The conversation about diversity, equity, & privilege in America

This is a tricky topic to write a blog post about, dear Readers. Even though it’s potentially asking for backlash, I want to attempt some thoughts around this politically tense issue.

Diversity, equity, and privilege are popular terms in our society these days, especially in the field of education. Being involved in this field for the past several years, I’ve seen these concepts only growing more prevalent. All facets of educating children and youth need to be run through the equity and diversity lens, and all white privilege must be checked at the door.

I like the pendulum analogy:  the pendulum is forever swinging from one extreme to the other in society, and at the moment we are in the wide arc of diversity.

What does this translate to in practical terms? Many things, including the fact that if a person happens to not be “of color” they are likely to be suspected of racism, white privilege, or else unawakened (not woke).  (Disclaimer:  I am a white person, living in the heart of the western United States.) I am in the midst of a graduate program to become a licensed special education teacher for K-12 students. I am a “mid-life career changer” as one recruiter put it to me, a polite way of saying I’m a little old for this game but am doing it, nonetheless.

Let’s face it, racism is as old as history itself. Since there have been different tribes of humans on the planet, there has been bias from one group towards others. Its manifestation as oppression, slavery, and violence is an ancient story here. In fact, I’ve been studying for a Praxis exam I must take and pass in order to obtain licensure; the dreaded Social Studies subtest. This test covers an insane amount of historical facts, from the time of European exploration of the Americas beginning in the 15th century, all the way through our current era. As I’m sure many readers are aware, the story of how America came to be the United States (and its 245 year history) is one of a little cooperation and friendship between different groups, and a lot of fighting, warring, pain and suffering. Abhorrent practices such as near extermination of indigenous tribes and slavery of Africans were common ways that certain white European-Americans got land, wealth and, yes, privilege. From the Spanish conquistadors who decimated Mexico, Central and South America, to the Dutch who brought African slaves to the Caribbean islands, (and consequently to the East Coast of the colonies) to the Spanish and English pirates who stole treasure as they traveled the high seas, to the Europeans who settled the original colonies at the expense of indigenous tribes’ lands and way of life, they eventually pushed across the entire continent and took what they wanted for their own gain in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” With so much bad blood as the foundation of settling and creating the United States of America, it is little wonder that 245 years later, this country is in a very tenuous position on many fronts. There is considerable evidence that we are on the cusp of complete societal collapse.

So here we are, in 2021. Never before have there been so many groups, individuals, famous and influential people of color speaking out, through all available platforms, about ending racism and unfair practices by the government at all levels. The truth of their message could not be any plainer:  People of color must be treated equally in every way as white people in the United States. It is incredible that over 150 years have passed since the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were passed which made slavery illegal and gave rights of citizenship to black people. It took a hundred more years for the Civil Rights Act to be passed, guaranteeing Black people equal protection under federal law. And yet, here we are–Black and Brown skinned people are still being treated as less than white privileged people in lots of places in the United States in the year 2021.

Of course we have made a lot of progress. Barack Obama became the first Black president of the United States in 2008. People of color are at the top of their game in many fields of endeavor, such as music, the film industry, visual art, performance art– in fact all the creative industries. Obviously they are leaders in Sports. And in science, innovation, business, government, and also education. Yes, there has been a lot of progress. Still, the struggle to end policies and practices based in racism continues. The school to prison pipeline for youth of color is real in cities across America today. It is still true that in many public school districts, white women make up the majority of teachers, and white men the majority of top administrators. We still have farther to go.

Dear Readers, I’m afraid this blog post turned into a rant tonight. There is so much more to say on this subject. But I will end with a thought to ponder. We must never become complacent, and it’s important to continually check ourselves for hypocrisy. Case in point:  The Met Gala was just held in NYC this past week. It’s an annual event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where many famous celebrities come and model the most outrageous “formal” gowns and evening wear from New York’s fashion designers. I happened to notice that New York’s Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended the gala event, wearing a gown with the words “tax the rich” written on her backside. Although I generally like her spunk and fearlessness at calling out corruption when she sees it on Capitol Hill, I must say that there was more than a little hypocrisy involved in her choice of attending that event, and wearing that particular message. See this article for more.

https://www.businessmayor.com/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-responds-to-criticism-of-tax-the-rich-dress-worn-at-met-gala/

August Angst

These are very strange days indeed, these brutal August days. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but clearly we are living in extraordinary times across the board. It is safe to say that no one alive on Earth has ever faced what we are now facing on the daily. How do we retain our sanity in the midst of such unprecedented chaos?

