Resistance #SOL2020

It’s been a little over two weeks since I was briefly encouraged, then relentlessly pummeled on Twitter for posting pictures of two boxes of Lord of the Flies next to the garbage. I playfully posted that I was doing a Marie Kondo-like cleanse by decolonizing the book shelves of my school. The reactions were swift, visceral, and pointed. I’ve had some time to reflect, time to write privately, and time to formulate a more reasoned response than one I might have given in the moment.

Yet, I worry that my delay is also part of the problem with moving to a more equitable list of books. I wonder that in my taking time to respond, I have granted de facto power to those who rail against the disruption of the “literary canon”, resistors who uphold the status quo. We know that change in education is slow and I’ve observed that some fear it more than others. This systemic resistance to change sometimes requires what appear to be radical acts of disruption.

I’ll admit that I made an impulsive decision to post this box of books to Twitter, but the decision to discard them was at least two years in the making. It started in 2019 when I spent a summer learning about First Nations, Metis, and Inuit ways of knowing, reading Indigenous authors, and following Indigenous thought leaders on Twitter like Jody Kohoko and Josh. I joined #4BigQuestions and #AntiracistReads listening to Pamala Agawa and Colinda Clyne. With the colonial lens of my upbringing now in full view, the need to shift the content and approach to instruction came into focus as part of Truth and Reconciliation, the educator’s call to action, and so I made an emotional commitment to change.

But there was more to this story of discarding books which came through listening to students in our Diverse Student Union, Black students who recalled being the only student of colour in a class where white students read the “n-word out loud”. Reading Lord of the Flies had seared a traumatic memory in their minds. Grade 10, grade 11, and grade 12 students referred to specific moments in class citing this text as a source of pain.

Feeling the need for action, I rushed to post to Twitter in a week where I feared my own foot-dragging and invisibility which made me safe and comfortable while our Director, Camille Williams-Taylor, made bold, informed, and necessary moves to curb the trauma experienced by racialized students in the classroom. The ban on racial slurs and epithets was passed and this gave me the impetus to discard the one text that so many students over the years had named as the source of their classroom trauma. I had the support of my principal so what I was doing felt right.

What I was not prepared for was the response.

That impulsive decision had me experiencing an onslaught of attacks against me which ranged from gender to race, to my role as an educator; I was accused of “virtue signalling”, succumbing to the dangers of “woke culture” and being a “white saviour”. An educator in the US warned me that I had been posted on the Twitter feed of a radical conservative with thousands of followers, James Lindsay, and she suggested that I delete the post and lock my account for my own safety. The Twitter response seemed out of proportion to the action. Why would so many people so far away from my geographical location decide to vilify me and attempt a public takedown on Twitter?

I did not understand anything other than my need to sort through the voices to listen, reconsider, and resist the attack. I locked my account, my blog, and stayed off Twitter for a week. I then wrote myself a pep talk:

I understand that you’re afraid. That’s human and those attacking you are fearful too. So tell your truth, honestly and clearly. Say what happened, where it took you, what you’ve learned, and where you stand. Because if you can’t stand up against a status quo that so clearly causes trauma for students, if you can’t absorb the invisible anger thrust against you, then you aren’t ready for this fight. You have doubters and critics and maybe even enemies, but your decisions are not for you. Resist the urge to cave in when the anger appears. Resist the pull to comfort. Resist the lull of the status quo.

Although I might regret some part of my impulsive post, it taught me that a genuine commitment to student well being requires active listening to the marginalized, active changes in the status quo, persistence in the face of personal attacks. Reflection, in this case, brought me closer to my own understanding of resistance.

Capital “H”, Hybrid #SOL2020

This hybrid teaching thing is hard, capital “H”, hard.

I had a sense of the challenges before the school year started, but what I’ve actually experienced and what I’ve actually learned is more than anticipated in ways not anticipated. And, it’s not just technological applications, slides, and jamboards – though they are really helpful if you use them purposely – it’s actually deeper than the platforms. This hybrid model has taken me into a complex state of reflection on the doing and the being of teaching: what am I explicitly and implicitly valuing? How does the material and the mode that I use in the delivery acknowledge the humanity of each student? of me?

