An Analogy Exploring Bias

Believe it or not, this is NOT a blog about politics. 

Growing up, my family was very political. More than political, it was opinionated. And, there is probably an even better word than opinionated, at that! 

Assimilating passive youngsters into partisan politics

The dinner table found my dad discussing state representatives, and what they were and weren’t doing to help him. The governor was never doing quite enough for my mom. It seemed like every decision he made was a wrong one. My parents sympathized over spaghetti. 

Not everything was negative! There were plenty of politicians who were doing things right, and there were others who were fighting for causes that my parents held dear. These men and women always belonged to my parents’ political party. In fact, the people who identified with my parents’ political party seemed to do NO wrong.

If there was ever a politician from the opposition who agreed with or helped someone from my parents’ party, that person was praised for “Seeing the light.” In the same breath, they would also be ridiculed for disloyalty to their own party. 

This mentality went beyond the dinner table. When observing the behaviors of people in public, I overheard my parents suggesting certain individuals probably voted for the political party they viewed as “The Enemy.” I witnessed my parents treat people wearing clothing that supported things they disagreed with badly. Mostly, we stayed away from people who overtly promoted ideas we didn’t like. 

When my parents thought that they were speaking in private, I heard them call other people names. The way they said these epithets, it felt like they hated those kind of people. Around me and my sister, nicer language was used, but the message was clear: “Those people are ruining our country.”

Would my parents get rid of “those people” if they could? The older I got, and the more I learned in school, It seemed like you ought to be able to vote bad ideas out of political power. My parents seemed to complain about voting as much as they complained about politicians. 


I could go on with this analogy, but I think that is enough fuel to energize my thought experiment. When people populate their thoughts with slanted views, the way they see the world and its inhabitants is biased. Every action is interpreted through this mental lense. 

Rather than politics, this analogy has to do with police brutality. Ijeoma Oluo titled chapter 6 of her book “So you want to talk about race” with the question “Is Police Brutality Really About Race?” (Oluo, 2019). The story that she wrote about in that chapter, and what I have heard from other people of color, that seems to hit a nerve is a pervasive bias among police officers toward Black people (Eberhardt, 2019). 

“Is there going to be a problem, here?”

Oluo (2019) tells a story about her brother being pulled over by a cop. When her brother asked, “Why am I being pulled over?” the police officer retorted with, “Is there going to be a problem, here?” There are many things to discuss in this tiny interaction, but what I want to focus on is the “other-ness” factor. 

With racial tensions flooding the mainstream media for months, social media has teemed with personal anecdotes displaying similar stories to Oluo’s. I have seen people post articles and produce data that points to the idea that White people do experience brutality and even death at the hands of police officers (Thomsen, 2020). 

The fact is Black people in America are 6 times more likely to be killed during an interaction with law enforcement than White people (Jagannathan, 2020). This stat varies in geography, the rate being lower in some areas and higher in others. 

It is like someone took the bias of my fictitious family at the beginning of this blog and transferred it from political opposition to plain old color of skin, and then pumped it into the police force. 

I’m NOT suggesting that every single police officer in America hates people of color. The politically charged family of my analogy has an aunt who does not engage in the political banter at picnics. She’d rather just stay out of it. She’ll vote, but she doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other. There is an uncle who actually disagrees with the rest of the family. When the family is frothing about some civic story, he doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up. He witnessed what happened to his brother, who is no longer invited to anything. 

Make no mistake about it; Law enforcement is a family. There is bias toward people of color (Eberhardt, 2019). The degree of prejudice varies, but studies show that police officers are more likely to connect crime with color. This leads to pre-judging individuals. In other words people of color are not interpreted as “law abiding citizens.” This is not a blanket to cover every cop, of course. 

The metaphor of bad apples has been floated a lot lately. The problem is that it has been misused (Cunningham, 2020). It was a proverb of warning that just one bad fruit could contaminate and ruin a whole basket. 

What can be done?

Unless the family lives in a compound, each member is going to interact with unrelated people. Individuals gravitate toward like-minded people, so even outside of a compound, cops are not likely to hangout with unbiased folks. 

However, there is bound to be a pool of brackish water; A place between ocean and river, where ideas mix, ideologies are less potent. Saltwater salmon swim upstream to lay their eggs.

Just suggesting that police officers have a bias might be a seed for thought that could spur self-assessment. 

The reason I chose to use a family that is fired up about politics is many-fold. One is that this is where we are as a country. Most people have witnessed this behavior on both sides of the isle. Another reason is that political leaning is so ingrained and difficult to see past. It seems impossible to be open-minded to the potential that the “other side” could have any good ideas or do anything right. Lastly, and most dangerously, as each news story blows up phones, ideologues seem to double-down on their philosophies. It is trench warfare. I hope that this metaphor melts soon. 

