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

Dereliction and Fire

Text Talk

Narrative of Frederick DouglassI debated the merits of crafting a preamble to this excerpt, and as I begin typing, I honestly haven’t decided what to say about it. So we’ll see…

I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Early on in my reading, I became angry. I graduated from a high school named after this man. We did not read his words. At various points, teachers or administrators recited quotes of his, or summarized the “highlights” of his life. Our mascot, school paper and yearbook were all symbolic of him. But we did not read his words.

We did not spend time in an English class, nor a history class, nor an extracurricular making sense of his life. Glaring omission seems too quiet, too meek, too gray to describe it. Dereliction of duty is how I framed it in a brief note of complaint to a friend. And perhaps it was our fault, incurious teenagers that we were, we didn’t seek him out on our own accord.

I don’t know why it was not mandatory for incoming freshmen at the very least. Not just to find out more about Douglass as a historical figure, but also to help us begin to understand his fire to free both his mind and body. For him, the two were interconnected in ways that may not seem as obvious now. But we needed that. We need that.

I don’t know whether its apathy or rebellion, but it seems the fire has gone out in many quarters. Whether we blame government mandates, institutionalized oppressions, our families, ourselves, somehow we must at least acknowledge that smoldering embers and cooling ashes are often found where fires once roared.

I have more to say on the matter, but for now let us read his words:

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, ʺIf you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master‐‐to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,ʺ said he, ʺif you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty‐‐to wit, the white manʹs power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

~Frederick Douglass

We Wear the Mask | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Education, Politics, News & Notable

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
~Paul Lawrence Dunbar

I sit down with two other women present for the two-day workshop. We are instructional coaches – former classroom teachers – in Orlando for professional development in literacy. Our conversation drifts to “the kid.” Who was the kid? The one who was the pivotal in your career? Lillian tells of two, beginning with ‘Eric.’

That kid was always grumpy. On edge. He was likely to pick a fight or get in trouble for some reason or another. It wasn’t long before I discovered he simply couldn’t read very well.

She explains to us how she won him over through small, daily successes. She was blown away by how sweet this boy was, hidden underneath an angry, defensive exterior.

Then she tells us of ‘John.’

John was a bit more outspoken in his dislike of the school environment. Not only vocal, but also physically violent at times. He required restraints if triggered. Educators who provide special education services would recognize his EBD label.

One day was particularly bad. He began shouting. Raging. I had to grab him and bodily place him in the time out space. He demanded to get out but he couldn’t.

A plank stood between him and freedom, with the teacher’s body pressed against it. Just in case. When yelling didn’t work, he threw himself again and again against the door, determined to force it open through sheer will.

I, on the other side, barely 100 pounds, I mean look at me even now, body against the door, praying it remained shut until he calmed down. Items sailed over the top of the door. Shoes, socks, pants. He was stripping, maybe this could buy his freedom. When that didn’t work, suddenly it was splat, splat against the wall. You can imagine what he was throwing (feces). But that kid is the reason I went back to school for a master’s degree. In the end, it was all a mask.

He, just like Eric, was wearing a mask. Neither one of them could read. Here they were – middle and high schoolers – angry they couldn’t read and scared to be found out.

Many classroom teachers can pinpoint students who were angry, or otherwise picked fights with the other students for the express purpose of getting thrown out of class. Trouble was their mask, hiding their inability to read.

These masks, along with zero tolerance policies, and cultural disconnects between students and school, contribute to the school to prison pipeline. How can we discover these masks earlier? When will we develop policies and curricula that make it safe for students to discard their masks? Can we create a system that alleviates the need for masks at all?

I remain hopeful, but hope, in and of itself, is not a strategy.

Schools Kill Creativity.

Education

So says Sir Ken Robinson, creativity expert. In this 2006 TED Talk, featured below, he challenges us to reconsider the status and positioning of creativity. He says schooling tends to be about educating students from the neck up and “off to one side.” Of course he means we value and teach to the left hemisphere as though traditional forms of intelligence are the only or best kinds. I agree with him.

Schools and society miss the mark by overemphasizing the brain to the detriment of the rest. We think if we have the “best and brightest” we can compete in the global job market. (Or even in the local ones). I believe education should not be about jobs, but contribution. How can you be fully human and contribute to the world (and your own authentic happiness) in meaningful ways? An education that ignores the body, the heart, and the myriad forms of expression, is a half education at best, and a mis-education at worst.

Of course all of this assumes a dichotomy of teaching the brain and teaching for creativity, when I believe both can and should be done in concert. Schools today often reify the one right answer, usually from a choice of other answers. That’s not even educating the brain. That’s teaching how to eliminate bad answers. Can we teach our students to be thoughtful and creative? To think and be with both sides of our brain? Ken argues that creativity and literacy should be given equal status. I think he’s on to something.

An ideal education to me is one which considers the whole person, and challenges that person to think creatively and flexibly and be fully present in the world for the betterment of society. Idealistic, yes. Impossible, no. Watch: