Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power

We, minorities and people of color in America, should buy Coates’ third and new book We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (W.W.E.Y.I.P).

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
We Were Eight Years in Power: an American tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Buy it as a reference book for the digital or physical bookshelf. We must read and discuss the content Coates writes in his new book, and expose future generations of family to it, and annotate the book to re-examine its ideas as the future unfolds.

Coates’ Book Explores the Question, What Does the Black President Mean to African-Americans & All Americans in the Long-term?

We Were Eight Years in Power is not a fun or light read for a reader uninterested or uninitiated into social justice concepts. It will not make a white person any less white-supremacist. Nor is Coates’ book filled with new information that could serve as a reference book for a scholar pursuing a comprehensive knowledge on the social justice issues in this book. Coates’ writing is more about synthesizing and distilling comprehensive academic literature into digestible chunks for the layperson’s level of understanding.

I think of Coates like Homeric poets. The Homeric poets orally recited epics such as the Iliad and the Odyssey undoubtedly to the illiterate. In this way they were popular stories. The Iliad and Odyssey are foundational texts not just of western literature, but of western culture entirely if you consider a figure like Alexander the Great. Coates’ function is as important as a Homeric poet’s, as he is disseminating to masses of light readers concepts that will be foundational to any future society that will be morally better than our current American society, a better society that may emerge after the end of the current empires.

Analyzing the Book’s Structure & Concepts

In the first half of this review will cover the book’s new content. 21% of the book is previously unpublished content (81 of 372 pages). The new content makes the book worth reading.

The second part of this article will be summaries of the themes of Coates’ nine previously published articles that appeared in The Atlantic magazine. The previously published articles being 78% of the content of the book.

Coates’ 81 pages of new content are made up of reflections on his writing, blackness in reality and concept, and the first black President. The eight year timeline starts with Obama being elected President and ends with Trump being elected President.

Among other things, Coates uses the reflections to map his growth into the writer he is today. To view his own life as an anecdote for the African-American heterosexual male’s life experience during the Obama years. To contextualize and describe to us his writer’s moves and point out the writing failings of his previously published articles. And to give us the benefit of his current hindsight in understanding what the whole of Obama’s presidency means.

The eight separate sections of reflections in W.W.E.I.P cover various themes, and serve as prefaces for the nine previously published articles in the book. Coates’ reflections also serve as reflections on the changing or concretized state of his own opinions in the past and now.

The Primary Themes of Coates’ Eight Reflections

The major themes that jumped out to me in Coates’ first four reflections are as follows:

  • The place of black political figures in America’s political history and future.
  • Black conservatism in general as well as Obama’s.
  • The extra (and long overdue) success black people like himself received because the President was black.
  • Barrack Obama’s blackness in relation to Michelle Robinson’s élite old Chicago blackness.
  • Whites seeking absolution for their sins as recompense for the election of Obama.
  • The rising swell of anti-black racism toward Obama in white America.
  • Why whites seek to preserve the false narrative lie of white civil war history, the truths that come to light for African-Americans whom study the civil war, and what those truths would teach us about dangerous white resentment.
  • The incomprehensible vastness of the damage slavery wrought on African-American lives.
  • Coates’ feeling of advantage in writing about black issues in general, which some fear to do. And how Coates’ atheism was shaped and shapes his point of view.

The major themes I noticed of Coates’ last four reflections are as follows:

  • The idiocy of expecting Coates to have solutions for America’s white supremacy, just because he can eloquently state the problems.
  • How Coates desires to not be viewed as an interpreter of the black experience, and it being impossible for a black writer to avoid.
  • The ridiculous excuses white Americans make for not paying reparations.
  • Coates’ coming to understand the American racial dynamic in the past and today, that blacks are the plundered and whites are the plunderers.
  • Mass incarceration, that in the end indirectly hurts white society, is the manifestation of white anti-black hatred.
  • Coates’ final reflection is on the hope & pride in America he felt for the first time in his life as a result of Obama’s presidency.
  • How Donald Trump’s election to the presidency made Coates realize he should have never hoped.

Why the Eight Reflections in We Were Eight Years in Power Are Worth Reading

Coates’ reflections have much to offer. Insight into a journalist’s thought process. Acknowledgement that we grow, and that we will be wrong, and that is it okay to be wrong and get corrected. Coates reflects on how he might have grown more as a writer when he blogged and received online feedback, than he does now that he has fame and praise.

