Reflections on Summer Learning

It has been a week since IREL20 week one. The material of the course was great. A lot of writing that I was able to revisit from brilliant scholars, course work and reflection that asked me to examine the systemic racism that thrives in our white centred school systems. As the week went on I often asked myself where do I go next? I wondered as I listened to white educators share their trepidation over jumping into the race conversations, seeking permission to step back on trying to push back on the system, looking for smaller things that won’t make as many waves, not be ostracized by unwilling to change colleagues, and I thought about how nice it might be to choose to step back. How nice it might be to be celebrated for the smallest of acts as if they are revolutionary, how nice it must be to just take a break. I notice that some of the white educators in the first week after George Floyd’s murder, who vowed to change and amplify voices have moved on to the next topic. They got the exposure they needed, they ran a few chats, started a book club and then slowly crept back to hawk their products with a #BLM theme. They quoted a few Black thought leaders and think the work is done. For our BIPOC teachers the work is never done, largely because white educators keep asking for a breather.

This past week I also finished this great book. Which is a collection of short stories written by FNMI authors. Fiction but very much rooted in history. There are many great stories, there is also an analogy early in the book that really has stuck with me this week. The author, in talking about colonizing groups, referred to them as Wendigo. If you are unfamiliar with Wendigo they are monsters or possessed people of Algonquian folklore characterized by evil deeds, cannibalism and insatiable greed. The analogy tying colonists to this mythical monster really was powerful to me.

Today as I did my Twitter reading I came across a Tweet from Kelly Gallagher, an educator I respect greatly. He shared that students need to read books where they can see themselves and also books where they see people or situations that are not their experience (paraphrased). This is a great point that has been made by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop with her analogy utilizing Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors. I have heard Mr. Gallagher cite Dr. Sims Bishop many times so not citing her in this statement did not come across as a slight. However in his thread there were many educators that were using her words but erasing her name from the conversation.

“Yes students need mirrors and windows”

“Oh don’t forget sliding glass doors!”

And yet all of those posting at that point had forgotten Dr. Sims Bishop’s name. Another educator, Benjamin Doxtdator, reminded everyone of the original source but this got me thinking and inevitably has lead me back to both my IREL week, concerns over white educators checking out to find and easier route and Wendigo.

So here goes, intentionally or not when we forget to cite those who inspire our ideas we are not celebrating them. We are consuming them for our benefit. When we do the bare minimum or we look for the easy way to address something like systemic racism we are saying we want the accolades for just trying but not the callused hands that come with hard work. Another example of consumption and greed. We can read all the books but if we are just using bits and pieces to further justify our actions and avoid growth we are further consuming the ideas for our benefit. How much of the work being done to further Antiracism is done to uplift BIPOC folks without looking for something in return? Even recognition or ally status? Just another example of the greed and need to consume everything and make it ours.

This lore of the Wendigo and connection to colonialism has really created a powerful visual for me when comparing it to a lot of what I read when looking at the accounts of BIPOC educators. Being pushed out of spaces, ideas being taken and repackaged by white educators, having to lock down their social media accounts in attempts to not have their work stolen. These precautions are taken because it has happened before. It seems it is almost expected to have their ideas and work consumed instead of celebrated.

So my next steps are simple to avoid the path of the Wendigo. Working to promote the work of BIPOC educators is easy. Citing them each step of the way. I will be working to continually amplify their work. I want to be purposeful in bringing their stories into class, not just books on the shelves that I hope they read, not just the current top authors but I want our work to be made richer by including theirs. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors” should be in all the work we do and her name should be uplifted in those conversations.

I don’t know why this Wendigo analogy has stuck with me, it really could just be the visual that it creates attributing this cannibalistic monster to the idea of stealing land and erasing culture and in extension to these conversations around teaching and how we conduct ourselves and where I fit in that picture.

I do know that we as white educators need to continue to work to address the inequity in a system that serves us so well. We don’t get to just take a break because we are tired, consume more of the work and energy of BIPOC educators and then decide to reenter the conversation when it is convenient or beneficial.

I have so much more learning to do. This week for IREL20 we look inward. I am certain there will be moments of discomfort. I often talk about in class with my students as we learn new things it is like lifting weights. Muscle breaks down to rebuild in the simplest of descriptions. This is how we get stronger. It is uncomfortable. When we look at our role as white educators in upholding systems of oppression for both our students and colleagues it will be uncomfortable but we must push through that discomfort if we want to build and grow.

Here is to another week of learning.

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