I write this text to help people understand that bias runs deep, blood-deep. We cannot expect prejudice to evaporate quickly or easily. Each person, regardless of skin color, must be seen as a human. Projecting criminality onto color is wrong. “Is there going to be a problem here?”

Sources:

Cunningham, M. (2020, June 14). ‘A few bad apples’: Phrase describing rotten police officers used to have different meaning. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/US/bad-apples-phrase-describing-rotten-police-officers-meaning/story?id=71201096

Eberhardt, J. L. (2019). Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do. New York, New York: Viking.

Jagannathan, M. (2020, June 28). Black people are up to 6 times more likely to be killed by police, Harvard study says. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/black-people-are-up-to-6-times-more-likely-to-be-killed-by-police-harvard-study-says-2020-06-26

Oluo, I. (2019). So you want to talk about race. New York, New York: Seal.

Thomsen, I. (2020, July 16). THE RESEARCH IS CLEAR: WHITE PEOPLE ARE NOT MORE LIKELY THAN BLACK PEOPLE TO BE KILLED BY POLICE. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/07/16/the-research-is-clear-white-people-are-not-more-likely-than-black-people-to-be-killed-by-police/

The 2nd Chapter of My Classroom Story: Intro the Captain

When I first began teaching in elementary school, I came up with a fun and exciting, dare I say classy, theme: The Polite Pirates. My students would experience adventures in learning, sucking the marrow out of lessons! But, we would also learn all about how to conduct ourselves as ladies and gentlemen.

As I explained the theme to my students, several ideas began to weave their way through my classy talks. Eventually, these tapestries fashioned a tale, and The Polite Pirate story emerged.

In Chapter One we learned about a tremendous storm that broke apart several ships, leaving all kinds of people stranded on an island. This was originally written many years ago, and I was aiming at symbolizing the new arrangement in my classroom of small pockets of pupils that had come from varying classrooms. (My school has four 2nd grade classes.) Read at the very beginning of the year, it is meant to help students feel comfortable being thrown together with new peers.

I’ve been sharing the story via Zoom.

This year, however, the idea of survival is in the forefront of everyone’s mind. I had reposted Chapter One, mentioning how clearly Coronavirus symbolizes the horrible storm from the story! I look forward to sharing the rest of the tale and encourage my students to adapt to the shifting sands of a world in survival mode.

Chapter 2 is all about the captain of pirates who, like everyone else on the island, lost his ship and has to depend on limited natural resources for survival. Captain Iron Knee is unique. While everyone else is bustling about, making shelters, building fires, collecting edibles, he seems to just sit around! At first this is disconcerting to the other survivors. Not only is he a pirate captain, but a lazy one to boot!

This chapter is about prejudice. When we pre-judge people, we could very well miss out on great friendships, learning, and even survival. My recent post “Combat Prejudice by Turning Your Mind into an Entire Judicial System” was a prelude to the reading of this chapter. Before you meet Captain Iron Knee, it will do you well to possess a robust analytical interior judicial system. Chapter 3 explores some valuable character traits that will hopefully sway the jury in favor of the captain. Here, you simply see him by his actions and countenance. Don’t judge a book by its cover.


Chapter 2: “The Captain”

Although no one knows exactly when or how it happened, one by one individuals and groups of people began to join the one surviving captain, a pirate captain.  Was it simply because he had been a captain, or was it his strong yet sensitive, commanding yet understanding, magnetic personality?  Even though his countenance was as severe as the storm they had all just survived, everyone felt comfortable around Iron Knee.

Captain Iron Knee read more than the backs of cereal boxes!

The captain with the iron knee, could not move around as well as the other survivors.  He had gifts and talents that others did not have, however.  This old, seasoned, world-traveler was not only a leader, but he was also a reader.  

Captain Iron Knee didn’t just look at the back of cereal boxes during breakfast. He read books of all kinds, all of the time.

Due to the amount of reading the captain practiced, he was very knowledgeable about many subjects.  No problem seemed to faze him. 

“What do you mean there isn’t any food?” he would bellow.  “Look here.  This whole island is teeming with food.  You just need to know what you can, and what you shouldn’t eat.”  It was the knowing part that made the captain so valuable to every single survivor.  He seemed to know everything. 

When the survivors of the great storm initially began fending for themselves and started making shelters, looking for food, and figuring out fire, many did not like the looks of the captain.  He seemed to just sit around and tell others what to do.  It became apparent after the captain’s ragtag crew made a roaring fire to roast a meal in front of a well-constructed hut that the captain was not a loafer.  He was a leader.

