Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Islamophobia in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Oskar suffers from PTSD after 9/11 and losing his father.

"Even after a year, I still had an extremely difficult time doing certain things, like taking showers, for some reason, and getting into elevators, obviously. There was a lot of stuff that made me panicky, like suspension bridges, germs, airplanes, fireworks, Arab people on the subway (even though I'm not racist), Arab people in restaurants and coffee shops and other public places, scaffolding, sewers, and subway grates, bags without owners, shoes, people with mustaches, smoke, knots, tall buildings, turbans."

Please WATCH any of these videos:

Article: Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West

"An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.[1]"

Article: "6 Rules Of Islamophobia In America; The Huffington Post tracked Islamophobia in the U.S. throughout 2016. Here’s what we learned."

Article: "Donald Trump has never stopped lying about Muslims"  via @HuffPostRelig

Article on Trump appointees: "How John Bolton and Mike Pompeo mainstreamed Islamophobia" via @voxdotcom

Article: "Islamophobia is on the rise in the US. But so is Islam."

(Listen to the interview.)
"White American men are a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners" via @voxdotcom

Survey: 'What a Billion Muslims Really Think
(Listen to the NPR interview.)

"Top 10 Books About Muslims And Islam" via @HuffPostBooks
"Media stereotypes and misinformation about Muslims are nothing new. In a post-election world, Muslims are finding more allies who often want to help but don’t know much about us. More and more of our fellow Americans have questions and need answers."
"American Muslims and Religious Freedom FAQ" - Interfaith Alliance

More on Islam:

Please share your thoughts on this topic, but include a specific quote from an article or the video.
See Rubric.

"If we're going to replace people's misunderstanding of the terrorist threat with an accurate understanding of that threat, I suggest starting with a simple recognition that even if you added up all of the so-called jihadi fighters in the world, and all these different terrorist groups, the ones who were actually violent threats, you end up with a number that by any reasonable estimate is a less than one percent of the world's roughly one-and-a-half billion Muslims. And that other ninety-nine percent is the key see that moderate majority is first of all the primary victims the vast majority of terrorist attacks are not happening in Europe and other Western countries like the United States as tragic as those attacks are they're actually relatively rare far more terrorist attacks are happening on a daily basis in predominantly Muslim countries with ongoing civil wars and insurgencies and the vast majority of their victims are Muslims so when you think of it like that it immediately starts to look more like a common enemy and you can immediately see the basis for a cooperative relationship between moderate Muslims and non-muslims working against that common enemy now one of the themes I hear come up a lot a lot is hey if there are moderate Muslims out there why aren't they stopping this why aren't they working against this what are they doing about this and again we've got to start replacing this misinformation with accurate understanding not only do major terrorist attacks consistently get condemned by Muslim groups all over the world's expressionist of solidarity for the victims not only do you have lots of Muslims working very hard against radicalization and recruitment for these agencies but you've got moderate Muslims for example are the primary soldiers on the ground fighting Isis in the Middle East right now the over whelming majority of the soldiers physically fighting Isis right now our other Muslims but even here in Western countries there are cases that get ignored at our peril you see we have a tendency to pay a lot of attention to the terrorist attacks that actually happened and of course we should we tend however to overlook the terrorist attacks that didn't happen and we miss learning valuable lessons. For example..."

Monday, April 18, 2016

Day of Silence 2016

It's been an entire year since I posted a blog...

As a new faculty member at a traditional and historic boarding school, I admit I have been quiet and even reticent.

I have spoken up at chapel (See January 11th), sharing a bit of my story while encouraging the community to engage in the important conversations that we are having at The Hill School.

Today, April 18th, some Hill students participated in the National Day of Silence (article on Friday the 15th).

Not talking at a school is a challenge where we talk all day.

We may take for granted our daily conversations and kind gestures and questions such as, how are you? how was your weekend?

However, it's important to remember that not all in our community can speak their truth without being judged harshly or shamed. 

In my fourth and fifth form English classes, we did the following lesson in class:

TODAY's CLASS: I will be silent...

And I ask that you listen to the videos today with an open mind.

I believe we need to be better informed about why today is a Day of Silence.

From North Carolina to the U.S. Presidential Race to The Hill School, LGBTQ issues are making headlines.

Regardless of where you stand on these issues, I believe we all need a fundamental understanding of the issues which includes knowing important vocabulary - if you are to be culturally competent in 2016.

