By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.


Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

DIVERSITY BOOK CLUB #3: BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME


“I’m not a thing; I’m a net of interactions with the world around me, with the people who know me, who love me. It’s a more powerful way of trying to grasp reality by focusing on what interacts with what and how…. The world is complicated. It’s immensely complicated….  But if you look from the outside, you always miss something, which is the perspective from the inside…..” 
(Dr. Carlo Rovelli, physicist, On Being interview, March 16, 2017)

“It is a very personal story. It's a horror movie that is from an African American's perspective….  I think what interested me most about this movie was dealing with racism, really everything from the subtle racism that many people may not know exists on a day to day basis, or for a lot of people….” (Jordan Peele, director of Get Out, Forbes interview, October 5, 2016)

“… I argue in this book that the plunder of black communities is not a bump along the road — it is, in fact, the road itself….  Struggle is important, whether success is assured or not.” 
(Ta-Nehisi Coates, author, The Daily Show interview, July 23, 2015)


Let’s resume our virtual Diversity Book Club.  In previous and upcoming posts, I summarize books and provide classroom applications and resources for teachers interested in building welcoming and inclusive environments in their classrooms and schools.  We continue with Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel and Grau, 2015).


Summary:
At my own son’s suggestion, I read and re-read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Letter to My Son when it appeared in The Atlantic Magazine.  When my son later gave me the book, Between the World and Me (from which the article was excerpted), I was able to further delve into the book that searingly illuminates Black experience in the United States.  I commend it to teachers and to students from middle and high school onward. 

Physicist Carlo Rovelli emphasizes the importance of interaction in the universe, and the importance of understanding the perspective of others when trying to understand the complex world around us.  Ta-Nehisi Coates takes the complexity of his lived experience in the world as a human being in a Black body and shares his perspective.  It is joyful and painful, vivid and important.  Indeed, Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison advises, “This is required reading.”

Reading this father’s anguish, owning it as our responsibility, and teaching our students of all backgrounds how racism’s roots pervade United States history are moral imperatives for culturally competent and compassionate teachers. 


In the book full of personal reflection and experience, Coates writes about the connection of White on Black violence in the context of U.S. history, “At the onset of the Civil War, our stolen bodies were worth $3 billion, more than all of American industry, all American railroads, workshops, and factories combined, and the prime product rendered by our stolen bodies—cotton—was America’s primary export…. Our bodies were held in bondage by the early presidents….”   

Coates continues, “Here is what I would like for you to know: in America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”


Chapters include Coates’s recollection of walking to school, fists, head, pace, posture—all “just so.”  Just so someone would not challenge him for being offensive in a stiflingly fear-based Black community.  He remembers coming close to death as a peer slowly drew a gun out of a coat pocket to point at him.  Why?  No reason Coates could discern.

He recounts the death by police shooting in Maryland of a college acquaintance, driving his own Jeep, on his way to his fiancée’s home.  This college graduate, doctor’s son, and rising professional seemed to “have it all.”  But having Black skin that made him a mistaken identity target to (ironically) a Black off-duty police officer who killed him during a traffic stop.

 

Applications in school/classroom:
1.    Read the passages of Coates describing his caution on the streets of Baltimore, walking to school, and reacting to school.  (See pages 20-26). 
a.    “When I was your age, fully one-third of my brain was concerned with whom I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled, whom or what I smiled at, who offered a pound and who did not—all of which is to say that I practiced the culture of the streets, a culture concerned chiefly with securing the body….”
b.    Ask students to write about their approach to the school/classroom.   Have them note similarities and differences.
For example, I share my personal recollection with my students: “As a White high school student, I walked with my own fists, head, pace, posture—all ‘just so’—to avoid calling attention to myself as an intruder in a predominantly Black high school.”
c.    Do our students each see themselves as some kind of intruder?  Do they experience some kind of stereotype threat, as Claude Steele articulates in Whistling Vivaldi?  Finding common ground is a way to use Coates’s experience to build ties across boundaries.

2.    Research the economic history Coates explores.  The slave trade benefitted many Americans.  How could White “Christians” treat enslaved Africans so cruelly?  Follow the money. Why didn’t people of conscience stop it sooner?  Follow the money. 
a.    Among other resources, find “Key Distinctions for Understanding Race and Racism” at The Tracing Center www.tracingcenter.org developed by filmmaker Katrina Browne. Browne made the film Traces of the Trade in response to learning about her White Rhode Island family’s deep involvement in America’s trans-Atlantic slave trade.  She has uncovered the connections between her family history and her White privileges compared to families of enslaved Africans, for example. (Her yarn-web exercise demonstrating a small town and all craftspeople and gardeners supplying slave ships is useful to students).

