life post-graduation (yeah, it took me this long in the school year to be a real person). Most of them say college. Some have no idea what that word means for them: programs, NM or beyond, liberal arts (?), scholarships/debt. Some hope to be athletes. Some don’t know either way. I ask enough questions and have enough tortoise/time to know that none have deluded themselves into seeing college (let alone graduation) as something it is not. This process, watching students struggle or relish voicing their hopes and fears, is worth every moment of fake tests. I get to see them as young people with goals and dreams, not scores. Not data. Though, if this were it, I’d disappear a disappointed man. So many unanswered questions about some many undetermined destinies.

Today, I tested (more?!) my students on our 7-week unit connecting Reconstruction to Jim Crow and Civil Rights. I don’t remember learning about these US History topics within one unit. As a high schooler, I was never asked to connect the movements within the Civil Rights Era to the eject-button end of Reconstruction. I don’t remember learning that anti-miscegenation laws remained in ink on the Alabama Constitution until the 21st Century and how this law harkens back to the ugliness of Jim Crow: beyond the straight-line time and space of a textbook’s carefully curated reality. I wonder if teaching these periods disjointedly within the commonly accepted linear narrative of history is intentional. Is it easier to create ignorance when crucial narratives pause and pick back up every 10 chapters? Textbooks could rather be organized by thematic units: Immigration, Civil Rights, Foreign Policy, Boom and Bust. What my students learned, as evidenced by hard data, tells me we are learning correctly. If I never came back, they’d know we did something disruptive and subversive. Maybe, they’d know why I was gone.

On Tuesdays, a group of students from across the district come to my classroom to envision how Emotional Intelligence initiatives can support future students in our future schools. This hour-long weekly meeting went down as they usually do: quickly, inefficiently, with snacks. One senior led us through a team building exercise. Five balloons, five strips of tape, one tallest sculpture. Lots of popping. Lots of laughter. Lots of EQ-rooted shit talking. Lotsa sorta tall balloon creations. Did I say to build the tallest sculpture in the room, or just the tallest your own group can achieve? Was this a competition? Is it healthy for students like us to always interpret activities as competitive? Kid did a great job leading us. Sometimes, and considering the long-winded and meandering unnecessarily-circular-hyper-socially-aware dialoguing that usually pushes us well beyond an hour, popping balloons after a long day is the perfect way to cleanse my room of stagnant air. If this were all I had, I’d carry around with me a bag of balloons and a roll of tape for the rest of my life.

Oh, and this of course: Yesterday, we had to upload a plethora of documents for Observation. For most conversations around school among the staff, observation is not usually capitalized, but everyone carries an air like it should be. We belittle it in the same hour that we pour over our documentation and preparedness. So. I uploaded every teacher reflection I had written for my blog (I don’t post everything) to prove I was thinking about my practice. I threw a word document together with a bunch of curricular information to prove I think I know how to approach teaching. Pasted a screenshot of these digital attendance sheets correlated to those gridded grade books as evidence that I keep accurate records. I didn’t upload anything about how I engage in a professional community. I didn’t provide evidence how I implement professional development. After all, I’m aiming for a 3 out of 5. That 3 keeps the dreaded Professional Growth Plan at bay. I think I adequately cleared the artificial hurdle. It’s not that I refuse to engage professionally or pay attention during PD (though I fantasize about refusing both), but I—well if this was my last week, I’d rest knowing my work existed beyond metrics.

Say tomorrow, it all ends. Is it what you uploaded? Is it what you taught? How you taught? Would you mourn how calcified your disdain had become or the classroom joys you’ll never get back? Say tomorrow, it all ends. How would you help young people if you knew it was your last chance? Maybe they’d be better off if you disappeared. Maybe you’d deliver the instruction of a lifetime. Maybe, it’d be enough to do what you always do. Maybe it never is.

Pedagogy is Poetry: Ahmed and What We’re Not Talking About

UnknownBoy gets arrested for showing off a clock. What was the hot take from my Facebook feed and Twittersphere?

