Monthly Archives: June 2015

Get the Bleep Out of the Fast Lane

On the way to the Genius Institute this morning, I became aware once again that I am a cautious but impatient driver. Usually, the fastest way to campus in the morning is Highway 287 because the speed limit is 65 for a longish stretch. Usually. Unless as was the case this morning, someone has decided to drive 45 in the fast lane. I can only endure that state of affairs for so long before I’m berating that driver out loud, even though I logically realize s/he can’t hear me. I’ll do what I can to change the situation, but only to a certain extent. I’ll drive just close enough to exert some pressure without tailgating. I’ll weave between lanes as long as the window is wide enough to do so without risking a wreck. I’ll drive 4-5 miles over the speed limit, but not 6 in order to reduce the likelihood of a ticket. Sometimes these methods work, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I’ll find an empathetic driver—an ally—who will wave me over in front of them so I can make my way into the faster lane. (And again, even though this driver can’t hear me, I wave and shout, “Thank you! You’re my best friend!)

Essentially, my technique is to analyze my immediate context, reflect on my state of mind in light of how quickly I need to arrive at the place I’m going, and adjust my practice accordingly—to push just enough so that I can move faster than is comfortable without wrecking the car and endangering my life.

While I’m not recommending that someone adopt my driving habits, I do ask you to consider how the metaphor is perhaps relevant to the work we’re doing together in this workshop. As we confront privilege, critique inequitable systems, and work to change them, how fast can we expect to move? How imperative is it that we, our students, our colleagues, our parent population, etc., get the bleep out of the fast lane in order to arrive somewhere more quickly than we might otherwise? How urgent is this work in our world? And who gets the privilege to decide?

Let’s adopt the same exercise I use when I’m driving in an effort to mull over these issues:

  1. Describe your place. Consider the obstacles you’ll encounter and the allies who will support your journey.
  2. Reflect on your practice.
  3. Consider how you can push beyond both to teach from a position of social justice, that is to: acknowledge privilege, recognize oppression, and critique and work to change social and educational systems that inhibit equity and access to opportunity that would allow our students to thrive in their lives and in the world.

come be a genius with us

Today begins the Genius Institute, a program of the CSU Writing Project, that focuses this year on “Teaching with Tensions.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 9.00.06 AM

Over the next few days, you’ll meet our small group of CSUWP fellows–Collin Shields, Tara Rigby, Elliott Johnston, Jenny St. Romain, and me–as we tackle questions related to tackling issues of privilege, power, difference, controversy, and so forth in our classrooms and the profession.

At the end of each day, one of us will invite the rest of the group to post some fruits of our collective thought labor. We want one thing to be clear up front: we don’t know the answers. There are no definitive answers. But we’re up for struggling together through questions we think ought to matter to all of us since we believe that part of our mission as educators is to work toward a more socially just and peaceful world.

Today, I’ve been tasked with providing a prompt to which all of us will respond below. We’ll rotate this responsibility over the next few days as a way of reflecting on our learning and inviting anyone’s who reading in on the conversation. Today, we’ve generated a pretty expansive list of questions (copied below), so this is the prompt I’m posing:

What’s an important question that has stuck with you today? (It can be from the list below, but it doesn’t have to be.) How is this question stretching your thinking? What do you think you know at this point? What do you want to keep thinking about?


  • What battles are worth fighting?
  • When do I need to make a statement?
  • When do I need to say something (a bigoted view, for instance) is wrong?
  • How do we honor student voices?
  • How do we help students talk about things they are uncomfortable with?
  • How do we help students have conversations where they open up to someone they disagree with? Sometimes they may leave discussions only becoming more hardened in their views.
  • What are kids more comfortable talking about?
  • What do you do when you carefully set the class up to deal with social justice issues in class and things fall apart? How do you work through these issues with different groups?
  • How do we help students (and really our society) work through difficult issues and consider the logic of perspectives they don’t agree with?
  • What do we do about Ruby Payne and her ideas about students in poverty? (cf CPR series on students in poverty)
  • How do we confront issues of race/class/gender/etc. in our classroom settings and professional conversations so that people can hear what everyone is saying?
  • How do we push back? How do we deal with pushback from students, colleagues, and parents?
  • What if we teach in a homogeneous setting? What if we don’t, but as white and privileged teachers aren’t sure what to say without exposing our ignorance or making things worse?
  • How do we present/introduce minority perspectives without essentializing an entire group? How do we invite minority students to share an alternative point of view without making them feel as if they have to act as spokespersons for an entire group of people?
  • Who gets to talk about race? Who gets to decide that ______ is an non-issue?
  • When/how can we get into nuanced questions about race, etc., esp. within the time frame of a constrained curriculum? When do you skim the surface, and when do you dive deep (Is that a rabbit hole?)? If I don’t do the latter, am I perpetuating/reinforcing the system of privilege?
  • When do traditional models get disrupted for students?
  • How do we stay hopeful?
  • How do we disrupt our own assumptions?
  • Which axes should we be grinding?
  • How do you deal with complex issues in age-appropriate ways?
  • How do you recognize the inequities of students’ circumstances without making them feel powerless or victimized?
  • Who has the privilege not to think that “something is a big deal”? What privileges do you possess that are invisible to you?