A couple weeks ago I virtually attended a webinar that not only shook me to my core, but it was the stimulus I needed to finally start this website. And thankfully, it was recorded and uploaded for everyone to be able to view. Especially as we head into a new school year, dialogues such as this are what we need to hear. These beautiful humans will inspire you.
During this one-hour conversation between Ernest Morrell and Nell K. Duke, they not only spoke their truths but also invited the viewers to do their own soul searching. I was confronted with my own inherent beliefs about literacy and the individuals who sit in the seats before me each year. I was confronted with my own understanding of equity in my context. And I was confronted with my passive role in being better for every single student.
At the end of the hour, Ernest stated:
“We don’t want to go back, we want to go forward. Turbulence can disrupt…and there are some things that need to be disrupted…. This is a time to forge a new narrative; a narrative of excellence that is widely distributed. An ethic of love where we mention the word love as much as we mention the word science when we’re talking about reading pedagogy and achievement…. There is an opportunity to form a transformative vision for literacy education that will lead society…. We want literate human beings, but we want humane ones. Some of the most literate societies in human history have been responsible for some of the most atrocious acts. Literacy doesn’t make you a better person; humanizing education does. It’s reading and writing in the interest of self-love and social transformation is what we want.”
(I could end this blog post here with this mic-drop moment. Such powerful words!)
We need to remember that the current context we are in not only is happening to everyone in the world but also is no one’s fault. There is no one to blame. And as such, we need to take this opportunity to come together as a collective and see the possibilities afforded to us, to focus on the little (and big) humans who come to our classes everyday (whether digitally or face to face).
One concept that was reinforced for me in this webinar was that of connection. Building relationships and creating a trusting environment must be at the forefront of all classes as schools reopen this fall.
Connecting to Tricia Ebarvia’s work
This webinar made me think about the work done by Disrupt Texts.
Numerous times I have been lucky to hear Tricia Ebarvia speak. She says that teaching is a political act and that teaching literacy is teaching for freedom. She asks the questions “How many times do we have students cross off parts of who they are (gender, race, religion, etc.) when they walk into our schools and our classrooms? How do we show up as teachers?”
We have an opportunity to nurture the self-love and social transformation that Ernest espouses through the literature that we bring into students’ lives. As Tricia says, we are “stewards of stories,” and we have the power to transform our classrooms into beautiful spaces where students can read stories of themselves and those of others. We have an opportunity to diversify our curriculum and to help create those literate and humane individuals that society desperately needs.
Nell mentioned the historical link between racism and literacy, how White people and White systems worked actively to suppress people of color from learning how to read and write. This, too, made me consider Tricia’s point about the literary canon (brought to you by a bunch of White men), which, just like race and religion, was socially constructed, and therefore it can be torn down and rebuilt.
The narratives within these stories don’t need to be placed on a pedestal. Especially now, during these turbulent times, we need to disrupt the status quo of inequity. Educators are in a powerful position to do just that.
Breaking the cycle
In a recent Hidden Brain podcast on NPR, the host speaks to author and behavioral economist Sam Bowles about his book Moral Economy. Sam explains how he believes we have moved from the species Homo sapiens (wise human) to “Homo economicus.” This new species, he says, “cares only about himself or herself and therefore evaluates actions that may be taken simply in terms of what’s in it for me.”
This shift in human behavior is affecting our ability to cope with and gain perspective on the current COVID-19 and racism pandemics. Educators have an opportunity to disrupt this me-me-me mind-set and nurture a more collective mentality.
And literature can help. Literature creates bridges to empathy. Literature can connect people from different races, classes, cultures, and generations. Literature can heal.
But we, as educators, need to step up and learn how to do it better.
I can imagine why you said the webinar struck you. Powerful words and they just go deeper and deeper. I found myself nodding and saying to myself, “I really never have thought of that.” Literacy + humanity.