Sunday, February 24, 2019

That Iconic Equality vs. Equity Pic

The Problem with the Equality vs. Equity Picture

A few years ago, I came across the following image on either FB or Twitter:
Image result for equality vs. equity

Many of you have probably seen this. It has several iterations I’ll discuss later.

Now, bear with me…you need some context before I discuss my thoughts about these images. 

I’ve been a little slower than I would like to realize just how deep and widespread discrimination is. I really started learning about and working on myself about 10 years ago. There were definite glimmers before because I’m a voracious reader who will tackle most subjects and authors. However, I didn’t understand systemic discriminationand issues. I focused more on individual people being jerks or small places like schools or offices having issues. I also believed in color blindness as the goal to strive for. I knew women and men were treated differently, but I was a staunch liberal feminist (now that I know the term—I never would have called myself “liberal” back then) and a post-feminist: I thought women should be more like men so women could be competitive. Men were the standard women needed to aim for. Any failing to achieve equal status was the woman’s fault. Lord. Why in hell did I ever think that?!

Anyway, I would also never have called myself “privileged” or “racist.” No! Never me! I was “tolerant” and “colorblind.” Okay, sure I was homophobic and transphobic (I blame my religious upbringing for that), but I read books…with lots of different types of people and experiences. There was no way I was racist or discriminatory (except for the aforementioned LBGTQA community). I thought “equality” was all we needed. 

Fast forward to the beginning of my journey out of the cave. I learned about microaggressions, equity, how colorblindness is polite racism, how we might change individual people but that does little for systems, how we need widespread change, how the Founding Fathers were assholes (I already knew a few had slaves), how most of what I learned in history was a fucking lie told by the conquerors and colonizers, how the classics novels I devoured in high school were tools for spreading those systemic issues, and on and on and on. 

Just when I begin to wrap my head around one idea, another pops up or is attached to the original idea. I think I’ve finally hit the roots and can now trace out the branches of all those “–isms.” That brings me back to the picture. Hopefully you’re still reading…

Several years ago, I saw the comparison of equality and equity portrayed in the above picture. It made sense to me. Equity would be giving (I’m using “giving” loosely—not in a patronizing way) each child what they need to see over the fence. Cool. I can do that in my classrooms. No problem.

Then, I realized that also wasn’t enough. We still weren’t doing anything to address the system—we were treating/helping/working with individuals. Don’t get me wrong: it takes individuals working together to change systems, but many of our societal issues are not simply INDIVIDUAL PROBLEMS. So, giving those people boxes to see over the fence doesn’t address there’s a DAMN FENCE IN THE WAY. Then I came across this image:

Image result for equality vs. equity

Now we’re getting somewhere. That wooden fence was removed: the systemic barrier is gone. Once again, I was happy for a little while. But, wait a sec. The wooden fence is gone, yet now there’s a (even taller) chain link fence. Was the barrier really removed or just changed? Those kids (who are all White, I know, but that’s maybe a separate post) can see the game, but they’re still kept out of it. They’re still on the margins—they just have a better view of what they’re missing. 

A couple months ago, I started examining this pic again. I found this blog post, which introduces some new pics and solidifies some of what’s been irritating me: http://culturalorganizing.org/the-problem-with-that-equity-vs-equality-graphic/

Image result for equality vs. equity


Here you have general images of people actually tearing down the fence. That allows a view and access to the game. We’re slowly improving this image.
Image result for equality vs. equity

This picture has the same ideas as all the previous ones, but it does use people of color. Still not there, though. I do appreciate how the author of the post also mentions the students are all different heights, so they need boxes (or not) to create equity. "This metaphor is actually a great example of deficit thinking--an ideology that blames victims of oppression for their own situation. As with this image, deficit thinking makes systemic forms of racism and oppression invisible. Other images, like the one of different animals having to climb a tree, or of people picking fruit, suffer the same problem" (Kuttner, 2016).  

Another positive step, but I’m not fully satisfied. Something has continued to nag me the last 3-4 years, but I’ve not been able to articulate it fully. I felt as if I needed to learn more before I opened my mouth. I’m not done learning—not even close—but I’m to a place where I can discuss what continues to haunt me. 

