This week in Global Thinking we've been exploring free market capitalism, both in theory and practice. We began by examining the economic model developed by Milton Friedman, who is considered the father of modern-day capitalism, that is rooted in voluntary exchanges based on mutual benefit of all parties involved. From there we dug a bit deeper to analyze how competition, privitization, innovation, wealth, and other key concepts of capitalism play a role in today's global economic system. To get a bit of a historical context, and since learning is always more powerful when we can relate it back to the greater world, students read a chapter from Naomi Klein's award-winning bestseller The Shock Doctrine which describes how Pinochet rose to dictatorial power in Chile in the 1970s. With the help of the US government, the CIA, and Milton Friedman himself, Pinochet overthrew democratically elected president Salvador Allende and imposed free market capitalism, privitizing many sectors of the economy and causing an ubrupt spike in inflation, unemployment, and incredible wealth disparity in the country.
At the beginning of the semester students self-reflected on their strengths in learning styles to find out whether they are more of a kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learner. The case study of Chile is no simple topic, so I made sure to provide mediums of learning that could reach all students and their various learning styles. We began by reading the text for homework, then watched the documentary version of The Shock Doctrine to help clarify the players involved and their roles in the event. To fully solidify our comprehension of the effects of free-market capitalism in Chile, and to remind ourselves that learning can be fun, we ended with an improv game where we acted out the story ourselves. Check out some snapshots from the day! And if you'd like to watch The Shock Doctrine, you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=550p455dfM4&list=PL1DE69769369B7089
Last week was Woolman’s Food Intensive, one of two week-long field trips where students engage in hands-on learning from people working in the field (in this case quite literally) on issues we study in classes. From a one-woman farm, to urban school gardens, a feed lot, a mostly female run organic distribution center, or day labor center, we interacted with a wide variety of components of our food systems. Rarely do we take time to think about where our food comes from and what it took to get it into our bodies. The Food Intensive sheds light not only on much of this process, but also how food systems, can be seen from different sides. Here are a few student reflections of multiple perspectives explored on the Food Intensive:
“Two different perspectives I saw were from the guy in charge at the university feedlot and Molly from Fruit of the Loam. The guy in charge at the university feedlot believed that feeding the cows corn was perfectly safe and nutritious; that feeding corn mixed with other nutrients was a less expensive and efficient alternative to grazing. On the contrary, Molly openly spoke on how cows were being fed corn, which they aren’t even able to digest and cannot get proper nutrients from, and how they weren’t being able to move about and graze, fattened to the point in which they become quite weak and confined to a small space until the time for slaughter arises. Additionally, the view on road kill by the naturalist we met in the park was quite interesting; he believed that eating road kill was more respectful to the animal whose life was accidentally taken. Rather than let it’s carcass rot and the animal’s life be a waste, he could use that animal to sustain himself in many ways. That was definitely something that I did not even think about, much less consider, so it was a shock to my perspective on food systems.” -Victory Amos-Nwankwo
“A time on the food intensive trip where I saw two sides of a story related to food systems was the Oakland Leaf school farming program and Riverhill farm. At the elementary school I observed how they taught the kids how to garden and how important it is. They focused on making sure the kids had the skills to do this, like knowing how to compost properly. They even taught them how to make herbal medicine, which I love! However, I feel like they were mainly focused on how wonderful and useful farming is and they were not as focused on how it can be very difficult. When we went to Riverhill farm I learned the other side to the story of small farms. I learned how it can be very challenging. There are many things that affect the success of farms. The weather is unpredictable but farming is greatly affected by this. At Riverhill farm we learned that they work from four in the morning to six in the evening every single day. It is hard to make a living by working on a small farm. This side of the story made me feel more appreciative about the food I get from these places and it made me want to buy local in order to support all these hard workers. It was interesting to visit both these places because even though they were so alike in many ways I also learned about very different things.” -Sophia Mueller
Check out a few snapshots from the trip!
