What Vision? Whose Vision?

While we haven’t landed yet, we can see the ground coming closer and we’re scared.

OK. Below is the post I wrote before I found a clarifying statement AT THE BOTTOM of the offending document. So please read the post as is with my first understanding.

Recently, the Fraternal Order of Police (the largest national law enforcement union, apparently) released it’s proposed actions* for the incoming US President in his first 100 days. It’s not an overly formal document so that it is easy to understand what this group is asking of the new leadership.

Among other things, there is a general sentiment of “make policing overly powerful and unaccountable again.” Hurry up and repeal whatever safeguards undocumented children and adults have and deport them as soon as possible. Restore local police access to military weaponry. Reverse most recent presidential initiatives to reduce police authority in use of force. As a letter representing an organized body of law enforcement employees, it is more than disconcerting to hear what their most immediate priorities are in a new political climate.

This document is just an example. An important example because it draws my attention to a larger issue of what members of law enforcement hold as a vision of the world. While many police departments claim to “serve and protect,” reading and understanding this list of priorities made me ask – what vision of the world, its citizenry and their role to members of US law enforcement hold?

When charged with the tasks of maintaining law and order – how are you most likely to see people: as helpers or potential wrongdoers? How are you likely to perceive the way of the world – as primarily good and fair or as harsh and unkind? When you encounter the citizens you are sworn to protect – do you see them mainly as keepers or breakers of law and order?

I am not assuming that it always has to either/or. I believe that organizational context, geographical and historical frames will influence how any police officer takes up his or her given duties. But in speaking on behalf of a vast number of law enforcement members, the Fraternal Order of Police, clearly expresses  a prevailing world view and a set of political imperatives.

I ask these questions, too, because the rise of the president-elect and his supporters has given life to many new visions of what the US can and should become in the months and years to come.  We need to interrogate the content and sources of these new visions and recognize that there will be many. Every group will have its special set of desires and parameters to fulfill and will seek to arrange these with the new power structures as best possible.

So as we discover many mores such disturbing documents, let us not flinch from grasping the possibilities which white supremacists, militia groups, Wall Street tycoons, oil barons and several others see opening before them. There are ways that they see and envision the world which would hardly occur to many of us. We must keep asking, asking, investigating, interrogating.

 

Now here’s that clarifying statement from the FoP:

Please Note: This document is a predictive summary of potential actions that the Trump administration may take in its first 100 days and is based on statements from the campaign and media reports up to the time the document was distributed to FoP members. It is not an advocacy document and does not represent the FoP’s agenda for the first 100 days of the incoming administration. It is an advisory to our members as to what may happen when the new administration takes over.

Given that disclaimer, I see that I have unfairly assumed ill of the law enforcement union. At the same time, I see that I am not alone in my concern and outrage at what the document nevertheless reveals. If the incoming administration did in fact pursue these measures, how then would law enforcement act?  What is the connection between executive direction and on-the-ground compliance?

If this is not an advisory document, what would an advisory document then look like given these anticipated steps? This is where the vision question becomes all the more significant. If national law enforcement has a vision – what does it really look like and is there a chance that the objective to “serve and protect” will remain as intact priorities?

The FoP mission statement:

To support and defend the Constitution of the United States; to inculcate loyalty and allegiance to the United States of America; to promote and foster the enforcement of law and order; to improve the individual and collective proficiency of our members in the performance of their duties; to encourage fraternal, educational, charitable and social activities among law enforcement officers; to advocate and strive for uniform application of the civil service merit system for appointment and promotion; to support the improvement of the standard of living and working conditions of the law enforcement profession through every legal and ethical means available; to create and maintain tradition of esprit de corps insuring fidelity to duty under all conditions and circumstances; to cultivate a spirit of fraternalism and mutual helpfulness among our members and the people we serve; to increase the efficiency of the law enforcement profession and thus more firmly to establish the confidence of the public in the service dedicated to the protection of life and property.

“… support and defend the Constitution of the United States…” Looks like they may well have their work cut out for them.

People of Color Conference 2016: Some Thoughts on Power

img_20161209_151732

Identity as the organizing premise.

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference is over. I’m sad because I was having such a wonderful time in the company of so many thoughtful, engaged colleagues. I’m happy, however, that I had space and time to make connections that matter.

While I was in Atlanta at PoCC I observed the following:

  • The People of Color Conference places identity at the forefront of our conversations. This is uncommon among education conferences in my experience.
  • Because identity is the organizing premise, each individual attendee is called on to  engage on a personal level within this professionally oriented context.
  • As we talk about who we are, how we identify and where we find ourselves, we also come across intersections and overlap – no one is just one thing. Each of us is deliciously complex which can make for exchanges that can be confusing and clarifying for different parties, for different reasons, at different stages.
  • This is a conference where we learn to hold tension, work with and through discomfort, acknowledge judgment when we are unable to suspend it.
  • I witnessed thousands more smiles than frowns.
  • There are many more indy ed Twitter fans out there than I realized. The multiple real-time tweets are the gifts that keep on giving.
  • Hugging was prevalent.
  • The empathy lamp was switched on.
img_20161209_092007

Many more smiles than frowns. Honored to be with Caroline Blackwell of NAIS and Hazel Symonette of University of Wisconsin-Madison.

To be on the other side of this experience is to have gained a shade more insight on who I am and strive to be. One thing I struggle with, however, is reporting. I’m not a very good reporter. To be able to succinctly describe how moved I was by keynote speakers Bryan Stevenson, Brittney Packnett, Zak Ebrahim, or Richard Blanco might take me a lifetime. To share how bowled over I was by the spoken word poetry of 15 yr old Royce Mann or simply star struck in the presence of Hank Aaron, Congressman John Lewis and Christine King Ferris on the same stage – seems beyond me.

What I know and feel is how these voices and their messages are working inside me daily. In this way, my PoCC experience will not let me rest. Yet. Rather, it is leading me in the direction of “good trouble, necessary trouble” in the words of Congressman Lewis. I’m spending time meditating on power and identity and where these intersect with education. The NAIS People of Color Conference felt like my own personal “Identity, Education and Power” Conference.

img_20161210_123453

Brittany Packnett was the closing speaker. A godsend.

Brittany Packnett, who is a product of independent schools, told our assembly: “In this room sits POWER. You are either developing leaders, or you are one.” I have been thinking about this ever since. Yes, we – who are the ones we’ve been waiting for- have power. Gathered together in intentional and supportive community, we have power. Sharing our expertise, claiming our seats at the table, unleashing our brilliance – we have power. I thought about titling this post “Power of Color Conference” – because of the power we find in coming together over and through our individual and collective identities.

And we are people working largely in elite spaces. Several independent schools cater to the 1% and even to the top 10%  and 20%- if we educators of color are there, we inevitably need to be aware of and thinking about power – our own and that of others. Knowing that the majority of community members who finance and govern our institutions rarely look like us, and that of those same institutions very few were built to (also) support the intellect and advancement of people of color – this is a necessary and real understanding we ought to have. It does not mean, however, that these schools and academies are not excellent places for us to work, to teach, to coach in or for us to lead. On the contrary, our schools can be extremely open and hopeful places, encouraging and strategically forward-thinking places. And they are, for the most part, predominately white institutions (PWIs).

Ultimately, the People of Color Conference seeks to bridge this divide between the reality of PWIs and the still somewhat tentative and/or limited supply of educators of color on their campuses. Many teachers and staff of color come to the conference as a sort of oasis of fellowship. It can be tiring to stay in the role of the “lonely only”* or to be just one of a handful of folks of color at a PWI. PoCC provides that unusual opportunity to ‘flip the script’ and find (in every sense of the word) ourselves in the majority; to experience power in numbers.

After the fact I feel both restored and stirred up. I spent valuable time in a “seat” of power and the act of “knowing my place” is irretrievably expanded.

As I rise, stride and direct my movement forward, I’m on the lookout for justice – the kind that extends beyond ‘just us.’ Attending PoCC provided that necessary affirmation – I’m not alone. I have supporters and co-collaborators. We have power.

Let’s do the good that needs doing and remember to “fight issues, not people.”

 

*I am grateful to my dear friends in the digital humanities,  Maha Bali and Anne-Marie Perez, author of the article “Lowriding Through the Digital Humanities” for the reference to this term  “lonely only.”

 “Most people, understand that it’s hard being the only woman in a room of 50 to 100 men. For people of color most of us know, it’s just as hard to be the lonely only. That’s how I felt. Alone and painfully self-conscious. When I’m one of the onlys, however kind and welcoming the environment, I experience stress. There’s a fear of asking questions lest I be seen as speaking for my race / culture and somehow reinforcing biases.”

All images by @edifiedlistener.

