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Literacy for Democracy

Twitter is an interesting place. Kris and I have been using it to connect Astra with other like-minded folks in the education world (here’s my shameless plug to Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter), and, in the process, I’ve done a lot of learning about what it means to authentically exist there. Here’s another way of putting it: Reading and genuinely responding to other people seems to get more traction (for us) than always trying to put out our own content. I love that because that’s what’s true in life, too. When you read or listen to other people and then have a genuine response, you put something better out into the world; it isn’t just about what I want to say. Cornelius Minor (@MisterMinor) is one of our favorite individuals on Twitter (I feel confident in speaking for Kris here because she introduced me to his presence). I got to meet him before a conference this summer, and his genuine warmth and enthusiasm was, well, real. I had that moment of being struck when someone’s perceived personality was true in real life, and I was so glad.

So now, whenever I see that Cornelius Minor has an interview or a published piece, I check it out. (I also scope out his moments of parenting & family life both because those moments hit very close to home and because I believe he’s nailing #FamilyGoals). Brooklyn Magazine’s Olivia Ramirez interviewed him in late October, and when I read this piece, my immediate reaction was: Why isn’t Cornelius Minor running for political office? (Also, CM, if you do, I will donate to your campaign and get a LOT of campaign flair going for you, even if I can’t vote in your election. We need you). I was particularly struck by three quotations, and I’d like to share them. They might seem disparate at first, but I promise, I’m building toward something. -"I was able to meet him [a student] where his dream was.” I’d argue that, if you’re a teacher, and this isn’t your orientation to the work, you should ask yourself why it isn’t. I know that teachers teach for many different reasons, but if helping students access their dreams isn’t one of those reasons, you should reexamine your practice. Here, CM was talking about reading (which he often does) and how he could get the right book into the right child’s hands and open up opportunities for her or him. We all have dreams. We all need help achieving them. We should all actively think about how we can help others achieve theirs. Every day we have a renewed opportunity to help other folks on their way to what they most want to do and be. And so we should. -"[Teachers’] work isn’t just teaching nouns & adjectives, but it’s ensuring that students have powerful lives and they’re understood.” In our current climate of standardized tests and state standards, it can be easy to reduce our work to its most basic functions. But anyone who does that has never been a teacher. If you’ve been a teacher, you understand your role as multi-faceted. You have to fix the copier, de-escalate parents, coach students about run-ons, and co-create the space where almost 30 people who are constantly evolving can feel heard, safe, and validated. And working on that space is just the foundation to understand them so that they can lead powerful lives. Understanding a student means you see when and where to push them because they’re on the edge of getting it; it means you know when to hold off on that critique because they’re not able to hear it; it means you recognize when they’re hurting, and you know that asking them to stay behind for a moment to touch base will be more effective than walking with them to their next class (or asking them to come see you at lunch or checking in via e-mail, etc.) to hear about what they’re grappling with. We know them well so that we can help them, and so we should (and then repeat it with another student). -“When a rose doesn’t grow, you don’t blame the rose; you fix the soil around it.” It is easy to work with (and love) students who obviously try their best, turn in their work on time, and listen while we speak. It is much harder to work with students who don’t do these things and harder still to work with students who actively thwart what we’re doing (even though this probably isn’t their intention; they’re just letting us know in the most obvious ways they can think of that they need something that we aren’t yet providing). This metaphor is a beautiful one for all teachers to remember daily; we cannot blame our students for naturally growing out of the circumstances they’ve been planted in. Instead, we need to figure out how to help those students by changing their conditions so that they can grow in the most magnificent of ways. Do they need to connect with books, so they can imagine a new life for themselves? Do they need food, so they can focus on something other than a growling stomach? Are they asking for boundaries to be clearly set so they can build a sense of safety? Do they need your help establishing a relationship of trust where they can feel dignity? We have the ability to anchor students even if we can’t (always) bring them to our homes, cook them a meal, and make them the sole focus of our attention. We can still alter the soil in which they grow, and so we should. There are a lot of “should’s” in education but believing the very best about each of our students is a must. Help them develop the capacities to do the work they need to do so that they can get to where they want to go. Help change the soil around them so that they aren’t just dreaming of what could be, but living powerful, precious lives. Want to see more of our content? Subscribe to our blog on the page, Learning Curve. Image by Sara Bailey


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