Little Images

I wrote this four years ago and came back to it in my draft folder. The storage unit is not ours anymore since we’ve moved, but the sentiment in this post remains.

Photo Thanks to Nuno Silva

Photo Thanks to Nuno Silva

The other day I spent a few hours rummaging through old things. I went into our basement storage unit and opened a few boxes. I’ve avoided those boxes for two years. My last real vist was soon after the boy came along. Since then I’ve stacked and restacked boxes. I’ve thrown out a couple bags. I’ve given books away.

But I needed to look through things. I need to remember. I needed to let some things go.

I do this regularly: letting things go. My wife is the keeper of things. I’m the one who discards the unused. I used to give boxes of books away–after U of I, after Wheaton, and then after Garrett. I am of the mind that books are worth sharing, especially when they’ve given their gifts to you.

Still, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually gone through the articles and stuff of earlier days, since I convinced myself that I didn’t need as many things as I once did. It’s interesting how what we keep can be its own record.

So I waded through things. There are those cards and letters from my college days and there’s something Mr. Everett gave me in high school. I found a picture with a friend from a dance, the program from a wedding, a hand-written letter from my pastor, a note from my niece, and one of the most creative pieces of writing I’ve ever read, which happens to also be one of the most troubling lies I’ve read. That was from a letter written by a friend impersonating a physician when we were in college.

Each one of these things is a little image of me, a small indicator of the routes my life has taken.

A Response to Opposing Narratives

I originally saw this at Religious Dispatch.  People of faith should be praying, considering, working, and praying:

The current military operations in Israel and the Gaza strip should disturb all people of faith. The only moral path to a solution between Israelis and Palestinians (Israeli Jewish/Muslim/Christian and Palestinian Muslim/Christian) will be dialogue and negotiation. This is a long and arduous path, but the faith that grounds our traditions can sustain the slow evolution of history. The current conflict is an outgrowth of over a century of opposing narratives and ideological differences that no military operations can resolve.

Our traditions exist to uphold the moral foundations for civilizations and as such we urge an end to the current violence. While we acknowledge the need for self defense, when the can of violence opens, as it has now, worms of vengeance and blood-feud crawl out. Then people begin to abandon the principles of justice and mercy upon which civilizations are founded. Instead they turn to more tribal urges, seeking retribution for past wrongs.

We believe the current violence crosses that line. At some point people cease looking for solutions and instead succumb to base human urges for violence. They crave the blood of the enemy to compensate for the pain of loss. This is the way of our animal instincts, the ethos of ancient tribes and clans who exist only to protect all within, while opposing all others. The teachings of our ancestors rose above that thinking long ago to build great civilizations. We believe that when we look to our texts and traditions we can rise above the narrative of suffering and victimization to find roads to healing and wholeness.

The Torah this week teaches of the “Cities of Refuge” (Numbers 35: 6-28) places where a person can flee after an accidental death or manslaughter in order so that relatives of the deceased cannot exact revenge. The one who flees must face criminal justice, and the City of Refuge serves as both a haven and prison for the man slaughterer while restricting the blood thirst of the avenger. The people living in Israel and Gaza can look at the current situation and see only murder and intentional killing, or they can see how decades of hatred breed spontaneous violence. In these heated emotions, our traditions call for cooling off, seeking refuge, and then finding a path to justice. Only through such systems can order and peace be restored.

Several verses from the Quran also give us reminders to work for the protection of life and how to respond with good and forgiveness in times of major challenge and conflict.

Read the statement here.

Attending to the Details

When history is collapsed into myth, responsibilities become diffused, and repentance and reconciliation become impossible.  In the inflated realm of mythical oppression, villains are so villainous that no one sees themselves reflected on the image.  Few can trace accrued privileges to specific and intentional evil acts.  Similarly, victims become so quintessentially and epically victimized that all escape routes from the condition are sealed off by a maze of self-doubt, blaming, and low self-esteem.  The antidote to this phenomenon is to attend to the details, to understand the specific events, ancestors, life stories, causes of oppression, and avenues of social change.  Historical and spiritual specificity is salvific.  Then and only then can the movement toward moral flourishing begin.

Guest Post: History Remains His-Story in Texas

Marcus Campbell works as an administrator at Evanston Township High School and also pastors a church in Chicago.  I asked him to weigh in on the same issues Sonia Wang did the other day.  Me and Marcus “go way back”.  We used to sing together in the Soul Children of Chicago when we were small, and I know he’d enjoy any reactions and questions which come up for you from this post. 