Dear Members of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference 2016, …

Dear Members of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference 2016,

Hi. We probably haven’t met and have not yet really seen each other here at this combined conference of over 5000 people. I’m an educator attending the NAIS People of Color Conference.
https://mobile.twitter.com/MsFreeman_Rm210/status/806914626650771456

I’m writing to you because I’m wondering about your experience here in Atlanta. What has your conference meant to you? I wonder what you could tell me about the people you’ve met, the conversations you want to really remember, your best and even most challenging moments. I’m also thinking about how we are connected even without having met or exchanged a few words yet.

Student. Diversity. Leadership. Conference.

I’m particularly curious about those two words in the middle and how you bring them together with the first one in your day-to-day. Diversity leadership – what is your vision for what that can look like? What will you have to do, who will you need to be in order to engage your peers and others in your school and home communities in topics of diversity?

Here’s another thought: as an adult who is a teacher and parent, I’m asking because, honestly, I need some help. I believe that you know things, perceive things, understand things that I do not. Your take on events, on situations is not among the most likely ones that I will hear about, read about and therefore consider. That is a deficit.

And while we at both PoCC and SDLC gather here to take up questions regarding diversity practice, one of our ongoing challenges in every conversation is asking ourselves which perspectives are missing. Your presence here reminds me of my own lack of consideration of voices much younger than mine. What messages do I regularly fail to hear because I am simply not listening? Because it has hardly occurred to me to turn my ear in your direction?

I can fix this though. And I will.

I will also forget, mess up, fail. On multiple occasions. Because we all will in different ways, on varied levels – that belongs to the process of striving to do better, to become better.

I am writing this in the morning before we come together in our affinity groups and regional meetings. This will be my opportunity to practice what I am preaching here. I want to be prepared for your brilliance, accepting of your vulnerability, and rooting for your success. It is vitally important that you are here being you and applying all that that entails to the work we have before us.

Because, oh my, we do have much work ahead of us. I am preparing for your leadership.

Ready. Set. Go.

Thank you for being here and being you. You matter.

Sherri

Blogging Beyond the Classroom – A Talk

Below is the text of the talk I gave at the panel discussion session I participated in at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference 2016. I shared the panel with Marcy Webb (@teachermrw) in person and Christopher Rogers (@justmaybechris), who was not able to join us on site. The full title of our session was “Blogging Beyond the Classroom: Online Engagement for Professional and Personal Growth.”

While planning this short talk, I started out with all kinds of “what” – What I do and where and for whom on which platforms.

It took me some time and a dry run to realize that that is not what I really want to talk about. Rather I want and need to consider the “whys” of my writing, of my online engagement, of being here.
So while I have prepared these remarks for you, they are also words I need to hear myself speak in order to test their truth.

Some truths – here goes.

There are days when I cannot wait to be able to sit down at my laptop and write, write, write.

The more I write, the greater my appreciation for those who write better than I, the larger my confidence that I can become a better, stronger writer.

I write to understand.

When I tweet I join in conversations. When I blog I join in conversation.

I find community in conversation.

What I write about is deeply connected to what I read.

The fact that I am here to talk about something that I choose and love to do blows my mind.

Having a blog means having a space for me to place thoughts and ideas. My blog is a sense-making tool.

Publishing blog posts lets me invite others into my thinking and writing space.

Just because I offer an invitation does not mean that people will come.

By publishing publicly I do not get to choose whom I invite and who shows up.

When I read the work of others and comment thoughtfully, I join a conversation and add value.

My greatest insight so far, “If we want to have audience, then we must first and foremost be audience.”

This is my motivation in my cycles of reading and writing. Reading deeply, widely, consistently leads me to write as a response, as a means of processing. And as my own writing elicits response from others, I listen and think alongside others and we start a new cycle of reading to write, and writing to read.

In other words, my writing – tweeting, blogging, curating, publishing – are forms of call and response, call and response.
I do believe that you can write your way out of ignorance.

When I started my blog, when I began tweeting, I was not aware of these things. I simply began and slowly found my way.

And I’ve had help and support. I have a “digital Godmother” who is Rafranz Davis, an outspoken tech integrationist out of Texas who welcomed me into edu-twitter like no other and made me feel at home. I found men and women in various education circles, both K-12 and higher education who gladly supported my work, and welcomed my commentary. This has made me want to stay and build and most recently, to learn how to resist the ravages of the current political climate.

I didn’t realize the strength or depth of my political views until I began writing publicly.

