Monday, January 28, 2019

Red Yellow Black And White

For the MLK holiday weekend, I was invited to see my friend's daughter in a step show. I eagerly looked forward to it, as visions of 80s Greek picnics danced in my head. The raw energy and sensuality of alpha males and females stomping on the yard was coming to a venue near me! Never mind that these were K-12 kids coming to honor and celebrate MLK. Never mind that this was a school function. Never mind that as a teacher, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I'm sure I had a clear picture of the scope and sequence of the performance expectations. In my mind, this step show was going to superimpose itself onto my memories and transport me back to my college days.  For me, that time was after fireside chats and long before anyone dreamt that someone who looked like Barack Obama would become #44. MLK day had yet to be celebrated as a holiday and #metoo was only expressed in silent tears. The phrases "white privilege" and "implicit bias" had yet to coined, as had "growth mindset" and the belief that every child can learn. Fortunately, society--and classrooms-- have seen some changes.

Turns out, step show culture has seen some changes as well. My memories scooched over and made room for golden character shoes, diverse cultural and gender backgrounds, canned music,  dramatic interpretation, and well designed sets and backdrops. 

Fireside chats were a minute ago, so many of these things may already be the norm. And while I won't go into what year found me at my last step show, I will go into bias: Any time a memory has to "make room" for a new or changing status quo, the weeds of rose colored bias probably still need to be rooted out. 

As I sat and gleefully applauded the hard work and amazing craftsmanship of each team,  I kept thinking, "Oh, I don't remember that, that's new", which means, somehow, I was judge, not just spectator. I enjoyed the show immensely. My own "performance" however, left me a bit perturbed, and, if I am honest, disappointed. I am inclusive, open-minded, grounded in my own beliefs but stopping WAY short of insisting that others live by them. I am, really inclusive, right? Or does my traditional Christian upbringing make me more judgmental? Does my African-American cultural background make me too quick to see cultural appropriation over cultural appreciation? Does my status as a cisgender, Gen X female give me an inborn perspective that I cannot see beyond? Finally and more importantly, if and when I find biases, do I make sure to stomp them out so that I can greet all of my students--all people--with acceptance and human kindness? 

If you have not asked yourself any of these questions, you probably have some unearthed bias to deal with. Harvard's Implicit Bias Project is a great place to start. The "white privilege" mindset is not reserved for whites only. We all learn perspective and bias, it's human and normal. Perspective has its place, bias does not. We should challenge ourselves to move beyond it, and as educators, it is imperative that we do. 

It turns out that I liked gold character shoes, the poetic odes and skits, and all the other shiny new spins I saw. The essence was there, and the MLK holiday step show did remind me of my own time on the yard, back in the day. More importantly, it reminded me that I, like this country, have come along way, but still have a long way to go.