A rather important aspect of the reflections is that Coates does not take credit for his success, in a way that implies he is just more hard working or talented than other black people seeking to be writers. He strongly acknowledges that his success is tied to the advent of Obama. This is crucial because Coates has always denied the myth that people pick themselves up by their bootstraps. And he has denied that institutional oppression can be overcome by the willpower of the oppressed alone. Now that he is famous and successful, it is crucial that he sticks by this part of his philosophy. Because when you forget who helped you to become successful and take full credit, you lie and blame disadvantaged people who did not get lucky, which has dangerous consequences.

Coates’ reflections make up only 81 pages of We Were Eight Years in Power, but I would have bought a book if it were only these 81 pages.

Addressing the Criticism of We Were Eight Years in Power Being Mainly Previously Published Content

As I mentioned before, 81% of W.W.E.Y.I.P  is made up of articles that previously appeared in The Atlantic. The Atlantic articles that appear in Coates’ new book are:

1) This is how we lost the white man.  2) American Girl.  3) Why do so few black study the civil war?  4) The legacy of Malcolm X.  5) Fear of a Black President. 6) The case for reparations.  7) The black family in the era of mass incarceration.  8) My president was black.  9) The first white president.

We are not being bamboozled into buying a book we can get free online. Thinking we’re being hustled because Coates’ bound book is made mostly of free articles is a misunderstanding of the culture and history of the published word. In the past authors would publish their book in serialized form in literary magazines and then later publish them in a bound book. The free nature of The Atlantic should not make us forget or devalue the writing.

Even today, sections of books are published in article form before appearing as part of a books. Emily Chang published an article in Vanity Fair which is an excerpt from her upcoming book Brotopia: breaking up the boys club of silicon valleyThis doesn’t and shouldn’t cheapen the value of her book in our minds, when it is published this February.

Minorities and people of color must remember to support each others’ work and think of their criticisms’ of each other with the long-term in mind. Think of yourself as contributing to a trend. Colonialism works because minorities get divided. To fight this long-term trend, let’s end the divide between minorities when possible. Before thinking “Coates is a mediocre writer making money off of the black experience”, try to remember no one knows the future of even tomorrow let alone an era from now, and we’re made stupid living in our current context based on how we’ve been socialized. How dumb as fuck the thinking of all founding fathers was in hindsight, serves as a good cautionary tale to not take your negative critical opinions of intellectuals of color too seriously.

The Primary Themes of Coates’ Articles Previously Published in The Atlantic, 81% of this Book

How We Lost to the White Man

Though Bill Cosby is the topic of this journalistic article, Coates uses Cosby to illustrate the vein of black conservatism that always has been and will be in every facet of the African-American community. Cosby also serves as a perfect example of the hypocritical nature of the character of every black conservative. That is, black conservatives must be either delusional or duplicitous to believe in the myth of picking one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps, and to believe that all black people must fulfill this myth also, and to believe that they have not internalized some form of self-hate or white-supremacy.

American Girl

In the book’s second section is the article in which Coates talks about Michelle Obama’s particular brand of blackness, that is, the milieu of South Side Chicagoan black élite.

The article spotlights Michelle Obama’s blackness. The role it plays in the public identity of President Barrack Obama. What it means to Obama’s self-identity, what it meant to Obama’s career as a Chicago politician. What it meant to black voters throughout the country, and what it meant to white-supremacists throughout the U.S.

Coates loves black people in their infinite variability and beauty (as should we all). Particularly affecting is Coates’ statement that Michelle Obama is beautiful in the way black people know themselves to be beautiful. Indeed she is beautiful, and America’s white supremacy culture prevented it from appreciating the whole of Michelle Obama’s beauty.

In the last line of the American Girl chapter, Coates includes a quote of a woman from Michelle Obama’s social milieu, emphasizing that Michelle and Barack are not completely abnormal in the South Side of Chicago. Meaning countless African-American couples in the Southside of Chicago are everyday denied their great potential because of anti-black racism in the U.S.

Why do so Few Blacks Study the Civil War?

In the third section of the book, Coates goes over various aspects of why and how white-supremacists have denied black people the history of the civil war. Why and how they created myths to defend white devilry as white noblesse. Why and how black voices have been cut out of civil war history, despite them being the main characters. And why many black people should take up civil war scholarship to counter the false narratives created by white southerners that effectively created propaganda history to harm Black-Americans and reinforce white-supremacy in American. Most importantly perhaps, Coates ends implying every white American and was and is complicit in the white-supremacist mythical narrative that is now mainstream civil war history.