The goal is to be more conscious.

And to BE KIND as Ms. Dana Hunter said in chapel.

This quote is often attributed to Plato.

Understand that words and their meanings matter.

You may disagree with this lesson or skeptical, but best to be informed on these matters before making an ignorant judgment.

So, how can you be an ally?

1. Understand Your Privilege

2. Listen and Do Your Homework

3. Speak Up, but Not Over

4. You'll make mistakes! Apologize when you do. Understand this: it's not intent; it's impact.

5. Ally is a verb. Do the work - see 1-4 above.

So, to begin, please review this vocabulary:

Gender Terms from "The Gender Equity Resource Center, fondly referred to as GenEq, is a Cal community center committed to fostering a safe, equitable and inclusive experience for all. GenEq is the campus location where students, faculty, staff and alumni connect for resources, services, education and leadership programs related to gender and sexuality."

1. What words are new or interesting to you? 
How does vocabulary matter in understanding LGBTQ issues?

2. Please read my blog post from last year's Day of Silence. 

Feel free to reply in the discussion below.

My thinking on the Golden Rule has evolved to the Platinum Rule since reading this article "Creating an Equitable Community in The Andover Magazine.

Credit: "Creating an Equitable Community" (see page 25)

3. Watch these videos I embedded in my blog post.

Please comment on any of them in the discussion below.

(Today in class we watched Ash Beckford plus the following videos in this playlist 10, 11, and 12 in class.)

Interactive transcript to Ash Beckham's TED Talk from class today.

4. Please share your thoughts below. What resonated with you? 

If you have articles or videos that you wish to share, please do so!

You may finish this later tonight.
Listen to the words of others today with empathy.
We will talk tomorrow. Thank you in advance for being thoughtful today.

If you're thoughtful in your replies - an easy 100 points - please be sure to reply to one another as homework.

HOMEWORK: What did you hear and learn today?

I know some of you may be thinking...
This doesn't apply to me. 
Or why does this matter? 
Or why do I care?
For me, it's a human rights issue - and a civil rights issue.
And it's a matter of compassion.
I think of the kids that are struggling in silence - and many die by suicide.
• Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
• LGB youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers. 
• Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers. 
• Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. 
• LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. 
• 1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9-12) seriously considered suicide in the past year. 
• Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. 

In each class today, this assignment begins with a sigh or an eye roll or more than mild resistance, yet the comments posted to the online class discussions are heartening. 

I believe much of the fear around this conversation comes from a lack of understanding, fear of saying the wrong thing, and fear of the unknown, "the other", but once we know more we have more compassion and empathy. 

While we may wish that everyone would be kind and everyone would be treated equally, we must understand the harsh reality: there's much hate, anger,  judgment, shame, and violence in this world.

With education, there's greater compassion, but we must be active in being an ally.

And I confess that fear and frustration holds me back at certain times. 

I worry if this community is ready for this conversation around sexuality and sexual orientation, especially since there's been such resistance to talks around gender and race.  

As usual, I turn to my alma mater and offer a must read for educators and students. 

Head of School John Palfrey at Phillips Academy shares these sage words that we need to understand:
One point that is more subtle: Gender and sexual orientation are unmistakably a part of any discussion about sexual health, but the conversation should not be thought of as exclusively heteronormative. OK – there were a lot of big words in that sentence. Let me unpack. By that, I mean that a discussion of sex is not only about a dynamic that exists between boys and girls. It is hard to have a conversation about sexual health, and especially about differences in expectations and power dynamics, without talking about differences in gender. I’d urge you, at the same time, not to let stereotypes dominate these conversations. On our campus, we have community members who are boys; we have those who are girls; and we have those who do not self-identify as either or who are in transition. (My PGP is: he/him/his.) And we have a range of sexual orientation at Andover. Every student is learning about their sexuality during this period of life, but not everyone is experiencing the same thing. That diversity is important. We respect everyone equally at Andover.         
[Read his entire all school meeting talk here.]

