Last night, Rafranz described a slavery game that she had come across in her email, promoted for Black History Month. She was very fired up, and rightfully so…how could such a game be promoted to teachers to use with our students?
The more I heard her describe it, the more upset I became. Full disclosure: I have not played it, nor do I intend to. I know everything that I need to, thanks to the screenshots Rafranz posted.
This is ridiculous. How can one make a game out of the suffering and genocide of an entire people, with ramifications still being felt in the present day? Is it supposed to be fun? To treat a topic like this with such a casual air is very disrespectful. Regardless of intent, this was not a good idea.
As I listened to Rafranz, I remembered an experience that I had as a student. In high school, chorus and drama were my life. I spent a great portion of my day in the Fine Arts building, drawn to the creative energy which permeated the walls. My chorus teacher was a strong influence in helping me find my place in high school, which boosted my self-confidence tremendously. He was, and still remains, one of my favorite teachers of all time. That being said, here’s what happened.
As a freshman, my goal was to join the mixed select choir, which dressed up in Renaissance garb and traveled. I already had created my backstory in my mind, after a discussion with my parents about Africans in Europe during that period. I was going to take on the role of a Moor (north African) princess, living in Italy.
My sophomore year, I was finally eligible to try out for the select choir. The group was changed to a colonial theme. I wasn’t too thrilled, but was still excited about the status and prestige that the highest choir held. The auditions were held at the same time as a rehersal for a play I was in, up the hall. I realized that I was late for my appointment slot, ran to the chorus room, couldn’t catch my wind, and blew it.
Junior year, I had better luck and made the group. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I really liked some of the songs, and I was having a blast spending so much time with my chorus teacher and all of my friends in the group.
Senior year, though, there was yet another change. Our teacher said that the chorus parent organization had decided that we should be “authentic.”
What did authentic mean? Here comes the kicker…you might want to take a seat.
This year, we had to take on “realistic” roles. You could pick whatever you wanted from a list that was provided…that is, unless you were black. Then you had to be a slave.
I wouldn’t stand for this. I couldn’t. I asked my peers what they thought, and many of them were so brainwashed that they accepted it. WHAT? That’s yet another byproduct of my messed-up limousine liberal community, where oppression has become such an art form that even the victims don’t realize it. Potential future blog post. Back to the point.
It still hurts me that people could try to do this to children. I don’t understand the intent of the parent organization. Maybe it was some misguided attempt to educate people, through their own ignorance on how they thought the world was during that time. Given my many other racist experiences at that school and even in my own neighborhood, it wouldn’t have surprised me if it was some kind of subliminal message to keep students of color “in [our] place.” Yes, that happened in 1999…it still does. I can go on and on about this, but…another potential future blog post.
Anyway, my first instinct was to quit. I didn’t care how much I loved the group, or how good my choral accolades would look to colleges. Nothing mattered at that point, except that I was being treated as 3/5 of a person, in the very place that I considered my refuge.
When I went home, I had an honest conversation with my parents, and we decided that we would fight it. Thank goodness for my family. They raised me to be an advocate for myself and for others, taking me to marches, congressional hearings, and many other places since I started losing baby teeth.
My mother called the choir director, and told him how unjust this mandate was. They spoke on the phone for maybe an hour. Ultimately, she designed a couple of workshops for all members of the group who were interested (not just the students of color) at the Black History Resource center downtown. With the help of my family, museum staff, and other parents, we also did LOTS of self-guided research. By the end, we all had a thorough understanding of the many varied roles and contributions of people of color during the Colonial time period.
I never got to be a Moor princess from the Renaissance as I had envisioned as a freshman. Instead, I was an affranchi, a free black person in Haiti during that time period…and a rich one at that. This was even better, because it reflected my own cultural heritage. I felt a sense of pride every time I put on that costume, along with the matching hat that my grandma made for me.
I wish that I could say that we all lived happily ever after, but there was definitely resentment coming from some of the parents and students who were in support of the original change. Not everybody is going to be happy when you redistribute power, even fake power, as in this case. Perfect example: after one of our gigs, I got into a friendly debate with one of my classmates. We were kidding around, but it turned very serious when he told me, “You may have won this one, but remember, if this were real, I’d own you.”
What. The. ?!@#
Let’s bring it back to the current situation, the slavery simulation game. Again, I don’t know the intentions of the game creators. Perhaps they thought it would be an engaging resource for Black History Month. There is so much that is wrong with that last statement, but again, that’s another blog post in and of itself.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what was meant. Somebody (or rather somebodies…you know there had to be multiple people involved) really dropped the ball on this one. You can’t make something as horrible as slavery or the Holocaust into a game. It’s like making a game called “Grandpa Has Cancer,” with the hope of teaching kids not to smoke or drink, but even worse. I could continue with the metaphor, but unlike the Slavery Simulation game, I know better than to go there.
About five days ago, I changed the bio on my Twitter page. I do it every so often, once in a blue moon. This sounds mundane (and rightfully so), but it was the first step in eliminating the dissonance between my words and my actions. Let’s see if you can spot the difference (thanks to bioischanged.com):
8th grade ELA teacher and Tech Liaison. Lover of collaboration, liver of life. GCT, ECT, Ph.D (Cand.), GEG DC Metro area. #edumatch
8th grade ELA/Tech teacher. Lover of collaboration, liver of life. Passionate about connecting with fellow educators. We all have a story. What’s yours?
Do you see the difference? Spoiler: check the title of this article.
