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Being American: Ripping Up the Roots of Racial Hatred

This week, while sitting in the early morning hours on my porch with my computer and morning coffee, catching the faint breeze and enjoying solitude before my children and grandchildren woke up, my peace of heart and mind were jarred by a website that popped up, the title of which I will not mention here.  It proceeded to explain and provide “testimonials” to the world of why the author felt no one should ever do business with African-Americans, why even giving them a chance to prove they are decent is dangerous for your well-being, and how black people are less than human as compared to every other “race” on the planet, even to the point of making fun of pictures of starving babies in Africa.

I was as mesmerized as I was horrified, the sickened look on my face drawing my children around me (and I had to shoo most away, although I allowed my 16 year old to hover beside me awhile and read, intending to try to mitigate the equally-disturbed spirit that was starting to close in on her as well.)  We are aware even more acutely than most that racism lives, being mostly African-American and Native American, with other heritages in our bloodline and married into our family.  Racism itself isn’t new.  It was just the detail with which this website described its hate, the mixing of superficial observation with close-minded tunnel vision and hatred.  It almost paralyzed me with the question: They hate us that much??

In light of what has been happening so publicly lately, with multiple shootings and unwarranted violence, fear, and anger, the answer would seem to be “Yes, they hate us that much.”  That answer, however, needs deeper thought and a rectified reasoning.  It’s not so open and shut.  It’s not so black and white.

The morning after reading such venom, to alleviate our heavy spirits it took an hour or so of family discussion, of remembering all of the normal and good people of all races and backgrounds in our lives, people within our family and outside, people who know and care about us within the United States and abroad.  It took counting our blessings and remembering ourselves and how we didn’t fit anything the website described about chronic lack of responsibility or bad hygiene or rudeness or any of it, even though we knew people who did, but these people are of all races.  (It also took my sending a quick note and link to CNN for investigation.)  After a while, we got our good moods and bearings back, and then life continued.

Life isn’t continuing, however, for the too many victims that have lost their lives because of the twisted mindsets of some Americans exposed to the hatred expressed in these websites. A sense of security isn’t continuing, however, for us parents who believed that our sons and daughters were safe going up to the corner store, going to that pool party, going to that church event, that the days of mysterious disappearances, of lynchings and of police brutality were long gone. They are not.  Emmitt Till’s story could just as well have been last week.

We teach our children to be respectful and compassionate, but we also teach them to stand up for themselves and to claim an equal place in the community, that their dreams and playfulness are just as legitimate as those of other races, because “we are all the same.”  They are learning a different lesson by the events of the past days, weeks and months, however.  Something must be done.  Something must be done about the attitudes, and the stereotypes, and the hatred, and the chips on the shoulders.

Well, I woke up this morning, and I’m in my customary place on the porch with a few of my offspring stirring happily inside the house, and I’m looking again for solutions.  I keep faith that, for every seething racist who paints black people with that toxic brush due to past experiences with a few bad apples, or due to racist upbringing or surroundings, that there are at least three who are not.  I pray this is true.

Meanwhile, if you are an educator or a parent who worries your child doesn’t get enough objective information about black culture beyond historical references to Harriet Tubman or current hip-hop culture (which is only a conspicuous piece of pop culture and black artistic creativity), and you are not of any African-American heritage, I have a few links for you.

Or if you are a person who has had one too many negative encounters with African-Americans, and you are looking for a way to stay human and objective, I am sending you a virtual welcome and tour of real Black people’s lives beyond the normal newscasts and “reality show” choreography and hard facades some may put up because they don’t know you either, and some of your behaviors may be interpreted through a lens you don’t have or even know exists.

These links are just one mom’s virtual hug of reconciliation and calculated steps in trying to ensure a fairer and safer America for her own children and the children of our nation, steps calculated to enlighten and to educate.  Please recognize that there is no One Black Culture, just as there is no One White Culture, due to the fact that black people like all people in America are often of many different heritages, regions, languages and lingos, and even races, if you want to believe in “race” as we currently define it.  There is a shared cultural experience of life in the United States, including a shared “Black” experience, however, plus shared historical challenges, etc.  Think American Salad vs. Melting Pot.  These commonalities have flavored our foods, our traditions, our perceptions and our behaviors in certain circumstances, and these are what I looked for in daring to assemble some websites to introduce them to you.

