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In the Classroom: Inspiring Anger

"Inspiring" in the title of this post is meant to be a modifier, not a predicate. </grammar geek>

I've decided I'm periodically going to post very short posts of particularly interesting or inspiring stories that happen in my Social Justice/Identity class. Here's one from today.

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I'm continually impressed by the kinds of things that students bring up in my class. One particular student whose comments tend to be very insightful, was quite for a while, then finally raised his hand to speak. He had a lot of trouble articulating himeslf because he was so shaken up. After a minute spent trying to formulate his thoughts, he gave up.

Shortly after, I asked him a direct question about whether or not he thought schools should be allowed to have ethnic studies programs, and he said yes, but didn't want to expand on that.  He still looked distraught.

I found him during break and asked if I could talk to him for a minute. I was worried that I had pushed him too hard, or that he was too uncomfortable, or something to that effect.

I told him that I felt worried that I had made him feel bad or uncomfortable. He shook his head and looked down, up, and around the hallway.

"It's not that, I just don't understand why people don't just get along with everybody."

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Another short story:

Today, we finished watching the the documentary, Precious Knowledge. I've now seen it seven times and still get a little choked up at parts...especially while watching it with my students.

By the end of class today, half of my 1st period class was crying, and a heated discussion ensued. We looked at data on both incarceration and school drop out/graduation rates (which, as you know, is massively skewed to the disadvantage of people of color).

At one point, I paused the movie after a scene where Arizonans were burning the Mexican flag and threatening to kill Latina/os who were supporting the Tuscon Mexican American Studies Program. I asked, "What does watching this make you feel or think?". After a few minutes, I followed up with, "How would you respond in this situation and why?"

"Jump them and beat them!" was the first response, and the class agreed.

"Ok, so we jump and beat them. So now what, what's next?"

[No answer.]

"In this situation, what's the problem here? What's the real problem that's making us mad?"

The students say that the problem is the people who are burning flags, threatening, etc., so I push them again to tell me what the real problem is: "If the real problem is the people who are doing this, we can just jump those people and the problem goes away. But if we jump them, does the problem go away?"

"No, they just get even more mad."

"So what's the real problem?"

This conversation continued for a while, and we reached the conclusion that the people who were burning flags are making us mad, but they aren't the real problem. The real problem is a belief that they hold that makes them act this way.

So, if the real problem is the belief, that's what we need to fix.

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