Children and the Disruption of Rape-Culture

In society, rape-culture is often perpetuated and uninterrupted. Rape-culture is the environment in which rape is encouraged through social-attitudes and behaviors trivializing and downplaying the seriousness of the crime. In defining this term, it is important that we dig into this problematic issue and how children can become victims and/or perpetrators of rape-culture. How are we teaching our children and students to be safe through our words and actions?

In reflecting on rape-culture, there was an incident that occurred within a group of second-graders that would make any person shiver. In the event of a discussion at lunch, a boy told a girl that he would take her to the bathroom and rip her pants. In hearing about this problematic situation, I knew a few things would be necessary to deal with this problem. In the mindset of a second-grade student, one could ask where and how such an idea could present itself to a young child. Additionally, one could ask about the healing that is necessary for this young child. In the case of both students, they are victims. They are victims. Both are victims of patriarchy. In patriarchy, girls and women are dominated by men and boys. They are often taught to be violent in their interaction(s) with girls and women. Socially, girls and women are often socialized to accept this behavior and silenced.

In the case of these two children, a serious discussion need to be had. We can’t expect for children to simply understand rape-culture by proxy. We have to consistently teach them how to interact with each other that is wholesome, loving, respectful and non-violent. In the world that we live in, information is readily available and social-behaviors that perpetuate rape-culture is ever-present. We can’t afford to sit around and ignore the far-cries of children that are silenced after such a verbal assault. We can’t allow young boys to internalize a language that assaults, disregards and damages the hearts and minds of girls. In this unfortunate reality, the young boys are victims. Young boys are becoming players within a system that is devoid of love. It strips them of their own humanity.

In becoming radical in the way that we think about love and education, it is vital that we stop and think about the language that we use. It is vital that we are cognizant of our actions and the things that we are watching. We can’t ignore problematic speech. We can’t ignore verbal assaults and call it ‘childish’ or ‘boy’ish’. We can’t. We can’t afford to ignore what is violent and dead wrong.

Rape-culture starts with us. Rape-culture can only be perpetuated by us. Rape-culture can only be stopped by us.

My Letter to Victims of Domestic Violence

Dear Survivors,

You are not the violence you have received. You are not the frustrations that your perpetrator may have placed upon your body. You are going to survive this moment of your life and understand that it is not your fault. I don’t care what he or she said before, during or after the incident(s). You are not to be blamed. You are not to be violated in any way. I will not ask why he or she was provoked to abuse you in any form (emotionally, financially, psychologically, mentally or physically). There is never a reason to hurt someone. You do not hurt the person that you love. Yes, people may say that this is unrealistic but it is the truth.

As a survivor and witness to domestic violence, I am calling out those that have hurt us. I will not place shame on us for what they did. We are not to feel shame for what they have done. We must share our stories. We must learn that healing happens and can happen and will happen. It is so hard to walk away from the person that you believe loves you, but love doesn’t hurt. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say this. People always say that love shouldn’t hurt and it shouldn’t.

As a young girl, I saw domestic violence in the physical and psychological form. I didn’t understand what was happening because mama and papa would always express their love for their children, but so often I would doubt the love they had for each other. I didn’t know if love was supposed to be so hurtful at times. I would see the sadness in the face of my mother and my father. As a child, a young girl-child, I began to equate the painful love that I saw with the type of love that I would later accept. My parents would often argue with one another, mostly about money. Other times, my father would get upset at my mother for wanting to go out by herself. For my mother, her time was mostly spent working and coming home to tend to household responsibilities.  In seeking to find some time for herself,  she would be stopped, reprimanded and made to feel guilty for wanting to step outside of the home. For wanting time for herself. For wanting to seek out self-care.

In coming to the realization that violence is cyclical in my family, I am learning to heal from the pain. The pain can be unbearable. It can be tragic. It can sometimes ruin us. And even in the midst of healing, we sometimes blame ourselves for the pain we have undergone. We have flashbacks. We have internal conversations. We have guilt. We have sympathy for our abuser. We have love for our abuser. We have hate for them too. We have shouldered the burden of the pain.

However, in the midst of all of it, sometimes we forgive. We forgive them. We forgive them. We forgive them. We cry. We cry for them. For them that chose to hurt us. And sometimes the hurt they imposed upon us is the hurt they feel themselves.

And here we are, learning how to be whole again. Wholeness becomes our priority.