I did not understand that being in contact and in dialogue with authors whom I admired would matter in the way that it does, both for me and them.

It took some time to appreciate that my voice, my style, my sense of urgency mattered to more than a few people.

Now I can begin to understand that when I write, I am being politically active. I am being culturally active. I am being educationally active. And over time, I walk that arc from being active to becoming an activist.

As I stand before you today I believe that I am in the midst of that process without having landed: Active on the way to becoming an activist.

No piece of my writing is fully done when it is published and finds an audience. It is always imperfect – my best shot at that moment- and I own that.

Once upon a time in grad school, I developed some theories of action for my practice as an education leader. At the top of the list was this: Care must be at the core of everything we do. At the time, although I was thinking about schools and the education communities we build and inhabit, I see now that this particular theory of action underscores all of my public work as a writer, contributor and digital interloper. I show up and speak up because I care. I enter into dialogue and cultivate relationships of support and encouragement to both demonstrate and receive care.

I am proud to be here in this space with all of you and can honestly say that my presence at this conference, on this panel, in this community is about care – our collective and individual care.

I hope that it is helpful.

IMG_2025.JPG

IMG_2026.JPG

Welcome to #NAISPoCC 2016

 I’m in Atlanta, Georgia attending the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference this week. And today I am participating in a panel discussion on blogging and social media. That means I have a presenter sticker on my name tag and am traveling with all the electronic devices that I have at my disposal: my smartphone, an iPad, a laptop – all the markers of tech immersion. And yet because of how I happened to arrive and secure WiFi code for one device in one location and a different code for my devices in another location coupled with a charger handicap for my laptop, I am sitting here trying to write a blog post on the device least comfortable for long form: the smartphone.

This I can and will fix later but the irony is not lost on me.

My alarm is about to go off. I need to get going. But here is how I am going into the day:

  • I am meditating on white supremacy.
  • I’m thinking about the work that I did yesterday with Dr. Eddie Moore and Debbie Irving who led an all day workshop on the topic.
  • I am thinking about what it means to name white supremacy not as the elephant in the room but as the room itself. 
  • https://twitter.com/edifiedlistener/status/806620869435019268
  • And that’s a critical distinction.
  • For many, even for me, that sounds so harsh, so comprehensive, so uncompromising, unyielding and therefore we don’t like to use it.
  • And yet it reflects my experience, not always as a malicious force but simply as the reality we live in.
  • Seeing it, naming it comes as a surprising relief, because I know what I’m facing, negotiating, working with and around.

This is how I’m going into the day: aware, awake, alive.

Because knowing white supremacy does not stop me, does not keep me from pursuing my aims, my dreams. On the contrary, I am ‘in it to win it’ and the more I know about the terms of engagement the better equipped I am to succeed.

So here I go. Watch me walk.

Still Not Funny – On not giving in to humorlessness

I’ve been moved by a number of things I’ve read in these last few days. Blog posts, Twitter threads, news analysis and more. I’m listening. I’m processing and wondering.

I work with children during the day. I insist that we work to be fair to each other and kind and respectful; that we play our games safely and involve everyone. If I raise my voice, I have told them, it probably is because I have a concern about safety. I’m afraid someone might be hurt. They understand this even if it may surprise them in the moment. We have a relationship and trust each other.

My 9 year old and I were talking at the dinner table. He has a gift for the dramatic and was applying it while assembling his hamburger fixings. When I mentioned his tendency to dramatize, he responded: “You didn’t raise me to be humorless.”

Humorless is a interesting word choice for a 9 year old.

It’s true and he’s right, I haven’t raised him or his older brother to be humorless. On the contrary, humor is central to our relationships. This is good to remember as I feel my humor running low these days.

I’m frustrated by a lot of what I see in mainstream media, particularly in its highly conciliatory coverage of the US President-elect. There is so much focus on what he says when we know after a nearly 2 year campaign that he fabricates, lies and denies on a regular basis. His word is never his bond.

The unbelievable rush to generate clicks overrides every design to report with integrity. The examples are far too many and egregious to list. Painting neo Nazis as young, stylish folks, actually discussing if Jews are human on CNN, raising the question if the Vice President-elect was “harassed” by the cast members of Hamilton…and on and on. I keep shaking my head –  although disbelief is not an option I’ve told myself already.

I cannot laugh. I keep wondering – where are those helpers that Fred Rogers’ mom always told him to look out for? Where are the opposition leaders among our elected representatives? Because the catastrophe is upon us and just getting started.