3.    Investigate police interactions with Black motorists.  Using this NPR Code Switch article, high school and college students can research numerous links in the article to statistics, police department policies for body cameras, and court rulings.  “Some Key Facts We’ve Learned About Police Shootings Over the Past Year (April 13, 2015)” http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/04/13/399314868/some-key-facts-weve-learned-about-police-shootings-over-the-past-year
a.    Examine this quotation as a way into the lesson: "There are racial disparities in police stops — blacks are stopped twice as often as whites — but they aren't related to traffic safety offenses, in which cops exercise a little less discretion and violations are equal within groups. Where we see a difference — even after we adjust for driving time (on average, blacks drive more and longer than whites) — is in investigatory stops. In these, drivers are stopped for exceedingly minor violations — driving too slowly, malfunctioning lights, failure to signal — which are used as pretext for investigations of the driver and the vehicle….”

4.    Use my September 2015 blog to further explore these issues: “Preparing our Multicultural Selves to Teach/Reach All of our Children in the Era of Black Lives Matter” http://thinkcareact.blogspot.com/2015/09/preparing-our-multicultural-selves-to.html

5.    Have students explore their own implicit biases by visiting Project Implicit (www.implicit.harvard.edu) and taking the race (and other) Implicit Association Test [IAT], developed and explained by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald in Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. 
a.    Use the book Blindspot to help students put their (likely) racially biased test results into perspective.  Explore other ‘isms with them: gender bias, ageism, size bias, etc.
b.    See my blog on the book for more information: http://thinkcareact.blogspot.com/ 

6.    How can we build caring classroom environments in which students feel safe to tackle unsafe topics? To make our class environment a caring place for daring conversations I use the “Circles of Culture” exercise explained in my blog.  Taking time to create a caring place for daring conversations makes all the difference in the student (and teacher) experience and forges our bonds as a community of readers, writers, and upstanders, ready to build a welcoming and inclusive community in and out of school…. This is relevant teaching and learning: today and every day.
a.    (Sample questions: In which of your circles of culture do you find safety/refuge?  Why?  In which of your circles of culture do you find discomfort or lack of safety?  Why?)  Read more: http://thinkcareact.blogspot.com/2016/07/creating-caring-classroom-community_6.html

7.    Students can read The Atlantic article “Letter to My Son” as an entry to the book.  https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/tanehisi-coates-between-the-world-and-me/397619/
a.    Invite students to write their own letters to Ta-Nehesi Coates and/or his son.  What is the hope they hold for a welcoming and inclusive world?  What will they do to make their classrooms, locker rooms, cafeterias, and communities safe for people of all backgrounds?  What is the future of race relations in the US?  What is their role?

8.    Older students (high school and college) can use Jordan Peele’s social horror film to further explore issues raised by Coates. 
a.    Students can listen to Peele’s interviews on the film on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  Read excerpts from the interview: “ ‘Get Out’ Sprang From An Effort To Master Fear, Says Director Jordan Peele” http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/03/15/520130162/get-out-sprung-from-an-effort-to-master-fear-says-director-jordan-peele  
b.    Read the Forbes interview with filmmaker Jordan Peele: “Jordan Peele Talks 'Get Out' And His Love For Horror Movies.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2016/10/05/interview-jordan-peele-discusses-get-out-and-his-love-for-the-horror-genre/#77580e9c187e

9.    Older students (high school and college) can continue to explore the economics of enslavement and the Civil War with this reference article by Roger L. Ransom, University of California, Riverside: “The Economics of the Civil War” https://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-economics-of-the-civil-war/

10. Watch Ta-Nehisi Coates’s July 2015 interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show  http://www.cc.com/video-clips/yy2dzc/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-ta-nehisi-coates

In the Daily Show interview, Coates reveals that his book, Between the World and Me, reflects his ongoing fearful conversation with his Black teenaged son.  Jon Stewart feels Coates is offering “an opening to a conversation” for the wider society, and I think teachers would be wise to participate.  In spite of daunting times, I agree with Coates, who affirms “Struggle is important, whether success is assured or not.”


Susan Gelber Cannon, March 2017

1 comment:

  1. This book opened a world of understanding to me as it illuminated how having a color is something that is always with a person and so tragic when it is held in negative societal regard. It also helped me understand the longitudinal process of maturing under racist conditions. I think a 'soft' complement to the book that addresses many of the issues is Jacqueline Woodson's If You Come Softly.

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