Texas, sheesh. Or. Of course, Texas. If that’s your ire, you may be missing the point.

Yeah, you’re not wrong. A police officer comes to the school to investigate, takes one look at the young man and says, “Yeah, that’s who I thought it was.” We all hope we don’t live in that community. We hope that kind of profiling and xenophobia exists, if it must at exist all, in faraway places. Ew, like Texas.

Yeah, there is a lot of this story to be disgusted by concerning this arrest and the Irving community at large. There’s also an opportunity to #standwithAhmed, as our President has done, or #trollforstoriesthatdonotserveus.

What I’m afraid of is how many other students are out there that don’t have the courage to share something authentic from their soul. Obviously, Ahmed is a pretty amazing little dude. And if he showed me that clock, I’d be flabbergasted. But I’d be inquisitive. What an opportunity to spend time with one of my students! And that’s the entry point for this post: For me, this issue hits a more nuanced chord than our pervasive, vitriolic Islamophobia.

With that in mind, let’s talk about MacArthur High. According to US News and World Report and using their statistics from 2012-2013, Ahmed must be one of 2,600+ students at this high school. He must be also one of nearly 1000 freshmen.

As well, if Ahmed continues attending MacArthur, he could expect to compete against the stereotypes borne of these statistics: 2/3 of the student population lives in poverty, nearly 85% of the student body is minority, more than half of the student population scores unsatisfactory on an English proficiency exam.

Ahmed, obviously, would have been tracked out of those classes where these language deficiencies can hold back entire classes and curricula. Ahmed was destined for MacArthur’s AP program. He would have beaten the statistics that often hold back our students of color in this country when it comes to the simple things like graduation.

I wonder, three weeks into the school year, how many adults in that school actually knew, or at least engaged, Ahmed. I wonder, with the reported 16:1 student-teacher ratio, what the sizes of his Freshmen classes really are. Any rooms with 30 kids, like my school and our 19:1 ratio? I notice from their calendar that there were at least three days of new teacher support for first year instructors, and another two days of professional development for the rest of staff. I wonder what staff reviewed and initiated in those days. If it was anything like the professional development in my district with presentations about differentiation geared toward the entire district or conversations about accountability and technology, staff attended begrudgingly and passively.

I’m afraid that Ahmed’s situation pulls back the curtain on everything that’s wrong with education in 21st Century America. I would make a pretty strong bet that none of the PD in Irving focused on relationship building with students. I would also go out on a limb and say that there aren’t many conversations happening in that school focused on supporting incoming freshmen.

This year, faced with teaching nearly 180 students in six classes, I used index cards to find out about my students. Within the first week, I had asked every student to fill out an index card to tell me what/if they read, what they do after school (even if that was only taking out the garbage), if they have Internet at home. Then, with my sophomores who all struggle to read and engage with class for more than ten consecutive minutes, I used a deeper survey to hear about what they’d like to learn about in World History, what their aspirations are for school, how I can help them better.

If I was to be lucky enough to have a student approach me with a FREAKING TINKERER’S PROJECT (!), I would have been prepared, at least slightly, to know engineering is an activity they enjoy. Shit, they’d be one of my few students (in the sophomore classes) that are engaged in any self-motivated activity aside from cruising the Taos Plaza or staring at snapchat.

Ahmed, who has shared with the world that he was bullied in middle school, was looking to create a relationship with his teachers. To put himself out into the world and hope he’d find some validation. Instead, cruelly, he was arrested. What a lesson. He was expecting his peer group to marginalize him for his being. Now he was finding out the teachers at his new school were quick to do the same.

It’s depressing, really. Teachers are not supported, encouraged, eager, courageous, curious, human enough to go beyond their initial reaction/impression with young people? Do too many of us succumb to this? Is it just a few? Are we turning into Teachbots who can only speak of evaluations, value-added measures, or accountability. I know I am frustrated in my community by how often the rhetoric in admin and teacher circles revolves around all the negativity associated with the job. Or the negate aspects of our students.