Looking back on my first year as a teacher, I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to grow, learn, and create with this community. Coming to Woolman marked a shift in my career from grassroots organizing to formal education. I now see how intertwined these two paths are. Organizing and action for collective liberation are central to peace education, and I have designed my curriculum to reflect this.
With a background in youth organizing, I fiercely believe in the power of youth to create change. Youth voices matter, and they have the power to transform and heal our communities as they have done for generations. A primary goal of my course is for students to see themselves as agents of change. I invite students’ interests, passions, and creativity into the classroom and strive to create a container with space for possibility and transformation.
One way that I do this is to model my projects class curriculum on organizer training and emergent teaching, in which I use flexibility and creativity to center students’ passions. This means that each semester, I have to trust in the students’ truths as they are revealed, and I have to be open to supporting their vision, wherever it may take us. It makes for an exciting semester and gives students practice and empowerment in consensus-based decision-making, group facilitation, and logistical action planning and outreach.
For the past two semesters, this process has yielded extraordinary results. The Fall ‘14 semester students collectively organized Safe Spaces for Youth Voices, an Open Mic dedicated to shedding light on the topic of sexualized aggression. It was radical in that it broke the silence and allowed space for speaking out against sexual violence in our lives. Throughout the semester, students based their organizing on an ethic of love and modeled self and community care.
This Spring, students hosted Let’s Taco ‘Bout Social Justice, a taco fest to educate community members on the issues of Pro-choice, Undocumented Student Rights, and Islamophobia. Their program was centered around the voices of communities directly affected with the understanding that these communities know best how to bring about and sustain justice when it comes to their own lives. The event was powerful, uplifting and fun, demonstrating the power of creative and joyful youth energy in taking action to dismantle violent systems of oppression.
These actions wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the trust and support of the Woolman community. I look forward to the 2015-16 academic year and to continuing to learn and be inspired by my students and co-workers. For more information on how I incorporate education for transformation and liberation into the classroom, check out my Rad Resources blog on our Radical Learning for Change Trip and #BlackLivesMatter Unit. This summer, I will be writing about and refining my curriculum for my graduate thesis in Peace Education and hope to make that available as a resource for educators early this Fall.
I want students to walk away from my class with a greater understanding of themselves and their world and a belief in their own power to change the world around them. In this spirit, I leave you with a quote from Andrea Gibson’s spoken word poem, Say Yes, which I played for students at graduation to remind them to shine.
“when two violins are placed in a room
if a chord on one violin is struck
the other violin will sound the note
if this is your definition of hope
this is for you
the ones who know how powerful we are
who know we can sound the music in the people around us
simply by playing our own strings”
(To listen to Say Yes in it's entirety, click here.)
"Our garden quietly affords our community with a space for reflection, inspiration and guidance through these metamorphoses, simultaneously providing nourishment to support our path forward." – Maggie McProud
We are on the cusp of summer and already we have much to be grateful for in The Woolman Educational Garden. For those of us who live and learn here, Woolman inspires transformation and adaptation. Our garden quietly affords our community with a space for reflection, inspiration and guidance through these metamorphoses, simultaneously providing nourishment to support our path forward. The garden has recently reminded me that the path to discovery and adaptation demands a willingness to digest and decompose ideas we have come to rely on in order to breathe new life into the systems and cycles that support us.
In our Farm to Table class this semester, we discussed one of my favorite concepts – Permaculture Design. Roughly, the concept is this: we cannot truly solve the challenges we face using the same form of consciousness that created said challenges. Einstein succinctly captures the potency of this concept in one of his famous quotes, yet it has taken many years of farming to comprehend the massive implications of this idea and to employ this concept as a strategy to make positive change. It is this very form of ‘consciousness evolution’ that we aspire to engage with in our farming practices but can also be applied to personal development and to community living. In Quakerism and Quaker education, this process is beautifully captured as Continuing Revelation.
Our mild winter and rain shortage has dramatically increased pressure from ‘pests’ this spring. This change begs new approaches and adaptations to our farming practices. When faced with problems in the garden, we encourage our students to ask: How have we played a part in this dynamic instead of assuming this phenomenon is happening to us? The weather is obviously out of our control, but it doesn’t take us long to realize we have been catalyzing natural processes for our benefit and are partly responsible for all the outcomes whether or not they were intended.