Don’t get me wrong. I am very proud of all of the ingredients of the soup, and very honored to be a part of such great cohorts. However, although they list my affiliations, they do not define who I am. In addition, the old bio was very individualistic. This did not align with my collectivist drive for connection and collaboration.
A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled, “Gone Fishin’: A Reflection on Social Media.” I really don’t give two flying monkeys about people’s criteria for following back, or not following back, or whatever. Your stream, your preferences, have it your way. However, all of a sudden, I started seeing a certain word everywhere I turned, spreading virally through blog posts like a bad case of Athlete’s Foot:
I’ve been seeing one recurring word that doesn’t sit quite right with me. This word is, “impress.” A lot of times, people say they won’t follow back if they’re not impressed. I’m baffled. I’ve heard this term enough over the past week that I would be remiss if I didn’t address it.
What, pray tell, are the criteria for “impressive?” If I have less than 1000 followers, am I not impressive? If I don’t have 50 million accolades listed on my bio, am I not impressive?
Again, I’m not addressing the way people choose to run their feed. The way you use social media is none of my business.
But it really upset me that people would actually say stuff like, “you have five seconds to impress me.”
The implication is that we can make snap judgements about fellow educators, deeming someone “non-impressive” by something as ridiculous as their Twitter bio. I still don’t get why it’s cool to be a Twitter snob. We are here to help students, right? To me, that’s impressive all in itself.
I didn’t sign up for social media to be judged by my peers, based on a 160-character bio, or even the way that I decide to run my feed (check out this awesome article by Rusul Alrubail).
A few days ago, all of a sudden I realized that my bio, as it stood, was in direct opposition to my philosophy. Here I was, guilty as sin of alphabet soup. I started thinking, what got me to this point? I wasn’t trying to impress anyone…or was I?
Just about two minutes ago, I was moved almost to tears by this video that I came across in my Tweetdeck stream, shared by Shelley Krause.
This video inspired me to take to my blog right away. This country is in turmoil…it has always been this way. ALWAYS. I’ll spare you the history lesson, but I highly recommend reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. I just finished it, and found it to align perfectly with the accounts told to me by my parents, since I was a child. I digress.
This country has always been in turmoil, and whether or not one chooses to admit it, “the land of opportunity” has glass ceilings and walls all up and through it. Those in power will do whatever it takes to keep it in any way, shape, or form. Historically, this has been carried out in many ways, with bloodshed being just one method. Prior to the digital age, these accounts could be spun by whichever gatekeeper was telling the story. Now that many citizens have video devices right in their pockets, we can all be part of the Fourth Estate. We have the power to tell our stories.
After the murder of Michael Brown, most news outlets did not cover the story initially. I was glued to the #Ferguson hashtag on Twitter, where I could see photos and videos with my own eyes, almost as if I were there. Then, came the video of Eric Garner. Then, Tamir Rice, and countless others. Although I knew about systematic abuses of power in different forms, seeing these tragedies unfold moved me to action.
Even more importantly, these citizen accounts opened the collective eyes of the nation to what was happening. True, not everyone sees eye-to-eye, but at least people are talking about it…although for the life of me, I don’t understand how people can dispute such irrefutable evidence. Again, I digress.
The beauty of the digital age is that, not only are events being documented, people can also advocate for change on a grander scale. This video that Shelley shared is one example, of how someone was able to use such tools to spread a very powerful, and much-needed message. The fact that a video like this even has to be made is evidence of a huge problem, but that goes without being said.
What are the implications as an educator? There is a whole hashtag for resources devoted to teaching about racial injustice, #FergusonSyllabus. I highly encourage any readers to look through it…I know I will revisit it shortly.
One major shift that I’ve made this year was have open, honest dialogues about the state of the world with my students. Members of my PLN, including Rafranz Davis, have helped me brainstorm the best ways to do so, and I have appreciated the idea to let students share their opinions freely.
I will also add that I do share my own perspective with students, since we as educators are human beings, also entitled to our opinions. I do so to demonstrate that we all have bias, whether we choose to admit it or not, and that they should keep in mind the source of their information while forming their own opinions. They can disagree with me, and with each other, and they know that all viewpoints are welcome as long as the discussions are respectful. To clarify, “respectful” entails respect for human life, as well as for the rights of others to have dissenting opinions, among many factors.
Some may wonder, how do we have time for such discussions, while also meeting the standards? First, I will paraphrase one of my educational heros, as well as my work roommate, Shawna Berry, in saying that it is most important to me that the students leave my class a better person, and knowing how to think for themselves. I will also offer that teaching English and having discussions on relevant topics are not mutally-exclusive. For example, one day last week for warm-up, the students researched both #iamcharlie and the Boko Haram killings, then blogged. We then had a five minute discussion regarding their findings and positions on the topics. This activity hit on multiple standards, including:
Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints.
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Take your pick. I will stop there in the interest of time, but you can find out more for yourself on the Common Core website.
Tying back to the original purpose of this post, our county is having a student film festival, which I shared with my students. There are multiple categories, including dramatic and documentary works. I was so excited to hear that some of my students are thinking of doing a documentary on injustice. These are the moments that I live for as an educator. Perhaps their video will be as moving and insightful as the one I saw today.
My hope for the future is that there will one day no longer be a need for videos advocating for the value of a human life, particularly based on factors such as race, religion, and the other beautiful intricacies that make us all unique. In the meantime, I salute the citizen-journalists of the world, no matter what age.