As I often do on this blog, I’d like to share a personal story of what’s happening in my own life at this moment. This spring, before the pandemic upended our entire society, I applied and was accepted into a Masters of Teaching graduate program at University of Colorado, Denver. I was scared, excited, and had to work through relentless mindtalk about my ability to accomplish such a massive undertaking. I’m sure that, for some, getting a master’s degree is simply the next item on their life’s to-do list. But not for me. I’ve sort of done my life in a weird reverse order in some ways, therefore working towards higher degrees wasn’t on my radar until mid-life. That’s where I am now.

The fall semester of 2020 started this week. After a very uncertain summer, the university decided that most courses would be held online, either asynchronous or remote, which means we all join a Zoom meeting once a week. I’m sure that many of you are experiencing similar ways of meeting, either as students, for your jobs, or by helping your children with their own online classes. Will this become the new normal for education? Nobody yet knows. We are going into this school year with myriad questions, but not many answers.

Four years ago, I returned to university to finish up my bachelor’s degree that I never completed back in the days of my twenties. For two and a half years, I loved going to classes, studying for exams, reading lots of books and scholarly articles, and writing many papers. I took classes I was interested in and enjoyed. School was great! I was actually sad when it was over. Then I took a year to contemplate what I should do with that degree, what path was next in my life?

https://studentlifethespot.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/10-inspirational-quotes-for-students/larson/

As I looked and reflected deeply within, the idea of becoming a licensed teacher kept coming up, and even as I shrugged it off or tried to ignore it, that invitation would not leave me. I used many arguments against the voice. What about my age? I’m not in my twenties and full of invincibility, I told it. Didn’t matter. What about all the crap that teachers have to put up with in public education? They complain all the time about the low pay, long hours, fights with administrators, and badly behaving students. Didn’t matter, the invitation remained. What about the amount of work it will be to actually do the master’s program? And the internships- I will have to borrow money in order to work for free at a school for two semesters? And the cost of grad school?? Yikes. My mind would spin out into these whining rants over and over.

And yet. Whenever I took a deep breath and remembered my students from the past year of being a literacy tutor, their faces, sweet smiles and stories would calm my mind. Every single time my mind would mess with me, then I’d think of those kids and drop down into my heart space. What I know, deep inside, is that those kids needed me last year. There will be others who will also need me to be with them, helping them to learn, to cope, to grow through their childhoods in good ways. If I give up before I start, I am letting them down. And I cannot, in good conscience, do that to them.

So, here I am, the first week of this crazy semester, trying to figure out how to get my footing as I begin this ascent. How to organize my time with four online classes? Only one has a formal meeting day and time for the 2 hours, 45 minutes of Zoom class (ouch). The others have syllabi, schedules for readings, assignments and due dates, and discussion threads. Without having to leave my apartment to go to campus and meet in person, it’s up to me to figure out how long each day should I devote to each course, to the readings (most of which are done on my laptop), and to taking notes (in a Word doc? In a notebook with a pen?).  Geez… I sort of feel like I’m back to the basics of how to do school. Then, there ‘s TECHNOLOGY.  Oh my goodness, it is more complex than ever!  The more apps and fixes and hacks the techies create (supposedly to help students) the harder and more difficult it seems to become. Oy.

As I struggle through each day of this longest, hottest, strangest summer ever, there are many moments when I either want to complain, give up or break down. At those moments, what seems to help the most is remembering that there are many millions of other people who are going through similar or way harder struggles than me. None of us are immune to the pain and hardship of these days. My heart is breaking for the folks in California, and my own Colorado, who are running from the wildfires during the extreme heat and dry winds of August. We’ve been here before, during the past decade of drought and extreme weather conditions. The global climate catastrophe hasn’t gone away just because the world is engulfed in the 2020 pandemic.

Dear Readers, are you finding good ways to cope with your own lives and challenges? This unusual summer will soon give way to perhaps a beyond unusual autumn. I wish you all strength, courage and loving guidance to be with you, as you traverse your individual paths and we collectively move into the unwritten future. Keep your chin up!