Finding these different images helped me nail down what I wanted to say. Although the people are drawn differently, mainly the foreground items don’t differ much. What doesn’t really change from picture to picture? Go ahead and look at them again. I’ll wait….

There are two major pieces that mostly stay the same: the background and the seeming sex of the people. Let’s tackle sex first:

From the back, all but one of the people in the pictures looks like society’s depiction of a male. Yeah, that’s problematic. So, men are the only ones worthy of receiving equity or liberation? Sigh. Those patriarchy roots run deep and true. If you want to know more about the patriarchy, let me recommend a book we’re reading in my Gender and Curriculum class: The Gender Knot by Allan G. Johnson. Yes, it’s a male writing about the patriarchy. Like there haven’t been tons of women writing about it. But, it’s a well written, well thought out book. And, who better to speak to and about the patriarchy to help dismantle it from the inside? 

The other element that sees little change is the background. Did you even notice the background? I hadn’t for a while. Each of those pictures features a baseball game. This is what bothers me about this picture—what the baseball game can represent. Let’s deconstruct that a little.

First, what’s America’s favorite pastime? No, not electing complete idiots who know nothing about running a government and then betting on how fast those idiots can bring about an apocalypse. That’s the new favorite pastime. America’s favorite pastime is baseball. Baseball ranks right up there with apple pie, the flag, and Uncle Sam. The pictures could be using baseball to give an American context to the message, or (this is where I lean) it could be a hint of nationalism. That good ol’ American exceptionalism. Systemic discrimination isn’t just an American problem, but, wow, we really do it up right. We’ve had to amend our country’s founding document so many times because this country was founded on racism and sexism. “All men are created equal…” Yeah, that’s males—with penises. Because penises are important. Men who aren’t White? No, they aren’t men. Back then, they even distinguished between acceptable White and those others. When those “other Whites” helped marginalize people, they got accepted into the White boys’ club. This is a good starting place to learn about those “other Whites” becoming accepted: https://www.pitt.edu/~hirtle/uujec/white.html.

Second, the onlygame depicted is baseball. Why is baseball (as a symbol) the only choice? Wouldn’t true equity or liberation allow for more than one option? Why is baseball the standard all those people are striving for? 

Of course, that led me to think of education. As I learn more about colonization; systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.; and systemic oppression, I see increasingly more how much our current education system perpetuates those ideas. Oh sure, there are flames of resistance—mostly begun and tended by marginalized groups—but the system pretty much stays the same. Again, let’s deconstruct this as we figure out why baseball is the only choice offered.

1. This is easy: the majority of teachers are White women. Sorry, but we tend to be foot soldiers for the patriarchy and White supremacy. I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat myself: White women will throw anyone under the bus if we think we might get the tiniest smidge of power from our overlords. 

Plus, we do enjoy a measure of privilege because of skin color, religion, sexuality…whatever status quo boxes you can check. Why upset that and risk losing the privilege and power we’ve managed to beg, borrow, and steal over the centuries? As long as our selfishness supersedes any real fight for equity or liberation, we are just fine teaching kids baseball is the only true American sport, and everyone should try to be baseball players. If you’d only try harder, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you could totally walk onto that field. Wall around the field, you say? Pshaw! There’s no wall—you just don’t have enough grit or a growth mindset. Look at that field: there are a few from your group out there. Those people…yeah, those people tried hard. It’s an individual problem, not a systemic one. 

Ahh, White women, the damage we do as citizens and teachers just to please those White dudes. We have got to stop cheering them on and supporting their shitty decisions just to save our own tenuous positions.

2. I’ve quoted this so much, but thank you, William Pinar, for this question: “What knowledge is of most worth?” I also want to add my own questions, “Who is choosing the curriculum? Who is setting the standards? Why are those the standards? Who makes the decisions that all kids need to excel in these specific areasto be labeled ‘successful?’” 