And this is for us, for surviving.

Sincerely,

Lauren Anderson, Survivor

 

What is Your Purpose?

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As time passes, I often as myself the question, “What is my purpose?”.  In working with elementary-aged students for the last year, I’ve observed and experienced many things. I found myself in joy from working with them and seeing them progress socially and academically. However, I’ve seen the amount of work and dedication it takes to become and remain a teacher. In Education, you have to know if students are a part of your purpose. For me, children will always be a part of my purpose. In Urban-schools, you will often find poverty, trauma, struggle and creativity. In this creativity, students often find ways to cope with their own pain. In this creativity, you will find that you’re able to learn a lot about your students. However, if this is your purpose then you will find ways to connect to your students. The question is, “What is your purpose?”.

Why is this question important? It’s important because it forces you to re-evaluate your choice. After a year of instructing students, I’ve realized that my heart became attached to these little people. You become a part of their lives. They become a part of your life. They will look to you for guidance, love, and attention. The end of the school-year is hard for me. I’m realizing how tough teaching can be for a teacher. A teacher doesn’t only teach, but he/she counsels and parents, as well. A teacher wears many hats within the daily routine of school. However, all these hats include the ability to deal with political issues within the school and surrounding the school.

In the wearing of many hats, the teacher is truly an amazing person. They can give students the ability to dream and to believe in those dreams. Why is this important? Well, in my experience, dreams can be everything for a student. In the lives of many inner-city students, the reality of trauma and struggle is ever-present. Instability may be the order of the day. I’ve seen kids come to school with dirty clothes, hungry, shoes with holes, no coats during the winter,  and etc. So, if an educator is able to give students the ability to believe and to achieve, this give students something to yearn for. This give students something to hunger for. In my opinion, many parents care. If not parents, guardians of the student want the best for their child. However, many parents/ guardians are struggling themselves to keep food and a roof over their family’s head. Let’s not begin to talk about structural oppression that occurs to people of color. Sometimes we find that people argue that ‘these’ people do not work hard enough, but this claim doesn’t hold water. In the history of America, structural oppression has always been ever-present in the lives of people of color.

So, it is important to think about all of these aspects when thinking about the purpose of why we do what we do. We may not be educators. But our purpose is important. Our purpose usually gives some feeling of satisfaction or contentment in living life. Our purpose isn’t always black and white. However, our purpose should bring some happiness to our daily lives. Being an instructor has taught me a lot about purpose. It has taught me a lot about caring for others. It has taught me a lot about social justice in our country. It has taught me to never give up on what you truly enjoy and find important in the sustainability of your personal happiness.

Where Have I Been?

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The spring 2016 semester has started up. I am finally back in the classroom again -at the university. I am in my last year of my Master’s program and life couldn’t be more hectic. In the time I have been away from my blog, I’ve experienced so many life-lessons that could last a life-time. As a paraprofessional at a local school in Kansas City, I have grown so much in my outlook on education. It really is vital to get first-hand experience in any career you are seeking to go in. I highly encourage a person to dive headfirst in whatever they seek in life. Life is filled with so many opportunities.

As a female of color, I have seen the importance of being in the classroom. I understand the importance of having presence and making a positive impact. In many ways, being a person of color within the inner-city school I work in, I am able to relate to the students. In return, students are able to feel a level of familiarity with you. Culture is very important. In my college courses, we often discuss the importance of diversity. However, diversity is such a big concept that can encompass many things. Diversity transcends racial groups. Diversity includes: languages, lifestyles, cultures, religions, classes and etc. You will encounter students from various backgrounds that will need your understanding and love. For some people, this can be challenging. And sometimes, it can be.

The classroom at a university is different than a classroom you will encounter in a school. You are given theoretical outlooks and then you are given reality once you step outside of your college campus. I am forever grateful for the job that I have because I can experience the daily lives of teachers. You have to be proactive in many ways. You have to be self-confident in the choices that you make. You have to be creative. You have to be a critical thinker. You have to be open to change. The classroom is forever changing as time goes by.  Your classroom may force you to rethink your own personal values and beliefs. Are you ready for that?