Our surreal reality show

Hey dear Readers, how are you all holding up? I have been struggling to find words to describe all the myriad feelings, thoughts and questions which come and go during these peculiar days on planet Earth. Tonight’s blog post will be a bit of a ramble, I’m afraid.

The reality show we call life is becoming ever more surreal with each passing day. One incredulous thing after the next keeps happening, with increasing intensity. More and more, the veils are thinning, and people are awakening to the nightmare we’ve been living under. Dimensionality is bifurcating, which is a crazy way of saying that awakening humans continue to ascend into higher dimensions, or frequencies on the cosmic spectrum of being. I immersed myself in the 10 day live event, The Harmonic Convergence 2020, from July 5 through 14th. No, I personally did not see starships with my naked eyes as I meditated in the park on the night of the 13th, although according to the organizers, lots of people did. This didn’t surprise me, however I definitely communed with benevolent and loving beings from some of the star systems in our galaxy. It was the highlight of my summer, given all the factors. Check out this link to learn more about ET contact during the Harmonic Convergence.

After the blissy Harmonic Convergence days, the past week felt like living in a foggy place, which is such a paradoxical feeling! How can one go from feeling so connected to the cosmos, the star nations, and higher realms, to coming down and realizing, “Oh right, but I’m still here in this reality full of Covid fears all around, political chaos and intrigue, and an ever encroaching climate crisis in full swing?” It’s pretty exhausting. Are you also feeling the confusion of this time, dear Readers?

I’ve been paying particular attention to the very bumpy plans for reopening schools here in the United States, and especially in Colorado where I live. The school districts are having a hard time sticking to a plan, since the numbers of people infected with Covid 19 keeps changing like the tides. As an educator who is looking for work right now, I’m especially interested in what school is going to actually look like for fall semester. And it doesn’t look good. There’s a long list of what will need to change to keep students and teachers ‘safe’ in school, and it’s heartbreaking. On the list are things like, No touching. No sitting in groups. All students must face one direction in separate desks. Masks are required, and highly encouraged for the youngest students. This means students and teachers won’t be able to easily read facial expressions, nor see smiles or laughter, scared or tearful faces. Schools up until now have been prioritizing Social Emotional Learning, which in my mind requires being able to clearly read other people’s faces, body language, and to touch each other when that is needed. How do school administrators expect young students to not play together, hug their teacher, or get along well in such a sterilized, anti-human environment?

It’s a conundrum. Perhaps one of the saddest items on the Forbidden list is “No Singing.” Whaat??  They might as well just flatly state: NO FUN for the school year 2020-2021. Because with what they’ve got planned, that is exactly what school will feel like for most. Teachers are afraid (some admitted they are terrified) of returning to classrooms this fall. Parents are confused and many don’t feel they have enough information yet to make the critical decision of whether to send their kids back into school buildings or keep them home and sacrifice in-person learning. Still others have no choice—the spring was a bust, and they need their kids to go back to school and be there all day for economic reasons.

There is no clear path forward during this pandemic for the majority of us. Those of us (myself included) who prefer making a plan and carrying it out, are confounded by current events. What are some of the major life lessons of this time? The old rules no longer apply. What used to work for getting by in life doesn’t work anymore. What once felt stable and reliable no longer exists. Our government leaders don’t have many answers, and many have shown their true colors as extraordinarily incompetent. Life feels more uncertain, and in some ways dangerous, than ever before for many people. The future is wide open for interpretation. Therefore, besides being extremely disconcerting, the moment we find ourselves in is also strangely exhilarating. Because it’s like the I-Ching hexagram—Great challenge is also great opportunity. For those who are visionary, brave, and creative enough, this may be our species’ defining moment moving forward. How do we want our lives on Gaia to be in five, ten, fifty years? Will we stand for authoritarian rule to become the norm in previously democratic societies? Will we choose to create a dystopian future world that nobody wants to live in? Or, will enough of us wake up just in time to stop the madness that is plainly on display by world leaders, and create a healthy, just and joyful future world for everyone? We are on the precipice of major changeover. What do you think? Where do you stand? What kind of future world do you wish for your children’s children?  These questions matter. If you haven’t taken the time to consider them deeply, now would be a perfect moment to do so. Thoughts are things, they create our reality. What reality show would you prefer to be living in?