White people make most of our curriculum choices. Whites wrote most of our tests. Whites make up most of those education “experts” and edu-stars. Whites also make up most of the curriculum and testing companies. Most of our standards were written by…come on, folks, you know the answer: White people. And, as stated before, most of our teachers and administrators are (say it together): White people. 

Let’s extend this idea…

Soooo, if White people are in power and controlling most of American education, for whom do you think all this stuff is being done? I’m guessing their White kids. How else does systemic oppression and discrimination get perpetuated and learned? Someone has to teach it. Sure the parents are doing a good job, but tough work like maintaining your hierarchical status requires real (White) experts. 

Of course we’re going to set standards White children can achieve. That’s going to be our bar and everyone much reach it to graduate, go to college, and even hope of being competitive in the job market. 

That means we push things like Standard English (SE or SAE), a term used in Oklahoma’s ELA standards and Common Core (used in the intro and throughout the standards). We push formulaic writing. We push the literary Canon. We worship standardized testing, even though studies have shown those tests are discriminatory and really only tell us a student’s socio-economic status, which is also related to racism. We push Advanced Placement classes (mostly for White kids because College Board’s “rigorous” standards are aimed toward those status quo demographics, but thank god for those few model minorities to help College Board look like they don’t discriminate). We push four years of English, three of social studies (mostly White history), three of math (but let’s push as many kids as we can toward those higher maths, whether they need it or not), three of science, and a handful of electives (also decided on by those mostly White people in charge of curriculum decisions). 

Why does every kid have to fit this prescribed mold? Why does every kid need to reach these standards? 

I’m trying to figure out how to tap into my wide range of students and their wide range of talents and voices, but also make sure they can play “baseball,” since it’s the only approved “sport” for American students. I’m scrambling trying to fight the system but not put more hurdles in my students’ paths. Those not status quo have to learn to code switch to even hope to survive, much less thrive, in this status quo world. 

And, goddamnit, that pisses me off. 

Many of my current students are already working on being bilingual, but now they also have to learn SE so people have one less thing to hold against them. Why do they need to learn to make me and other Whites (and other status quo groups) more comfortable? Why must they all attain the same fucking thing? 

Why does my student who spits incredible rap lyrics and has an unerring sense of rhyme and rhythm need to learn all the shitty comma rules? Hell, Whites don’t even know or use commas correctly, but I’m supposed to suppress him, mold him, force him through a White crucible, and turn him into something that maybe (MAYBE) society won’t chew up because he doesn’t match the status quo. 

Why does my student who sits every day and writes about his anger issues and his life (without much punctuation or care for spelling) need to learn the 5-fucking-paragraph essay? Why do I need to squash his outlet and tell him that’s “not proper English”? Why can’t he go to college and be successful in that higher echelon of academia? 

White educators, it’s past time for us to open up the playing field and open ourselves up to other possibilities. So what if a kid never learns the Pythagorean theorem? Can that child still find success elsewhere? Big deal if a kid doesn’t read and worship the literary Canon. Does that kid read and enjoy and learn from other books. The amount of dust on a piece of literature does not measure its literary value. Rather, that literary value and all our other “values” are social constructs designed to perpetuate and uphold the status quo. Period. 

Next time you are called on to make choices for your students, don’t just throw them a box or change the fence and think you’ve done enough. Nope, it’s past time to tear down those fences and let ALL our students find their own games. It’s time to stop relegating certain student groups to the benches or, even worse, behind the fence. Every single student can become successful if we change the “rules” of what qualifies as success. 

There is no “lowering of standards” or (gasp) “dumbing down” of curriculum. Rather, White teachers need to stop being gatekeepers or bouncers and only allowing the status quo or the “model minority” onto the field. Just as children are individuals, so, too, should be their paths. 

Maybe if White teachers would stop feeding the discriminatory systems, we might be surprised how quickly those “achievement gaps” close and how we “magically” solve so many of society’s ills. 
Image result for monty python black knight none shall pass meme

It’s past time for White educators to stop acting like the Black Knight. It’s time we burn the bar and teach each student how to find success in whatever area they want. It’s time we stop churning out only baseball players, benchwarmers, spectators, those desperately trying to scalp a ticket just to get inside, and those who remain behind the fence. It’s time to open up the field to more than the White possibility.

