Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Access to Meaningful Education: Obstacles and Opportunities in Early Childhood Education

This is the text of a presentation written and delivered with fellow Welcoming Path board member, Holly, at a local conference on August 12, 2017. 


A tale of two children (Holly) 

When he was born, Sam’s parents worked at working-class jobs and lived on the outskirts of town in a low-cost neighborhood. Sam attended a local daycare, but was frequently sent home early with coughs and colds. His mom had to take off work so many times that she lost her job. At a year old, Sam was diagnosed with asthma, aggravated by the smoke from the nearby coal plant. Sam’s mom became determined to move to a different part of the city; after moving, mom began looking for work again. Times were rough, and the job search was difficult. The ongoing stress from having only one income while trying to afford rent in a nicer area strained the family, and Sam’s parents began to argue - a lot. Sam cried when they shouted, and stress hormones washed over his brain time and time again. 

Eventually, the family was evicted for failing to pay rent, and Sam’s parents chose to separate. After weeks of couch-surfing, Sam’s mom managed to find a small apartment (one bedroom, small kitchen, and bathroom) near the airport. The rent was low enough she was able to accept a minimum wage job and just manage to scrape by. Sam spent his days with a neighbor, who made sure his physical needs were met but didn’t play or interact with him much beyond that. The television was a constant background noise, humming just above the buzz of the airport traffic, making it difficult to concentrate. Sam’s mom took extra shifts to try to make ends meet; by the time she got home from work and made dinner, it was time for bed. Each night she lay beside Sam and read to him, but often fell into an exhausted sleep. They would have to wait until tomorrow to read. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

From White Supremacy to Collective Liberation

This is the text of a presentation I gave at a local conference on August 12, 2017. The presentation also included video of and discussion about the violent march by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, not included here. 


I grew up here, in a city with a checkered past and uneasy present with regard to race relations, in a religious denomination founded on the defense of race-based slavery, and among extended family members who often exhibited prejudice. Race became one of those things you could joke about but never talk about, and racism was certainly not an issue that you brought up with others, especially not at a family picnic, a lesson I never seemed to learn. So I grew up surrounded both by white people and a brand of racism that was rarely named but always implied. It was in the jokes told at family gatherings, in the sections of town we were warned to avoid, and in the ways our lives failed to include people of color, unless our coach was recruiting for a sports team. As a child raised on the multicultural worlds of Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact, and with parents that taught me to treat everyone with respect and kindness, I began to notice these contradictions. Slowly, I also noticed how conversations about poverty portrayed low-income white people as 'down on their luck,' while low-income people of color were portrayed as pariahs and leeches. I learned just enough about abolitionism and the civil rights movement in school to know whose side I was on. Yet I never studied history or the arts from a multicultural perspective, and I was ignorant about how complicit I was in systems of oppression. 

As a result, as an adult I found myself opposed to racism but without the tools that I needed to recognize and uproot it in myself or in the structures and cultures of society. It wasn't until graduate school in the late 1990s that I truly began to better understand and finally start to undo all these subtle layers of racist ideas and anxieties within and around me. At first, I became embarrassed that it took me so long to begin to make those changes, and then had to realize that my embarrassment was part of the problem, too, shifting the focus off of racial justice and onto my fragile identity. Slowly, too slowly, I came to realize that understanding and eradicating white supremacy is essential in our continuing struggle for collective liberation. 

Because it’s no secret that racism has been an extremely effective tactic to thwart movements for democracy and justice in the United States, creating a gulf between people who would otherwise be allies. While the history of white supremacy is not simple, it is true that, as Bill Bigelow at the Zinn Education Project put it,