The Legacy of Malcolm X

In this article Coates identifies how Obama benefitted from the legacy Malcolm X carved into America, and how Obama continues that legacy. Coates emphasizes that Malcolm X self-invented himself, and thus endowed African-American men the same ability. X boldly claimed self-invention as well as the ability of a black man to occupy multiple identities in the beholding eyes of various disparate groups in America. Coates highlights that Obama and Malcolm X, and even Coates himself, have similar biographies – similar in terms of aspects of disadvantage.

Coates demonstrates in the article that Malcolm’s brilliant potential was capped by his skin color in his own time. And that through Malcolm’s life work and struggle, Obama and Coates have enjoyed a higher level of self-creation, that if not without limit has a higher ceiling than Malcolm X’s.

Fear of a Black President

In Fear of Black President Coates highlights how Obama over-compromised when it came to being neutral on race, mentioning race less than white presidents before him. And that despite this, because Obama is half-black, white Americans obsessed and despised Obama’s blackness, and they viewed Obama as black supremacist despite all evidence to the contrary. Coates goes over a number of outrageous lies by whites about Obama that amount to racist conspiracy theories, to the outright racist insults hurled at Obama by fringe and mainstream republicans and democrats.

The Case for Reparations

The point Coates makes is simple and effective, there is every reason for the U.S. nation to pay reparations to African-Americans, and only white supremacist racism stops African-Americans from receiving reparations. Themes of the article: Black peonage in early 19th century during the Jim Crow era; restrictive covenants in Northern states; contract house-selling that allowed whites, Jewish people, and others to rob multiple black families of the rights to property while legalizing stealing from black would-be home-owners; Federal Housing Administration creating racial segregation; German reparations paid to groups of Jewish people. The themes go on, but Coates gets his point across.

Coates points out the main rationality of whites unwilling to pay reparations to blacks. Whites claim that how the money might be spent is justification for not paying. Coates points to Israel receiving reparations and how they now abuse Palestinians now that they have military and economic power. Coates points out that the abuse Israelis now practice does not mean they should have not been paid reparations, nor should Israel’s abuses bar other groups from receiving their due.

Missing from Coates’ logic however is Native Americans. I do believe Native Americans deserve reparations too, at least as much as African-Americans though the crimes that require payment would be different. Certainly African and Native Americans do not deserve reparations more than each other, and both deserve them equally. However, Coates is not Native, and every writer cannot be a writer to and for all people, I suppose.

The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration

The book’s seventh section can serve as a decent introduction to U.S. mass incarceration that is largely anti-black. Coates begins the article visiting the specter of the famous white sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who is the epitome of the hopelessly white-supremacist white academic with white savior syndrome, who inevitably betrays the black community, makes his fame off the black community, and hurts the black community for unforeseeable decades during and after his life. Moynihan’s study The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, published in 1965 still shapes the way white Americans view Black Americans. Coates describes the history of the incarceration of black people, and the ramping up to and fruition of the mass incarceration of black people disproportionately today, citing the works of Michelle Alexander and others along the way.

Coates points out that politicians, after decades, are now starting to say they erred with mass incarceration. This leaves people hopeful that mass incarceration will be wound down. Coates rightly points out that it is not so simple, the structure is not so easily dismantled, and the damage done to millions of black people, men, women, and their children and children’s children, cannot simply be made right because politicians are now repentant for the evils of the anti-black mass incarceration which they all profited and profit from.

My President Was Black

In the article in the eighth section of the book, Coates analyzes the dynamic of Obama’s racial identity as a black man, his political identity, and his presidential identity for eight years. Coates goes over familiar facts about the Obama election. Coates seems to imply that overall, only Obama himself knows the reality of how liberally pro-black, or colorblind conservative Obama is in his own mind. Because Obama was exactly who he needed to be in order to be elected President. For Coates it is difficult to imagine that Obama would have achieved the success he did if he had been more pro-black than he was.

Coates sweetly ends the article with a flattering portrait of the Obama administration. Coates illustrates a tableau of Obama’s farewell party. The spirits of Obama and others as on high. His farewell party filled with so many prominent African American people, a cross-section of black life in America, many who rose to prominence over the previous decades. Coates reflects that Obama had been as close to perfection as can be, every ideal imaginable for any president, and perhaps crucially for the first black president.