One of our biggest obstacles in the Woolman Garden is the presence of symphylans (read more here). This soil dwelling arthropod lives off organic matter and root hairs, virtually stunting the majority of plants growing in their presence. In fact, their populations thrive with most ecologically literate farming practices! Incorporating compost, minimizing tillage and mulching are just a few of the techniques we use that support and spread this organism. We have found solutions that reduce crop damage but nothing to eradicate the problem completely. With the increase in symphylans this Spring, we are being forced to think outside the box, especially when it comes to composting our green waste – symphylans have always found their way into our finished compost piles no matter what we do. In response, we have actually decided to think inside the box and compost using Vermiculture! (Here are a few pictures of Tyler's beautiful craftsmanship on the new worm boxes!)
"By facing our original challenge creatively, we have been reminded that adapting from old systems to new methods of problem solving truly supports resiliency both in our garden and in our community."
This new solution provides us with the same function and meets our needs while simultaneously adding countless benefits to our program. Our new worm bins provide more biological diversity, richness to our soil, educational opportunities and craftsmanship to our garden. By stacking functions, we have designed our worm boxes into our preexisting vegetable processing station and upgraded these systems with additional improvements. By facing our original challenge creatively, we have been reminded that adapting from old systems to new methods of problem solving truly supports resiliency both in our garden and in our community.
Thank you to everyone who helped to create this new system, ‘pests’ and all!
Many members of our community come to Woolman seeking a powerful experience. Others come without expecting it and are perhaps even more deeply transformed than those who do. One of the students of the Spring 2015 semester illuminated his journey at Woolman through a poignant metaphor during his graduation speech. He described his semester as a marathon. At Woolman, we focus heavily on connecting theoretical learning to real world examples and to our own lived experiences. Earlier this spring, one of the interns, with whom this student had particularly connected, ran a 50-mile marathon, which made this metaphor even more relevant.
A marathon, he explained, begins in a manner similar to that of the beginning of a Woolman Semester: you might be a bit anxiously excited about being there, you're not quite sure how the rest of the journey is going to go, and you see that many others share a common goal of making it to the finish line. The 26 miles of the marathon will definitely have lots of steep uphills and long downhills, as will the 16 weeks of powerful learning and living in community. At times you might feel like giving up or wonder how you could possibly make it through, but just when you feel like you've hit the lowest point, another runner might pass by and say, “Way to go!”, or a classmate might reach out and give you a piece of advice that is the little bit of needed motivation to keep going. Then, all of a sudden, you're at the finish line. You've reached the end and look back and think, how did that possibly happen so quickly? And while the simple task of completing the marathon of a semester is an achievement in and of itself, what stuck out most for this student was that through loving and pushing each other, feeling struggle and frustration at the low points and singing joyfully at the high points, they were still all together, right to the end.
While the intern who ran the marathon may not have felt the 50 miles exactly in this way, and while the hills and valleys of the Woolman Semester certainly manifest differently for each student each semester, what is most meaningful for me as this student's advisor was how much reflection comes from this 16-week journey. Both self reflection and reflection on the systems and structures that govern our society, which I teach in depth in my Global Thinking class, are where I see real growth happening at Woolman. And yet I realized during this graduation ceremony that it's called commencement for a reason: commencement means a beginning, and I often wonder if the deepest reflection and growth of our students is only just beginning when they leave our campus.
Woolman is blessed with one of the most amazing wood fired kilns in America. In Japan, it is called a Noborigama kiln or "climbing kiln". It is a six-chambered kiln, each chamber using the residual heat of the chamber below it. Should all six chambers be loaded, it would use up to five cords of wood split to a diameter of one inch and hold as many as 3000 pieces of pottery!