In order to be an effective educator, you need heart. You need the kind of heart that remains constant in the battle to give your best each and everyday to every student that you teach. You have to dig deep everyday and touch that part of yourself. Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself why you are an educator. Never forget your purpose. You are a very special person. You have a heart that will influence students to be all that they aspire to be. You have to keep this mentality. Every morning, I wake up with my purpose in mind. I go to sleep with my students in mind. I keep my ‘why’ in mind. Why am I doing this? Why is this important to me? Why are the students important? Why? Why am I in a classroom? You have to know your why.

 

Education: Upholding Domination in Schools

Everyday I think about my role as an educator. Is it enough to simply deliver instruction? Is it enough to simply manage a classroom of students? The question is no. The question is absolutely not. However, educators sometimes believe that this is the secret of teaching. If you’re able to deliver your content and manage your students then you’re doing a fabulous job of teaching. I’m sorry to say that this is not the case. In seeing the beautiful smiles and sometimes frowns of students, I ask about my relation to them as an authority figure.

In my daily life as a paraprofessional, I am able to see teaching upfront.  I am able to see the good, great and despicable. I am able to see students’ responses to their peers, teacher(s) and various authority-figures within the school. On the otherhand, I am able to see teacher’s and their way of teaching. In seeing these important aspects of education, I question myself about my future self. As a preservice teacher, I am constantly going back and forth with my personal motives for going into education. Am I ready to deal with the everyday happenings of a school’s system? The school is a system. It’s a system that may or may not support your stance on social-justice. As a staunch supporter of social justice, I am often faced with myself as an authority-figure and as an advocate. Do I use my power of an authority figure to correct the injustices that I see or do I simply accept a school’s blind eye to them? In the classroom, do I simply yield to domination in order to manage students? Or will I see to create an atmosphere of love and healing for students?

In unlocking my own anger that often drowns me daily, I juggle questions internally that I think teachers may ask themselves. What is more important- money or justice? Could you have both? Sure. However, I believe that it is sometimes one or the other. I absolutely love my job, but I am constantly faced with questions of ethics. What is my philosophy on education? What is my role as an advocate for social-justice? In a system that is often structured around domination, you are often called to yield to schools that reinforces: racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and etc. It is unreal how you will find yourself hearing sexist, racist, homophobic, and classist speech from individuals that are supposedly leading the way for students. For any educator, it takes strength, dedication, loyalty and heart to stand up for the wrong that you see. You have to remember that students are often looking up to you for guidance. Your curriculum and your daily-living should embody the values that you seek to teach. Your personal life should not be disconnected from your work life. Sometimes we believe that it is okay to be different in our personal and professional life. No, it is not okay. If we preach tolerance in classrooms, tolerance should be a personal practice that we observe in our personal life. However, this may not always be the case. So, we need to work on ourselves. We need to practice decolonization. We need to practice truth.

Social-Justice in the Classroom: Practicing What You Preach

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I listened to stories from children that hold worlds inside themselves. Worlds that are forever unfolding and adding depth to their own knowledge of the world. They cry. They laugh. They hold themselves. They hold each other. They hold nothing. There is nothing to hold but hopes and dreams. On many days, I sit with students in classrooms, along stairwells, by the buses, on the way to lunch, coming from their support-classes and in hallways to listen to their stories. To listen to their voices. To teach them to speak. To teach myself that I have much to learn about humanity. In working with young students, I have learned the importance of creating space for healing within the lives of students. To be an educator means to stand for social-justice. this is what I believe, but is this always the case?

I watch and listen to teachers, staff members and administrators on a daily basis. I mentally take note of my philosophy on education and ask myself if I am truly practicing what I preach. Am I standing up for what is right? Am I practicing ethics in my decision-making? Am I taking my task of being an educator seriously? Am I serving the students that I teach? These questions are important. They are asked in Education programs. They are posed to us in articles. They are there to be examined. However, are we aligning ourselves with these social-justice questions? In “Narratives of Social-Justice Teaching” by sj Miller, Laura Beliveau, Todd DeStigter, David Kirkland, and Peggy Rice, a teacher named Judith said that “The university is idealistic and doesn’t teach prospective teachers how to deal with tough issues that just aren’t solvable. I learned some starting points for curriculum in the program but not strategies for the complex situations that we find ourselves in” (p.XVII). In real-world context, educators have to deal with themselves. We have to deal with our own issues internally.