Coates reflects that Obama gave him the only period in time that Coates had ever been proud of his country.

The First White President/W.W.E.Y.I.P’s Epilogue

The point Coates seeks to make in the article is that Trump was elected president on the power of whiteness alone. The point being that this is different in meaning than why all white presidents before him were elected. The past white presidents climbed the ladder of whiteness and were exemplars of white excellence,  whereas Trump is the exemplar of low white mediocrity.

Coates tracks Trump’s ascension on the heels of white supremacist ideology. Trump began with birtherism, gained support by vilifying Mexicans as rapists tapping into the arcane ideal of women as the property of white men. Trump never served in public office, referred to his a daughter as ‘a piece of ass’, founded a fraudulent university for which he was sued, etc. (343). Coates points out that whites know they would not elect a black candidate who did even one of those crazy things I just listed. Coates best sums up Trump’s ascendancy on page 343, “the point of white supremacy–to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people…achieve with minimal qualification.”

Ultimately Coates points to the white-supremacy of Americans as dangerous to Americans and the world. That to spite a black president whites elected the lowest form of white man president. And that this white hubris imperils every American institution.

At the end of the article Coates places a call to action. That social justice causes cannot in themselves save us, and yet all social justice causes must succeed simultaneously if there is any hope of making America better. Coates states it is necessary for anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-war, and anti-poverty to succeed all at once (367). This appears to be Coates’ response to the harm that comes from Trump’s hate, the republican party’s policies, both of which are in the service of the white supremacist core of America. Coates also points out that perhaps to the world, every American may as well be a white American, for all intents and purposes.

Reading Coates as a White-Coded Latinx-American

I am Latinx-American. Ethnically I am mostly indigenous, but my skin-color is coded as European. I therefore enjoy some white male privilege in America, also because I am third generation American.

My identities affect my reading of Coates, a black heterosexual African-American male. Anti-blackness and anti-indigenousness are cornerstones of the subculture I am a part of. With this understanding in mind, if you are not black or indigenous I strongly suggest you read Coates, if not this book then his others, if not his books then his articles. I wouldn’t make the same suggestion to women of color because they know better who to read than I will.

You may not agree with Coates, or you may think his analysis is not comprehensive, or you might have no knowledge of what Coates speaks of and feel confused by his themes because Americans are racially illiterate in general. I was recently myself. Do not let these deter you, as it is struggle to read about the state of race in America at first because the neural pathways have not yet formed in the brains of most of us because American culture is synonymous with white heterosexual male supremacy.

Lastly, Support Black Authors and Authors of Colors, Particularly the Ones with little Self-Hate, You Won’t Ever Regret it

Lastly I suggest you read Coates’ previous two books of memoir if you haven’t already:  Between the World and Me, and The Beautiful Struggle.

 

 

by Tlatoani

Book Review: Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis

“…the greatest challenge facing us as we attempt to forge international solidarities and connections across national borders is an understanding of what feminists often call ‘intersectionality.’ Not so much intersectionality of identities, but intersectionality of struggles.” – Angela Davis

Be ready to open your mind to new ideas about freedom, struggle, intersectionality, marginalization, and like concepts. 

Angela Y. Davis’ nonfiction text, Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, is a short, but powerful read. It serves as a shock to the mind of people who are aware of social injustices, but don’t know what to do about them. Davis focuses on the idea that people of different identities and oppression forces need to band together to be effective in the multitude of social issue fights.

The Format of Freedom is a Constant Struggle

If you are already familiar with Davis’ form of writing, then you will be anticipating a read that uses an academic style. For this book, it is not the case; however, it does not take away from Davis’ purpose of the book.

With the short length of her book, it is easy to think that she is failing to cover many of the most poignant aspects of the “struggle fight.” However it is too easy if you are thinking too hard to not “pick up what she’s puttin’ down.” Angela Davis has contributed a massive body of work to the foundations of revolutionary thinking on equality. She already established herself as an intellectual icon on paper and in action. Freedom Is A Constant Struggle addresses the topic the action of struggle, and how to struggle more effectively.

Compiling a series transcripts from events she participated in over the past few years, Davis asserts why marginalized issues of today need to continually be addressed, and how to create solid foundations to actively approach this.