Firing the Noborigama kiln demands the efforts of the whole Woolman community, as well as the efforts of as many as forty local potters to see this process to completion. It takes months of planning and long days of prepping wood, glazing pieces, loading of kiln chambers, and up to 24 hours of continual stoking wood. The process is exhausting, but the communal gathering to work together as a team is a life experience never to be forgotten.
What a joy to watch the transformation of student learning from the process of clay making. Yes, the wheel is exciting -- and when viewed from a place of competence, awe inspiring! This process is always more daunting once the student takes on the reality that the challenge to learn a craft imposes. To hold a steady hand that first asks the student to move beyond their fear of failure to the slow process of skill improvement, I love to watch their continual shift from apprehension to a skills learned excitement.
I love to look into each student’s eyes and say, "If you show up, you will succeed". From day one, I make it completely clear that it is about the effort not the outcome. This is my job, this is my passion, this is why I was placed on this earth.
Last week was my favorite week of the semester: our Radical Learning for Change Trip (Rad Trip). I love to visit the Bay where I grew up and am thankful for the opportunity to introduce the students to incredible organizers, artists, educators and change makers. My internal fire was fueled with inspiration, and I grew closer to our students. The Rad Trip built upon the teachings of our Global Thinking and Peace Studies classes.
In Peace Studies, students have been challenged to look deeply at themselves and explore their multiple and fluid identities. This includes exploring how their roots, cultural backgrounds, and lived experiences inform their worldviews and values. Their self-reflection has focused on how power, privilege, and oppression manifest in their everyday lives and life spaces. A goal of the class is to cultivate critical consciousness in which students actively take part in anti-oppression work and see themselves as agents of transformation.
We learn about systems of oppression with a critical, intersectional lens, and understand the story of the US to be rooted in white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, militarism and capitalism. We study grassroots resistance movements led by directly affected peoples. We seek out voices that speak truth to power and stories omitted from mainstream educational narratives. We celebrate the resilience, courage, and power of ordinary people whose deep love of self and community outweigh their fatigue and fear of violence and injustice.
Throughout the semester students have been studying and discussing racism/white supremacy, the school-to-prison pipeline, the prison-industrial-complex, the New Jim Crow criminal justice system, the Black Panther Party survival programs, and the Civil Rights and #BlackLivesMatter movements. From Oakland to Boston our students from around the country shared stories and photos from participating in #BlackLivesMatter protests in their home communities. Last week in Oakland we watched Fruitvale Station and participated in May Day rallies and marches protesting racist police brutality in solidarity with Baltimore. The following are examples of class activities and resources in the hope that you will continue to talk about how Black Lives Matter and push for systemic change.
One day in class students worked individually and in collaboration to create activist art inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. They designed screen prints, postcards, t-shirts, memorial posters, graphic art collages, and a performance piece.
We watched the following:
- Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequality by Shakti Butler
- Mighty Times: The Children’s March from Teaching Tolerance, project of the Southern Poverty Law Center
- Black Power Mixtape by Göran Olsson
- Fruitvale Station by Ryan Coogler
Each day in class we start with someone sharing a song that relates to peace and justice. These are some of the songs we discussed for this unit:
- Street Literature by Kai Jewel$, Peeps, Young D, DonBlak, Black Geisha, and Simply Nicole, artists from the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond, CA
- Black Rage by Lauryn Hill
- The Blacker The Berry by Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
- #BlackLivesMatter Protest Music - 22 Track Mix Tape For The Movement
Theses are some examples of readings from homework and class:
- A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement by Alicia Garza
- The Price of Blackness by Lanre Akinsiku
- Michael Brown and the Danger of the Perfect Victim Frame by Jamilah King
- What is White Supremacy? by Elizabeth Betita Martinez
- Police Brutality and Racial Violence By Black Radical Congress
- What We Want by Kwame Touré (Stokely Carmichael)
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- On Ferguson Protests, the Destruction of Things, and What Violence Really Is (And Isn’t) by Mia McKenzie
- America to Eric Garner by Aurora MJ
- #BlackLivesMatter: A Longform Reading List
- Hyper-criminalization of Black and Latino Youth by Victor M. Rios
- Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress by Carol Anderson
- The Destruction of Black Wallstreet By Josie Pickens
Resources for Educators:
Many of these resources are from the following radical educational guides:
- SFUDD Librarians for Social Justice present a Black Lives Matter Library Guide
- Teaching for Change presents Teaching About Ferguson By Julian Hipkins III
- Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching published by Teaching for Change and Poverty and Race Research Action Council
- Catalyst Project: Anti-Racism for Collective Liberation
It’s sometimes hard to notice harmful systems in our daily lives, even though they make up the basic fibers of our society. Even when we do notice them these systems can be hard to name, hard to articulate. Or perhaps when we try to talk about them, it feels like no one’s listening. At Woolman we challenge this status quo: we not only analyze systems of oppression, we vocalize how our society treats people of different identities in different ways. We examine the prison industrial complex, food justice, and the continuous prevalence of racism across the country and world. We explore the intersectionality of systems of oppression and realize that in fact our democracy is really an oligarchy and thus there is a direct link between the corporatization of our economy, marginalization of disenfranchised people who are not represented by our governmental system, and the increasingly growing wealth disparity in the United States.
