Live from the other side what you see
A bunch of nonsense on my TV
Heaven on Earth is what I need
But I feel I’m in Hell every time I breathe
Reporting live from the other side what you hear
A bunch of nonsense all in my ear
Rich man, poor man, we all gotta pay
Cause freedom ain’t free, especially ‘round my way
– Lupe Fiasco
I took some of my students to Los Angeles City Hall on Friday to attend a hearing on changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. One of my students spoke, and she talked about how she does not want to honor a man who unapologetically contributed to the genocide of her people. She does not want other indigenous children growing up to have to recognize this man. Instead, she wants the day to be repurposed to honor the strength of a people who have endured. She wants to change the narrative.
She was one of dozens of children and adults, natives and non-natives, who spoke to their personal histories and our national histories in support of constructing a new story together that emphasizes healing and love over tradition and colonization. City Hall today was, in a way, a Truth and Reconciliation court for the crimes of Christopher Columbus and colonization. It was storytelling as healing for a traumatized community.
Which brings me to Donald Trump and Tuesday’s election.
I don’t need to recap how vicious this election cycle has been. I don’t need to pull any quotes from the presidential debates. We have all lived it. Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, we will have to continue living with it. We can’t vote to disappear hate. As a society, we will have to reckon with the anger that manifested and rose and swelled this year.
We are a nation in trauma. If there is one benefit to the hatred manifested in 2016, it is that we can no longer hide behind myths of justice and equality; we can no longer hide behind an old, selectively-privileged narrative. We have a duty to discuss Trump, but more than that, on Tuesday and moving forward, we have a duty to discuss our national narrative. What stories will we create together?
To be human is to exist in stories. We are the stories we share, the stories we keep, the stories we are told, the stories we create. We are the composite of the stories which surround us.
As teachers, we are professional storytellers. Our job is to make meaning and truth-tell as best we can. Regardless of the subject you teach, every time you write a lesson plan you are choosing which stories to include and which to exclude. No matter how critically conscious or socially just you are, you cannot tell every story. And so you choose which perspectives to include, which lenses to apply, which stories to privilege while striking the best balance you can.
Of course, our ultimate goal is not to determine truth for our students, but to equip them with the tools to decide for themselves. We want them to make our own meanings, construct their own truths. At our best, we are co-creators.
This does not mean that we are pretend to be impartial. There is a time when impartiality is just, and there is a time when impartiality is an excuse that masks injustice. You cannot tell your students that Trump is a qualified candidate whose opinions are worthy of discourse and consideration. You cannot. You cannot tell them that all stories are created equal and some are just more misunderstood than others. You cannot tell them that misogyny is an acceptable feature in a presidential candidate, that dick jokes mean you’re a straight-shooter, or that bullying is a legitimate expression of power. You cannot tell them that Christopher Columbus discovered America. You cannot.
The anger that has created Trump will not dissipate, and it did not come from nowhere. If there is any positive to be gained from his campaign, it is the revelation that our narrative of justice and equality does not hold weight.
As educators, it is our responsibility to help our children construct stories that serve us better, that reflect who we actually want to be. It is our responsibility to help our children speak their truths and co-create stories of healing.
This will not happen comfortably. We will have to look at ourselves, at our communities, at how we as a society treat one another. We won’t like what we see. This process will make you uncomfortable. It will make your children uncomfortable. It will make your families uncomfortable. That’s okay. That’s good. Healing is a painful process. Speaking our truths and naming our traumas requires courage and a dangerous amount of vulnerability. Vulnerability inspires more vulnerability and collectively gives us strength.
Let your students voice their rage. Voice your rage. Be honest with one another. Model what civil discourse looks like, what it means to genuinely hear someone else. Help them see the other, it whatever form that may take. Become better humans together.
As humans, as teachers, as students, as presidential candidates, we are at our best when we are co-creators, when we actively participate in the shared story of community and work on being human beings together.
In my class, we recently started a unit examining truth and reconciliation. We are, among other things, reading A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah in order to examine how “othering” happens in societies, and how communities and individuals attempt to heal after trauma.
Our next step is to look at our own communities post-election and ask, how can we heal? We will be our own truth and reconciliation committee, and we will design and iterate ways to share our stories, our truths, our traumas, and our beauty, with the world.
I don’t know what sort of difference this will make. I don’t know what’s going to happen on Tuesday or the days ahead. I don’t know if changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day will genuinely change anything. I don’t know if a bunch of 12-year-olds talking about the world they want to create will make that world any better. But it’s the story I choose to believe.
Guest Post by: Dan Thalkar (@dthalkar)
Humanities Teacher in Los Angeles, CA