Probability, Possibility and Change

30 Day Blog Challenge, 30 in 30 April, Love

I believe in the potential for change. Change is, after all, one of the few constants in life. Even at the cellular level, there is always change. Birth, aging, sickness, death. Rebirth. Change.

I’m speaking about it in grand terms, but what I’m really talking about is the potential for individuals to evolve. To shift in attitudes, ways of thinking, and behaviors. To learn new things and be affected by them.

Ultimately, I believe in the potential of humans to be human.

…humans are always evolving (Freire). Not in the sense that humans are some how deficient, but rather that they, like plants, continue to seed and bloom and remake themselves. To live is to grow. Stagnation is, in effect, death. 
~Nicole D. Collier, In Defense of Inquiry

Earlier today someone mentioned in an offhand manner that grown people don’t change. Moreover, an attitude a man held five or six years ago would still be his attitude now.

You could make the case this is likely true. But as someone committed to developing my potential and helping others realize and develop theirs, I’m not so stuck on probability. I invite you to embrace possibility.

If we all stuck to what was probable, inventions we take for granted today would never have been birthed. If we dismissed things based merely on probability, who would ever take risks? What would be the purpose of ever dreaming beyond the present moment? There would be no bucket lists. No Nobel Prizes. No late blooming ballerinas. No manned missions to space. What use would anyone ever have for toiling or exploration?

When we are quick to write off the very possibility of human change, it becomes easy to write off those who have made poor choices in the past. Because they’ll “never amount to anything,” we expel kids from school without a second thought. Because “they’re worthless,” we allow people to die slow deaths in cages. And those who get out alive can scarcely live because, “they’re criminals anyway,” so they’ve proven they can’t handle voting, making an honest living, or {insert thing “good” people can do}.

I’m not arguing that we should ignore current evidence of ideas and attitudes people hold. After all, it’s sage advice to believe people when they show you who they are. But they’re showing you who they are at a given moment. Not who they were at birth. Not who they’ll be at death. Life shaped us to be who we are right now. Are you satisfied that this is the final version of you the world will ever see?

Human revolution cannot be pinned down to one specific thing. It is any action that leads to positive change or improvement in the inner realm of a person’s life. It is an ongoing process. The important question to ask yourself is whether you are on a path of continuous personal growth. ~Daisaku Ikeda

If we’ve not bothered to investigate – to engage another in a conversation, to see if evidence warrants new opinions, we’ve denied another human being the chance to be human.

Transformative learning occurs when one makes meaning of her life experiences. It often happens after a disorienting event. Something knocks you off balance and you are thrown into emotional vertigo.

Someone you love dies unexpectedly and you question the meaning of life. You travel abroad and confront culture in previously unimagined ways. You experience a profound betrayal. You read a book or watch a movie that elucidates a deeply resonant truth.

Whatever the event, you’re suddenly off-kilter and you must fight to reorient your life. Sometimes this reorientation means revisiting images of the past and reframing them. Or discarding them completely.

But the point is, you change. Your perspective changes. You release long-held beliefs. You alter your behavior. You’re different. You do what humans have the capacity to do. You learn and grow. You evolve.

It can happen at any point to any one of us. Even you…

We mustn’t discard possibility.

Start with questions.

Education

So there’s a picture making the rounds. And although this particular picture and its provocative caption spawned this entry, what follows is applicable to any picture, meme, article, video and so on. In short, any document.

Being literate is one thing, but engaging in critical literacy means reading against the grain. Critical literacy starts with questions rather than reactions. It demands research instead of assumptions.

To be critically literate means to ask who published a given document and what do they hope to accomplish by doing so? Who benefits and who doesn’t?

Critical literacy asks for context. Not simply the text, but what comes with it. It requires active engagement over passive acceptance.

The picture in question is connected to education. Math, to be specific. And despite the caption and the header, there is no mention of grade level, no standard listed, no explanation. It’s devoid of meaningful context.

Some people are pretty upset about “it,” but aren’t really sure what “it” is. They know it looks strange/ difficult/ hard to understand and they are outraged that anyone would ever need to learn whatever “it” is.

I’m all for people having reservations and voicing concerns, but I advocate starting with questions first. For example:

In a free society, citizens should critique curriculum materials, legislation and all other documents that govern the ways we live. But it’s important to start with your own clear understanding, rather than someone else’s interpretation, summation and conviction.

It’s perfectly okay to not have a clue what you’re looking at. That’s the best time to start with questions.

The deeper business of being beautiful inside.

Love, Politics, News & Notable

Blue and I saw 12 Years a Slave as soon as it was released in Atlanta.

The film was stunning.

We dined afterward and talked for hours about the the movie and the myriad topics it inspired: slavery, racism, privilege, wealth, the power of story, literacy, critical literacy and public schooling. We discussed the stories that get told or lost. We noted, with a healthy dose of cynicism, who “history” deems worthy of remembrance.

We retold scenes to each other. Relived predictions, twists. What made us look away, hold our breath, or more tightly to the other’s hand.

