Trump’s USA

It is hard not to reflect on Trump’s U.S.A.   I drove back over the border to Canada and could hardly stifle doing a happy dance.   Is a decidedly different U.S.A. with Trump at the helm.  The promise and hope that accompanied Obama’s election has been obliterated and the despair and fear is palpable.   We entered the United States at the Peace Arch crossing and were promptly subjected to a “random” comprehensive search, along with many other people, most whom did not have white skin or spoke another language.  We were herded along with others receiving various degrees of scrutiny by American officials.  The long lines and indifference to making people wait is apparently here to stay.  Traffic was gridlocked around most cities en route to the Sierra Nevadas along the I-5 and then to L.A. with road work “to serve us better”, too many cars and a lack of infrastructure to provide public transit.

True to our reputation, we are friendly Canadians, and friendly Americans gravitated towards us.  We had fun times with neighbours at the Silver Lake cabin in the Sierra Nevadas.  Shared camaraderie in Ernie’s tackle shop and in the Sierra Inn in June Lake.  Talked “education shop” with a hiker (aka teacher from Oakland) en route to Gem Lake.  Had a blast in the mountains with my older sister’s family as we navigated through our #GrantFire crisis that threatened possible evacuation from our family cabin.  Talked books with the librarian in the Gull Lake Library.  Dashed down to L.A. to visit with more family.  Learned more about my Dad’s life.  Navigated waves in Malibu with our younger nephews.  Had great conversation in the hot tub in Medford.  Yet the news, coffee shop conversations, bumper stickers, billboards and ways people treat each other show a dark underlying current of self-serving interests and unkindness.

One billboard read “REAL” Christians follow the teachings of Jesus.  The love, kindness and a lack of a judgemental stance forming my understanding of Jesus was not the vibe coming off this massive and somewhat threatening sign with the link to “fire and brimstone” rules to follow on the internet or else. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), the civil rights organization formed in 1909, issued the first ever travel advisory and warns of “looming danger” for people of colour traveling through Missouri after Trump’s buddy, Governor Greitens, passed Senate Bill 43 – accurately hailed as a Jim Crow Bill, rolling back human rights and facilitating legal discrimination.  Deadly, race- fueled clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia unfold and Trump is unable to condemn neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan protesters for their hate propaganda instigating death, racial hatred and mayhem.  People joke and sport bumper stickers saying “Black lives matter to who?’ or disrespect the people who work for them with talk of building a wall or questioning which children are entitled to health care or education.  Trump stickers have dollar signs on either side of his name.  What are the lessons American children are taking from this?  Who do they want to be in the world?  What do they want it to look like.  It is quite telling that the white supremacist group Vanguard America target a university campus to recruit. This seems the polar opposite of the open mindedness and lofy ideals that we expect higher education to inspire.

The basis of the Trump election platform was vilifying “the other” and framing blatant lies as “alternative truth”.  When your quest for power is fueled by racism, misogyny, hate, greed, fear mongering and lies, then that is the basis for your term in office.  For any student of history, this is quite disturbing and comparisons to WWII Germany are not out of line.  Hitler’s speech in the early 1920’s was titled “Why Are We Anti-Semitic?”  People knew exactly who they were voting for and facilitated his actions.  By the end of WWII, 6 million Jews had been killed in Nazi Germany.  This was far too many people to have been killed by the SS.  A population was catalysed to view their Jewish neighbours as sub-human by government leaders with hate discourse, legislation and propaganda.  History has already taught us this lesson.  Our job is to not let history repeat itself.

How we act and what we say defines who we are.  Honesty matters.  Respect matters.  Tolerance is not enough.  Tolerance indicates we are enduring something or someone who is a pain in the neck.  It leaves the “tolerant” one feeling put upon and the recipient of her benevolence feeling embarrassed and insecure. It is true that change and differences and honesty can cause a degree of stress in our lives.  However when we choose to learn from a different perspectives and ways of being, tell the truth, admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness and look for commonalities of our humanity, we open up the opportunity to grow and learn.  When we choose to care about people’s feelings, forgive mistakes and give rather than take, we open our hearts and minds and allow love, respect and reciprocity to be the outcome.  Yes, I’m talking about living in harmony and with generosity towards our families, our neighbours, our fellow citizens and within the global community.  It seems like we should have evolved enough to embrace this by now.

