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. It is wise to observe the behaviors of others, judging whether their actions are friendly, intelligent, and kind. Before you completely write them off, however, do this:

Turn your brain into a courtroom

In Chapter 2 of my classroom story, “The Polite Pirates” I introduce the idea of people being more than they outwardly seem.

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? 

I recommend that prior to judging someone’s character solely on first impressions or outward appearances (relying too heavily on prejudice), a classy person will introduce some additional thought-characters to the cognitive work of cementing opinions. You could think of them as mental 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 that what you observe with your eyes and ears 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! 

It’s your job to interpret actions and looks for your mental jury. Even if you think a person’s motives or attitude is obvious, investigate the history behind them. Try to put this new information into understandable terms, like a courtroom lawyer would for a jury.

Lastly, do NOT condemn anyone to a negative, cognitive classification if there is ANY reasonable doubt (Kenton, 2021). Until you know the entire story behind an action, look, word, etc., a person should maintain an innocent or neutral position in your opinion. Find out their history. They could become your best and most valuable friend!

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

Kenton, W. (2021, August 26). Reasonable Doubt. Retrieved September 2, 2021, from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/reasonable-doubt.asp

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.

Coronavirus Controversy

I witnessed a situation the other day that illustrates why students should be taught controversy in the classroom. It’s the middle of July, 2020, and the Coronavirus is in full force! Right now, school administrators and boards are trying to figure out what form of teaching will happen this coming fall. I do not envy these leaders, their tasks of balancing student health & safety with political messaging, parental pressures, & seeming economic responsibilities! 

I have no idea what the fall will bring, but, like most Americans, I am going about my summer business, trying to stay as safe as possible, while maintaining my humanity. The other day I witnessed something curious. I was in a Wawa in Pennsylvania, waiting for my number to be called, indicating that my sandwich would be ready for pick up. While wiping my phone with a disinfectant cloth that Wawa was kind enough to supply, I overheard a gentleman apologizing. 

“What number do you have?” a young man with braids covered by a bandana asked a slightly older gentleman who sported a long ponytail. They both had masks, but were close enough for me to hear the entire exchange.

Wawa originated in Philadelphia area.

The man with the long ponytail looked at the ticket taped to the box in his hand. He realized his mistake as he read the number aloud. “Sorries” were spilling out as he attempted to hand the box to the braided bandana wearer.

The person to whom the order belonged acted like the box of food was a delivery of disease. He would not take it. He wasn’t rude, but unsure of how to proceed. 

Eventually, he took the problematic parcel, but only to bring it up to the plexiglass separating customers from the mask-wearing workers preparing food. The young man explained that someone else had accidentally picked up his order, and that he would like them to simply place it into a new container. 

I thought that this sounded reasonable. I was surprised by the worker’s response. “I cannot take that food back. You can throw it away, and I will make another for you.” 

The young man was now faced with a dilemma. He could do as the Wawa employee suggested and discard the uneaten food. He would get a brand new order that wasn’t tampered with by an ungloved stranger. This would require him to wait longer, and he would be responsible for wasting what could very well be perfectly fine food. On the other hand, the young man could tell the food preparer behind the plexiglass to not worry about it, and he could chance eating the food inside the box. 

What if the older gentleman had transferred fomites (infected particles) to the cardboard container, though? Even if the young man were to use a glovebox to remove the food from the infected container, who knows if any fomites would transfer to the food?

Gloveboxes are used to handle potentially dangerous materials.

Over-caution and waste… or potential contagion; These were the conflicting choices.

My number being called, caused me to retrieve my order and leave the store, never finding out how the controversy ended. Both people were still standing near the plexiglass when I left. The man with the ponytail was still apologizing, and the man with braids and bandana hadn’t supplied the Wawa workers a definitive decision. Would he get a new sandwich by default? Would the food preparers interpret his continued presence as a passive plea for a new parcel? He was still holding his damaged goods when I exited. Maybe he would wait for the new order to force him to throw away the box he held in his hands. 

Will school districts end up throwing away a year of learning? No one knows for sure what fomites and aerosols will contaminate halls and classrooms or what that will mean for the consumers of education? Should the two gentlemen from Wawa stay home and make their own silly sandwiches, from now on? What would happen to the convenience store industry? Is it the job of the public to maintain industries in the midst of a war on our welfare?

Students must eat knowledge and grow in skill, or they will intellectually deteriorate.

Do we give them potentially contaminated containers to handle? Should we waste time? What if there aren’t any sandwich-making materials at home? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I will say that our pedagogy should share the skill of wrestling with controversies. I’m not suggesting we teach with controversial issues. My message is that students would do well to learn how to dissect a topic, analyze it from multiple perspectives, and weigh options. When they grow up, they will have very important decisions to make. 

How have you, or how do you plan to teach with controversy?

The Classy Mask

The other day I entered a convenience store to get something. On my way into the store I passed a very large sign stating that “Masks Are Required.” There was a little more information, and it was classy looking. Since the emergence of the novel Coronavirus, I’ve worked hard to “in”-frequent stores and public places in general. I am pleased to say that my family has taken the “Stay Home: Stay Safe” suggestions quite seriously.

Anytime that I’ve had to venture out, however, I’ve donned my comfortable, large, extremely obnoxious painters’ mask. 

In the beginning, I was under the impression that wearing a mask would help keep me safe from contracting the virus from others. My mask is a respirator, containing charcoal filters and a one way exhaust valve. When I wear it, I breathe clean, filtered air, and the breath that I exhale leaves the mask, completely. I’ve had this for years, having used it when painting with products that have harmful fumes. I can prime a tiny powder room with stinky oil primer and never smell a thing… until I remove my mask!

Although I originally felt rather ridiculous sporting this gigantic device in public, I cherish my health and wanted to protect my family the best I could. Surprisingly, my mask didn’t seem to attract as much attention as I thought it would, or at least very few people bothered to say anything. I caught double-takes and whispers here and there, and from time to time a fellow patron of a store might comment on the thoroughness of my face-covering, but everyone had masks on, so no big deal. It was like wearing bell bottoms in a crowd of pants-wearing people. 

It is simple and fast to put on, and you can even wipe down the rubber interior.

Over time I’ve come to learn that wearing a mask is most helpful in preventing other people from contracting the novel Coronavirus. More than it protecting the wearer, the concerted effort of everyone covering their faces would control the spread of respiratory particles (aerosols) that infect people with the virus. 

When I entered the convenience store the other day, I saw a variety of masks; None quite as obnoxiously as mine. A gentleman and what appeared to be his mother seemed pretty impressed with my thorough face covering. 

Having recently donned a dark cloth mask when out in public with my wife, who was not as keen on my sporting an obnoxious respirator, I could succinctly contrast the two styles of mask. My respirator is roomy, and therefore cool. Because it allows air to actually leave the breathing space, I am not recycling my breath the way one might with a paper or cloth covering. The admiring couple asked about where to get one. I told them that I’ve had it for years, but you can get them from most home repair supply stores or paint stores. I admitted that they are expensive, and the couple suggested that it seemed like a good investment, since we are probably going to be wearing these things for a long time. 

It dawned on me that the three of us, discussing face covering, were protecting each other from ourselves. I was not shielding my lungs from others, as much as I was keeping my aerosols from the public air that others were breathing. I commented on this. Then we discussed the idea of my crazy mask representing just how serious I am taking the “Let’s all work together to defeat COVID-19” policy of face covering. I confessed that I probably look like a weirdo. The classy couple made me feel nice when they affirmed my intentions of simply keeping others safe. They also respected the fact that I did not care what I looked like.

Wrong mask, Scarlet! Superheroes cover their mouths and noses, these days.

In conclusion, regardless of what it feels like, looks like; How annoying it is to remember and drag around… Masks may make it difficult to hear voices, see facial expressions. Wearing a mask is classy, because looking out for others, helping people stay healthy is classy. As crazy as I look wearing my obnoxious painters’ mask, that is how serious I am about ending the spread of COVID-19. How serious are you?