In working with students, we have to constantly ask if we are aligning ourselves with social-justice. In one of the classes that I had today, one of the students wanted to give up on a grammar problem that I assigned for them to answer. She stood at the board, became frustrated and told me that she gives up. Once she said that, a class of hands shot up in the air. However, I knew that this student didn’t need a pass. No, she needed someone to push her. Someone to tell her that she could do it. In working through the sentence as a class, she soon figured out the answer. As a class, we learned that giving up is never an option. We must not give up on others or ourselves. We must always push each other no matter the problems that we may encounter.

I remember when I was in the sixth grade, there was a student in my Social-Studies’ class that was called on to read. In waiting for him to begin his section of reading, we soon realized that he couldn’t read. In looking back on the moment, I can’t remember the teacher helping the student in facing this moment of slight embarrassment. My peer wasn’t helped nor encouraged to work through the words in front of him. In that moment, I’m sure the student would’ve liked for someone to help him. However, he never got that. He was there drowning. Sinking. I would hate for any student of mine to encounter this kind of embarrassment. Yes, some teacher failed this student. Yes, someone must be accounted for this. However, what do we do when we see a student is struggling? Do we simply let them take a pass or do we help them work through the tough stuff? Is simply giving a pass the way to help them achieve their ultimate success?

Today, I visited the library at my university and found a PhD candidate doing his usual research on the computer. In a story he told me, I learned about his experiences with education and the act of passing students. In his story, I saw myself asking the questions that I raised above. As an absent father for a good period of his son’s schooling, he told me that his son’s teachers consistently passed his son with F’s year after year. These teachers told him that they didn’t want to prevent him from going on due to his home-life, so they passed him. However, he wasn’t appeased by this answer. He said that he felt that is was a disgrace to not prepare a student for life. He felt it was a disgrace to see that educators wouldn’t think about the bigger picture. However, he didn’t want think it was simply due to his son’s home-life that he was passed with failing grades. He felt that his son’s racial-background allowed teachers to simply give up and not see the potential in this student.

So, I asked myself the question, “What biases and stereotypes do I hold that will prevent me from pushing a student towards their ultimate success?”. In this father’s story, I felt speechless. I was speechless. I was humbled by his story. We can judge this father’s action of being absent, but it doesn’t explain his son’s years of passing with failing grades. However, what should an educator do? Is it ethical or morally acceptable to fail a student, allow them to continue onto the next grade without mastering or grasping the content? This is a question that one may want to ask. We are consistently faced with hard questions that may not have an immediate answer. However, we must work through these questions because no one can answer these but ourselves.

Social-justice is about action. It’s about putting into reality what we pass across our lips. Sometimes we allow ourselves to teach without practicing what we preach. We give our students lectures without giving ourselves these lectures first. In preparing students to be conscious in their words and deeds, we must awaken ourselves from our slumber. In the eloquent words of Ruth Vinz,”Part of preparing teachers is to help them learn to negotiate ways to disrupt, critique, and challenge accepted practices and beliefs rather than simply trying to survive the school day or assuming the curriculum will engage students in social justice understandings and practices”.

Dedicated to My Student: Your blackness is not a badge of dishonor

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You sat in line for your turn for the bathroom behind the other girls, while holding a conversation about the color of your skin. The way you spoke your words sounded like glass shattering. And I knew it was time that someone had that talk with you. About our skin. About our hair. About our bodies. Our Black and brown bodies. As the conversation turned intense with your repeated hand-gestures pointing to your skin with a face turned sad, I knew it was time for us to have the chat that I never had when I was your age. For so many girls of color, the first act of colorism committed against you becomes this rite of passage. This rite of passage into facing white-supremacy for the first time. You can’t name it at your young age. You can’t say what it is, but you know what it implies. It means that your blackness is not whiteness. Your blackness is the opposite of beautiful. Your body isn’t acceptable. You aren’t acceptable. Your black life doesn’t matter unless you are white. You will be subjugated to white-supremacist ideals due to your black or brown complexion.