At Woolman we don’t hide from the fact that the world is in crisis and that we are far from true peace, sustainable peace. Instead we embrace the fact that we are at a point of immense opportunity which the radical author and activist Joanna Macy, whose work we read in Peace Studies class, calls The Great Turning. “It is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization” (http://www.joannamacy.net/thegreatturning.html). We bring a critical eye to the structures and systems that govern our society not just to identify the problems but more importantly to craft alternative solutions. We think about how those who are disenfranchised by the status quo, particularly youth like those who are already leading the movement for a better future, can be agents of change, how we can build economic systems that allow people to jump out of the poverty cycle, food systems that provide everyone access to healthy and affordable nourishment, police and criminal justice systems that aren’t sending the message that young black men don’t deserve to be alive. Our inspiration comes from highly acclaimed authors like Naomi Klein, who enlightens us on how a commitment to green jobs could simultaneously solve our climate crisis and our economic crisis, and also from less known forward thinkers like Jonah Mossberg, whose film Out Here explains the intersection of food justice and queer liberation (http://outheremovie.com/).
We realize that because systems of oppression are so interconnected, systems of liberation are equally linked. We also acknowledge that in order to achieve a truly equitable society we must listen and learn from those who are most affected by oppression. Australian Aboriginal Elder Lilla Watson stated that, “If you are coming to help us, you are wasting your time. If you are coming because you know your liberation is bound up with ours, then let us work together.” Looking deep inside our own identities and experiences, Woolman students learn how to use their privileges and positions in society to build the world that we all need: a world free of oppression and marginalization where all people are empowered and supported to live healthy and free lives.
Students brainstorming what empowering education looks like.
Taking notes off the whiteboard isn't common in radical education. Instead students' ideas bring notes to the board.
For the past two weeks students have been researching different aspects of our campus and looking for ways to reduce our energy consumption. Yesterday students presented their energy audits to the class, and in the coming weeks we will be implementing the changes that they've recommended. The first group looked at our dish sanitizer and alternatives to it.
Based off their research they will be proposing to the community that we save energy by washing dishes by hand for a week. We will see how that method serves or does not serve the community.
The next group — Alex, Pedro, and Wade presented on our wood stoves and their efficiency.
What was most interesting for them and the class was how inefficient space heaters are and the benefits of EPA certified wood stoves. We have written grants in the past, through the Strawberry Creek Meeting Dime-A-Gallon Grant, to replace old wood stoves with EPA certified ones, and this research supports doing so again.
We then heard about Woolman's vehicle use, and a proposal to buy a two-seater leaf car for short town trips, which we will be looking into. Finally, Lily and Luz presented on cabin lights. They looked into switching them to motion sensing lights and/or timer lights. Their data showed that switching the porch lights of all 8 cabins to motion sensing would cost about $100, but pay for itself in a year. They will be proposing this change to the community next Wednesday.