Trump’s latest strategy seems to be uniting the masses by going after an outside target – Kim Jong Un – after all he’s been is a movie and is recognizable by even the uneducated.  It is something we have seen before.  Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were proven not to exist but the propaganda united Americans to the point that some Americans still believe.  As CIA Director Mike Pompeo has clearly stated, there is no imminent threat from North Korea, in direct contradiction to Trump’s war mongering.  It seems “making America great again,” boils down to waving a big stick.  It feels like haunting foreshadowing of a dark time in global history that we’ll be trying to understand long after the fact.

Many elementary school students will tell you that bullying through violence, humiliation and exclusion is wrong.  They will also tell you that lying to create a reality more to your liking and creating “alternative truths” are both the same thing.  They will be able to explain strategies for solving problems.  They can tell you why the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights and Freedoms was written and signed in 1959 by so many nations striving to avoid a repeat of past wrongs.  I’m looking forward to going back to school and talking to children about who they want to be in the world and what they want our world to look like.  I want to talk about the ideals of honesty, generosity, integrity and inclusiveness.  It gives me hope.

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Challenging “Alternative Truths”

“Honesty is the best policy” is an adage that has been kicked to the curb openly of late.  The “alternative truth” is the actually emerging as “a thing”.   I was brought up with several “alternative truths,” but even as a young child I identified them as nothing more than lies.  I also knew that championing the truth was futile in some cases.  It was better not to ask questions.  However the question “why” didn’t disappear.  The people that I most trusted and respected were the people who told me the truth.

The ability of the “alternative truth” to survive, depends largely on the power of the person or institution serving it up as the truth, and how desperately they strive to sustain it.  However the quest for truth  is an long established practice.  The imagery of light is also used to explore the notion of truth, throughout many religions and social justice groups.  If something can bear scrutiny, we can hopefully re-emerge better – more just, more empathetic, more inclusive, more willing to identify similarities and more willing to value differences.

The study of history and political science in university taught me how to adopt a position, create an argument and then switch sides.  The facts and arguments you chose to expound or omit, allowed you to take both sides.  Yet, sometimes the facts were significant enough to define the truth or reality of that time in history.  There is no alternative truth.  Sometimes there are just fears and insecurities that allow people in power to manipulate with Machiavellian intent.  Our minds easily shift to south of the border, pre-World War II Germany or apartheid in South Africa.  Our minds don’t as easily shift to our reality as Canadians.  The Chinese Head Tax, the internment of the Japanese and treatment of our Indigenous people are all examples of that same Machiavellian policy that grew out of fears and insecurities.  Yet, if we never explore our history, we can never understand our current realities or a path to move forward based on understanding rather than ignorance.


I had an amazing week of professional learning this week thanks to Brad Baker and his team of inspired educators from the North Vancouver School District.  My friend, Latash (Maurice) Nahanee, was the first person to ever help me begin to understand the legacy of residential schools and other forms of institutionalized racism.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada brought the conversation into mainstream.  People such as Martin Brokenleg, DeeDee DeRose and Don Fiddler  have done an amazing job of helping us to understand why Aboriginal Education is necessary for us to understand our own history and the importance of changing our relationship with Aboriginal families.

On Wednesday night, Brad Baker presented at a PDK dinner meeting for instructional leaders.  He explored some of the ways how we can move beyond tokenism and engage in meaningful Aboriginal education for all of our students throughout the year.  This can be a basic as including an acknowledgement that we live, work and learn on Aboriginal lands.  Yes, this does mean that we need to find out who were the Aboriginal people that first lived on the lands we now inhabit.  Although I grew up in Vancouver and studied history, I learned relatively recently that I grew up on the ancestral lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.

On Friday at the Professional Learning Rep Assembly for BCPVPA (British Columbia Principal and Vice Principal’s Association), I participated in the Blanket Activity for a second time.  This activity is very powerful and includes excerpts from government documents and statements from Aboriginal people.  Participants begin standing on blankets that represent Turtle Island in Ontario.  Blankets are manipulated or removed as the story unfolds, as are the people on them.