So I’ve made my peace with the fact that there will be no saviors. I feel like many of us are experiencing a crisis of expectation. We keep believing that things will happen differently: it won’t be so bad, it’s only four years, that he won’t be all bad… Our false and completely inaccurate expectations – based on convention, level of privilege, and/or ignorance are leading us down a path towards our own destruction – and we’re walking it. Perhaps there’s a little apprehension in our step but because so many of us want to believe – That we’ll be alright, that they don’t really mean us any harm – we follow like the children behind the pied piper – oh how we fall in line.

If the New York Times or Washington Post aren’t  bent out of shape at the proposed cabinet members or the recent convention of white nationalists in Washington, DC praising the incoming President complete with Nazi salutes, well then, it can’t be so bad, can it? But precisely this must be our cue. The sign that something is very rotten, not in Denmark but in these divided United States.

Even as I am overwhelmed with anger, disappointment and frustration – my sons have not raised me to be humorless. On the contrary.  As I find my own way to resist the spectacle of the current developments, I will need to hold on to my capacity for humor, laughter and fun. To my sons and my students, I owe them at least that much.

Special thanks to Eric Spreng for his wonderful essay on why we need to write ourselves free from despair which helped me write this post in the midst of my confusion.

 

Faking it has made it

205h

This will likely be a short and quick post*. I am

  • amazed
  • devastated
  • appalled
  • mystified
  • overwhelmed
  • astounded

at the position we as a world find ourselves in currently. I say “world”because although I refer to the current governance developments taking shape in the no-longer-quite United States, we as a world are bound to pay the price on more levels than we can perhaps appreciate right now.

I hold US citizenship but live in Europe. I am far away from the full on day-to-day media saturation trumpeting news of the president elect and his cabinet under construction. That said, even at this distance, my anxieties and fears are being confirmed and inflamed regarding the direction public (and soon-to-be private) affairs are headed, for vulnerable and marginalized populations in particular.

And so it is with great dismay and shock that I come to terms with this notion of “post-truth,” although I already alerted friends to call me out if I publicly register disbelief at the emerging state of affairs.

What I am struggling with is the notion of how hard we will all have to work to separate lies from truth, particularly those coming from “official” sources. I like to fancy myself a fan of critical thought, of deeper than surface level research and exposition – but really, if I need to become a full time investigator for every.single.claim. that comes out of the White House and all related agencies – I am sunk.

With each new morsel of “news” we literally have to ask ourselves: Is this real? Because the possibility, no, likelihood that it is fake has never been higher. Fake news is at an all time high in popularity both for generators as well as for consumers. It creates profit! Which means that it is here to stay. And members of the incoming US leadership are high rollers in the fake news market.

Let that sink in. We can never assume that anyone with any bit of significant authority in the highest levels of US government is telling the truth. About anything. We cannot rely on traditional media to have done (or to do) their due diligence in reporting (because faster gets more clicks; viral makes money).

Christine Xu writes about the spread of rumors in China in support of the then Republican candidate for President and suggests:

The spread of small falsehoods and uncertainty is murkier, more organic, and much harder to undo. The distortions of reality come in layers, each more surreal than the last. Fighting it requires more than just pointing out the facts; it requires restoring faith in a shared understanding of the truth. This is the lesson Americans need to learn, and fast.

As the election fallout becomes denser and less readily navigable, this information uncertainty arises like an unexpected plague – a virus we struggle to diagnose, let alone treat. This is what I was not prepared for: having to fight for the truth, a genuine truth.

In my own world, I’m still a fan of integrity – in individuals and groups, in institutions. I see now that I can add this to my list of ‘things to fight for’.

Here’s the opening to a Twitter thread that helped my thinking mainly by sounding the alarm bells:

And this thread left a similar mark covering the same maneuver.

Part of the lesson here for me is to stop being surprised. Rather, I am charged with being cautious and vigilant. The deeper, more serious challenge becomes one of remaining open to trust: of my neighbors, my colleagues, acquaintances and friends.

So let us all pause, take a deep breath and realize where we are and what this means. I suspect those of you who have been reading dystopian sci-fi are feeling less aghast than others of us. Help us out. Be patient.

Let’s cull and curate our sources carefully. Which means we may need to slow down to do it.

 

* I may have believed this when I started writing but it is no longer the case. Not short, not quick, not the truth. It was in fact, unlikely. #fulldisclosure