Evan Selinger on Twitter: "This sticker should be on every laptop! Thanks @ Autumm & @hypervisible!… "

I now more deeply appreciate the sticker gifted me by Autumm Caines and I occupy more cognitive space in the “why” of teaching these days. Feeling the need for nourishment, I picked up Kevin Gannon’s teaching manifesto and realized what we need in hybrid learning during a quadmester model is “radical hope”, capital “H”, hope.

This has me reflecting more thoughtfully on my use of technology, but I have to be honest; the preparation for the lessons – some in class, and some online at home – is intense. It needs hypervigilance with iterative cycles of focus on purpose and audience. It demands precision in text selection to avoid the default to the status quo. It forces purposeful planning for student collaboration, and an unprecedented level of explicit instructions which are often formatted in different ways for different learners (the Google Classroom wasn’t going to work for her, so I created a Google Doc with steps and links).

Quadmester hybrid learning has given me an extra cognitive load which I am embracing, but which also might explain the persistently bloodshot eyes, the dull ache behind my brow, and the twisted bed sheets from which I unravel myself each morning. I know that UDL will reduce this need, so I double down to keep learning.

And even though I don’t feel that rush of an energetic class discussion with bodies jostling, chatting, and engaging in this combined virtual and distanced space, I’m still hopeful. With each purposeful interweaving of the physical and the virtual, something new reveals itself and the very acts that we are engaging in become food for discussion, critical thought, and reflection. These are meta-moments, and they really are “a moment”, but this requires a shift in thinking. I wonder, “maybe the screen is what forces us back to our humanity”? That’s a strange irony.

It started back in the summer when my equally enthusiastic teacher friends, Amanda, Tobi, and I knew we were going into September with a quadmester hybrid model so we planned the ideas, the timing, imagining the synchronous and asynchronous, using the concepts learned from digital pedagogy sessions with Sean Michael Morris and we embedded a thread of social justice through the grade 12 University English course. We selected concepts such as identity and representation, power and privilege, and we were thrilled with the opportunities for memoir writing with hopes for rich class discussions. Yet, there is the plan and there is the execution in the “classroom”.

I posted all of the learning goals at the beginning of the first quadmester. It didn’t take long for one of the brightest and most vocal of my students to challenge me on this “not English” thread and the need for “classics”, so we booked a virtual meeting after school. I was in my feelings, heart pounding, and not really ready to defend my decisions with thoughtful words. He was animated on screen at his desk and seemed forceful stating that he didn’t “believe social justice is related to English” and asked for “tradition”, the status quo. He accused me of “playing politics in the classroom” and feared I might reduce his marks if his views are not in alignment with mine. I listened carefully, looking away from the screen so I could hear him. I let him talk, feverishly feeling my own emotions simmering and checking them carefully. Without interrupting, at his pause, some words just tumbled out of my mouth. I didn’t prepare them. I didn’t plan any of them. But they were all true.

I said, “But, teaching is a political act. It’s inescapable. Every text that I select is political, every text I exclude, every voice that I amplify is an act that indicates what is valued, what is centred as we learn. We both have choices. We can learn together from the silent voices, because you already know the names of those who are centered and you can choose to learn those on your own.” I paused to see if he was with me.

“I am listening to you right now, and I do take this very seriously. I value your views and only want to add to your growing knowledge of the world by providing other voices, own voices. Nonetheless, my politics in the classroom are not large ‘C’ Conservative, they are not large ‘L’ Liberal. In fact, they are large ‘H’ Human. English is called a Humanities course because it is concerned with the human condition. And so am I.”

I hope I made my point and later in the course thanked him a couple of times pointing out the necessity for troublesome conversations, for the growth that comes from challenging our own thinking. He probably didn’t realize that his brought me closer to mine, but I hope he grew in his sense of self, and others, the need for empathy.

And then I thought, “maybe I needed to spend more time on the human in the capital “H” in Hybrid space.”