History, Remains His-Story in Texas

The purpose of curriculum is to highlight the goals and assessments that provide a roadmap for instruction. Curriculum is a critical piece in schools in that it is the primary element of what gets delivered in the classroom. Curriculum prepares students for the world in which schools have trained them to be equipped. Curriculum is also what shapes the scope of a school’s values, culture and goals. Providing an analysis of curriculum also reveals what knowledge-base a learning community embraces and it also has the potential to reflect the passion of its creators. Curriculum does not consist of multiple lists of inanimate objectives, goals, plans, lessons and assessments, but it is rather a living document that comes alive each day of the school year in every classroom across the country. When curricula are planned and implemented well, the learning outcomes for both students and teachers are tremendous.

The ideal or model framework for curriculum is that it should be structured by skill with content-reinforcing skills. The content should be framed with the following in mind: district or school demographics, valued cultural knowledge and other items that can frame multiple disciplinary content areas that will prepare students for working in a particular field or profession. Most importantly, curriculum should be framed with the student in mind. Student-focused curriculum is built firmly with stages of adolescent development in mind, student interest and the need to know content to function in a democratic society. Far too many times, curriculum is out of date, referred to as the textbook or the state standards posted in the teachers classroom. These provide the necessary components for what includes curriculum, but these are a far cry from what curriculum actually is. It is up to district and school leaders to make sure that there is a common understanding of curriculum among the various constituencies in the district, but every teacher must also be clear and able to articulate what curriculum is and demonstrate it in action in the classroom.

With that being said, as a Senior Pastor, Director of Academic Programs for a school district and a doctoral student in Education, I believe that the recent curriculum approved by the Texas State Board of Education will in large part serve as a disadvantage to the students in the Texas education system. The changes subtract from the rich pluralist history that belongs to our nation and it devalues the varying of opinions that make this nation as great as it is. Valuing and analyzing multiple perspectives across all content areas are important for developing a critical consciousness as young men and women seek to find themselves and understand the world around them.  Affirming a conservative curriculum will only lengthen the divide between the two political factions at work, when the goal of education is the act of preparing students to live in a world of difference. Continue reading →

Guest Post: Public Education?

I asked Sonia Wang to respond to a few questions about decisions the state board of Texas made regarding curriculum there.  Ms. Wang just completed her fourth year teaching at an elementary school in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.  She’s a part of my church, has a large heart, and is skilled at sarcastic jabs right when they’re most entertaining.  Post a comment if you have specific questions or reactions to her post…

Public Education?

The decisions that are made in education always leave me with a brief moment of wonder. When you think about this whole situation, it comes down to this: college educated men and women who interact with adults for the most part making decisions about what information should be shared to children who come from all backgrounds—race, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic, etc. You can’t help but identify a slight feeling of disfigurement in this scene.

Putting that aside, however, I approach the situation in Texas with a broader, and what I believe, as an educator, to be the more important question: 

What is the purpose of education?  What is the end goal for our children as they receive a public education?

From my experience as an Asian-American woman growing up in public education and now teaching African-American students in public education, I firmly believe education has a crucial role in students’ lives. Education is a means to pack as much knowledge into our students and provide them with skills to then make informed decisions.

In the New York Times article, Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change, Dr. McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, states that the state is “adding balance …history has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.” I find this mindset problematic. Decisions made by the government should not be contingent on some motive to make right something that was off. History should not be skewed in either direction. The role of education is to provide knowledge to students. Thus students should be receiving the facts of events and situations. Within those historical contexts, they might be informed about biases and opposing sides. However to mandate a textbook that has a certain bias explicitly woven into the curriculum is then to tolerate learning that is untrue and ignorant of another perspective.

Rather than pushing to legitimize one’s agenda, a state board would do history justice by promoting a policy that develops a child’s complete understanding of history and the social issues surrounding it. What do you say to a child whose ancestors were captives from the African soil and stripped to be deemed less than nothing when their textbook, or even their teacher, paints the picture that their ancestors were stupid, dirty barbarians? At the same time, what do you say to a child whose ancestors were forced to take foreigners into their homes and beat them into submission because of a society when their textbook, or even their teacher, paints the picture that they were ruthless and heartless slave masters? You can not teach slavery with a drop of justice by painting broad pictures. Further, what are we telling our children by painting only one picture?  Honestly, teaching history is a difficult task as a teacher because of this dilemma: What do we teach?!

Continue reading →