Mired in that negativity, we forgot that every classroom has an Ahmed in it, maybe even 30 of him. They are with us every day. But we’re operating in a classroom that is stuffed to the gills (5 of my 6 classes have more than 31 students). We are threatened to raise test scores and measure progress. We are pressured to report data and curriculum.

The darkest part of this story is that these teachers defaulted to Columbine and Sandy Hook than recognizing the shining, nerdy genius in front of them. Maybe they (grossly) defaulted to seeing him as an Islamist terrorist. I prefer to think they envisioned that first idea. And it’s weird these days. I have been subjected to a shooter drill where police officers come into the classroom and pretend to shoot all the students who haven’t hidden well enough. That’s scary shit. But the idea that a such macabre thought process would overcome an adult when confronted with a boy and his engineering project is crazy to me. But it’s also a sign of the times and how we all exist, perhaps nervously, within the education monolith.

From top to the bottom of this education industrial food chain, we’ve forgotten that you, Ahmed, are the reason we got into this gig in the first place. And supporting students like you, and myriad other overlooked kids, is a way to thwart the tragedies your teachers so feared.

We forget that teenagers are interesting little rascals. And they need to be seen. And they don’t get enough nurturing or encouragement from their world.

And some of them, like Ahmed, are way smarter. Or more creative. Or more fragile than even we teachers have been made by this education system.

Sorry, Ahmed. And sorry to the rest of the 2600 students at that school. I hope I’m honoring the 800 in my school.

Pedagogy is Poetry: US Geography & Kim Davis

So, now I am a history teacher. Therefore, really I am a storyteller.

My audience really needs to understand setting to grapple with the narrative. So geography is our lens to meet the history waiting to be studied. But also geography will be our lens to current events. This week: the Bible Belt.

I always employ a Guiding Question to guide our study even if our topic, like today, if just a flyby. (This is all an elaborate set up to begin this curriculum next week!!! Keep you posted on that one. Nothing/Everything is an accident in my classroom.)

Our Question today: What is religious freedom and what does the freedom allow Americans to do?

Their answers are general and unsure. Doesn’t it mean that anyone can believe anything? Yeah, sure. What else? A Muslim can be a Muslim and a Christian can be a Christian. Right on. What else? Nothing more? That’s a good start.

I tell them that most of the class got the question about the Bible Belt wrong on this week’s quiz. All they had to know was a general location of this imaginary place and a few words of what it may mean. We had gone over this, but it didn’t land. No worries, class. Maybe it will today.

Perhaps to understand the Bible Belt we should look at current events. We should look at Kentucky.

Kentucky is a beautiful state. Horse country. Bourbon Trail. Lexington and Louisville. Kentucky is in the news. I make sure my students remember what Kentucky looks like.


Something important happened this week in eastern Kentucky. I don’t tell them outright what happened. Straining their short term memory, they are fairly certain they heard something happened there this week. But they don’t know. Basically, too many of them are unaware this is the shape of Kentucky.

This is a class of 21 Juniors and 12 Seniors. All of them will be able to vote  in the next election. So I show them this map. One students knows exactly what the colors mean.


This is the visual representation of how Obama won the election in 2012. Obama is blue. Romney is red. Well how did Obama win if most of the map is red? I respond by asking them which states are mostly red, if not completely red. Oklahoma is completely red. Same with Utah. Have you ever been to those places? Ever driven through them? Are people densely populated like New York City or rural like northern New Mexico? Rural. So it all depends on how many people live within those tiny demarcations.

(I also highlight that many, if not all, of the blue areas are urban counties/districts. I point out the cities of the Southeast and Midwest. I also point out that there is a curious area between Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana that is really blue and is not urban. I tell them to remember that.)

Especially on a Friday, tangents are a student’s best friend. I wanna talk about Trump! Perfect, let’s do that. What’s the only platform Trump is running on? He hates Mexicans. It sure sounds like it, huh? Do you know his platform besides that? Like his general idea about how to appeal to people in this country? No?