So, here are several websites with articles, videos or links to get you started:

They should open a window that will cause you to ask more informed questions, to see why things are not quite what they seem.

Anything to contribute? Welcome.

[Reprinted from my post at Sidelines. View additional comments there at http://sidelinesapp.com/item/being-american-ripping-up-the-roots-of-racial-hatred/]

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2015 in culture, education, parenting

 

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Impressionism & Ice Cream: When Kindergartners meet Claude Monet

[Reprinted from this week’s post of mine on SidelinesApp.com at http://sidelinesapp.com/item/impressionism-ice-cream-when-kindergartners-meet-claude-monet/?etk=8637593671bece332fc0ee01f6ea9c8715178f6b&utm_medium=email&utm_source=transactional&utm_campaign=notification. You can join the conversation.]

Like the crazy, eccentric art teacher I am, instead of greeting these last days of elementary school by closing up shop and giving every kid that comes into my art room free access to leftover crayons, paper scraps, and the broom, I decided this week to introduce my kindergartners and 1st graders to Claude Monet and the Impressionists. On a whim. On a lark. In a fit of madness. It’s Wednesday evening now, and I can reflect and say: It’s becoming a beautiful experience.

I first found a 10-minute video on Youtube of a nine or ten year old girl going on a “treasure hunt” for light and color, relating Monet’s ennui with the idea of copying the “Masters” in the Louvre to his desire to chase light and to freely paint what he could see around him.

This little girl, with her pageboy haircut and little girl lilt, a sound with which they identify, took my little students on a tour of golden haystacks and myriad irises in and near Giverny, France. She showed them the pond behind her school which reminded her of Monet’s painting, “The Japanese Bridge”, and she regaled them with painting after painting of flowers, flowers and more flowers.

For my second-language learners (most of them), I pulled up Google images of different kinds of haystacks, because ours here in Colorado are mostly rolled like a jelly roll versus stacked like the huts in Monet’s neighboring fields. I also showed my girls and boys, just for good measure, photos of purple and blue irises, choosing one painting, “Irises in Monet’s Garden” to start them on a little oil pastel drawing of their own, letting them experiment with all of the colors, the dots, bright speckles and lines that could be found in their own impression of a garden of flowers Monet-style.

My children are not finished, but they are having fun, and the results are telling. For teachers, these last dog days of wrapping up and report cards and boxes and wired-tired schoolchildren are all summarized in a cute picture that’s circulating on the internet now: It shows a neat, trim and smiling owl professor at the beginning of a school year giving way to a scraggly, worn-down version that looks like the raggediest owl from that 2010 movie, “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.” You know which one I’m talking about, with his crossed-eyed self.

Yes, we teachers feel like that now. Each day is excruciating. But, for the best of us, each day also presents us with children who in some way need something we have, and in my art room, that is the freedom to be creative, to be exposed to beauty and to new ideas, to have some freedom that other, more necessarily regimented classes cannot provide in a normal school setting. (Even today, a veteran English teacher dropped off some end-of-the-school-year recyclables in my room as kindergartners were leaving, and I could hear her murmuring “Bless you, bless you” to me as she hurried out of my paint-splattered, clay encrusted art space. Better you than me, is how most teachers feel about an active art room where kids can create freely.) Better me than you.

Well, tomorrow’s Thursday, some of them are going on a last-ditch try at a field trip to a farm, re-scheduled several times due to our eclectic Colorado weather. Unless it snows tomorrow (and it’s still May so, here in Colorado, it’s a possibility), my children will wait until Friday to finish their gardens. Some of their oil pastels look amazingly close to Monet’s work at Giverny, some have superheroes sitting amongst the flowers, a few have tomatoes growing and rainbows sprouting, but here, at the end of this school year, days left in my art room, creativity and inspiration lives!

My nine-year-old just asked me, “Mom, where does the ice cream come in?” My answer: Creativity and ice cream go hand in hand in my book!

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2015 in education, parenting

 

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10 Reasons Why Teachers Deserve More Money

[Re-posted from my Sidelines writing at http://sidelinesapp.com/item/10-reasons-why-teachers-deserve-more-money/]

 

1. Because they teach content AND wipe your child’s noses at the same time.

2. Because they spend hours outside of the classroom designing lessons and correcting your child’s work.

3. Because they stand in harm’s way to keep your child safe and alive in your absence, and sometimes die doing so.

4. Because they wipe your child’s tears almost as much as you do.

5. Because when you were in too much of a hurry to get breakfast or snack, they made sure your child ate.

6. Because they put up with parent bullies as much as child bullies.

7. Because they form a tight professional community to make sure creeps and perverts are quickly weeded out of the teaching profession.