Until then, I guess I’m going to continue to teach all my students how to “batter up” and play this shitty systemic game because they all deserve a chance at that American Dream—even if those odds were deliberately built against most of them.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Oklahoma Election, 2018

This post may end up being a little rant-y, but I need to get out some thoughts and feelings. I’ll try to be logical, but that can be difficult when I’m passionate about the topic. And I only write about topics for which I have passion.

I participated in the teacher walkout back in April. I was there 8 of the 10 days. One day I had to get some homework done for grad school. The other day I had to rest because the sun made my lupus flare up. I took a chair and spent as much time at the Capitol as I could each day. I talked to a few representatives, but I honestly don’t like engaging in fruitless endeavors. If the legislators were going to listen, they would have done it years ago. All they had to do was wait us out, which they did. They knew we would go back “for the kids” and continue participating in our abusive relationship (I wrote about that after the walk out[JW1] ).

We did get a small raise (that still does not make our state competitive), but that happened before the walkout. The walkout was about funding schools rather than continuing to starve them. The walkout was about calling on legislators and citizens to show they actually care about education and the future of the state. The walkout demanded action instead of pretty and empty words (thoughts and prayers, anyone?!). But, as stated before, the legislators simply waited us out. Teachers had no long terms plans because they thought such a widespread initiative, that garnered national attention, would shine a shameful spotlight onto the situation in Oklahoma. Teachers finally gave up because students were caught in the middle, and teachers were not prepared to laysiege. We left with pithy slogans and promises: Remember in November!

Throughout the two-week walkout, people rallied around us with free products, with their presence, and with their sentiments on social media. Everyone was pumped…things would finally change in November! It seemed as if people were finally and genuinely tired of Oklahoma being in last place for education. They were tired of being the butt of jokes. They were tired of Oklahoma mostly making national news for bad events (for example, in June, Oklahoma became #1 for incarceration). “Remember in November” was the rallying cry.

I was reeeeaaaalllllllllyyyy cautiously optimistic, which is my norm. But, I also know the true nature of people. Change is difficult and takes commitment and time. Most people don’tchange because they prefer being comfortable to actually working on improving. Life in the cave, although you’re chained and living in shadows, is much easier than clawing your way out and being blinded by the light (even if the blindness is only temporary).

As soon as Stiff won the primary, I knew it was over. Just as I knew the same when Trump won his primary. Stitt may not be a career politician, but he knew exactly what buttons to push and what strings to pull to make people dance. And dance they did…making him win with 54% of the votes. 54%. Think about that. He won because he is an “outsider” and a businessman—just like Trump. But anything is preferable to a (shudder) “career politician.” (On a side note, there’s a huge difference between someone who makes a career serving the public as a politician and one who makes a career taking PAC and lobbyist money as a politician.)

But, wait…maybe Stitt has some open and progressive ideas about education. Maybe he cares about education because he knows the future of our state hinges on educating future citizens. He does say he’s a product of public education. But, he’s also publicly stated he would’ve voted against the teacher raise. But, he does have all these plans…but, he has no idea how to fund all these plans and take us to top 10. (From the bottom to the top in a few years…I may die laughing.) He has said he doesn’t agree with raising taxes (on anyone, including oil and gas companies), so I’m guessing he has some magic beans or maybe Fallin will leave her money tree for him.

Throughout the last few months, Stitt told us exactly who he is and how little he cares about public education. Hell, his kids don’t even attend public schools. Stitt is such a stereotype: White, male, “Christian,” wealthy, cishet. He’s a poster child for the GOP. You know they pissed their pants when he decided to run. Even politicians who should be busy running our country took time to attend a rally and endorse him. Really? They had nothing better to do than fly to little old Oklahoma and give the White dude thumbs up to some random guy who decided one day it would be fun to be governor (pretty sure Trump did the same with President). By the way, unless you have a strong stomach, do NOT read the comments made about Stitt.