Or as Ms. Dana Hunter would say, we need to eat our spinach.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Danger of Silence: Writing my Truth on this Day of Silence

As a fellow English teacher - I found this video to be incredibly inspiring - and made me think: how do I hold back in speaking my truth?
What have you been silent about in your life? Have you ever witnessed an injustice and walked away? 
When I was your age - and it really started in middle school - I would hear a lot of bullying and I was a quiet kid. I didn't put my neck out to stand up for others. I wouldn't laugh or contribute to the teasing, mocking, or outright bullying - I'd often walk away... I still regret my lack of courage then. 
One word that still burns me: "gay" as a deragotory term (or any other insult for that matter). 
When I was in elementary school, I loved singing and dancing and that was supported and fostered in my little school. In my home, my mom and dad loved music, musicals, and dancing. My dad was a classic reticent Irish Catholic; my mom, also Catholic, majored in dance at Butler University. She taught dance at Lake Erie College; then, she met my dad and had three boys. Despite my parents's many differences, we would all listen to (and watch) musicals like West Side Story or Les Miserables. 
When I went to the big district middle school, I will never forget that first day in our required chorus class (where I might have been the only boy singing) before I quickly learned that was unacceptable. In short, I was bullied into silence. The stereotype: real men don't sing or dance or show emotion.
Well, that was a lie - a story that immature kids learned somewhere - and pushed on others. I don't share this story seeking sympathy, but to illustrate a couple points.
It upsets me beyond words when kids are cruel to other kids because they enjoy music or singing or acting. I am not saying I would have had a life in musical theater, but I know personally how others can shut down an interest - out of some notion that it's not cool. 
I can't imagine what it's like to be in the shoes of young people today with social media and how easy it is to be cruel in comments - since you don't have to look someone in the eye and say it face to face. In the world of anonymous Twitter handles and Yik Yak, you could easily lose hope in humanity. 
Part of why I am a teacher is that I must hope - and believe in you - to take right action. To be compassionate. To be impeccable with your word. To be kind.
I hope this lesson today opens your minds - but more importantly your hearts. To embrace all diversity. Who are we to judge? 
I would like to think with this day of reflection - in this silence - we may think more about how words matter. Words once spoken can never be taken back. Not even with "just joking." 
I am not naive to think one day, one class, a couple videos, can make a difference. I know these days of awareness spark backlash and cynicism. Today is not a political agenda. You can call it a human rights agenda.

For today's class, I was silent. Here's why:

I asked my student to watch any of the following videos on laptops with headphones;
then, post to Canvas LMS discussion boards.

More details on the Day of Silence lesson - and the poetry reflection homework.

It might be my most meaningful class of the year - and I said nothing.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

13 Ways of Looking at Learning and Living

EA Chapel Talk April 7th, 2015

Reading from Luke 6:42:

"Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye."

Please sit down. Thank you.
Thank you, Cole, for that introduction. It is humbling to be here. To speak to you today is an incredible opportunity to come together as a community and one I do not take lightly. I thank Vestry & Rev. Squire for having me here today.

Let’s begin with gratitude. I believe a key to happiness is gratitude.
Right now, I want you to think of three things you are grateful for. Take a moment. Be specific. Get clear. Now, say hello to the person next to you. Smile and share a few words of gratitude with that person.

Okay. Now...if I can have your attention...My hope in allowing you a moment to say hello to the person next to you is that for the next few minutes I will have your undivided attention.

Today’s reading is one that I have meditated on for fifteen years since the death of my brother, Conor. After eight years of struggling with bipolar disorder, my brother died by suicide February 26, 2000. He did not leave behind a note, but on his bed, he left open his Bible to Luke. Today’s reading is one of the verses from those two pages. I have read and reread those pages - today’s verses - searching for meaning - for years.

I often think of how quick I was to judge. How I was a hypocrite in giving him advice...
How I was blind to my own faults and shortcomings... How I failed him.
How I should have been more compassionate and less judgmental.

But I can’t repeat the past. I will never know his intention. I can only imagine what verse he wanted us to read - what strength from the Bible he wanted us to take? What verse did he read last?

I have had to let go of some of these stories. Fifteen years later it still feels like yesterday. It is still difficult to believe. As suicide survivors, my family has been left with questions that will never be answered. Indeed, the dark side of the subjunctive possibilities - what if…

In 2011, I gave a keynote address at a walk for suicide prevention and education about mental illness. Perhaps, one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life was to speak in front of 1500 hundred people, many families like mine; yet, it was a cathartic, empowering experience, and I take some solace in knowing that my family’s pain of losing Conor may help other families - and maybe save lives.  I invite you to watch the YouTube video which frees me today to share my thoughts on learning, a couple poems, as well as a few untold stories that - who knows - you may need to hear.  