Students engaged with the read aloud through Zoom by “raising hands” and marking up their screens.

One by one the other survivors ventured over to the pirate crew and asked the captain a question or two.  Each person was pleasantly surprised at how polite the pirate captain appeared. 

He may have looked gruff, but his demeanor was kind and even caring.  He was very helpful, albeit through knowledge as opposed to actually making a hut or fire for them.

The tremendous respect that his crew showed him impacted how the survivors viewed the captain, as well.  They all but bowed whenever they approached the captain.  At first, the other survivors thought that it was because the captain demanded this attitude of his crew the way other pirate captains had been known to scare their crews into submission.  But, it was his kindness, how much he clearly cared for each, and his incredible wisdom that afforded him this esteem-able station as leader… First of just his crew, and then the whole island.

No person ever referred to the captain as anything other than his full and respectful name, Captain Iron Knee.  They even said it differently from other names.  In the same way that survivors would talk about the storm that marooned them on the island with hushed tones and awe, people spoke of the captain with honorably low voices.  Everyone knew that without him they would have been doomed from day one.  

People had questions for the captain, but no one ever questioned him.  Although no one ever saw him get angry, everyone knew it would not be nice, to say the least.  In fact, when a problem seemed to thwart the wise captain, and he could not quite figure it out, his eyebrows would furrow and eyes narrow. 

It could have just been coincidence, but whenever this happened, dark, gray clouds would begin to creep over the mountain and invade a crystal clear sky.  As the captain’s frustration rose, rain would fall.

The time that showed everyone’s respect most was during the evening campfires.  Captain Iron Knee did not do all of the talking. 

Others told stories about what they had done, either on the island or before being shipwrecked.  When the captain did talk, the trees stopped swaying in the wind to listen to his wise words.  Birds would flock to neighboring branches.  The sea would calm and the fire would postpone its crackling.  Even nature seemed to hang on the captain’s every word.

Straight Answers Close Doors

#Bowties EVERY Tuesday!

I’m a bit of a jokester. There are different kinds of jokesters. I’m not the type to play pranks or make up silly stories. My style is to never give a straight answer. My coworkers will tell you that they usually adopt the opposite of whatever I tell them when it comes to deciphering the truth on a matter. Everything I say is met with sighs… That kind of jokester.

Can you just be straight with us?!

In the classroom, I am even worse! Right before I’m able to provide some hokey response, my students complain when one of their peers dare ask me a simple question. They know I will use that inquiry as a tool to teach an entire, off the cuff, mini lesson that will share a ton of valuable, real-world-information, and they will eventually love, but might take time away from whatever task is at hand.

I teach third grade, which finds student-development at pre-abstract-thinking. This doesn’t stop me from throwing curveball answers at every swinging student. Life isn’t straight. Why pretend its answers will be? Look at this pandemic. Look at politics. Look at pedagogy. Everything is swaying and swerving and swinging.

The moment an answer closes a question, the journey of thinking is over. This is why I encourage my students to ask open-ended questions. Even when these are “answered,” there is a whole adventure of learning just beyond the horizon of the information provided. Rather than the answer closing a door, it shows you an orchard where, not only can you eat the fruit of that information, but you have a treasure trove of other interesting facts at your disposal.

This morning I noticed a classy comment in the Google classroom. A combination of my having just downed some super strong coffee and my being a jokester caused me to provide a pretty productive answer.

The question had to do with the recent requirement of reading at least 20 minutes per day. My school is operating, like many during the pandemic, in hybrid mode. This means that I don’t get to see my Polite Pirates (students) nearly as much as I would like! Now, they are going to have to deal with my jokester answers in text form! Ha!!

This student wanted to know if I was requiring any kind of proof of her reading. What will she need to “do” while she reads? What tangible things will she produce as a result of having read some text?

My answer: If you do it correctly, you will grow as a reader… As a person… As a citizen… As a Polite Pirate… As a student of life…

Lest you think I left my poor pupil hanging with nothing but a ranting reply, I’ll settle your soul with the fact that in the end, I finally gave the class a clear explanation of expectations.

The moment an answer closes a question, the journey of thinking is over.

Combat Prejudice by Turning Your Mind into an Entire Judicial System

Have you ever seen someone who you thought wouldn’t be nice, but once you got to know them, you were pleasantly surprised? Have you experienced the feeling of regret after realizing you’d wasted time keeping your distance from someone, only to find out they are the most friendly, helpful person you’d ever met? And, now that you got to know them, you wish you had that time back. 

To pre-judge is human. It can be useful to observe information and categorize people as friendly, helpful, hardworking, and also unkind, lying, and dangerous. This notion of placing a person into a closed category can be problematic. What if the person who looks scary is actually both friendly and knowledgeable? 

Before pre-judging, consult the jury.

There are few things more classy than having an open mind. Observe the behaviors of others, judging whether their actions are friendly, intelligent, and/or wise. Before you completely write them off, however, do this: Turn your brain into a courtroom. 

This is the case in Chapter 2 of my story, “The Polite Pirates.” The survivors of the massive storm (See Chapter One) did not feel comfortable being stuck on an island with pirates. The leader of the pirates was not only frightening looking, but also appeared to be lazy and bossy. All he did was command his few remaining friends to do things for him! Was he bossing them or instructing them, though? 

What does this mean? When you are judging someone’s behavior, introduce some additional thought-characters; principally, lawyers and a jury. Lawyers use the Law to forge arguments, proving and disproving cases. They interpret laws, using them as tools. A judge is like a referee. What do the jurors do? Jurors are like the audience at a baseball game. If players cheated, and a biased umpire favored the cheaters, the spectators would boo the wrong-doers right out of the stadium. Another outcome, if there was persistent cheating, could be growing disinterest and lack of support for the sport. 

Jurors are common people from the populace who are purposefully un-versed in the language of complex laws (Horan, 2019). They force judges and lawyers to frame complicated ideas into simple, easy to understand concepts for everyday people to grasp. 

Apply this to what you do in your head when you are judging someone. Do not trust your base instincts. Do not assume all you preserve is the whole story. How much backstory are you missing from an action you are witnessing? Try not to project your own attitudes and experiences onto other people. They didn’t grow up the way you did, where you did, with what you had! 

Source:

Horan, J. (2019, March 6). All about juries: Why do we actually need them and can they get it ‘wrong’? Retrieved September 09, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/all-about-juries-why-do-we-actually-need-them-and-can-they-get-it-wrong-112703

Chapter 1: “The Island”

With Coronavirus keeping everyone at least 6 feet apart, how can we foster a sense of camaraderie?
I was tempted to scrap my usual “Polite Pirate” theme this year, in favor of doing something with “scuba diving.” While I still plan to incorporate this unique concept of underwater exploration & adventure, I decided to keep my original theme, as well.
This blog provides the first chapter of my classroom story. I shared it yesterday with my new students.
While we are all wearing masks, and we must keep our distance, the massive storm that disrupted the characters of our tale is more obviously symbolic of the pandemic pulling pupils out of school than any concept previously dreamed up!
Now, even more than before, we need to find ways to creatively connect with kids. Plugging students into pedagogy will be extra difficult with all of the flip flopping and seemingly impersonal screen work. How will you tie your students to your teaching?

The Captain of Class

Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 7.05.40 AM Students wrote comments, connecting to the text, via Google Docs

One of the most important things to establish at the beginning of a school year is comradery among pupils. Several years ago I came up with a story idea that focused on this concept. It introduces my classroom theme of #ThePolitePirates as well as giving us a shared purpose.

The story has grown over the years, as I come up with more themes and invest more time into it. I usually share it with my students in a Google Doc through Google Classroom, so each kid has his/her own copy to practice connecting with the text via leaving comments. This year, for the first time, I plan to publish the chapters in this blog, so anyone can read the story and leave comments.

Feel free to “pirate” my tale. Change and tailor the idea to fit your classroom. I usually…

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Getting to Class; Turn Day One Jitters into Day Won Class

I wrote this two years ago.

For years I have captained a classroom of polite pirates. The theme has involved turning pedagogy into an adventure. Learning content and skills was a treasure hunt for my students. Preparing for the first day of school, when I would meet my new crew was always exciting.

With a global pandemic promising to punish positive thinking, I have been pondering a new theme for this year. I will be teaching a team of “Cave Divers.” Not only will we be learning all about scuba diving, but the class will prepare to go where no one has gone before.

This year, my goal for the first day, week, etc is one word: “Safety.”

I look forward to blogging about the use of this theme of cave diving. Have you had to change your theme to fit the “unprecedented situation” school is facing this year? How have you changed your teaching to meet the safety concerns?

The Captain of Class

It’s August. Back to school sales are raging. Letters are arriving that tell students who their teachers will be this fall. Nervous energy is buzzing through bodies… Not just students’. Teachers worry about the first day of school, also.

IMG_9065 August First, 2018 — This is what I saw when I pulled up to my building.

Here are a couple classy ways that I deal with the start of school jitters:

  1. I have a goalONE goal for the first day. I’ll accomplish more than the one thing, but I measure my success based on this one thing. It isn’t the same every year. Sometimes it is learning everyone’s name. Other years, all I wanted was to get everyone back home safely. Nowadays, my goal usually centers on classroom management. I like  the momentum to begin in my favor, so I establish myself as captain. The class is my crew…

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A Couple Positive Thoughts on Remote Teaching

Today I am returning to school, but unlike any other year. Teachers are entering the physical buildings in my school district in order to prepare classrooms to meet social distancing guidelines: Students are to sit 6 feet apart and face the same direction, among other things. It feels a little like preparing the classroom for the PSSAs, Pennsylvania’s standardized testing scenario. 

I don’t think it is a stretch to suggest that every teacher in the world could use some positive thoughts, right now!

Here’s a couple, and I want to hear from educators that have others to share. Let’s see if we can bolster our mental health through optimism. 

Thank you so much for my book, Barbara!

On Friday I was able to hang out with one of my favorite people, Barbara Bray. She is an author, blogger, edu-chat host, and technology innovator, among other things. I have followed Barbara on Twitter for a couple of years now, and I have been very impressed with the topics and hosts that she presents through #Rethink_Learning. 

A few weeks ago, Barbara contacted me about guest hosting a chat. In addition to complimenting me on my recent efforts trying to help people feel comfortable talking about race on Twitter, Barbara shared some of the exciting things that she has been up to. It was Barbara who used the phrase “Pushing the Envelope” first, when she described her attitude about self-growth. I loved it and immediately began researching its etymology. 

We used the saying “Pushing the Envelope” in our questions for the chat that I hosted. Through comments, replies, and shares, Barbara made it appear as though I were the one to come up with the theme of the chat. I mention all of this because it illustrates the classiness of this edu leader. Not only allowing someone else to take credit, but going so far as to promote the idea of another’s credit-worthiness is really above and beyond classy!

Fine and good, but what does all of this have to do with “Remote Teaching”? you ask.

Here’s the thing: Barbara Bray lives in California. I live on the other side of the country, in Pennsylvania. When we “got together” on Friday, it was through Zoom. We had wanted to chat about a blog I’d written recently. As we shared our introductions, a recurring theme was how helpful social distancing has been in the way of connecting people who wouldn’t have “gotten together.”

True, we were not in the same room. But, seeing each other’s facial expressions, witnessing body language, and connecting all of this with a voice, helped breath life into a relationship of text. When we ended our meeting, Barbara was more than a “contact” or collaborative partner. Having shared an experience, we found ourselves forging a friendship. 

This would not have happened, had we never video-conferenced. 

Perhaps your mind is telling you that you would have forged deep and meaningful relationships just fine, if you were face to face with your students in the classroom. While I won’t argue you on that, I will propose using video-conferencing tools like Zoom, Google Meeting, Skype, etc. can empower you to begin and build relationships in ways you wouldn’t have. Not only that, but if you think about it, do you honestly communicate with your students equally when you are teaching face to face? Or, do you rely on your class benefitting from the back and forth you practice with the same outspoken students day in and day out?

By being forced to use text more and rely on video-conferencing, teachers can more easily document the discussion equity of all students. While in the physical classroom I would tolerate some students monopolizing whole group conversation, a grid of kids on a computer screen makes this more evident and therefore easier to moderate. 

What benefits or positive thoughts can you come up with as you prepare to begin varied levels of remote teaching? Are there any aspects that you look forward to?

Intersectionality

An idea popped into my head about a year ago that symbolized my realization of privilege. In the spring I wrote a blog that I published in The Captain of Class, titled “Green Lights.” It is about a white guy–I don’t say he’s white in the allegory–who drives straight through the heart of a city, rather than taking the highway that would typically allow him to bypass all of the downtown traffic. In my make believe story, I propose the reason being he has to buy something at a specific store; One only located in the middle of the city.

The point of the tiny tail is to illustrate the unconscious privilege people experience. Through it, I was exploring the unveiling awareness of my own privilege. In the story this white guy curiously does not have to stop at even one red light, his whole way through the city. Strangely, he doesn’t even have to wait in line when he goes to make his purchase at the in-town store! By the end of his fascinating journey through town, the ease of his travels strikes him as an interesting peculiarity, but little more. He simply thinks of it as a lucky drive.

In my story I mention a few goings-on along the periphery of this driver’s travels. There is an accident that barely tempts his attention. Another vehicle is broken down. A jaywalker gets arrested. These occurrences hardly cause the hero to lessen acceleration. 

At the very end, though, I revisit the intersections where, unbeknownst to the white guy driving straight down the middle of an empty avenue with nothing but green lights, there had been unimaginable tragedy. People had been waiting so long they had starved to death. Untreated medical conditions caused others to perish from lack of treatment. There were individuals who thought that the traffic light would change at any moment for one too many moments, and their vehicles ran out of gas, causing even more problems for everyone behind them, when the light did finally change! 

Intersectionality” is a metaphor from Kimberle Crenshaw.

The people at these side streets are the people for whom the term “intersectionality” applies. Why are they there? Each individual stuck on the side street has his or her own purpose for needing to cross the “Green-Lit” avenue. Many of these reasons intersect. Perhaps there is a hospital on the other side of the street. An elderly woman might be going to visit her husband who is recovering from heart surgery, while a couple is rushing a woman in labor to deliver their first baby into the world. Maybe someone else is on their way to the hospital to be tested for COVID-19.

If there were a vehicle several cars back from the intersection whose sole passenger was a man who had experienced a serious cut on his leg, this man would have many obstacles between himself and the hospital. First of all, his leg is too hurt for him to get out of the car and walk the relatively short distance to the hospital. If he were to travel by foot, people might mistake him for a dangerous individual, seeing his severe limp and assuming it was due to something malevolent. Let’s say he was left alone or at least unhindered, once he got to the intersection, he would be facing both physical and legal harm. There would be fast moving vehicles to dodge. Since they were taking advantage of the endless stream of green lights, they’d be moving at a nice clip. If there were a break in the traffic, our injured individual would have to chance crossing when a “Do Not Walk” sign was beaming down on him. He could be arrested for jaywalking, even though he were on a crosswalk!

In preparation for this post I watched a few videos. One was produced by a company that actively works at discrediting movements aimed at correcting inequity. This video attempted to shine a light on the assumed hidden and mischievous purpose of intersectionality. It made American White males out to be the victims of intersectionality. The admittedly high-quality video whined that the acceptance of intersectionality would empower marginalized peoples, taking power away from White males. It almost says these exact words! The message couldn’t be more clear. 

“…a united us versus them paradigm.”

This video, albeit made to discredit intersectionality, was the most enlightening to me on why it is so very necessary. As I watched, the graphics explained that intersectionality is the coming together of minority groups in order to confront the majority, in essence, White supremacy. This message was meant to sow fear in the minds of White people. The minorities are joining forces and supporting one another. They will be powerful enough to stand up to our oppression, if we don’t do something about it! the video fear-mongered.

We can’t let lesbians care about Palestinians!” messages the narrator of antagonistic video.
Back to “Green Lights,” but with a twist.

I pictured this idea of intersectionality playing out in my story about Green Lights. The guy driving comfortably through the middle of the city, never needing to slow down, suddenly has to slam on his brakes. There were people in the street!

Pedestrians, passengers, and drivers stuck at a seemingly endless red light had noticed a man hobbling toward the intersection. What was he doing? they wondered. He would get himself killed if he tried crossing that busy thoroughfare. Best to wait for the light to turn. Get in line with the rest of us.

Someone rolled down their window to ask the guy, “Hey, where are you going?”

“I cut my leg,” the limping man exclaimed. “I must get to the hospital.”

“You are going to get yourself killed, crossing that intersection!”

“I am afraid I might die waiting.” And, at this several onlookers and over-hearers noticed blood trailing the gentleman. Several people leapt from their cars to help the man. Other people conversed about the fact that the light had been red for far too long. Looking behind them and seeing the long line of piled up vehicles, they imagine that there might be a problem with the traffic signals.

The small crowd attending to the man with the hurt leg petition other persons to help. Come to find out, they were all on their way to the hospital! Some crafty individuals construct a stretcher for the man who seems ready to faint. Others put together posters, signaling to traffic that the lights are broken. Everyone exits their stopped vehicles and pours into the intersection, a tsunami of human need; A need for aid; A need to get help at the hospital; A need to cross the street.

Some had a destination in mind; Others needed to simply change their position. They had been sitting far too long.

Now, the car driver, who had known nothing but empty road found his avenue filling up. And, what’s this? People on foot!

They are holding signs.

They are holding hands.

They are holding up a stretcher.

They are holding up a man.

People sitting at the red lights of other intersections witness the wave of pedestrians filling the avenue. Some venture to find out what is happening.

They meet in the middle of the street; In the intersection; where trails crisscross.

They say hello to one another.

They share stories.

They hear that people on the opposite side of the road had been stuck at red lights for a very long time, just like themselves.

They empathize.

This takes time.

“Beep.”

“Beep… Beep.”

The people in the middle of the intersection hear a car horn. They stop sharing. Everyone turns and looks at the driver who is assaulting ears with a prolonged harangue of horn blasting.

He stops.

He sees hundreds of eyes staring at him.

There are thousands more behind these. The street is full of them.

He is alone.

They are together.

The driver unlocks his door.

He opens it.

He gets out of his vehicle.

He walks over to the crowd forming in the middle of the street to find out what’s happening.

Someone explains the predicament.

Others validate the story.

The driver who had only known green lights; who had been making good time getting home; who had never had a medical emergency in his life; who barely knew what it was to wait for anything more than a short traffic signal to change; who could make many important decisions and changes at the touch of his phone…

This man turned around…

He saw others like him screeching to a halt up the avenue.

He raises his hands.

He cries out.

“There’s been a problem with the lights!” he shouts. “The traffic signals haven’t been changing.”

How is his message received? Who exits their vehicle to help him spread the news? How many people get on their phones to fix the problem?

How many phone their friends to complain? Friends, like themselves, who have only known green lights… All of their lives.

How can we help? What can we do? How will you react?

Overcoming Prejudice

Why do people place bumper stickers on their vehicles? Is it a badge; an arm band. Are they advertising, identifying, sharing opinions or decorating with these car tattoos?

The other day I was driving down the highway, and a green cargo van was preparing to join traffic from an entrance ramp. As I passed the van, I saw that the bumper had a single white sticker with black text on it. The lettering was simple and large enough for me to read it. All it said was the name of a conspiracy theory-based podcast that was popular a few years ago. This program deliberately spread misinformation that led to extreme violence; so much so, that it was banned from social media. That’s all I’ll say about that.

What happened next puzzled me, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I involuntarily began to slow down. Why? To get a look at the driver of the van. Why did I want to see who was driving this vehicle? I wanted to judge the driver. 

Was I going to put this person into jail? Give them a fine? Of course not. I could give him or her a nasty look… Would that be helpful? 


At the moment, I sensed that something not quite right was going on in my psyche. I had places to go; things to get; stuff to do. Why did I find it important to judge another driver? 

I reasoned that it might be valuable to know what kind of person would support a show that works to distribute hate. It could be helpful to recognize the type of person who not only listens to that trash, but believes in it enough to tell others to join them. Was I rationalizing prejudice? What feelings would I be subjecting myself to when I saw the driver’s face?

There was another thought bouncing around my head. I realized that I already pictured the driver of the van! This image was itching my mind. Viewing the driver would satisfy that desire. If my imagination were accurate, the itch would be scratched. If the person looked different, I would have food for thought. The itching would be converted to curiosity. 

The van was getting onto the highway. There was a significant distance between our vehicles. My speed continued to slow. Cars were beginning to pass me. 

What if the driver of the van was not the owner? I thought to myself. What if this person wasn’t responsible for placing that bumper sticker on the van, at all? It was older looking. Could I inadvertently judge the wrong person? What benefit did I get from seeing who was driving that van? Was this going to help or hurt my psyche? 

As I analyzed my motives, I realized that I was hating the person who put the bumper sticker on that van. That sounds too strong. I didn’t even know who stuck that onto the back of the van! Whomever it was, though, they were promoting a program that worked at making people hate other people… Wait. What? Isn’t that exactly what I was preparing to do? 

Do stickers label people?

Yeah, but I hated people who hate other people, I rationalized. Even better, I hate people who get lots of people to hate. Hold on here. This CANNOT  be healthy. 

Whether the driver of the van met the mental description I was envisioning or not, I did not like the idea of feeding a hateful feeling inside of me. Speeding up, I decided to avoid seeing the driver. I took the temptation away by accelerating. A dirty look from me would not help anyone. In fact, it would only fuel animosity. 

What was happening here is called self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy is something that you make up to bolster prejudices. It ignores and discredits information that doesn’t support it. A person who thinks that cats are not friendly because they appear to be more independent than other animals will see a seemingly aloof feline napping and think, Just like a cat to ignore me; all the while petting the one sitting in his lap! 

Not only do we humans believe funny things, but we work at building mental supports that encourage our beliefs. After giving a talk that goes really well, you remember skipping breakfast. The morning of the next talk finds your breakfast untouched. It goes great! From then on, you don’t eat breakfast before giving important talks. Some go well. Those are definitely due to skipping breakfast. Several talks find you starving and weak, forgetting your points and floundering. These performances couldn’t have been influenced by low blood sugar. They were caused by something else.

Prejudice is powered by self-fulfilling prophecy. To pre-judge someone is the equivalent of prophesying; telling the future. 

Through viewing the driver in my bumper sticker story, I was looking to fulfill a prophecy. When I decided to ignore the driver’s physical appearance, I attempted to break the cycle of prophesying. 

There is an expression: “Give others the benefit of the doubt.” This happens when you work at doubting your own predictions, prejudices, prophesies. 

Warning: This isn’t to say ignore observances. Don’t befriend a bully on the pretense of giving them the benefit of the doubt! Actions are data. I’m not going to listen to the hate-filled show the bumper sticker advertised! 

