The day the class plan went out the window

15 Nov, 2016

The day after the election I had to face a group of 8th grade girls, in the final class of our series. I asked myself and trusted colleagues what I could possibly share that would make my efforts feel meaningful, viable, and safe. I met with my male co-teacher before class to strategize our approach. In the end, we scrapped the class plan and listened, just listened, as they shared their concerns about safety for themselves and for others. The girls told us that they were profoundly sad and in need of community. This class was the last hour of a 15-hour program. In this hour, they didn’t need to practice their strikes – they are well trained and well rehearsed already. Together, my teaching partner and I offered something that might be in short supply: a space where everyone was heard, valued, and supported, at least for an hour. It poured out of them:

  • I am afraid of my future as a woman/person of color/person with disabilities and learning differences/person of a non-dominant religion/person that identifies as LGBTQ/person with undocumented family members and friends/person with low socio-economic status
  • I want to stand up for myself and be an ally to others but I am afraid my voice isn’t enough because I am young
  • I’m scared to speak out because I might get hurt
  • I don’t want to be rated on how I look by my President
  • I don’t understand how women can bend to rigid gender expectations AND be qualified (and over qualified) and still not garner respect
  • I want to build a society of inclusivity
  • I had no idea that racism and sexism were so prevalent in our country
  • I thought I was safe in my bubble, but I was wrong.

We worked with them to connect rigid gender expectations to the many root causes of violence and discrimination. We moved to action – activating our voices and bodies. We closed the class with breathing exercises, confident stance, power pose, ready position, and yelling “no, No, NO.” We shared our power, our hopes for the future – for ourselves and others. They are determined that the actions of their generation can pave the way for a more inclusive, safer society and that those actions are already in motion – they want to be involved! They talked about being revolutionaries in an unjust and unequal society and their interest in finding social justice organizations to support. There is no “class plan” on days like this. As educators, parents, and mentors to young people, we must simply listen and respond with empathy and an open heart. We must continue to have courageous conversations with the young people in our lives in order to effectively work across lines of difference and generate new pathways for the equitable, inclusive, and safe society that we all deserve. Stacey Jackson, Instructor, and Director – Development and Community Outreach at Prepare

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