Quotes that I loved…

Our struggles can’t be confronted alone

Davis in more ways than one emphasizes the importance of ridding ourselves of the viewpoint that effective movements that create change can only happen with a solitary leader or solitary perpetrators where all can look unto that person as the messiah or as the villain; “we do not now need the traditional, recognizable Black male charismatic leader…we deeply appreciate [Martin and Malcolm for their] historical contributions, but we need not replicate the past (85).”

Besides, when we take this individualistic approach of recognizing necessary change, we actively overlook the fact that “women have always done the work of organizing Black radical movements…(86).”

Universal categories of equality continue to perpetuate marginalization

“The ‘all-embracing slogan, ‘All Lives Matter,” are often embracing a strategy that glosses over the particular reasons why it is important to insist quite specifically on an end to racist violence…the extent to which such universal proclamations have always bolstered racism. More often than not universal categories have been clandestinely racialized (87).”

Final Thoughts:

An important takeaway I got from Davis’s book is we are more powerful in numbers. There are so many other important points that Davis brings up in order for her readers to understand the necessary steps to address many of the social changes that need to happen. Most importantly she highlights the importance of knowing who your common enemy is, and using that to build a foundation of fighters that don’t just focus on their single struggle, but see all struggles as one whole.

I don’t have many negative critiques to make about Freedom is a Constant Sturggle, but if you are someone who is easily agitated by repetition of ideas, then be ready for that, but don’t let it deter you from reading this great work.

All of Angela Y. Davis’ are foundational texts in for anti-racist feminism, and equality on every level for every human being. I really enjoyed this book. It was really well written, repeated important ideas, and works as a foundation to working towards social change.

by @Azinza_Sirena

Big Changes

Things have changed a lot the past few months. Not to say that the changes in my life have contributed to why I write so little here. Even before all the changes, I have not been writing here a lot. Well I have, but mostly drafts of writing.

For the past few months, I have written various drafts for this blog unsure of what to post. Given how little I do post, I wanted to recommit myself to this, but I also what to acknowledge that a lot has changed for me. Also, it would make more sense to align the page with what is going on in my educator-life.

So, what has changed?

  1. I have moved to a new city and state.
  2. I am working at a new school, which of course has many new things going on.
  3. I am teaching a new grade level (and it’s a major leap from what I was doing before.
  4. I am teaching a new subject (still humanities-related)
  5. I am teaching at a turnaround school, which as a lot of challenge that I hope to suss out through writing.

While I will not be able to give every detail of these changes (for privacy and safety of course), I do want to craft my posts to better show what I am experiencing in my career as an educator. Most importantly my goal for this blog is to use my writing as to support educators that are in the beginning of their careers like me, and know that in this struggle as a novice teacher, I am right there with you.

Thank you for reading, and please leave feedback.

Best,

Azinza

Classroom Environment, Student Engagement, and Commitment to Learning

My plan to learn how to establish an effective classroom environment, student engagement and commitment to learning began with the educational video based website for teachers, The Teaching Channel.  As most teachers know, this site provides beginner teachers with many authentic video recordings about several topics a newer teacher wants to explore. There were many videos attributed to improving and creating a classroom environment and also geared towards how to give students a joint responsibility in their learning.  I focused my video watching on how teachers establish classroom environments that live beyond the teacher.

In other words, my goal in watching the teaching videos was to work on having a classroom culture that is collectively committed to learning, even when I am not present in the class.  A Teaching Channel video that supported me with this module was from Sarah Brown Wessling’s, “How To Build A Culture for Starting” she focuses her goal on creating a classroom culture that supports learning.   The second way that I developed new learning was through my conversations with my mentor teacher during our meetings.  Through these meetings, I was able to seek professional advice about a dilemma in my classrooms specifically related to classroom environment and student engagement, in which my mentor teacher provided me with specific strategies for these areas for my class.  In short, we discussed how to give students very specific roles in the classroom that in turn allows for student assume responsibilities in establishing an effective classroom environment.