Make America Great Again. I assert, with the help of the website, that this is all Trump is saying. Otherwise, he is simply a skillful manipulator of the media. And seriously skillful manipulator/opportunist of the current situation in the US. He is summing up something critical for many people in this country.

People feel like America is not so great.

There are too many people out of work. There are too many rich people not sharing their wealth. But there are also too many people unwilling to work their way toward the American dream. Too many freeloaders. Basically there are a lot of economic scapegoats. The rich aren’t doing enough of this and the poor aren’t doing enough of that.

I show them this map. I ask them where Kentucky is? What’s going on in eastern Kentucky? Trump is talking to them. (I have also used this map in NM History to talk about our state and the Navajo. And we will certainly use it again when we talk about Pine Ridge in the next unit.)NMGeoDay1a

Another reason why America is not so great. The morality of American is going to hell. Abortion. Gay Marriage. Non-believers are ruining culture, politics, and now these problems are compromising religious freedoms. Something needs to change. Trump, but mostly other Republican candidates, is talking to these people.

So eastern Kentucky is rural, poor and votes Republican. We talk about how when a politician like Trump says something so vague it is hard to discern who he is talking to. Because the people in eastern Kentucky are very much unlike those people in the blue counties between MS, AR, LA. Is Trump talking to the people in rural KY? Rural MS? Is he talking to you, in Taos? This receives a universal head shake.

So if America is not great anymore. And it’s unclear that our politicians can help us. And it’s pretty clear that voting is usually along party lines meaning entire areas of the country are never dramatic on election nights. People need to take matters into their own hands.

Remember: What does our religious freedom allow us to do?

Isn’t Kim Davis just trying to make America great again? I give a brief background on the reason why she was in jail.

I don’t say my stance on gay marriage, but we live in a blue area and the tone of the room is already wary of why I would show a video of Ms. Davis’ release from county jail.

I explain who Mike Huckabee is and how he needs to appeal to voters in the Bible Belt if he is going to beat someone as powerful as Trump. He needs to get behind someone like Kim Davis. Because, in America, the dominant shape of Christianity sees gay marriage as immoral. And to this shape of Christianity, in America, immorality is a political issue. Mike Huckabee, as he campaigns, will look to the Bible Belt and say Kim Davis is everything right with this country. Acting on your sense of Christianity is just if you don’t believe the law of the counties/states/country.

(At some point this year we’ll talk about Rosa Parks, but I am not going to give into the easy meme.)

We watch this video. The students laugh at the idea of using “Eye of the Tiger” for something, in their eyes, so odd. Mike Huckabee ushers Kim Davis to the stage. Kim praises God, thanks those present for their prayers, rallies the faithful to their act with their convictions.

I ask them when they look at that video and see the demonstrations, if they see an America they can identify with. They shake their heads. I ask if the people in eastern Kentucky saw a demonstration in northern New Mexico, would they see an America they identify with. They shake again.

I know, I’m leading the witness. But this leads us back to the Trump tangent. So, Make America Great Again. Whose America? Is it my America? I’m white. I have a college degree. I might make more money than your parents. Is it your America? Students of color, living below the poverty line, in one of the poorest states in the Union. Is it Kim Davis’? Is it those in the Mississippi Delta, home of the hill country blues? Is it the people in the school district of Normandy?

It’s a critical question. What is religious freedom and what does the freedom allow Americans to do?

I don’t need to lead my students to answers, but exploring one guiding question begs another.

It’s a critical election. What does it mean to be great? Again? For who?

(after this segment ended, just as I planned, we had ample time for me to engage the students about 9/11. I told them about my experience. About how rarely anyone lives through an event that so drastically changes the world. I reminded them that a random morning when I was in high school altered the course of our century. I think they believed me. We watched one video recalling the timeline of the day, with the usual footage of the towers being hit, then collapsing then Washington then PA. We watched President Bush’s address from that evening, and his announcement in front of Congress about al-Queda. They left classroom in silence.)