8. Because administrators often develop amnesia when they leave the classroom and forget that classroom teachers are on the front line.

9. Because most teachers are degreed, highly-educated, and have a lot of experience.

10. Because we pay for what we value, and if we value education, we should value educators.

Your thoughts?

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2015 in education, parenting

 

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Word of the Year: FORGIVENESS

The Word of the Year is FORGIVENESS.

Of self for not being perfect, and of those who’ve hurt you because they aren’t either!

As noted previously, ‘UNforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.”

Forgiveness doesn’t make you weak. It also doesn’t mean you forget, or that you have to stay around the person who hurt you.

FORGIVENESS IS FREEDOM!

Forgive me if I’ve hurt or offended you before. I forgive you if you’ve done the same.

– Jenny. Happy 2015.

 
 

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New Year’s Resolutions for Race Relations in America

[Again, from my writing at Sidelines.  Be safe this New Year’s eve.]

I have Hope. I want you to have it, too. Regarding race relations in America, this past year has been rough, bitter, painful, enlightening and transcendent from day to day, almost moment by moment in some communities across our continent. The deaths of almost-grown children at the hands of law enforcement officers, the deaths of law enforcement officers at the hands of crazed, grief-stricken mavericks, the death of a college-aged daughter whose car just happened to break down in the wrong neighborhood, the deaths of fathers at the hands of overzealous rookies – these were all spurred by a uniquely domestic disease that America is STILL trying to cure. Race. We’ve had some shots and taken some bitter medicine, but now it’s time to go to therapy if we ever hope to get through this.

Thus, at the beginning of this shining New Year where we have lost loved ones, given the cold shoulder to friends over words, witnessed stupidity mixed right along with heart-felt and “Right”-driven protest, cried bitter tears and developed new worries for our own children, here are some New Year’s Resolutions that we need to keep.

They will be few, so we can focus on achieving them. They will have maximum effect, because they will adhere to the SMART goal criteria borrowed earnestly from business management, as suggested by Bethany Blanton in her post, “SMART New Year’s Resolutions;” in other words, they will be Specific,Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

I will be your cheer-leader and adopt the ruthless positivity of your own personal trainer in encouraging you to work on them, to make them your own and to add to or replace them as necessary to achieve them, knowing that this is now Life-or-Death, not a simple drive to lose a few pounds but to shirk a disease that can kill.

So, here they are:

1) To Reset Our Police: We resolve to equip, respect and honor our police men and women enough to give them more down time – more vacation time with better pay, to provide mental and spiritual rejuvenation on a weekly basis, to train them not to “Shoot to Kill” with our citizens by exploring other options, and to integrate and sensitize them to each particular community they serve by requiring them to spend time in after-school programs to hear our children’s hopes, as well as in job search circles to hear stories of perseverance. SMART application: By next New Year’s Eve, 70%-80% of every police department in America should increase paid vacation time by 15%, conduct regular screening for mental illness if they don’t already, and provide ongoing community internships in non-police capacities.

2) To Educate the Mainstream: We resolve to improve the attitudes of Americans over 30, and to provide historical perspective to those younger, towards people of other races by using media outlets to draw more accurate pictures of the everyday lives of American people, whether Asian, African-American, Italian-American, Native American, Hispanic American, Irish-American, just American. SMART application: We raise funds to support screenwriters, artists, children’s book writers, historians, major actors, to bring to the internet and big screen more high-quality stories on American lives, fun apps that integrate history and diversity, and portray all children, teens, adults as valuable and irreplaceable no matter their skin color, hair texture, habits of speech, or dress.

3) To Improve our Personal Mindsets: We resolve to press “re-set” on our attitudes towards each other, to strive to achieve without stepping on each other or looking down on others because they live differently. SMART application: Volunteer monthly in a clothing bank, a food bank, a library, a domestic abuse shelter. Just once a month. Listen to stories. Some will make you angry. Many will inspire you. Just start. Call Monday and volunteer.