In seeing the pain show through her round, ebony face, I wanted to just hug her. Hold her. Make her believe that my words of comfort will make the pain go away. Will make white-supremacy go away,but I knew that it wouldn’t. However, words were all that I had and will have for any girl or woman that is oppressed by this system. I will hold her body as if it was my own and let her know that her skin is not a badge of disgrace. That there is beauty in her color. There is strength in her African-roots. In our conversation, she told me that her friends and family members often talk poorly about her skin-tone and compare it to the light skin-complexion of her mother. In the eyes of this young girl, I saw myself. I saw myself screaming for help at her age. I can remember sitting with cousins and hearing the same rhetoric. I can recall a cousin telling me that the boys would love me because of my skin and hair. However, I was frowned upon. I was called a joke because I sounded “too-white to be black”.  In the same breath, I can recall hearing a family member say that they can’t trust certain Black-folks because of their darker complexion. Furthermore, my life at school didn’t make it any easier. I can remember the white-kids in my suburban schools separating themselves from the black kids because black was synonymous with crime, poverty and ugliness. I was crime. I was poor. I was ugly. In many groups of black folks that I knew, my skin-tone was praised while it was hated by the white-folks. In a disarray, I had to learn how to simply love myself despite my experiences with colorism.

In having my own personal testimony to the destructive nature of white-supremacy, I knew that this young girl had much to learn. She had much to experience as a young, black girl in this world. I held her. I took her by her hands and told her that I know how it feels. I understand the pain. I get it. I’ve experienced it, but we must never allow the pain to take us away from ourselves. We must face the pain. Speak our pain. Name it. Never hold it in. In my experiences at my urban-school, I’ve seen and heard many girls of color (Black and Hispanic) undergo colorism in their classes. I’ve seen girls been made fun of due to hair-styles and hair texture. I’ve heard girls being hurt because of skin-color. Colorism is very much real. It hurts. It runs deep for many females of color, including the younger girls. I tell every girl that comes to me about this that they are beautiful the way that they are. That they are more than their looks. They are smart. They are funny. They are perfectly brown and black. They must not apologize for this.

In working in an urban-school, I have come to realize how prevalent colorism is for young students. We may not believe that race matters at the age of elementary-students, but it does. Students are experiencing racism, colorism and white-supremacy even in minority-based areas. For many girls of color, they fear to be themselves. They want to run out of themselves. They want to hide. They want to closet their skin and walk away from it.

However, I will never allow a student of mine to do this. I will never allow a student to tell me that their black and brown life doesn’t matter. I will never allow ugliness to roll off the tip of their tongues in relation to their skin or their hair. I will fight for them to love themselves. To call themselves their own. To say that they belong deeply to themselves. That they are deeply loved. That they are beautiful. And that they will continue to smile. They will never stop smiling. That their bodies and what it looks like will never stop them from living.

Are You Playing Oppressor In Your Classrooms?

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In our schools, are we silencing the students that sit in front of us? Are we putting out that fire in a student? Are we teaching students that dissent is unpatriotic? In one of the classrooms that I work in, I heard the teacher tell her students that good citizens support their country and government. Say what? My mouth dropped. My heart flopped out of my mouth. In the history of America, wrong has been done and committed by this country. Laws sanctioned by a government doesn’t make them right. The creation of America was based in slaughter, subjugation and domination. So, I ask you, “what are you teaching to your students?”.

Are we teaching students to simply accept authority as truth? I refuse to teach this. Ever! In understanding the history of America, I know that students must be taught to question and to be critical in their thinking. I want them to know that authority-figures doesn’t warrant your blind-following. You must think for yourself. You must look at the various parts that make up a system. You must eradicate oppression(s). You must ask yourself the questions that aren’t being asked of you. I could care less about being a good citizen if this means accepting: war-crimes, state-sanctioned torture, war, racism, sexism, homophobia and etc.

One of the most powerful statements that one can hear is this:

Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner. You must be eating some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.

“THE BALLOT OR THE BULLET,” SPEECH, APRIL 3 1964, CLEVELAND, OHIO (PUBLISHED IN MALCOLM X SPEAKS, CH. 3, 1965)

For the past century or so, several revolutions and movements have occured within America and other countries due to the fact that groups were and is denied rights that one would think as being inalienable. However, this has not and isn’t the case for several groups in America and across the globe. This work isn’t easy. It will never be easy. It has never been easy. Nonetheless, more work has to be done. And this work begins with the current and next generation. We have to educate this generation to be radical in their thinking so that they can teach those that come after them to be just as radical, if not, more. There’s no time to waste time.

In many classrooms, teachers are playing the role of the oppressor. Teachers are rewarding obedience and punishing those that are rebellious. Why are we rewarding obedience and silence? Because this is the way of domination. You strip the oppressed of their voices. their narratives. their lives. You want the oppressed to simply yield without questioning. You want them to take your word as being truth. as being their narrative. The oppressor can’t afford to have dissenters because this disrupts the system.

