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In The Guardian this week, an article was published noting that there had been 994 mass shootings in 1004 days. The rhetoric spinning out from the tragedy has focused on mental health, residual commentary on gun violence, and security (with some going so far as to suggest that arming more people is a step toward preventing such a shooting from reoccurring). Below are three links — two documentary and one media commentary — that tangentially or directly address issues of gun violence, incarceration, criminal justice, and mental health in our country. There are more, and we’ll share them here as part of our ongoing efforts to inform ourselves and each other as we engage in debates about justice in the lives of youth. We encourage you to share additional pieces that you’d like to include in subsequent posts.
HBO’s VICE Special Report: Fixing the System
President Barack Obama sits down with Vice and prison inmates at the El Reno correctional facility to discuss a growing human rights crisis in the Vice on HBO Special Report: Fixing the System.
Prison Kids: A Crime Against America’s Children
Presented by entrepreneur, music mogul and activist Russell Simmons and narrated by “Empire” actress Gabourey Sidibe, this hourlong documentary investigation, “Prison Kids,” is the result of Fusion’s work. It is a story about how to take children and ostracize them, derange them, outlaw them. It is the story of America’s crimes against children.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Mental Health
John Oliver explains how our national system of treating mental health works, or more often than not, how it doesn’t.
In considering how youth participate in their education, I’m often drawn to John Dewey’s focus on conceptualizing not what education is, but where it is. This notion of environing education has come up on numerous occasions in our YMEJ discussions, and I find myself reflecting on it when I visit the creative writing and media literacy workshops an alternative to detention (ATD) program for youth ages 12-16 in Harlem. The workshops invite all those involved to consider how we develop spaces that acknowledge or allow students to share and reflect on their stories. Creating a space like this takes conscious work, as Dr. Suzanne Carothers reminded us during a recent class visit. In our classroom that evening, Dr. Carothers created a space in which she modeled vulnerability through her own sharing, which built a shared assumption that we, too, could be vulnerable and share our stories with her and each other. She mentioned how a teacher’s first job was to “create the space where people can say what matters to them.”
Connecting these thoughts back to the youth who attend the ATD workshops, I want to consider how and where we create these spaces for vulnerability with them. We might consider these safe spaces of sorts, but I’ve also come to see how safe spaces are always shifting, for all of us. (A classmate shared what I found was a useful way to think about what a safe space is: a place where a person can feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable.) How can we create spaces in which we and our students feel comfortable with the discomfort of being vulnerable?
Professor Lalitha Vasudevan, Kristine Kerr, and several of their colleagues take up this question in their article Cosmopolitan Literacies of Belonging in an After-school Program With Court-Involved Youths. Focusing specifically on these ATD workshops, their exploration of multimodal literacies and cosmopolitanism led them to the idea of belonging in a space, and how play and laughter can generate those feelings of belonging. As I move forward with my own work with the ATD, I’m considering how I can create the conditions in which play and laughter are legitimized in the same ways that practices such as reading and writing often are in education spaces. So, the big question: How can we remain open to the ways in which youth are seeking or finding ways of being vulnerable, of belonging, in traditional or non-traditional education spaces?
“Who are you?
Please, tell me anything you would like to.”
This narrative is the story of an encounter. It is her narrative, it is mine, it is ours, it is the present. How could we represent it?
“Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created.” (Morrison, 1993)
How do I connect with someone at a first encounter? What is the meaning of our experiences? How could the narrative be voiced without being manipulated by the producer?
“Perceiving something from two different angles creates a split in awareness” (Anzaldua, 2003, p.549).
The process of making this video was the whole purpose. The final production simply engages the audience to listen, listen, and listen again.
What narrative(s) are you hearing? Are you certain? At which moment, do you connect with the voice? What does listening means? What does understanding means? How do multimodal artistic pieces impact your life? How do you build from it?
If a space for possibilities is created, youth will take the opportunity.
“We have the power because we are together in speech and action, and because possibility spreads before us, and because there are boundaries to break through.” (Maxine Greene, 1982, p.9)
Now, plug your headphone, click on the link, and listen.
Anzaldua, G.A. (2003). now let us shift. This bridge we call home. (p. 540-579).
Greene, M. (1982). Public Education and the Public space. In Educational Researcher.
Morisson, T. (1993). The Nobel Prize in Literature 1993. Retrieved from: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1993/morrison-lecture.html
Here are some questions that emerged for me after mentoring at Voices, an alternative to detention program, for eight months, through the YMEJ graduate seminar:
- What does it mean to build a relationship not just with a person, but a group of people, and perhaps even a program?
- How does this create/foster a multi-directional mentoring relationship?
- What are the commitments that people make to each other, to themselves and perhaps to an ideal?
- How does spending time analyzing and understanding these commitments allow me to develop a stance that is not only for my research but for my entire life?