But…teachers still had the support of the masses ringing in their ears, feeding their dreams, and fueling their fire. Teachers knew the public wouldn’t, couldn’t, abandon them this time. No one could be that ignorant and cruel. “Remember in November!” Surely the state wouldn’t fail teachers again. Surely the state would vote “for the kids.” We’d even made national news for something positive: record number of teachers running for office. The public loves teachers. Of course the public would remember…their memories couldn’t be that short, right?

Well, the public did remember:
  1. They remembered teachers love being martyrs and saints.
  2. They remembered teachers will do anything “for the kids.”
  3. They remembered teachers would probably have a bigger hassle finding other jobs and/or moving to other states. It’s easier to stay.
  4. They remembered teachers are pros at “making do” and using their own money for supplies or begging for products on DonorsChoose or asking for money on actual street corners.
  5. They remembered they might have to pay taxes to help support all those freeloaders and mooches who won’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps. *eye roll*
  6. They remembered they don’t actually want allkids educated—just the pretty, rich, White kids. Why would they pay money to educate kids they don’t even see as people?
  7. They remembered, and this is the most important caveat, they only vote for those candidates with an “R” after their name. (There were a couple exceptions where it seems like people simply voted against anyone who had ties to public education—even if that person ran as Republican.)
I don’t know what the next step is. I saw a FB group already forming to remind Stitt who he works for. I guess it’s a one day rally at the Capitol. I’m not sure what that will accomplish because I guarantee Stitt knows whom he works for: the 54% who elected him, the majority who elected mostly Republican legislators, and the unflagging support of Trump and his cronies. Stitt knows exactly whom he works for. He and the other anti-education, anti-teacher candidates called our bluff. They won. We flinched during the walkout, then we were thrown out of the game last night. The only “power” teachers have left is making their own personal choices about staying in this abusive relationship or setting fire to the bed…sorry, flashback to Farrah Fawcett and TheBurning Bed movie.

Seriously, the only real recourse left to teachers is deciding to stay or go. The public has already laughed in our faces and believes there will be little to no repercussions. They seem perfectly happy will an unprecedented number of emergency and alternatively certified teachers. Teachers are easily replaceable, even if Stitt has to hire people to act as teachers—what difference does it make?!

Ultimately, the citizens of Oklahoma, the ones who voted, showed their true colors on November 6th. I’m tired of being optimistic. I’m tired of waiting and seeing. I’m done giving chances. How much more will we take? Every election, Oklahoma shows us exactly how they feel about our situation: They want something for nothing. As the old saying goes, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

And ultimately, I’m tired of giving it away for “free.”

[JW1]Link to the blog

Sunday, May 6, 2018

My Abusive Relationship

I’m in an abusive relationship. It feels good to finally admit that. It’s been going on for about 13 years. But, I think I’m about ready to end it—for my own sanity and health, but it’s so hard to break away.

Now, before my friends call the police, it’s not a person abusing me…it’s a system, a career. My teaching career is slowly eroding me. And, I finally need to tell someone. If teaching is also your abusive relationship, maybe my story will help you, too.

(Note: since I’m hetero, and for the sake of flow, I’ll refer to my relationship in male terms.)

I fell in love with teaching sometime in the break between my Associate’s and Bachelor’s. Teaching seemed so perfect. It was such a good match. Since I was older when I made the decision, I didn’t begin the relationship with rose-colored glasses or romantic ideas. I wanted this relationship and was passionate about my choice.

But, I should’ve seen the warning signs. Others tried to warn me.

Yet, I just knew I was strong enough, and things would be different with me. Teaching and I would have a much stronger relationship because we were destined to be together. Others were in their relationship for the wrong reasons. I was in it because I truly wanted him.

I was so wrong.

The abuse began within the first year.

It started small: taking me for granted, piling work on me, expecting me to make do…but there was still some money for the “nice things” (like books and supplies). He was always apologetic for the extra duties. He always sweet-talked me into doing more “for the kids.” How could I deny him? Our kids were incredibly important. He and I needed to make things work because their very futures were at stake.