I am excited for the impact these students will have on the campus and for the understanding that they gained while doing these projects. Their knowledge will transfer to where ever they go when the leave Woolman, and will hopefully have a positive impact on those communities as well.
Happy March! It is hard to believe that the semester started almost six weeks ago. We have some updates for you from different aspects of Woolman life, written by various teachers.
Students and interns had a gorgeous 3 days on Staycation last weekend! They headed down the coast to the Big Sur region, camping at Plaskett Creek campground which bore a lovely resemblance to Frodo and Bilbo’s shire. A 6 mile hike up the switchbacks of the Cruickshank Trail was well worth the trek when met with epic oceanic views at the summit and a West Coast sunset at the shore in the evening. Saturday morning started early to get down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. While the tentacle exhibit was incredible, the simple pleasures of double rainbows, tacos, and accoustic melodies of fellow students were a wonderful completion to a weekend away.
In one of our first units in Global Thinking, we examined how each of us views the world. What parts of our identity, backgrounds, experiences, and other aspects of our selves influence our perspectives? Where do our biases and opinions come from? Multiple perspectives is a key theme that we will explore throughout the semester, and students began by digging deep within themselves and shared what makes up their unique worldview.
The semester is in full swing! After a week of orientation, and a hectic first week of classes, people are starting to find their rhythm. Each of the teachers have written about their classes for this update.
The students hit the ground running in terms of being introduced to and grasping the basic concepts of NVC. On their second day here in orientation week we identified what values/life qualities would be present in their ideal community and what we were willing to do to live into or out of those values. In our first NVC class we looked at what gets in the way of us living like this all the time. This led us to exploring right/wrong, good/bad thinking and how that naturally flows into a system of punishments and rewards and named that way of living as a "power over" culture. The whole process and consciousness of NVC was presented as a choice to explore a "power with" culture instead. Next class we will continue to explore what it means to embody a value that we deeply care about so we may better meet hard and challenging moments from a place of fullness, without judgements or blame.
In Environmental Science, we began the semester hiking around Woolman’s campus, learning about the land and what we will be covering. We then shared our experiences with science and our dreams for this class. We are now studying global warming and the biases commonly associated with both sides of the issue. From here we will delve into energy, and groups of students will be doing an energy audit of different aspects of Woolman’s campus.
In Peace Studies we began by sharing our hopes and fears and envisioning the world in which we want to live. We also made collective agreements with the goal of creating a safer space for learners who support, challenge, and affirm each other. In this introductory unit we are building a theoretical foundation drawing on concepts of peace, violence, power and interconnection. We are exploring the power of voicing our truths and transforming our silences in to action for peace and justice. This week students wrote and shared powerful “Where I’m From” poems.
In Global Thinking, we began by exploring what it means to be a global citizen, working off the idea that we are all interconnected to each other and thus in order to be agents of change we must start by changing our own lifestyles. We have examined our individual worldviews and what parts of our identities and experiences help shape our perspectives. This week we began our unit on media literacy with a TED Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi.
In Farm to Table, we started with a class on fruit tree pruning, which we will be practicing all spring as we maintain our orchard. During shared work, several students learned to create trays of seedlings, which will be transplanted to the fields in April. This week we are talking about why growing, preparing, and consuming our own foods is a form of activism.
Sorry, we don’t have many pictures from class… yet! But here are some from the Contra dance we took students to this past weekend, shared work, and community meeting. Oh, and a Valentine’s Day gift Eli and Andrew gave to Wade!
Learning about grafting at Wolfskill Experimental Orchard & Picking strawberries at Swanton Berry Farms
Ecology Research Presentations
Woolman well data for this semester & Ceramic coffee filters to replace plastic ones
The night of October 7th, several interns, students, and I slept out among the oaks to watch the lunar eclipse. In doing so, I was reminded of the nights we slept out during the Wilderness Trip at the beginning of the semester, and the bonds that have been made within our community. There was a sense of calm and comfort as we waited for the eclipse, but I waited restlessly, finding celestial objects with students in our telescope and talking to anyone who would listen (read: stay awake) about The Moon. In a month, we will be spending a few classes studying astronomy, learning about the universe, our place in it, and how the greater world outside our pale blue dot affects life.