This experience made me realize how much I want to privilege working with young people in my future research and in my life.
- How do I maintain my role at Voices now that the seminar is ending—is it possible?
- How do I recognize, understand and navigate large systems in which many of the people I care about are intertwined?
- How do I keep this present in my writing and research in an authentic way?
- How do I help to create sustainable mentoring opportunities?
- How do I expand conceptualizations of mentoring?
More questions than answers, I hope to return to this post and annotate it as my thinking continues.
In conjunction with this year’s YMEJ Exhibition — “Inquiry into Educational Justice” — we are launching a clothing drive to collect new and like-new items of clothing that will be donated to alternative to detention (ATD) programs in New York City.
This clothing drive is our second, and follows on the huge success of last spring’s event in which we collected over 65 bags of clothing and accessories that were distributed to 5 different ATDs in three boroughs. In our work with youth, we have consistently heard from them that a major obstacle to regular school attendance is the fear of being teased or bullied for a lack of clothing. Thus, we reached out to the Teachers College and greater Columbia University community and were overwhelmed by students’ thoughtfulness and generosity. Our ATD partners were similarly touched and Ana Dopazo, a Senior Education Specialist at Choices ATD, shared these thoughts with us:
Usually when people hear of a child who is consistently missing school they think that the child is getting into trouble or not interested in school or lazy etc…but in actuality there are many reasons that a child might not be succeeding academically that are not by choice. The participants that we usually have in our program are living in poverty. We constantly see kids that refuse to go to school because they don’t have clothes that are clean, in good condition, or that even fit properly because they’ve grown out of it or are sharing clothes with family. Sometimes just getting them new clothes is the simple solution to their school attendance…it gives them their confidence, allows them to feel comfortable in a social setting, and it gives them the motivation to go to school. Many people can’t understand why this would affect someone so tremendously because most of us don’t realize that being able to go shopping for clothes is a luxury, and not something that everyone is capable of doing. The clothing drive will help our kids in need to hopefully be able to add a few items to their wardrobe that will allow them at least some outfits they can mix and match to attend school. I don’t think that this is the answer to all our truant kids but it’s a start…it’s an opportunity to allow these kids that actually want to go to school a chance to have a normal educational experience without the worries of whether or not he/she will have something to wear to school. This clothing drive can also be the answer to our kids not getting rearrested for stealing things they need and may also prevent teasing or bullying in school. So its not just giving a kid a shirt or pants to wear its so much more that: you are contributing to this child life.
Please share this information widely and look for donation boxes in both Zankel Hall and Whittier at Teachers College — and please consider making a clothing donation.
In September 2013, the New York Probation Office published “Free Verse,” the first issue of a poetry journal that emerged from the thoughts of those waiting in the probation office at the Bronx Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON), a collaborative of community organizations, government agencies, local businesses, and community residents focused on connecting probation clients who live in the neighborhood with opportunities, resources and services.
As described in its opening pages,
Free Verse is a journal of poetry, prose, and song that promotes turning waiting time into creative time. Headquartered in the heart of the waiting room of the new South Bronx NeOn – where probation clients check-in with their probation officers – FreeVerse solicits new writing created while people wait.
As described in Gwen McClure’s article on the Juvenile Justice Exchange, “Free Verse” was the brainchild of Loni Tanner, Chief Change Officer for the NYC Department of Design and Construction and Executive Director of See ChangeNYC, as well as Dave Johnson, the Poet-in-Residence at South Bronx NeOn. Tanner informally named the program, in its existence since April 2013, “Not School”—an acknowledgment that learning for young people does not need to only be confined within classroom walls. Instead, learning opportunities exist in the most unexpected places. For Johnson, the program was a movement with a larger purpose than literacy and learning. As he explains,
This is a lot more than poetry; this is an opportunity to be welcomed back into society.
Thankfully, this innovative program has continued, recently releasing its Winter 2014 edition . Below are a few of my favorites from the collection:
in justice for all,
though no one opens a door.
though the best ones don’t reach me.
in freedom, in equality,
but mostly I believe
The Good Fight
One day I will not have to fight you,
the partner I was given in this lottery of life
that looked so promising until the drawing
as each number was pulled, it was clear, it was not a winner,
just another one to go with the other ones
in a pile of must forget yesterdays.
One day I will not have to fight the voices in my head
of people’s words placed wrongly in my spirit,
the words that should have rolled off my back,
but somehow, were deposited in my future.
One day I will not have to fight the urge to write about the sorrows
that have been my tomorrows, before tomorrow has even gotten here.
One day I will fight the good fight of keeping
the roaring laughter from my belly, fighting to make it out like a raging lion.
One day I will fight to open the cocoon, to let the butterflies I protected, go free.
You’ll never know the pressure I endured, to be cut, into the diamond you see.
I’m a life.
I’m not just passing by.