The writing, directing and performances were brilliant. And yet as moved as I was during and after, it was Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey who brought me to tears:

At some point I want to truly express what Patsey meant to me, but this post is about Lupita.

I’m overjoyed she has received accolades during this awards season, including the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She is being honored for being herself. Not a shrinking violet of herself, but a lantern. A ray of sunshine in what can sometimes be the the darkness of Hollywood. She overcame a childhood of self loathing to become someone who, quite literally, puts herself on stage, on screen, on view, for all the world to see.

Lupita relates her story in a loving response to a young woman drawn to her light. Watch it below:

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. ~Lupita Nyong’o

Ask questions

Abolition & Justice, Education, Text Talk

As a graduate student, one of my favorite topics of discussion and research was inquiry. Asking questions, conducting investigations, and building knowledge through exploration are powerful tools for thinking and learning. As I continued in my studies, I learned of critical inquiry, which expands the idea of questioning to include a political or sociocultural lens. Developing conscientização, or critical awareness/awakening, is akin to taking the red pill. You start to ask sociopolitical questions and suddenly  you are hard-pressed to see anything as flat, uncomplicated or devoid of nuance. This isn’t a negative thing, but it makes for interesting conversations.

The Meaning of FreedomI mention all of this to introduce a quote by Angela Davis. I’m currently reading The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues,  a compilation of speeches she delivered between 1994 and 2009. One thing I appreciate about Dr. Davis’ work is her constant admonition to reflect upon, reconsider, and rethink long-held ideas about “normalcy.” In her speech titled Race, Power and Prisons Since 9/11, she discusses the embodiment of evil and its requisite opposite good, xenophobia, militarism and the ever-expanding punishment industry. Although this is the context for the excerpt below, it’s a salient word, and useful for all serious thinkers reflecting on the world.

Things are never as simple as they appear to be. It is incumbent on us to think, to question, to be critical, and to recognize that if we do not interrogate that which we most take for granted, if we are not willing to question the anchoring ground of our ideas, opinions and attitudes, then we will never move forward.
~Angela Davis

Today at lunch…

Feminist Thought, Personal Narrative

I mentioned my plans to transition out of K-12 and into reading/writing/teaching about women’s issues. I highlighted rape culture and sexual violence and fibroids by name, although my net is cast a bit wider than these. The woman who inquired about my goals made the raised eyebrow/pulled down lips/impressed face and nodded. “Wow. Good for you. What got you moving in that direction?”

Who knows?

It brings to mind a similar question asked of Angela Davis. In a lecture recorded as The Prison Industrial Complex, she discussed her activist beginnings: “What made you decide to become an activist? What was that pivotal event in your life? And for years and years I thought about it.” She went on to mention the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, and how she initially believed that to be the catalyst. Upon further reflection, she realized that wasn’t it:

Finally, after struggling with this for years, I decided that there really was no particular moment when I decided to become an activist. As a matter of fact, I grew up with the idea that in order to live in segregated circumstances… my parents basically taught us that we had to be critical of the way things were. Otherwise, we could not affirm our own humanity. And that we had to dedicate our lives to the kind of transformation that would make this a better world to live in for all of us. And so I’ve learned that wherever I am, whatever I happen to be doing at the moment, I have to fulfill that commitment that has informed my life.

Now, I don’t have years invested in feminist activism and advocacy, so it’s not like I have a long history to consider. Despite my brief affiliation, I’m hard pressed to supply a satisfying answer. In fact, today was my first encounter with the question; I’ve simply never thought about why. So I sputtered. In fact, I’m writing now, more as a think-aloud, than to offer a definitive answer.

I think it’s a series of dots that are just now being connected. For instance, I’ve practiced Nichiren Buddhism for 13 years now. Studying and practicing a life philosophy grounded in human potential and equality leans one ever toward more progressive and compassionate ways of knowing and being. Encountering Paulo Freire and critical pedagogy in graduate school 5 years ago is another dot. A huge one really. Unlike the constant flow of the water of Buddhism, reading Freire and studying critical inquiry pedagogy caused a fiery, seismic shift.

Then there was the class that wasn’t. The University of Georgia offered a course on Black women’s narratives. I attended the first day, but enrollment was low, and the class didn’t make. The professor showed Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk on the Danger of the Single Story – which became seed as much as dot – and I eventually ordered all the books on her syllabus. I started my own class really, and began reading (and writing) when I could. Dot.

A series of shares in the Red Clay Writing Project’s Summer Institute led me to brainstorm a study on teenage rape narratives, and I wrote and studied my own as a pilot. Dot. An article here or there would move me to anger, tears, or elation. Dot. And suddenly, here we are. At the beginning, still. And like any other journey, each day is an opportunity for another step.

Onward.

Stories of Stance

Education

I’m presenting at the Georgia Education Research Association’s annual conference in Savannah this weekend. My presentation will be my first attempt at a Prezi – provided all goes well with the technology! I am presenting the results of my dissertation work – a narrative inquiry into how teachers facilitate dialogue as a resource in standards-based literacy classes.

Check it out below: