I’m uncomfortable…and that’s a good thing.

Lately, I’ve been uncomfortable.  And that’s a good thing. I’ve been uncomfortable because not only have I been placing myself in more new situations, but also mentally confronting a lot of things that I’ve simply pushed to the side most of my life. This makes me a better teacher and a better person. Some recent challenges:

  • The close-minded ideas I grew up around
    • I don’t mean my family’s values and I don’t mean all of the ideas I grew up around.  You see, political stereotypes are never all true and the idea of looking at someone else’s point of view is usually met with, “Well, they all just hate (fill in the blank) and they’re so selfish and lazy and (fill in the blank). They’re stupid and useless.” Well, different policies work for rural and urban areas, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the idea that one group isn’t ok or one group is less valuable than another. This is typically the result of fear and unfamiliarity. People who do crappy things to other people, regardless of why or how, are crappy people. Period. I get that, but just because someone has a different skin color as you or a different religion than you doesn’t mean they’re not a human being. Oh, sure, you can tell me that you believe all people are valuable, but unless your actions say it, I don’t believe you. This certainly isn’t unique to the area that I grew up in and I dearly love a lot of things about that land-locked prairie state, but these ideas seem more deeply rooted in areas where everyone looks like you. So, I’ve consciously pushed myself out of those types of spaces a little more. I don’t have a lot of cash or time to travel, so this often consists of reading more about different people’s perspectives and experiences.
  • Facing my own privilege
    • I won’t feel guilty about the way I grew up; there’s no use in that, but I see the silo of ideology that privilege can lead to. I grew up comfortably in a quiet, rural, racially and religiously homogeneous area. I excelled in school and as result, had most of my college paid for through scholarships. Now, my parents purposefully raised us “poorer” than we really were so they could save more for their own future, which I’m thankful for. As kids, we learned how to get along with less, we didn’t wear name brand clothes like the other kids did, and the cars we were lucky to have at 16 were junkers. It made us more grateful for what we had as well as the time and effort that afforded those things. My parents worked hard to provide us opportunity and I will work hard to provide that opportunity to my child, but with privilege comes responsibility. My responsibility is to make sure that I do what I can to stand in the way of people who want to perpetuate stereotypes, perpetuate segregation in schools, perpetuate the idea that students are only there to show up and be filled with knowledge instead of actively participate and bring their own ideas and backgrounds to the table. Handing the student the microphone is important. I’m in a position to that, so I should, especially when it comes to students who are different than me.
  • Stepping back and looking at the way “things have always been”
    • When I look at the way classes have always been conducted in both K-12 and higher education, it makes me very frustrated. I sat through so many lectures and was taught that knowledge came from the top-down (not explicitly, but it was there). It wasn’t until I attended Education classes at a small, historically black college in Missouri that those ideas were challenged.  Again, this wasn’t outright, but it was there. I was called to think, to discuss, to talk about my ideas with faculty and my peers, to apply different theories to classroom situations – only to move out into a school system that didn’t encourage those things. I always wanted my students to be active, to be hands-on participants, to talk to each other, to ask questions, and to take new academic knowledge and apply it to their own situations. I’ve had to intentionally place these things into my classes instead of being told to leverage and utilize them. For some reason, I never realized what I was doing…I just did it. Now I actually see what has been happening and it makes me angry. Educators have talked for years about how important these things are, but the reality is that our classrooms are quite restricted. There is value in students knowing facts and procedure – great value – but why is this not paired with our responsibilities after we gain this knowledge? Why is there so very little discussion about what so much of this really means? Why do we have a system that considers art, literature, music, etc, as throw away subjects that are there just to be quasi-well-rounded. Why is there so very little recognition of the interplay that happens in our brains when we learn? It has to MEAN something beyond reinforcing the way things have always been. We sent a man into space using math; we produce life-saving medicine through science; we save countless lives with evacuations using weather warning systems; and we connect with each other through art. There is a human element to every subject and they’re all interrelated.
  • Exposing myself to feminist, critical, and progressive ways of thinking
    • Growing up in a very conservative area can really put you in a weird state when you agree with so much of the “opposite” ideology. I doubt that anyone will ever call me radical, but there is so much of myself reflected in critical pedagogy, feminist instructional techniques, and progressive ideas. Unlike when I was younger, I’ll now admit that I am a feminist (and, frankly, I was raised that way, we just didn’t call it that) because I believe in equal opportunity for men and women and I believe them to be equal, not just in “theory” but in reality. Yes, I still say thank you when a man opens the door for me and I sometimes take up a man’s offer of a seat on the bus because it’s just polite and my feet hurt, dang it. My husband recently had a conversation with a man who stated quite proudly that his wife doesn’t have to work. My husband just smiled and replied, “Yeah, my wife’s too valuable to stay at home.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with a man being happy that he makes enough for his wife to stay at home with their children, but there is a huge problem when it’s used as a measurement of masculinity. It’s through these subtleties and ideas that hierarchy and prejudice is reinforced. I was once told that I would never “get a man” because I didn’t dress feminine enough, I hiked and camped too much, and I was too sure of myself. Really? Whether or not I agree with any stance in these ways of thought doesn’t matter – pushing myself to listen and consider what is being said and why, does.  As it happens, I agree with a lot of feminist, critical, and progressive ideas, but it doesn’t mean I don’t also agree with financial responsibility, the power of small business, opportunity for economic growth, and hard work – but it all has to be balanced with seeing others as humans and that we’re all in this life together.

I’ve stayed quiet a lot in the past when I disagreed with someone. I might still now if it’s not worth the push-back, but as a parent and a librarian who teaches, I have a greater responsibility. What you won’t see out of me is a raised voiced or a pushy conversation – I vent that frustration later. I believe in being respectful, even when you disagree. My God says that everyone is valuable and I believe that, too.  Doesn’t mean I have to like the person, but I try to be respectful, even when I don’t think someone deserves it. This is why you won’t often see me push back on social media, which is already so dehumanized. It probably wouldn’t get me anywhere, anyway. Meaningful and civil dialogue can happen in daily relationships and interactions, though. Other people may not be open to change, but I can push myself to come at something with a critical mind, and when someone sees that you’re trying to see their point of view, they often give that back.

So read books about Jews, narratives on black oppression, and feminist texts: push yourself outside of your own experiences. Make yourself uncomfortable – not to lose yourself or your foundation but to broaden your horizons.