For the latter strategy, I first came to my mentor teacher with the problem.  This was probably one of the clearest moments when I realized that the classroom environment and commitment to learning needed to be reviewed and adapted to better fit a learning environment that was maintained even when I was not there.  Upon being ill for a few days, I came back to school with a note from the substitute teacher essentially expressing disappointment with my students’ behavior during the days I was out.  The behavior reflected a classroom that did not have an effective learning environment and it even brought the teacher covering my class to question whether or not my students had regard for me as their main teacher.  My immediate thought to myself was that my students are typically not like that and then I realized perhaps they were being complaint mainly because I am the main teacher.  This was not good enough for me so I sought out the support of my mentor teacher.  After sharing the problem to him, I was encouraged to think about the following question, “how do I establish a classroom learning environment that goes beyond myself?” and thus began my quest on possible solutions so that the next time I was not going to be in class the culture and environment would remain together.  

With one colleague I was suggested that I have students essentially reflect on the experience that took place with the substitute teacher and have them write a letter to the substitute in acknowledgment of their behavior and how they will use this as an opportunity to establish integrity.  While I did this, I knew I needed to do more, so in discussion with my mentor he suggested that I reevaluate what work I was giving students when I was gone, and to consider ways to divide up the responsibility of the lesson to multiple students, especially the students that cause the most unbalance in the learning environment.  I knew that I had some in school meetings during the class period coming up and that I needed to work with on classroom environment, so I took the time to try out the suggested practice.  Right away I was able to think about which students would most benefit from leadership roles and well as support roles for the teacher that would substitute in my place.

The day that I was scheduled for a meeting in school, I made sure to tell the students that I would need their help with the class running smoothly.  I divided up the things that needed to be done with different students based on what I knew they could handle.  Some students were in charge of explaining the instructions; others were in charge of passing back work, and some collecting work.  As a result, because students had specific tasks it established for them a purpose and they were needed to engage in the learning even when I was not there.  Prior to beginning of this module of improving the classroom environment and commitment to learning, my students were not able to maintain an effective classroom environment when I was not in the classroom.  After the classroom module this changed and my students were effective in maintaining a classroom environment and commitment to learning, which was impacted by their more direct engagement with the learning.  To be more specific with evidence of how this classroom environment module impacted my student’s learning, whether or not I am in the classroom, my students have been able to assume more responsibilities that directly influence the maintenance of the classroom environment.  This was something that they were not able to do prior to the module.

Prior to using this strategy, I mainly would leave work that correlated with the curriculum, but in all honesty, it was sort of busy work.  Now I see that when I give students a purpose they are more engaged and intrinsically invested in respecting the learning environment even when I am not there because they are now more committed to learning.

To continue, Ms. Wessling from “The Teaching Channel” discusses the importance of giving students a clear purpose in the classroom and consistently ensuring that students know they are an important asset to the learning environment and that their thinking and actions are of great value.  She explains that a great way to achieve this intrinsic understanding for students is to provide them with authentic learning experiences. So, I decided to figure out ways to take the curriculum required of me and adapt it in a manner that would allow for students to be invested in their own learning, in other words, more committed to their learning.

I started to reflect on the nature of my lessons and how students would be able to produce work that portrayed their understanding of the objectives and correlated with my module goal of establishing a learning environment that effectively shows that my students are engaged with their learning.  With this learning goal in mind I created activities that required each student in their small groups to have a specific role that also was very important to the group’s success in the activity.  The Tableau Vivant or “living image” is an activity that gives students the ability to show that they understand some of the major philosophies in our unit of study.  Each group has a student in charge of directing, taking pictures, writing analysis with evidence, posing for snapshots, and ensuring that all work got back to me so that they were prepared to make their posters for our classes upcoming gallery walk.  This activity not only established a purpose for each student it also created the atmosphere of an authentic learning experience.  Students were aware that the entire class would be coming to see their work, so it had to be their best.  

As a result of activities like the Tableau Vivant and establishing more specific roles in learning goal activities, my students are now able to develop a sense of responsibility and can run the classroom as groups that have established purposes.  Whereas before, they were not as committed to group activities because they did not have a clear understanding of what their specific role or skill would contribute to the group’s learning.  Now my students are more independent in being given tasks for their learning goal, and dividing up the responsibilities amongst themselves without my immediate direction.  This demonstrates growth within this learning module because my students have developed an autonomous desire to maintain an effective classroom environment that is committed to their engagement and learning goals.  

Similar to Ms. Wessling, I was able to understand that there is a correlation between authenticity and purpose.  To elaborate, for students to develop a commitment to learning where they intrinsically desire to do whatever it is they are doing in the classroom, there needs to be a real reason as to why they are doing it.  While I understand this theoretically, and see in my classroom day in and day out why this is important to do, I also see where I fall short.  In order to reach my students with a deeper sense purpose tied to what they are learning, I need to be deliberate and cognizant about how, when and where I can incorporate this committed to learning environment.  To that end, from Ms. Wessling’s videos I found that when I established a strong learning environment I also was invested in the activity not only as a teacher but also as a learner alongside my students.