Have you ever found it difficult to overcome a prejudice? How did you do it?

Sources:

Ackerman, C. E. (2020, April 17). Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Psychology: 10 Examples and Definition (+PDF). Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/self-fulfilling-prophecy/

Sheldon, A. (2020, May 6). The Unique History of Bumper Stickers. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://magazine.northeast.aaa.com/daily/life/cars-trucks/bumper-stickers/#:~:text=The%20bumper%20sticker%20as%20we,backed%20paper%20and%20fluorescent%20paint.

The Corona Cough & Talking About Race

One of the scariest things about the Coronavirus is that anyone could have it. Not only are there people who are asymptomatic, but the actual symptoms are relatively ambiguous. It’s not like you immediately begin getting spots on your arms and face, like plague victims of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyers (future blog post).

The last day I attended school was Friday the 13th, March, 2020. After that, teaching went virtual. The only way I saw my students was through videos, either a live video format like Zoom or Google Hangouts, or my favorite assessment platform, Flipgrid. 

As I was watching the Flipgrid videos that my students were uploading, I caught myself cringing whenever a kid coughed. Coughing is one of the more obvious signs that a person has contracted Coronavirus. During meetings with students and coworkers I tried not to cough or clear my throat, so that I didn’t sow the thought of my having Coronavirus. The absolute worst was when I went to the grocery store. How many times did I leave the store crying, instead of succumbing to the tickle in my throat? I didn’t want other patrons to think I was a walking virus time bomb. 

I tried to work at reminding myself that everyone coughs, but a base feeling occurred whenever I heard one. It stemmed from self-preservation. Even on the other side of miles of Wifi, I wanted to suggest the cougher put her mask on! The other thought was, Should I ask about the cough? Perhaps, this person DOES have the virus. If she did, what would my inquiry do to help? What if this person HAS the virus, would like to talk about it, but doesn’t know how to bring it up? 

During the single Democratic Presidential Primary debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the very first sentence from Joe Biden’s lips contained a cough. I couldn’t believe it! In my mind, I know that the hot lights, the pressure, there are a million stimulants that would cause someone to cough, but not right out of the gate! As it turned out, Joe Biden did an amazing job holding his own during the rest of the show. 

The cough, though… I couldn’t get over it. This reinforced the thought of all three presidential candidates’ elderly situations presenting serious fragility in the face of Coronavirus. 

Now, I know that just because you cough, doesn’t mean that you have Coronavirus. Humans have been clearing their throats for millions of years. It is natural.The Coronavirus has hijacked coughing. 

You know what is even more natural than coughing? Communicating. Talking with friends is what it is to be human. It sets us apart from animals. There are topics, however, that conjure uncomfortable feelings. When someone suggests that something you said or did was wrong or hurt their feelings: That is hard to hear. 

There is a virus that has infected America for a long time, and it is called racism. Much like the Coronavirus, racism is sometimes hard to see. In fact, it can even lie dormant for years, only to rear its ugly head when instigated. For some people racism is a malignant tumor that spreads and eats away at the person’s soul. Other people can have a benign tumor of racism that appears harmless, but could become cancerous. To be called racist is to be diagnosed diseased and dangerous (Chapter 16 of “So you want to talk about race?” by Ijeoma Oluo). 

There is no doubt that racism is responsible for unimaginable harm in America. This virus has infected nearly every inch of our soil. To assume the title of racist makes one responsible for this harm. This is very uncomfortable. I felt very uncomfortable reading portions of Ijeoma Oluo’s book. It will be uncomfortable for many to Talk About Race. When I bring up race in conversation, it seems like I just started a coughing fit. 

Talking might be the most common and comfortable way to communicate, but the topic of race feels toxic at times. As a white male, I don’t think that I am the most appropriate spokesperson for beginning a race conversation, but I don’t want to just stand there while the whole country is coughing up a lung. 

Therefore, I am inviting educators, Americans, and people everywhere to swallow down that uncomfortable feeling and open up about race. I have posted a few tweets using the hashtag #TalkAboutRaceEdu in order to start the conversation. I am using the book, “So you want to talk about race?” by Ijeoma Oluo as a guide. I listened to the audiobook and loved Oluo’s honesty and humor. She is blunt at times and tells it as it is. Now, I am rereading the text and presenting some questions. I hope that you will join the conversation.

Who knows? Perhaps through Talking About Race we will develop a vaccine that will eventually curb racism. One can only hope. 

Final note: When you witness someone coughing up racist remarks, use caution. They may have been unwittingly infected, and need treatment. You aren’t a doctor. Wear a mask. Stay 6 feet apart. Wash hands. It is also possible that the cougher thinks that racism is a hoax. Know that it isn’t. Good luck, and stay safe.