I participated in this activity for the first time as part of district professional development.  I read passages both times, that reflected Aboriginal voice.  This made both experiences very personal.  However the first time I participated, I was removed from the group relatively early when land was encroached upon and my blanket was removed.  From outside the circle, it became more of a cerebral experience.  On Friday, I was never removed from the circle.  I watched as others were lost to disease, residential schools, placed on reserves or lost status because they left the reserve.  The experience remained very personal and the feeling of waiting for “my turn” ever present.  I can’t imagine anyone participating in this activity and not empathizing with the fate of these participants in our collective history.

Brad Baker emphasizes when he speaks that goal of Aboriginal Education is not to inspire guilt but understanding.  Laura Tait’s video about The Principles of Learning is on my repeated watch list to focus my attention on looking at the world through an Indigenous lens. The inclusion on these principles in the new BC curriculum provides a meaningful way to engage students in learning that has taken place over thousands of years.  There is no “alternative truth” to what happened in our history.  Let’s participate in Jan Hare’s MOOC at UBC – Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education , keep talking and and learning, and step away from judgments and thinking that obscure a respectful path forward.  Most of all, to quote Brad Baker – “Go Forward with Courage!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussing U.S. Election Results with Children

When my son was young, Bart Simpson hit the air waves.  I hated how the characters on the show talked and how they disrespected each other.  It incensed me to the point that I refused to let my son watch it, despite a considerable amount of begging.  The conversation ended briefly.  I soon discovered that he would go to his friend Dennis’ house to watch the show.  It wasn’t until that point that I agreed to watch the show with him.  It opened the conversation.   We would discuss what he found funny and what offended me.  Although he still preferred to watch it at Dennis’ house without my commentary, at least he understood my perspective about the importance of respectful interaction.

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The election of Donald Trump to the position of President Elect of the United States has stopped many conversations.  Coming from a Canadian stance, it is largely incomprehensible how someone who has overtly disrespected and discredited woman, Latinos, Muslims, Immigrants and the LGBTQ community could be selected for public office, in part by the people he targeted.    I needed to step away from being personally offended by his hateful rhetoric, in order to come to the conclusion that this was not just a win for misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and a fixation on the gun culture.  This was a democratic election and the leader was chosen by the 55.6% of the population who opted to exercise their democratic right to vote.


It has pushed the need to ask questions about what is happening south of the border that has created the palpable anger and commanding voice for change?  What is a “protest vote”?  What is the “status quo” that has created such a reaction?  Who voted for Trump?  Did gender play a part in preventing the election of a woman?  How did the close alignment with bankers and sizeable payouts to prevent bank failure impact public opinion?  How much impact would Bernie Sanders have been able to make on what happened in a Clinton government?  What was the impact of the votes garnered by Jill Stein and Gary Johnson?   The list goes on.

As a vice principal in a school, I spend a large chunk of my time engaging in conversations about respectful interactions.  The rules of the game in school are intended to prepare them for life.

  • Tell the truth.
  • Tell the other person your thoughts in a respectful way.
  • Take responsibility for your behaviour.
  • Empathize with the other person you are in conflict with.
  • Don’t make yourself feel big by intimidating others with words, physical proximity or force.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a letter to third graders at Tecumseh thanking them for their work to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada earlier this year.  In the letter he told them that their voices and what they do matter right now.   I believe our children internalize these messages that their voices matter, just like they internalize the rules of respectful engagement when they live it.  My hope is that our children fully participate in the democratic process by voting and holding elected officials accountable for their conduct, actions and decisions.  My dream is for them to assume roles and responsibilities in the future where they are able to conduct themselves with integrity, intelligence and kindness to create a world based on respect for peace and justice.

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Superheroes Champion Syrian Refugees via CBC Podcast

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1947 This suitcase carried belongings of mother and her four young children to Canada to start a new chapter of life

It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015.  Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis.  Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety.  They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.

This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.

Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board.  Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts.  Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home.  They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style.  Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.