My students continue to make progress and grow towards becoming more engaged and committed to the learning in the classroom, and this has established a more effective group of learners.  I now see how this level of engagement has changed through their desire to ask more questions, to wonder why things are being done the way they are, and to seek alternative ways to do it better.  As the teacher, leader, and coach I now feel less anxiety when I have to leave the class for meetings and I’m always taken aback by what new learning they have come across as a result of working on the classroom environment together with my students.

 

Cultivating Beautiful Questions

Growing up and living with my family of origin, there was an unspoken rule within the household: asking questions is not okay.  This rule was in place because to ask questions was deemed rude and it showed that the individual asking the questions was seeking to challenge the authority figures in the home.  While no one explicitly said that I wasn’t allowed to ask questions (well sometimes they did) I knew that doing so was always uncalled for.  I knew because of the reactions that I received every time I would ask a question.  Little did I know that not asking questions kept me from learning about what I did not know or understand about the world around me.   The power of nonverbal disapproval discouraged me from asking questions and I did not know or realize at the time that this was something I would have to undo.  In order for me to reverse that discouragement of not asking questions, I had to ask myself a question: “why don’t people want me to ask questions?”

Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question defines a beautiful question as “an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something— and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.”  This is what I want for my teaching, I want what occurs in the classroom to be driven by beautiful questions that will motivate my students to change as innovative thinkers, writers, speaker, and readers.  However, with my teaching style currently I see many obstacles in the way.

As a teacher and  “type A” teacher at that, I often times want things to be perfect, not wanting to run the risk of the unexpected taking place in my classroom. I do understand that when the unexpected takes place, authentic learning is bred.  Without cultivating an untypical learning environment, I believe that I run the risk of stifling the learning of my students.  The classroom should be the place where students are given the opportunity to pose their questions, try to solve them, and ask more questions if they are not getting the answers they wanted.  This will make room for more innovative thinkers and make for more interesting papers for me to read (ha)!

There are things that my students don’t know, and my job is to help them to realize what they don’t know, they don’t know.  With that, they can unlock answers  about the world that surrounds them using the world literature that we read to drive that thinking. This literature is too rich to not give my students the opportunity to dig deeper into the unknown.

I aspire to work towards a learning environment that creates “question[s] [that] challenge authority and disrupt established structures, processes, and systems”, which in turn will [force us all] to have to at least think about doing something differently” (139).

There are too many great opportunities that can come out of asking beautiful questions.  So, why don’t I start with this first question: how can I cultivate beautiful questions in my classroom?

Starting a New Unit is Hard!

It’s Sunday night and I am trying to wrap my head around how I want to launch this new unit.  The most frustrating thing about teaching a new curriculum and a new unit is that you are left in the unknown.  How you begin the unit often times dictates how well they process the rest of the unit, so the foundation has to be constructed mostly right.

Well, instead of focusing on what I don’t know, I’ll focus on what I do know:

  1. They will start with essential questions that are stems from the overarching unit’s essential question.
  2. They will share their viewpoints with each other.
  3. They will take notes when necessary.
  4. They will (hopefully) understand the major unit concepts.
  5. They will leave my classroom with a load of glee for learning…

Onward,

Kimberly

Love as a Metaphor in Latin American Literature

The purpose of this post is to share how I am approaching this coming teaching week, which focuses on love as a metaphor.

When I read the assessment attached with the unit I thought it was quite cliché.  Why would it be important to analyze love within this text when there are so many other things to address?  However, having read One Hundred Years of Solitude I remembered that Márquez portrays the concept of love in ways that go beyond the repeated and trite look of love today.  I decided to accept this love assessment as a challenge instead of something that I was going to gripe about and think deeply about how I am going to catalyze and support my learners in their own original thinking of love and how they will analyze within the text.

What texts will I be using?

  1. An excerpt from Ch.2 of One Hundred Years of Solitude. This excerpt mainly focuses on José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula’s fear of having children and the causes and effects of this fear.
  2. The excerpt as you can tell from the title of this blog is taken from Ch. 14 of the same text mentioned above: The Love Story of Mauricio and Meme.