So, I put on a stiff upper lip and pulled on my big girl panties and found my grit and something with bootstraps and all those other martyr clichés. Because (and here’s the ultimate martyr cliché) I was doing it for the kids. What could be nobler than that? No sacrifice would be too great. Of course I would do whatever was needed…for the kids.

However, the abuse grew worse. No matter how much I did, it was never enough. Outsiders even hurled abuse at me. They had no idea what my relationship was like, but they sure knew I was at fault. They rarely had enough insight to blame him. I was the problem.

But, again, I stayed for the kids. As he withheld increasingly more money and piled more chores on me, his demands on my time grew. He expected me to use my meager salary to buy school supplies and make my room inviting and purchase books and buy snacks and tissues and clothes and on and on.

He expected me to turn in two grades per week because of…reasons. He didn’t care what we actually were working on in class. Those grades were tantamount. He expected me to rely on statistical data and wouldn’t trust me to be able to measure a student’s personal growth and improvement. He expected me to post a word wall and have learning targets and use objectives (disguised as standards) and follow his whims and stream of consciousness ideas about education.

Whenever he saw something shiny and new, I was expected to become that. And he continued to take away money and trust and respect me less.

I had to use blackboards and whiteboards and overhead projectors and computer labs and Chromebooks and Smartboards and Edmodo and Remind 101 and Kahoot and Peardeck and GAfE and gamification and so many other toys. He swore each one would help educate all of our children. However, he never let me stay on one for very long before he got bored and threw another toy at me—and expected me to immediately comply.

I had to also manage IEP’s and 504’s and individualize for each student’s needs and prep our kids for tests he chose—but had little to do with what I actually taught in class. He judged me, and our kids, completely based on those tests. I couldn’t understand why he sold our children to these testing and curriculum companies. Those places didn’t care about our kids. Yet, he trusted their numbers more than he trusted my judgment.

Throughout all this, he heaped emotional, verbal, and physical abuse on me. I was called lazy, greedy, selfish. I wasn’t allowed to eat regularly (because of all my chores) or go to the bathroom when I needed. I stopped drinking water like I should so I could cut down on bathroom trips. I quit exercising so I would have more time to grade papers and write lesson plans. He shamed me and made me feel guilty for every sick day I used. I also had to find time for professional development and reading, much of which I had to pay for myself. What he grudgingly offered during work hours didn’t feed my soul or inspire me to challenge myself or push toward excellence. Instead, it demoralized me and forced me into more compliance. That PD made me feel like an idiot and a robot.

Each year I questioned more whether I was good enough. I couldn’t see how all the mandates helped our kids, but surely that was my problem. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t stomach Marzano or the other “experts” he said were our friends.

The final straw came recently. And, I walked out, temporarily, on our relationship and our kids. I approached him reasonably and logically. I asked for more money for our kids and for myself. He closed his door on me. He ignored me. He left work early to avoid me. He said hurtful things about me—behind my back. He treated my simple requests as a joke. Finally, he simply waited me out.

Yes, I gave up and went back…for the kids. What else could I do?

I tried to make myself feel better with platitudes. I tried to shore up my broken heart with slogans (“Remember in November”). I tried to bind up my bleeding wounds with smiles and promises. I tried to fake optimism and bravery…for the kids.

But, I’ll be honest. I think people like hating me more than they want to fix him. Ultimately, people like their comfortable grooves. Change is painful and scary. It’s much easier to continue the way we always have, to stay in the abuse.

That’s why I’m afraid the only thing that will actually change is me. I will work to change him, but from the outside. I have already agreed to one more year of teaching, but I think that may be it for me. If I weren’t almost halfway through my Master’s (in curriculum), I’d find a completely different “relationship.” But, I am done with being abused. I am done with smiling and looking “pretty.” I’m done making life easy for him. I’m done doing it “for the kids.” I’m done being a doormat and a scapegoat and a whipping boy. I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I do know I will not continue being someone’s pawn.

I am mad as hell. I will not be gaslighted anymore. I plan on dismantling the fucker with my own two hands. I plan on using my hard-earned expertise and my Master’s degree to chip away at his power, little by little. My life’s work and my passion will go toward eroding his abusive and discriminatory behaviors, to ending his autocratic control.

