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/

System Breakdown

It has been a long time since I wrote on this blog. I’ve spent many hours dealing with my despair and conflicting emotions about the catastrophic state of our world. Back in May, when the weather where I live (Denver, Colorado) was sweet and fragrant with blossoms, I already felt trepidation about the coming summer. Every summer since I’ve lived here (from 2014 on), the summers have become increasingly more extreme. This is true for most places around the world—more heat, more extreme hurricanes, floods, drought, and wildfires.

What will our collective future be like?

The Earth/Gaia is clearly going through a cleansing and purging process. Humanity has for eons polluted, abused and taken from her in every way possible. And now she (for Earth/Gaia is indeed a living being, just as we are) is using all means at her disposal (all the elementals) to restore her body and become whole again. The outcomes of this process are all the extreme weather events humanity is experiencing, and will continue to endure into the foreseeable future.

For a moment, I still believed that the worst of climate changes could be avoided. Back when the Paris Climate treaty was signed, nearly six years ago, for a glimmering moment it looked like humanity was finally waking up. World leaders understood the real dangers we faced, and they made a big show to acknowledge them and committed money, time, and resources toward reversing the damage we’d caused over the past several decades of fossil fuel burning.

Every summer into late autumn has proved more devastating than the last. The past several years have been the hottest ever recorded on Earth. The poles are melting at rates much faster than climate scientists believed possible. Siberian forests in the coldest regions of Earth have become infernos each summer. Records continue to be broken for all the extremes, all around the planet. As it turns out, the world leaders who signed the Paris Climate agreement didn’t really mean what they said, what they wrote, nor what they agreed to do. The machine of fossil fuel use continues on and we continue to abuse our planet’s air, water, land, oceans, and resources.

Two years ago on this blog, I posted some articles written by Jem Bendell. He wrote a research paper about the impending collapse of systems due to all the factors I’ve named here. At the time, I was horrified and appalled, and yet I also could understand why he made the assertion that our world would soon experience breakdown. Two years later, Bendell’s predictions are beginning to become our reality. Everywhere one looks, there is system breakdown.

We gather and rebel not with a vision of a fairy-tale future where we have fixed the climate, but because it is right to do what we can. To slow the change. To reduce the harm. To save what we can. To invite us back to sanity and love. The truth is we are scared and we are brave enough to say so. The truth is we are grieving and we are proud enough to say so. The truth is we are traumatised and we are open enough to say so. We are angry and we are calm enough to say so and invite others to join us.” (Jem Bendell’s Opening speech of the international rebellion of Extinction Rebellion in Oxford Circus on April 15th 2019).

It is excruciating to look at the world now. I think that’s why so many people refuse to see what is obviously before them. Denial of our common situation is sadly ubiquitous among many millions of souls.  Brave scientists, authors, thinkers, journalists, and even some awake politicians have been sounding the clarion call for changing human behavior for years, and some for decades. Now we have reached the point of no return. Someone wrote recently, “this may be the coolest summer for the rest of my life.” 

Dear Readers, I am very sad to write that I’ve reached the point where I no longer feel hopeful about our common future on Earth, at least not into the foreseeable future. I refuse to join the crowd who foretells the extinction of the human race. Yet, it seems very clear to me now that the years ahead for all of us will be increasingly difficult to navigate. The extremes in temperature and global heating of the atmosphere will force us to make radical decisions about where and how we live upon Earth going forward. The Elon Musks of the world will likely find extravagant ways to live well, no matter what. But for the rest of the billions of humans, life is about to become much more difficult.

There is a loose community of people alive today who firmly believe that we have now entered into a new, Golden Age of Gaia. They advise against watching the old paradigm of life as we’ve known it for millennia crumble. Some of these folks are serious about aiding this new Earth, and spend their time giving courses, being out in nature with crystals, performing all sorts of healing rituals for Mama Gaia, and envisioning the new, healed and whole Earth and her people. In their scenario, the people have reconciled their dualistic, separate self with the One/All That Is. There is no more war, hunger, greed or bad actors. It’s basically a New Age version of the proverbial Garden of Eden story restored. This group of folks are very serious about their visioning and have been working and waiting for it to manifest for many years. They are still waiting.

As much as I want to also say yes, this New Earth has been birthed and will continue to grow in the decades and centuries ahead, I currently see only evidence of the crumbling and breakdown that apparently “needs to happen” before the new age can begin. For a lot of reasons, I sincerely hope the New Agers are right, and it will only be a matter of time before the world transforms into a beautiful, peaceful, healthy, ideal place filled with happy, secure and peaceful humans who understand that All Is One. However, I personally don’t have much energy left to keep fighting for this someday future world. I am exhausted.

These are tremendously hard words to have to write, and the main reason I seldom post on this blog any longer. No one wants to read such depressing thoughts. I wish so much to report better news. To be fair, there are small pockets of humans around the globe who are raising organic food, saving animals, helping other humans and modeling better and more sustainable ways to live upon Earth. This is wonderful and I applaud them all. But in the face of the vast tsunami of disasters facing large populations of people, these efforts are like trying to put out a hundred thousand acre forest fire with a garden hose.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. I send each of you love and light, and the courage and strength to keep going in your life. May all the small gestures of loving kindness we give to others and to ourselves add up to something amazing and miraculous that we cannot know right now.

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!