The 2012 National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference has begun, with Sally in attendance representing our school. On Thursday on Twitter, someone named Bo Adams commented on remarks by Pat Bassett, the President of NAIS: “Pat Bassett shows exemplars of innovative school practice. What is common denom? Stus working on REAL WORLD ISSUES! #naisac12”
My mind immediately flew to an email I received this afternoon from Humanities 8 teacher Karen Suchenski. One of her students, in researching a project on slavery, had come across an abhorrent, racist website that was essentially built around “creative” and constant use of the n-word. The class was properly outraged and wanted to do something about it. She was wondering what I thought.
What I thought was that there were probably a ton of websites out there that were just as objectionable. I did a search on “white supremacist” (ignoring for the moment that the above-mentioned website claims they are not white supremacists, noting that they accept all races, creeds, and colors - with the obvious exception also noted) and got several million hits. I learned of another website no less objectionable but far more trafficked. And I pondered what the kids might do in the face of such virulent racism.
I suggested to Karen that one of the strongest possible approaches might be to develop and implement an anti-racist campaign. One presumes that unreconstructed racists will be hard to reach, and equally committed anti-racists will of course need no convincing. It's the middle ground we would need to reach - well-meaning people who might not understand all the forms racism might take or be aware of the pervasiveness of its continuing influence on our society, people who are ready for growth but just might not know yet that they need to grow, or how.
Karen will be taking our ideas back to the kids to see what they think. It absolutely is, as she notes, a teachable moment, and what has to come next is figuring out what they want to learn, how deeply committed they continue to want to do something about it, and what (if any) next steps make the most sense.
Meanwhile, the Humanities 7 class has been dealing with a different kind of real world issue. In collaborating on their plays, all three groups have had moments when they have hit a wall and become convinced that they won't be able to finish their work effectively. They are deeply committed to maintaining relationships, and indeed what seems to scare them even more than the spectre of not finishing their plays is the thought of damaging their relationships with their peers. They understand compromise can solve many problems, but are insightful enough to recognize that sometimes, compromise doesn't lead to a good solution, and sometimes it isn't even possible. As one might expect of students at strong risk for the Curse of the Good Girl, many of them want to walk away from the problems and not deal with them. I told them that, unless they live as hermits, they will have to deal with such conflicts throughout their lives, noting that even people in strong marriages (or other long-term committed relationships) may be incredibly annoyed by each other from time to time but that doesn't mean the relationship is being weakened - indeed, how they handle such conflict can even strengthen their relationship in the long term. Ellen and I have given the students strategies for identifying and discussing conflict, and for laying down guidelines for group work that will help them get along and achieve their goals. As much progress as they have made, it seems as though the February blahs may have been clouding their vision. Hopefully, when they return bright-eyed and rested after spring break, they will see what they have accomplished.