A New Teaching Job. A New Subject. A New Imperative.


I am beginning a new job this week! But, today, I am fluish, worn from a summer of traveling the world on a magnificent honeymoon, absent from today’s Professional Development session and trying to find my bearings.

I am leaving the English classroom of a small charter school for the History Department of Taos High School. I have New Mexico, US, and World Histories to teach as well as the History of Film. I have a great deal of leeway, it seems, to attack the curriculum as I see fit.

At this point, I have fleshed out American history only. High School US history, a year long course, covers the story from the close of the Civil War to present. That means, the curriculum expects students to carry knowledge dating back at least two years prior when they were in Middle School of American history from pre-Columbian times to the Civil War. That says something crucial about the lack of emphasis and analysis we put on the country’s messy and discordant history. (That coupled with a one-semester course on the American Government rounds out American History credits needed to graduate. No Frederick Douglass, no John Brown, no Nat Turner, no President Jackson and the Trail of Tears.)

I have yet to speak with a teacher who says they can get through the curriculum past the Vietnam War. As well, no teacher has said they ever feel the time allows for them to study that period in any comprehensive way. So with WWI and WWII, the Great Depression and the New Deal, monopolies and Rockafellers, immigration and urbanization, there is not enough time to cover more than 100 or so years of history in one school year. I am anticipating the glossing over of an inexcusable amount of social history.  So. I am going to start with the Struggle for Civil Rights and frame our history through that lens rather than risk omitting it from the curriculm. Backwards, forwards, everywhere at once: chronology and place do not matter.

A lot has happened in a year. Last August, as we began our school year, the country was trying to piece together the tragedy in Ferguson. And as we tried to figure out the puzzle, tragedies and confusion mounted over the next 12 months. Names the country never knew came to light. Churches were targeted. A hashtag was launched. This year, we begin a new school year with fresh, but not new, tensions in Ferguson.

You already know this. Let’s leap to education as one of the puzzle pieces.

For the last two weeks, This American Life has grappled with a question regarding the achievement gap in American schools. Why do students of color, and most importantly black students as studied in the case of the first podcast, still lag so far behind their white counterparts. Highlighted was the school district Michael Brown graduated from three weeks prior to his death on a Ferguson street. Normandy. It was always a word of pride for American historians when we think of WWII and our heroes. But in this context? A terrible, terrible blight on equality and the state of public education.

I could recount the podcasts, but you should listen to them. I could rattle off the discouraging and indicting statistics of neglect characterized by the marginalization of communities of color. I could explain to you how racism pervades in our American communities, or at least around St. Louis. I could explain how Americans fear change, or are too impatient to let it take real hold. It’s all troubling. And that’s why you should listen to it. You have a responsibility to know these things for yourself. In our Buzzfeed world, everything is curated second hand or speedily consumed. I will not make it so easy.

Listening to the podcasts a bit late also coincided with Progressive golden boy Bernie Sanders getting jammed off the stage at an outdoor rally in Seattle by two women who affiliate themselves with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. There are so many angles to look at this, as no doubt you have seen online. The facts. The women were booed. Bernie left quietly, but now he has a black press secretary and a plan to address race issues comprehensively. The conjecture. The protesters weren’t actually affiliated with the BLM movement. Maybe there’s a conspiracy that the Clinton juggernaut supported or organized the protest. Wait, no props for the moment of silence for Michael Brown? Yeah, sure, but those women were too shrill for us to hear them! 

My biggest take away? Indeed those hot takes above. How we are digesting the protest as insight as to how we’ve digested our history. Think about it. The protesters were ridiculed and booed by a white audience at the event. Next, for compromising the attractiveness of a candidate, the two women were chastised online by a largely white Progressive electorate who thinks 70 year old white man Bernie Sanders is the only viable option in a circus of an election (still 14+ months away). Claiming the moral high ground, arguments developed that these women don’t respect that Bernie marched during Civil Rights campaigns in the 60s. Nothing acknowledging Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford may have been right to push the politician on his platform for racial issues?