"The Earth and The Moon would more accurately be called the Earth-Moon System. The Moon is astoundingly close to Earth, from a cosmological perspective, and their relative sizes are also very close.
We owe a great deal to our moon. Life on this planet would be very different, if it managed to survive at all, without The Moon. Ocean tides 'stir' the waters of the planet, creating a semi-aqueous zone around every ocean which would be the perfect place for sea life to try to come up on land. The Moon also brightens the night sky, guiding our sleep cycles and our behavioral evolution. Most importantly for us though, it serves as an asteroid catcher, instead of a single gravity well around our planet there are two of comparable size.
Earth is a perfect planet for many reasons but an important one, our moon, is often forgotten. When I see The Moon at night, I can't help but think about how critical it has been in our development. If Earth is our mother, then The Moon is undoubtedly our father.
The Moon protected Earth while it was new with early life. The Moon has countless visible scars but still keeps constant vigil over Earth and it’s inhabitants. It helped raise us, holding our hands as we learned to walk and lighting up the nights so that we could see. And just like Earth, The Moon has been a wonderful teacher. It taught us how to keep time which let us track the seasons. It helped us figure out how our solar system worked. It helped us learn about gravity. It showed us that relativity was correct, for the most part, and let us feel good about ourselves when we finally managed to say hi in person.
Finally, The Moon will give us a push as we leave home to join the rest of the solar system."
~Adapted from a quote by Content404
With voting day just around the corner, Woolman students had a unique opportunity to engage with and critically analyze the political process in the United States. In Global Issues class, we are exploring what it means to be a "democratic" country and how democratic processes are manifested both in the US and around the world. We talk about the power behind voting in our representative democracy as well as access to voting and how different demographics of people living in the US are helped or hindered in participating in the democratic process. To our great fortune, the League of Women voters held a debate between the two congressional candidates for our district of California, Heidi Hall and Doug LaMalfa!! What better way to combing our theoretical class analysis with practical real-world happenings!
I was extremely pleased and proud of the level of engagement and excitement from the students surrounding the debate. They were wonderfully analytical of the candidates' platforms and presentations, and although our questions weren't chosen to be asked during the forum, we had an opportunity to meet the candidates afterwards and express our priorities and concerns to the prospective representatives. The topics of our inquiries to candidates ranged from marriage equality to climate change to immigration rights and more!
What is justice? What kind of world do prisons create? How has the prison system changed over time? What are alternatives to prisons, and how do they work? How will I create justice in my life? These questions guided our Peace Studies and Global Issues trip focusing on the prison system and alternative forms of justice. In this jam-packed week, Woolman students and staff visited individuals and organizations in the Bay Area who address prison issues from numerous angles: from the American Friends Service committee and the Human Rights Pen Pal Project organizing solidarity support for prisoners on hunger strike, to educators such as Jeff Duncan-Andrade who understand that we cannot have justice in our world without justice in our schools, to MetWest High School, where restorative justice practices create healing in communities deeply impacted by systemic violence. Art, and performance poetry in particular, became a lens through which to process our experiences and speak our truths. Check out these pictures and students' blog posts on some of their highlights of our trip!
- Performing at the Battle of the Bay Poetry Slam by Imani Sherley
- Attending the Berkeley Poetry Slam by Dontae Sharp
- A Conversation with Generation Waking Up by Cait Corrigan-Orosco
- At The Crossroads Comes to Us! by Jena Brooker
- A Visit to MetWest High School in Oakland by Jena Brooker
One of my favorite parts of teaching Peace Studies is the opportunity to read and discuss Assata, the autobiography of Assata Shakur. The book raises critical questions about race and racism, prisons, violence, social change, and resiliency and hope in the midst of tremendous injustice—themes that unfortunately are all too relevant today. Here, students Imani Sherley and Sophie Tuchel share some of their first impressions:
“It was amazing the number of people who said they were too Black already” (Assata, 25).