I will not go down without a fight. I am taking control right now. I hope other teachers will also wake up and make the decision to end the abuse.

After all, we are doing it for the kids. But, we are also saving our profession and ourselves. It’s time to rise up and take back our money, our time, our sanity, and our lives.

It is time to say, “Enough!” and to take more than a 10-day symbolic stand. Look around and recognize the signs of abuse in your life.

Now, let’s come together and really make a difference for ourselves…and for the kids.  

Friday, December 29, 2017

We Need YA: Part 1

For my Curriculum Issues class, I had to write a paper tying two young adult novels to what we had read/discussed in class. My professor gave us about ten novels from which to choose. I read most of them before I decided. I thought I'd break up my paper into its sections so no one has to read all of it--unless you want to.

“I am Outcast” (Anderson, 1999, p. 4). “Wish there was some future to talk about. I could use me some future” (Grimes, 2002, p. 8). What is the purpose of young adult literature? Does YA have a place in the classroom? As its popularity increases and the market continues to expand, many educators and literary critics have added their opinions. An increasingly popular topic is whether or not YA should teach a lesson to be useful or legitimate. But, why does YA need to be a fable or sermon? Adults do not need to appropriate the genre so they have another platform to preach to teens; rather, educators should use YA because of the role it already fills: acting as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors (Bishop, 1990). Yes, adults largely write YA, but students can see themselves in characters, especially empowered characters—thus, in turn, teaching teen readers empowerment and showing students they are not alone. There are many reasons to use novels, such as Bronx Masquerade and Speak: YA helps dismantle systemic discrimination by showing students reflections of themselves in literature, YA helps empower students by assisting them in finding and using their voices, and YA helps teach students they are part of a larger society.
YA Helps Dismantle Systemic Discrimination
            The article “Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity” helps explain why students need books that mirror all of them. “Settler colonialism is the specific formation of colonialism in which the colonizer comes to stay, making himself the sovereign, and the arbiter of citizenship, civility, and knowing” (Tuck & Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2013). We see this played out every day in English Language Arts classrooms in the choices of literature. Too many teachers continue to cling to the “Canon”: the “dead, White men” who comprise most of the books read in ELA classes (such as The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Letter). Literature by women and some people of color become supplemental to the Canon, making those men the voices of culture for American students. Those, mostly, White male authors are the “arbiters of citizenship, civility, and knowing.” When teachers speak of having a common knowledge or heritage, those are the authors to whom they refer. Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernandez argue that perpetuates an idea of “fort pedagogy”: “everyone must be brought inside and become like the insiders, or they will be eliminated. The fort teaches us that outsiders must be either incorporated, or excluded, in order for development to occur in desired ways” (2013). What literature do “insiders” read? That of mostly White, male authors—with palatable women and people of color for support. Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernandez continue their position by stating, “whiteness and white subjectivity [are] both superior and normal…whiteness and settler status are made invisible, only seen when threatened” (2013). I have seen this during conversations among departments on what to teach: when anyone challenges that status quo, teachers suddenly become fearful of jeopardizing that common knowledge and heritage. “But every child should read those authors? They’ll be left out if they read something else!” Is it not time to recreate what we push as normal and superior in curriculum? White is not a race; it is an ideology. Most of our students are made up of more “outsiders” than “insiders.” Why do we continue to make them feel inferior because they do not fit that outdated White ideology? The demographics of students continue to fall outside the White, heterosexual, cisgender, Christian, male, wealthy section. That is such a small slice of the America pie, so why do teachers continue to oppress and alienate the majority of students by refusing to change the curriculum to better reflect students? We do not need to continue using the Canon as a mirror for students to see how they do not fit in and a window for them to see what they will never have (as long as society stays the same). We need literature that opens doors for students—not literature that slams doors in their faces. It is past time we create a new common heritage, paradoxically built with diverse voices.
            Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes exemplifies the type of literature needed in today’s schools. Bronx explores the voices of eighteen different teens (different ethnicities and genders) through the use of first-person narration and poetry. It does not represent all voices, but it does a better job than the Canon. The premise of the book has a teacher giving students a chance to read their own poems to the class each Friday. Before each poem, we get a brief chapter introducing us to the student, giving the reader an intimate look at the student’s life. Then Grimes communicates an even more honest and personal portrait through the poem the student writes and shares. Grimes does an exemplary job of creating unique styles for each character, allowing the reader a chance to meet different people, people who could act as mirrors or windows. Grimes also uses one character (Tyrone) to react to each poem, filter his new knowledge about the classmate, and act as that “sliding glass door.” Through Tyrone, the reader can also learn what it is like to have to change opinions about another person, to reassess preconceptions and give that person another chance. Raul, a Latino artist, thinks about using his art to “show the beauty of our people, that we are not all banditos like they show on TV…I will paint los niños scooping up laughter in the sunshine…I will paint Mami…Mami’s beauty is better than a movie star’s” (2002, p. 21). Latino students will connect to the use of Spanish; other students will see the use and have a glimpse of Latino culture. All students will understand the desire to show they are not stereotypes: they are rich and layered individuals, who need not feel shame for their language and culture and race. Tyrone understands Raul’s passion through Raul’s poem, and Tyrone ponders this truth, “Forget who white folks think you are, ‘cause they ain’t got a clue” (p. 23). Our students know this, so why keep pushing them into the “whitestream,” forcing them into the “fort” (Tuck & Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2013)? After a few weeks of sharing poems, Leslie, a classmate, remarks, “I’m starting to feel like I know Janelle, at least a little. And Lupe. And Gloria. And Raynard” (Grimes, 2002, p. 51). The same could be true for all students if we would have the courage to highlight their voices, the voices of a diverse range of people, in our curriculum.