OK, I tried. Now for someone else to add a goal or two, or to make these even SMARTer or more realistic. They are off the top of my head and from the first layer of my heart. Time for others to try, too. Happy New Year.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in education, parenting, race relations

 

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Minecraft: A Mother’s Plea – and Threat!

[Another Sidelines re-post of my writing.  Enjoy!  UPDATE: If you want to see the original, which is taking on a very interesting life of its own with commenters and insights going deep into this.  You can find it at  http://sidelinesapp.com/item/minecraft-a-mothers-plea-and-threat/?etk=6cd7c31344b546310f35b68f9bf52eab1fd4439e&utm_medium=email&utm_source=transactional&utm_campaign=notification ]

 

Come speak to me. Come skinny-dip for me into the beautiful worlds of Minecraft, an international phenomenon that blows away most competition when it comes to addictiveness – and some say inventiveness. Then, get out of the water and let’s talk. I’ll be waiting up on shore.

In case you have not yet been inducted into Minecraft’s allure – either as a player, a parent, a teacher, or a spouse:

Welcome to cubist floral agriculture, block-headed monsters named Enderman and Creeper, rectangular cows, sheep, pigs and wolves, semi-final tournaments, and scrolling chats that go on for hours. The graphics are not amazing, but Minecraft can steal your child away for days if you let it.

Oh, homework will get done, food somewhat eaten (albeit too close to keyboards if you’re not watching), and intellectual development will continue on a completely different spectral plane, but that’s about it. Bath time, laundry, grocery-shopping, forget it. The game takes debates about screen-time, the overuse of technology, and parenting and negotiation skills to a whole new level.

I get it that Minecraft is like, as some say, a more adventurous version of Legos, a constructible world with connections to engineering and architecture to the point that there is even a Minecraft version customized for Educational use. But I don’t know if we want that. Someone needs to enlighten me further. That should surprise some: An advocate for digital innovation, a champion for the Hour of Code, and a former old-school gamer, I am the mother of a Minecraft moderator who’s about to study computer science in college. None of that matters right now: My mothering perspective is trumping my gamer perspective Big Time when it comes to this game. I am on the verge of pulling the plug, and need someone to tell me why I shouldn’t.

Minecraft, a siren call that can shipwreck a routine, has a pull that can be likened to the Pied Piper’s fatal music. Your job as a parent might be to allow some music appreciation without the end result of drowning, but some parents will say we’re all better off without that kind of music. I’m wondering.

I am for adventure, and for building new worlds, and for collaborating with online teammates to heighten levels of creativity (as long as the real-world creepers can be screened out of the chat room).

I am not, however, for substituting enormous chunks of real-world time for digital world time, not when beautiful snow drifts beckon outside my door, when flour and sugar and vanilla should be calling from the pantry enticing my child to make a new batch of cookies, or when even couch potato status with siblings should be calling (that one works only when “Shingeki no Kyoujin: Attack of the Titans” or “Hunter X Hunter” is on).

So, then, somebody please take us a little deeper into the Minecraft world and give parents on my side of the fence a reason why we shouldn’t give our kids an inevitably protest-inducing 45 minutes-a-day time limit – or pull the plug altogether. Chores do get done quickly, though, when a Minecraft tournament is about to start, but that’s not enough to make me incentivize everything that needs to be done in real life. I don’t have the least bit of time to jump into Minecraft myself – because, if I do and find out for myself why it’s so attractive, my family life will crumble to the ground. Not happening.

 

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in education, gaming, parenting

 

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Teachers – PBS Needs You. The PBS Learning Media Digital Innovators Program.

While looking for resources for my students’ parents and fellow teachers to list on my new children’s website, “Mrs. Davenport’s Fun Pages,” I came across this announcement from PBS, always a tried-and-true addition to any approved list for schoolchildren in America:

“PBS is looking for America’s most innovative educators!”   Searching for educators who are “creatively integrating digital media and technology in your classroom,” PBS is offering an opportunity to teachers to become leaders through a year-long professional development teachers can participate in while continuing to do what they do best: Teach.

This is not their first year doing this, and it remains to be seen how such a program impacts day-to-day instruction in the classroom, but it sounds like an excellent opportunity for serious teachers who want to deepen their impact.

More info is at http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/digitalinnovators/?utm_source=PBSROS&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=Innovate2014

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2014 in education, parenting

 

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