Why I chose these texts to analyze and discuss love as a metaphor?

I chose these texts because they both portray love that is different from the traditional storyline of love as we see it in today.  This love that these four characters experience do not only involve themselves and their own fears, but also the fear of what others have to say about their love.  The love that we take the time to invest in others (regardless of who is receiving and reciprocating it) does not go “untouched”.  That’s cryptic, I know. Anywho, the point I am trying to make is love is nuanced, complex, and often times difficult.  I want my students to construct their own understanding of love as they see it in Marquez’s text and articulate their shared thoughts in writing and speaking.

How will my connect what they learned from the previous weeks to this? What is the transfer (how will my students apply their learning to a new situation)?

Teaching in a vacuum is something that I have to check myself on regularly. Otherwise I find, and often times worry, that what I have taught has only been a means to the end that only applies to what we are doing in the classroom.  There is nothing satisfying about this type of teaching for me.  So first, I must think about what my students have learned and what they are going to learn about this week.  I need to create bridges that they can walk over.

Well last week they learned mainly about literary magical realism (LMR), if you aren’t sure what that is (don’t worry I wasn’t either until confronting this curriculum) here is a link that I referred to frequently for teaching support.  While I can confidently say that my students understanding what LMR is, I can’t say that they have a deep understanding of it’s purpose in their own lives.  So first, I at some point this week I would like my students to construct purpose behind understanding what LMR is aside from their ability to identify it within a text.  I think this is why they struggled with analyzing it in the texts so far because they don’t see it’s worth.

In this week’s text the magical element seems to be the butterflies that follow Mauricio around and eventually linger with Meme.  It’s not clear to me yet what the butterflies symbolize, but that’s the beauty of teaching, I also get to learn. This love story between Meme and Mauricio is quite intriguing, the chapter focuses mainly on building the reader to understand the romance between the two characters that is not approved by Meme’s mother, Fernanda. Fernanda seems to have an issue with this man pursuing her daughter and it will be part of the work of my students to figure out why that is.

I think that the transfer for this week is looking closely at the conflict the concept of love has within the text.  I believe that this is transfer because the final assessment requires that students take on another concept word and analyze its multilayered meaning in Márquez’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.  As for how it connects and transfer to life? Well, I think many people can attest to their own experience with love and

One of the hardest things for as a teacher is being careful to not simply give my students the answer when I feel like it is getting to tough.  I have to remind myself not to do the work for them regularly. Often times we do this without even noticing, so it’s important that I question whether or not I am doing this often. Everything in me wants to make the pressure of making the work easier for my students by giving them something like guiding questions.  It’s not that guiding question for a text are bad, actually I strongly believe that they are necessary when reading a really difficult text, but this one is not, in my teacher opinion.  I believe in the work my students can do to make sense of the text on their own and with their peers.

I’ve given my students the weekend to read the text and take plenty of notes. This will allow them to understand the text, gather the surface level information in preparation for work this week that will push them to dig deeper.

Questions I am still asking myself as I plan for this coming week:

  1. How do I get students to interact with the text on their own and construct their own understanding?
  2. What steps do I need to take in order to prepare students to transfer the skill of analyzing the concept of love metaphorically within a text and articulate their understanding through writing?
  3. What’s the point of doing any of the skill work and how does it connect and apply to their own lives? Why are we doing this?
  4. How will I encourage thinking that supports them in life?
  5. What are ways to encourage my students to take ownership of their learning and go beyond what I assign for them to do?
  6. What are ways that I can encourage students to build inquiry about the text they are reading so I am not taking away this opportunity for learning growth from them?

Thanks for joining me on this journey and since the writing portion of this unit is fast approaching I will definitely be posting more.  I can’t expect my kids to become better writers if I myself am not pushing myself to do the same by writing more on this platform.

Thanks for reading and please leave a question, comment, query, and/or a conundrum below!

Kimberly

 

So I’ve Started This Blog, Why?

I’ve finally decided to start this blog upon the beginning of a new school year (well I’m about two weeks late, no big deal!), here is why:

  • I have never taught World Literature before and I need to actively work through this problem.
  • I am seeking out teachers or like-minded folks that  are experiencing a similar problem and so we can all share solutions.
  • I want to document this journey, what I learn, and how I will grow in my teaching this year.

Thanks for joining me on this journey!

Kimberly