This part of the book and this quote in particular resonated with me in a myriad of ways. Even today, years after this book was written, there is still a huge divide within the black community along color lines. People still value European features over our own, and they especially value light skin over dark. I know for a fact that I have received better treatment from people in my life because of my lighter skin. Darkness then and now is seen as a burden, and both white and black people treat it as such. The lighter you are, the more others will associate you with something other than black, which unfortunately can give you privileges over other black people. Skin whitening is still a huge industry, and even Dove sells skin bleaching products in Asia and Africa. The crazy thing about this quote from Assata though isn’t the cultural ideal she is introducing, it’s the fact that these people are on the beach! That is how deep this runs.
“I was supposed to be a child version of a goodwill ambassador, out to prove that Black people were not stupid or dirty or smelly or uncultured” (Assata, 37).
Code Switching! Respectability politics! This quote has it all. Assata is referencing something so real here I couldn’t help but start snapping when I read it. The way that she describes her middle school experience and the attitudes of her teachers and the black community was some of the best writing thus far in the book. In this chapter she basically tells her story in a way that defines some key concepts in black survival. The need and expectation of talking, walking, and looking like white people is a form of code switching, or learning how to function in one part of society while still maintaining your authentic identity elsewhere. Use your slang on the porch, but cross your t’s and dot your i’s in the classroom. This way of thinking which her grandparents presented her with is also known as respectability politics. It is the expectation that those black people who are often in white owned spaces ought to act a certain way in order to preserve the respectability of the race a whole. Assata was definitely not down with that plan. This is because respectability politics take away the individual’s right to self-authenticity for the sake of being “acceptable” and uniform. Nevertheless, respectability politics are still a huge part of black survival today, just like code switching. I code switch. Other black kids at my school constantly either rebel against or expect others to perpetuate respectability politics. I didn’t realize how much I had in common with Assata, or how much has not changed within the black community and the American School System.
- Imani Sherley
It is so crazy to me that so many people grew up thinking that white, straight-haired, and thin-lipped was the most beautiful way to be. Sure, most children, teens, and even adults have insecurities and long for different features; that’s not at all uncommon. But to grow up thinking that the color of your skin is less beautiful than another race’s? Or putting a clothespin on your nose to make it thinner? I think it was that part that made me realize how privileged I have been in my growing up. Like I mentioned earlier, most kids have insecurities; I wished that I was taller, blonder, and better at sports, amongst other things. The differences between my insecurities and Assata’s are that mine were more or less something that I could make happen. I was going to grow, I could always dye my hair, and if I really wanted to get better at sports I could have practiced my butt off. But you can’t change the color of your skin or the texture of your hair (very easily). That, my friend, is called privilege.
I could relate to a surprisingly large number of Assata’s experiences as a child, such as teachers who gave homework as punishment, and watching T.V. shows depicting what families are ‘supposed’ to be like. I think that is why I loved this book so much; everyone has a little piece of Assata inside of them, and reading some parts of this story felt like reading an entry in a diary from my younger self.
This book is so emotional, and it just makes me feel so many overwhelming emotions all at the same time. I felt joy and love for Assata when she was happy or even being stubborn, and I loved anyone who helped her succeed. I felt an extreme amount of sympathy for Assata, and I was amazed at how resilient she was throughout all of the challenges she faced. I felt as though she was a good friend of mine, and I wanted her to win every battle and just be happy and carefree. I am, and always will be rooting for her.
For the Environmental Science service project, Chris, Valentine, Lily, and Ethan worked with me to clear a large area of scotch broom. Although we cleared a sizable area, there is still plenty back there! As we worked, we discussed the right for scotch broom to thrive, as all plants at some point in history are invasive species, vs. the idea that because we have so quickly and vastly changed the world and have taken stewardship over it, humans should keep it in balance as opposed to letting evolution take its course. We also talked about the idea that plants feel pain, which we ignore through antropic bias. Stimulating work & stimulating conversation!
Here is a time lapse video of our restoration work: http://youtu.be/qB_eymuvfYE