By and large, the online media (including all of us on Facebook and Twitter) searches for holes in the protesters’ argument. The argument that Black Lives Matter is an organized entity worthy of respect. The argument that these two women even possess the intelligence and background to act with integrity and truth. The argument that this Presidential campaign for Sanders2016 even need to bother so publicly with issues for those of us with color when his platform already targets equality and the economy. Again though, BLM.

Here’s some more reading from Imani Gandy. Once again, do your part and read this. Couple this take with your knowledge of Charleston, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and (once you’ve listened) the podcasts from TAL. Then try to tell me that protesting at the Sanders rally wasn’t an imperative for many of us to reckon with history.

Try to enter a classroom and face students like mine, minority, poor, at-risk. Try to teach sincerely about a world that carries real opportunity for them. That the institution of State, at times even the institution of their own school, operates with their best interests in mind. Rather, go outside the classroom and express to communities of color that the institution of elections are colorblind.

And on that voting front, Bernie Sanders supporters are complaining that they are not getting enough access to the media with exception to the negative press from Seattle. So in concerning ourselves with access, I say, in education, the economy, our universities, places of power and respect, people of color still do not have the access. Their access is prisons. Poverty. Marginalization. Boohoo about Bernie not getting coverage on CNN. His campaign will persevere. In fact, as we have learned from Obama’s 8 years, campaigning with coverage doesn’t matter a whole lot anyway. If the candidate you choose becomes President, what you vote for may never happen.

If I take a second to look at them as my teachers, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Willaford protesting for a voice in national politics have the power to help me realize these truths of our history and present. I don’t need them to be right, just like I hope my students never blindly accept what I offer them. Or, better put to counter what is being pedaled on the Web, I don’t need their platform to be what I want it to be. Nor their Curriculum Vitae to be bulletproof. Nor do I need the satisfaction they protested the right way. If I demanded those ideals, and considering my whiteness, I would be abusing my privilege or defaulting to the racial ignorance pervasive in America. Both indefensible. Both everywhere on the Internet.

But at least the teacher can tear open the fabric that colors how we imagine the American story. We can refuse the light coming through. Let it blind us and wildly take up the gospel. Or consume it in meaningful doses with pause to think, letting it refract over our experience to this point.

More people, mostly of my background, either first hand or through a podcast, need to experience that this country is in dire need of a reckoning with its history and its future. I am thankful Bernie does not yet have the entourage that would discourage this type of protest because the disruption crystallized something important for me.

Understand: recognizing the power of this protest action does not mean I was asleep or unmoved when Michael Brown was shot, nor complacent when Charleston happened, Baltimore, Bland…this protest and the popular reaction to it (as well the rest of our political circus) are daggers of reminder of how America doesn’t really get it.

I want to believe in equality politics, too, Bernie supporters. But equity, in America, is pretty solid only in the sense that a lot of humans are left out of the ideal. Maybe a President can change that. Maybe a movement borne of a hashtag can change that. But nothing is as consistent in America like the uneven playing field we all deal with.

So, in this moment of fervor and ignition, I envision an American History curriculum that begins with The Declaration of Independence. Then an excerpt from Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. And then a check in with Arizona’s white washed curriculum. Then a reminder what’s good up in Pine Ridge. Then we will return back to The Declaration of Independence, the cornerstone of America, and remix a new version of the document from those voices that usually do not have access to it.

Then we’ll give it to you and see what light you can take from it.

I’m Lost: On Privilege, Identity and Teaching


Continually with this world, I am at a loss. I think that’s an important quality that I can carry into the classroom because I think this temper of loss manifests itself in many ways. I am a person filled with both wonder and bewilderment. One I see as a stand of capacity and opportunity. The other I take as a feeling of confusion and a posture of exasperation.