As an educator, when will you begin to teach wholeness? In the words of activist and feminist, Nawal El Sadaawi,

How many were the years of my life that went by before my body, and my self became really mine, to do with them as I wished? How many were the years of my life that were lost before I tore my body and my self away from the people who held me in their grasp since the very first day?

In our classrooms, there are many students that are fighting to belong to themselves. To love themselves. To hear themselves speak. To see themselves. To know that they matter. That their narrative matters. However, this act of resisting doesn’t happen easily for students that are located in classrooms with teachers as oppressors. I’ve seen teachers break the spirits of students. Put out that flame. Put out that narrative. Silence students. Forever. Where is the healing in this kind of environment? Where is the love?

In the words of the beloved bell hooks in her text Teaching to Transgress:

To engage in dialogue is one of the simplest ways we can begin as teachers, scholars, and critical thinkers to cross boundaries, the barriers that may or may not be erected by race, gender, class, professional standing, and a host of other differences. (130)

Students must have space to voice their narratives. On the other hand, educators must be vulnerable in this process as well. It’s not good enough to believe that students can simply disclose personal experiences without the educator doing the same in return. There must be equal vulnerability. A relationship founded upon love is one in which subjugation and domination is not apart of its framework.

So, when will you stop playing oppressor in the classroom?

My First Black Studies Course: A Place of Resistance and Healing

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Three years ago, I took one of my first Black Studies’courses as an undergrad. As an undergrad that was wavering in so many directions with so many points of interest, I wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to learn about me. For the first time in my life, I was going to delve into Black History. As a young child, my parents never told my brother and me about our history as Black folks. So, I depended on school to do the work. However, this dependency quickly became my downfall.

As a student of color that attended schools in suburbia, I wasn’t afforded the privilege of learning about my history, thus I felt disconnected. I felt lost. I felt robbed. I felt as if my Blackness was less-important than European-history. I felt as if my peers were gaining insight about their history while I was being erased and treated as an invisible. I can remember my ignorance of self becoming a place of self-hatred. I hated myself. I hated my skin. I hated my hair. I hated being poor. I hated everything about myself that ‘they’ made fun of. I didn’t want to be an invisible anymore. I wanted to be acknowledged. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be validated. I wanted to fit in. However, I never received this during my years of school until I took my first course in Black Studies.

My Black Studies course became a site of resistance for me. It was a place of community and it felt like it. My course had all African-American students with the same desire to learn about self. We were all desiring to learn about our genesis. In our class, we were a family. On our campus, we were outcasts. We were having to face an institution that prides itself in urban-education while enforcing Whiteness.We were expected to unknow ourselves. We were expected to smile in our urban-based institution while being told that Black Studies is where we should go to learn about ourselves. We were departmentalized. We weren’t given the privilege of having our voices, bodies and names heard in a typical curriculum. We had to go to a department that catered to our needs because the other spaces on campus were White with bourgeois values.

For many of my courses at my university, I felt that my Blackness was a disruption. I felt that my voice and my body was unwelcomed. In one of my undergrad classes, a professor asked me on the first day of class to tell everyone where I was from. Due to my brown skin and my hijab (Muslim headwrap), she felt the need to pry into my life and to humiliate me in front of my peers as if my body and visual representation wasn’t acceptable to our predominant White-class. In  seeking to remain calm with such a request, I told her that I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri with parents from Mississippi and Missouri. In telling her my answer, she gave a faint smile with the rest of the class gazing upon her expressionless face. However, this was not the first or last time that I felt as if my body and voice was a site of disruption. I soon had to find strength in knowing that I had a choice. I could become knowledgeable about myself and feel pride in my Blackness. Or I could simply cave in. I could curl up. Assimilate. Continue to hate myself.

However, I knew I had gotten too far to simply cave-in. I wanted to grow intellectually. I wanted to begin the process of loving myself. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to know my history. So, I took my first course in Black Studies’ to start my journey. At the beginning of my first Black Studies’ course, our professor asked our class if we knew our native tongue. In being caught off guard by his question, we all looked around and nodded ‘no’. In feeling upset about this reality, I wanted to do something about it. So, I started learning Kiswahili. In an effort to learn Kiswahili, I knew I would be one step closer to Africa, in someway, in some form. However, he never told us that the English language can be a site of resistance. In Teaching to Transgress by Black feminist, Dr. Bell Hooks, she stated that “learning English, learning to speak the alien tongue, was one way enslaved Africans began to reclaim their personal power within a context of domination. Possessing, a shared language, Black folks could find again a way to make community, and a means to create the political solidarity necessary to resist”.