            While Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson focuses on a White girl, it does provide a chance for others to look through the window, maybe step through the door and into the shoes of a girl who was sexually assaulted at a party. This is yet another voice overlooked or silenced by our use of the Canon. For example, readers hear about what a whore Curly’s wife (who is never given a name) is in Of Mice and Men, we hear Hamlet’s assault of Ophelia, we hear Othello accuse Desdemona, we hear about Daisy’s adultery in The Great Gatsby, we hear about Abigail Williams sleeping with John Proctor in The Crucible…we hear all these women’s stories through men. We hear and judge these women. Through Speak and the narration of Melinda, we can begin to hear, and understand, what women go through at the hands of more powerful men. Rather than force these women into the fort, we can leave that narrow-minded place and see their trauma. No, Melinda cannot, and should not, speak for all assaulted women; however, she can open the door and help us start conversations about consent and rape (conversations especially timely in 2017). Melinda begins her freshman year (after the rape) by not speaking. All of her friends have deserted her for calling the cops on the party, where the rape happened. “It is easier not to say anything…All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing your feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say” (1999, p. 9). When victims of assault and harassment finally tell their stories—if they ever do—many times they express this same sentiment: I did not think anyone would believe me or listen to me. They fear the system set in place to benefit men, plus the centuries of people teaching women are to blame for any sexual transgression. As the novel progresses, Melinda loses sight of herself, does not even recognize herself: “It looks like my mouth belongs to someone else, someone I don’t even know. I get out of bed and take down my mirror” (1999, p. 17). Her struggle needs to be told in classrooms. While Melinda refuses to look at herself in the mirror, we need to use the book as a mirror for our teens to discuss assault. We need to open the doors to the fort and meet our teens where they are. We can no longer call ourselves “educators” as we silence our students by only teaching the settler colonialism of the male experience. Both men and women need to read Melinda’s story and examine it. Then, maybe, we can begin changing a misogynistic culture into one where Melinda could have told her story—or never have been raped.

Sources for this section: 
Anderson, L.H. (1999). Speak. New York, NY: Square Fish.
Bishop, R.S. (1990). Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors. Retrieved from
Grimes, N. (2002). Bronx Masquerade. New York, NY: Dial Books.
Tuck, E., & GAZTAMBIDE-FERNÁNDEZ, R.A. (2013). Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler
Futurity. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, Volume 29 (Number 1), 72-89.