In this day and age, people are always two things at once. At least two. And in this moment, in these trying days for my underserved community and at-risk students, I am white. And I am male. I am cognizant these distinctions help me access the world in ways others cannot. But I am also gentle and a poet. So I am vulnerable and sensitive. These help me access the world and those around me in ways that see through, or beyond, or into.

From eight years of teaching in northern New Mexico, I have a pretty strong idea of what my whiteness and maleness represents to my students: I am powerful, authoritarian, wealthy, worldly, and decidedly other. I was conscious of these facts from day one and I continue to grapple with them as to how I can better serve these young people.

Trust is a key to working together. And in light of those five descriptors associated with my skin-deep identity, I have had to work earnestly and tirelessly to earn that trust from my students and the larger Taos community. I have struggled to do so at times, as in when I have believed myself actions to come from the courage and vulnerability associated with being a teacher in the twenty-first century only to be stopped in my tracks by distrust or my ignorance.

My students, when they are most lost and struggling for their own answers, revert to seeing the world in that we/other binary that separates us. Of course, neither of us are conscious of this in the moment of our conflict or misunderstanding, but the mention of how I am treating them because of their brownness or my perceived authority always amps our emotional responses as we try to work through a challenge.

I also know that my students only do this when they are on the defensive. And after years of moving first with compassion or humor or understanding, I have established the level of trust that allows us to cut to the bone more quickly and efficiently. This way we can more effectively tackle the education system that so often marginalizes these young people with such heartbreaking efficiency. I am blessed to have this sort of working relationship with my students.

But as their life circumstances conspire against them (homelessness, divorce, illness or loss, addiction or depression, teen pregnancy or abandonment, and often a cruel cocktail of many factors), their perception of the world devolves into the simplest, but deepest, separation of us. Overtly or not, they’ll deflect the support into an attack because of their skin color because they don’t want to be accountable…to me. After the initial shock and spike, we’re able to find the common ground that supports us in our shared goal: the sparkling, if not beleaguered graduate.

I am lucky enough to have the patience to weather that storm of misunderstanding and see through that student’s shield. After all they are mostly protecting the wounds from past injustices. Whether they were inflicted against my students and whether or not they were carried out by me, those wounds are legitimate and often generational. This is a critical understanding I must carry into every workday in that my job is one of participating within and repairing a world that I had no part in creating. It is a razor-thin double-edge.

But also, I am also operating within a classroom, where safety and positivity and the belief in opportunity are fundamental to our work. I am not working a beat or street corner. I am lucky in that I have not had to push something illicit to make a living, and that I am not sworn to protect those streets. On both sides of that coin we find Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, two young men who found themselves in an extraordinary, but an increasingly common, moment where souls intersect and collide for all our world to see.

And here is where I am at a loss. As a teacher, how do I contribute to a world where this generation operates beyond the fear and explosiveness that define the deeper associations to the names Travyon and Zimmerman? Tamir. Fruitvale. Garner. I am talking about associations beyond the umbrella term of racism. I am talking about: Why was George Zimmerman so afraid that he was compelled to follow a young black boy through his neighborhood? Why do police officers solve their disputes with firearms in communities where the police and people are of different colors? I am not ready to assert the answers to the questions are solely based upon racism. But then, a counterpoint: How are fears racist?

How can I tackle these issues of identity and association head on? Our communities of color, my school, need answers. My students do not live in a world like Ferguson, but Ferguson reinforces what my insular community understands of how the world works. And I do not want my students fearful of entering a world that sees them as only Indian or simply Brown. I want them to emerge from high school ready to live anywhere and do anything. I want them to live their dreams. And now I wonder how naïve that is.

The access that I have to the world beyond where I grew up is an opportunity that everyone has, but it is a privilege that I can take advantage of that opportunity and enjoy living anywhere, even as a minority. I have been aware of this as I work as a teacher in my community. But never has it been so painful and obvious. I want to create a different world with my students because I am beyond expecting this one to change for them. We have to play the long game and trust each generation will be subsequently less and less lost.