In thinking about Hooks’ statement, I knew that I have a responsibility to speak. I have a responsibility to be truthful to myself in my endeavor of learning about myself. I do not seek to live my life through the lens of White-supremacy. In knowing the history of Black folks in America, we can take the English language and find it as a starting point for healing. We can take this language of oppression and use it as a place of resistance. We can write books. We can write poetry. We can change the way we view ourselves. The way we start to think about ourselves. We can use this language to center ourselves. To find healing. To find wholeness. In thinking about my professor’s question, I knew the validity of such a thought. He wanted us to think. He wanted us to see the oppressive nature of those that came to take. To conquer. To spread the blood of our ancestors. However, our African ancestors knew that there was power in taking the oppressor’s language to their advantage. They knew that they had to form community, somehow. They knew they had to start somewhere. So, they started with the English language and created a new Black culture out of it. A culture that we can call community. The same community that I had found love and healing within on the first day of my Black Studies’ course. My Black Studies’ course was the first place that I learned to think critically. To think about myself as a whole person. To think about my responsibilities as a student of color. As a person of color in our world. 

Moving in the Direction of Progress: The World of Children

We would not have gotten past the level of pure adaptation to the world if we had not reached the possibility, while thinking about adaptation itself, of also using it to program transformation. For this reason, progressive education, whether at home or at school, must never eradicate the learner’s sense of pride and self worth, his or her ability to oppose, by imposing on him or her a quietism which denies his or her being. That is why one must work out the unity between one’s discourse, one’s actions, and one’s motivating utopia. In this sense, one must take advantage of every opportunity to give testimony to one’s commitment to the realization of a better world- a world more just, less ugly, and more substantively democratic. -Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Indignation

In thinking about the words of Freire, I struggle daily to remind myself that I must never put out the flame of any student. I must allow the student to stay on fire, ready to light whatever comes their way. However, many schools are set up to tame students. Students are encouraged to act like cattle. In my conversation with a professor at my university, she told me that she was always full of life and never allowed school to put out her flame. She was that ‘loud, black girl that wouldn’t shut up’. In seeing how school would break the spirits of students, she was committed to being herself. She was committed to the fire inside of her.

As I engage with students on a daily basis within my primary-school, I am always thinking about this. I always remind students that there are limitations on their behavior, but they must never change who they are. They must always remain who they are, but grow intellectually. I think school can be extremely restricting and suffocating. It can drag students out of their vibrancy and breed a population of students that are complacent to rules and regulations. I refuse to teach this to students. I want to teach students to think critically. They must not feel obligated to agree with an authority-figure or a system. They must learn that citizenship doesn’t mean complacency.

Today, I experienced a teacher telling her students that they must honor this country’s flag,be respectful citizens and appreciate American government. I must say that this can be a good way to help students understand their role(s) in citizenship. However, I would’ve had a caveat to such a statement. I would have told them that there is a time to rebel and to say ‘no’ if injustices are present. Nonetheless, this caveat would need to be explained in an age-appropriate manner. Students are aware of the world around them. They see what is happening in their neighborhoods. They see what is happening in other neighborhoods. So, do not believe they are ignorant to the world around them. I believe many people tend to be overprotective of children. They aren’t given the chance to think critically. They are coddled until they are deathly afraid of the world. Teach them to think. Teach them to read. Teach them to question.

I can’t simply accept this notion that children are ignorant. I’ve worked with children and they understand more than you think that they know. They are observing the world just like adults. They are trying to fill in the gaps just like adults. They are dealing with the massive influx of information that adults are trying to get through on a daily basis. Do not believe that they are ignorant. I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that they are very intelligent. They are growing in knowledge, especially as consumers of this technologically-advanced society.

So, allow them to explore. Explore yourself to explore what they are exploring. Become aware of the things they are into. Do not hold them back from discovering new things. Yes, set limits. However, do not allow those limits that you set to prevent them from being the great individual that they can be. They can add to the collective and do much good. Just observe them. Let them show you the world through their eyes. They will help guide you in your knowledge of the world.