May 29, 2017
So, first my word processing program wants to grammar-check my use of “hated” in the title. It doesn’t like that it is capitalized. Well duh- I know it’s ugly, offensive to the senses, possibly bold, possibly extreme. I mean, hate is a really, really, really strong word, right? And then to have a capital “H”? Yeah. It’s oogly. Ok. I fixed it. I capitalized every word in the title. I guess you gotta do that in English. You don’t do that in Spanish by the way.
You know what I find really ugly though? hate itself
I mean, we have lots of suffering already and hate just makes it all worse.
I digressed a bit there. Avoiding the pain I feel reading these tweeted updates on a story from Portland, Oregon: headlines about a man harassing two young Muslim girls and then killing two men.
The details get clearer with a few more tweets and what I know at the time of this writing is this:
- On a train, the killer saw a young lady wearing a hijab talking with her friend
- He yelled at the young ladies as he got closer to them saying that they needed to go back to Saudi Arabia and that Muslims must die
- Three men intervened and were stabbed, two of them died, one barely survived
- The killer was apprehended by the police alive
- The killer is a white supremacist
And now I find myself in a familiar yet extremely distressing place. I’m sick to my stomach thinking about these young ladies that were attacked. They are the same age of many of my students. I watch the video of one of the girls thanking the men that defended her and her friend. She’s not Muslim. I imagine my students reading about this on their various social media sites. This is fucking scary on so many levels.
I teach at a big urban high school- approximately 2500 students with a population of students that can best be described as wonderfully diverse. There are refugees and newcomers. There are students that can count generations of family living in the same town. There are students that wear hijabs. There are students that strongly support the 45th president. This latest nationally reported hate crime emboldens the persistent questions I carry with me as an educator:
How do I make my most hated, harassed, threatened students feel safe?
How do I help my students, all of them, not give in to hate?
How do I model courage, kindness and hope?
How do I do that AND teach them content?
How do I ALL this while being a target of hate as well?
I imagine my students have all sorts of questions come through their minds:
How can I avoid being targeted by hate?
Should I stop wearing __? Should I stop saying __? Should I stop talking to __?
Should I stop listening to __?
Can I get a ride to school instead of walking or taking the bus?
Would I intervene if I saw the same thing happening on the bus or at school?
I kinda agree with what the guy said but not what he did-what does that mean?
Can we just forget that this is happening?
It is Monday, May 29, Memorial Day, as I write this. Tomorrow I’ll be back in the classroom with the particular challenges that come during the last few weeks of school. We finish on June 26th. And I’d rather be worried only about keeping my students focused as they get anxious about final projects and exams. I can give you the long list of concerns we teachers have about our student’s learning. Trust me that it is already a long one. Instead I’m reminded that our schools can be spaces of pain if we are not deliberate about making them safe. I’m wondering how the leaders of my school’s district and my school feel about the recent events. I’m wondering how my colleagues are feeling. I wonder about how many of my students are afraid of being victims, witnesses or perpetrators of hate. My energy is tied up in the pain of it all. Hate is oppressive. The hater is very much at the mercy of the whims of hate. To be young and in the process of learning how to navigate strong feelings and forge one’s identity requires a community of loving, empathetic and compassionate adults. We want rising-adults that are trying to be all that because that is what they see. The line between love and hate can thin out at times. Our students need us when this is happening. They need to know that hate can be controlled and that love can be nurtured.
but wait, there’s more
I, the teacher in the classroom, many times alone with and caring for these young hearts, need to feel safe too. I too need to feel supported, seen and cared for. I need to know that hate is not tolerated in my school especially since it is the place I spend most of my time. I need that so that I can teach. So that students can see in me that we are all being cared for. I need to know that we see our Muslim students and colleagues with an appreciation for their humanity, our refugee students and colleagues as courageous and our immigrant students and colleagues brave. I need to know that we love our students and staff of color because we believe Black lives matter. If we are not communicating a sense of safety and care in our schools, we are risking the progression of hate and fear that will inevitably spill out into the world.
Teaching students that are hated and hating sometimes feels surreal to me. Of course, I’d rather be aware than not. What is disappointing however is that this reality hasn’t resulted in the permeation of love-full pedagogy and structures in our schools. At least not from where I have to stand every day.