We have been reading about and discussing some powerful and uncomfortable topics in our classes over the past week. It isn’t the first time I have been introduced to thinking and talking about things such as privilege and ‘isms’, but what strikes me as powerful is that we are discussing these difficult topics- as required by the State of Alaska. The fact that the State of Alaska recognizes that these conversations need to be had, deems them important- and believes that educators need to have spent time hearing classmates stories and thinking about things such as racism and privilege before teaching in a classroom, is powerful and I believe a step in the right direction. We have a long ways to go, but this seems a positive step.
In the section of reading that my group of four was assigned to dive deeper into today, one take-home learning for me as an educator was that ‘everyone’s story is O.K.’ It sounds simple, but through our own biases and perceptions, it is easy to forget that simple lesson. No matter how difficult a students life-story, how seemingly easy a story, how boring a student thinks their story is, or how challenging a particular personality or students story is for me to hear, all life stories and perspectives should be heard, validated and recognized. From listening comes understanding. From understanding comes tolerance. From tolerance comes transformation.
I have spent many years helping to facilitate study abroad programs for U.S. high school youth. If you don’t yet know that about me, it is time I put this in a blog– because it is something I am passionate about. One particular company I have worked for, which I believe does amazing work, has at its’ programatic goal getting groups of diverse U.S. students together into small groups (12 students) and then send them to a foreign country for the summer where they live with families. What is brilliant, to me, about this design is that the students meet up on almost a daily basis and become each others support group. Students from all over the U.S., with different languages, religions, colors, living arrangements and abilities begin to learn about and rely on other students– whom they may have never met or chosen to befriend without being put into this intense learning environment. I have had many amazing student transformations occur on these programs. But one sticks out. The learning came from a white male student that was from somewhere in the midwest. During our closing ceremony, when we were all given the time to say what we wanted and reflect on our 7 week experience together, he thanked the program and told me and the other students that he had been racist before this experience, and that after having spent time with our group, he now realized that. He was around 16 years old. Our trip had been the first time he had ever talked to someone with a different color skin than himself and the learning had been profound. I just wanted to share the story. His story is O.K.
Thank you for facilitating the space for these conversations, Angie. I still have and always will have a lot to learn.