Monday, July 4, 2016

In a world driven by love Part II

I have been reflecting on love for the past few many moments in which love has been stressed in my life - almost like the strength of love was being tested. How is love tested? In my experience love is tested by those you give yourself over most completely to. For me, this happened first with my children, husband and sister. And when you give yourself over to love, it is leaving your heart open forever. This is a powerful decision. I remember once hearing Elizabeth Stone reflect this out loud so perfectly: "Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." This mirrored my sentiments exactly after having my children, especially once they grew up into young adults and I watched them exercise the power of choice.
It was humbling and it was then I realized the power of love. Love is stronger than any force I can imagine for it can contain and hold together when everything else fails and yet, it is tender and gentle. What a power love is!

So naturally, I was excited to see one of the keynotes at my favorite conferences - ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) not only be a personal friend of mine, but speak on love in the context of technology, equity and education - good stuff!
Ruha Benjamin, in her keynote Set phasers to Love Me elevated the conversation around technology asking educators in the audience to think more critically about the vast changes we are experiencing as a society and to reimagine the drive behind the design of our society. When we reimagine our learning spaces as laboratories where equity is the norm, then every child's unique qualities are realized.

Unfortunately, children today live in parallel realities where some are crushed and others are realized. So where do we start in our effort to create change?

Imagine According to Ruha, there are competing imaginaries. So how do we empower all voices to participate at the table when decisions are being made? As Alex Rivera says, The battle of real power tomorrow, begins with the struggle of who gets to dream today. This is why I am such a strong believer of ensuring diversity is always present at the table - every table:

  • The table of administrators who decide what is important to carry forward in a classroom and who set the goals and vision for schools
  • The district office table that decides what is needed to focus on in schools to ensure all students are successful 
  • The table at the county and state education offices where policy is created that will impact teachers and students' learning spaces 
If the only people at these tables are from the dominant culture, then only the needs envisioned through the filter of this culture will be viewed. If all students are to be served, then we need a diversity of voices and cultures at the tables of decision making.

Ruha reflected out the importance of considering design by who and for what end she would ask. Of course the question of design, is not one to consider just in education - though it's important to ask who are policies serving and who is creating them?
The design of any creation is filtered through the belief system of the creator. The example Ruha gave was of the design of benches. Who designed them and to serve who? In many cases, they are designed to deter transients from laying down on them.

So how do we hack into the default settings that were created as tools to hold and control people in place? For example, the code of rape: We train women in these "Please don't rape me" trainings as if it were their job to not get raped! As Ruha reminded us, racism and sexism are coded into our society and instead of code switching - we need to just rewrite the code!

Too often in education we do not want to have the conversation about the racism our students or teachers of color experience because of fear that people will be offended. Who will be offended? In many cases, those who will be offended are either Anglo-Americans or those who believe in the dominant culture and believe racism no longer exists. We are also not comfortable with conversations that bring up strong emotions. As a Western society, we are not good at understanding emotions. This is a discussion for another post, though it's important to note as part of why we hesitate to have these crucial conversations.
Jesse Williams gave a powerful speech at the BET Awards in which he stressed, "the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander". We cannot sacrifice our students - all students - because we are afraid the bystander will be offended. When one student is sacrificed, all students are sacrificed. The Mayan have an expression that sums up the belief of who we are: In Lak'Ech: Tu eres mi otro yo - You are my other me. We are one body of energy as a people, when one person or group of people are stifled, we all are stifled. The right hand will feel the effects of the left hand being cut off.

We are in a society in which racism has become institutionalized and is coded in the very fiber of our society: There is research showing the amount of negative images of people of color vs white people, women naked vs men in media, etc. and the impact this has on our values and belief system as a society.
Ruha raised this issue and how it shows up in technology when you do a Google search of three Black youth vs. three White youth. The difference in images that come up are called algorithmic discrimination. This can be fixed, but takes time and we are not very good nor thoughtful in our society of taking this time. Again, we need to look at the design behind these algorithms and who they serve. These images, this story serves the dominant culture.

It is important we tell our own story and those in the dominant culture give space for all stories to be heard. Until that time, we need to continue to retell our stories again and again to keep stressing the dominant culture. In her final thoughts Ruha shared a quote from the Baha'i Writings that give us cause to pause and reflect on where we are headed and how we are getting there:
"Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess. They bear the seeds of the character of future society...They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity...Love demands discipline, the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or to leave them entirely to their own devices. An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel that they belong to the community and share in its purpose."

So what will drive our story? What has always driven our story: Love.

As my father told me when I was fifteen...Don't you know hijita why your grandmothers sacrificed and never gave up even though the conquistadores raped them and sold their children to slavery? For you hijita, so that you would be here. 

Now that's love.