I will spare you the David Copperfield life story - and give you the abridged version. I grew up in Cleveland Ohio, full financial aid boarding school at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, college at the University of Pennsylvania, and grad school at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Let’s be candid - that’s a resume - not a life story.

Instead, to begin, let me share a poem by Robert Frost.

Acquainted with the Night 

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;

And further still at an unearthly height,

One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

In my 13 years of teaching, I have found tremendous solace and power in poetry. Part of my message today is: Find poets. Read poetry in this month of April. Discover poetry that has meaning to you.

At 41 years old, I am more conscious than ever before of how precious life is - and how short life can be. As some of you know, in September, my beloved 93 year-old grandmother, my mother’s mother, passed away in her sleep. The same week of her funeral, we learned my dad had stage 4 esophageal cancer. Nearly two months later, November 12th, my father joined my grandmother and my brother.

I feel fortunate to have been at home with my father for his final days. Their legacy of love is with me today. Both my father and grandmother believed in the power of education, rising from humble beginnings through independent learning, mostly outside of formal schooling.  

Yet, it is with spring in the air, after a long, cold winter, and in the spirit of renewal and rebirth, I wish to share a few stories and 13 quick lessons I have learned in my 13 years of teaching.

Taking liberties with 13 Ways of Looking a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens, I present to you:

13 Ways of Looking at Learning and Living

Why learn? Why read? Why write?
Why listen to me today?
Good questions. The ultimate advice:
Know Thyself.

2. Two mindsets: Growth versus Fixed.
My favorite quote of Henry Ford: “If you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”               
Much of life is self-fulfilling. Believe that you can - just not yet.

When I was a little kid in fourth grade, I was going to my first track meet composed of all the area schools. Coddling me, my mom said, “Kevin, you may be the fastest in your class of sixteen, but, understand, there are going to be a lot of other kids...”

It was annoying, but sure enough, there were hundreds of kids at the meet when we arrived. Before I left her, I asked why she did that, “Mom, why do you always talk like that? It sounds like you think I’m going to fail.” Surprised, she thought for a minute and asked me what I wanted her to say. I simply replied, “Go for it.”

Today, I realize she was only trying to protect me.  “Go for it.” From then on, those three words would serve as our mantra. Over the weekend, when I shared I was a bit apprehensive about giving this talk, she looked at me, smiled, and said, “Go for it.”

3. What motivates us? Three words: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.
I will let Daniel Pink explain the rest. (Watch this RSA video when you have a chance.)

4. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
We need to remember The Four Agreements:
1. Be Impeccable with your Word. (Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.) 
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally. (Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.)  
3. Don’t Make Assumptions. (Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.)  
4. Always Do Your Best. (Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.)

I read this book in 2009. It has helped quiet the noise in my mind. It will save you much angst and drama if you read it. Be impeccable with your word, I believe, is the hardest.

5. Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
There’s power in knowledge - and understanding what you’re going through.

Here’s a poem that touches on these stages of grief.
Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud 
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow. 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee do go, 
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

There are no rules 1-5, only 6 - and that’s not to take yourself too seriously.
In our family, we remind ourselves, “If you can’t laugh, you cry.”

I realize it’s hard to make a joke here at chapel, after what I just shared.

Remember, it is natural to be embarrassed, but if we let it, shame and embarrassment can be deadly.
One thing you can count on in life. Things change.
I promise you, “This too shall pass.”

Little story: In 5th grade, I won the lip sync contest, dancing to El Debarge’s “Rhythm of the Night.” My mom was impressed having been a dance major. One of her prized possessions is a recording of me lip synching which has haunted me most of my life. (Topic of previous chapel talk.)
It’s taken time, but finally...I can laugh. Stay tuned. I will post it to YouTube soon.

7. Lucky number 7 - I do not believe in luck.
That has been said many times... No power in superstition - superstitions are stories.
If the story does not serve you, you have to let that story go. Don’t be a victim of other stories - of gossip, fate, or circumstance.

We have a motto for our team: No excuses.
It serves us well.

Don’t play small. Let’s talk about big issues.
Let’s talk about issues that matter - about Race, Equality. We must embrace change - and technology. Embracing change also means embracing diversity and demographic shifts. Writer and activists Jeff Chang calls "Racism...a specific kind of refusal, a denial of empathy, a mass-willed blindness."

With regard to income and education inequality in America, and throughout the world, there are opportunities now to connect and learn through technology; however, we must tackle these issues face-to-face in conversation.

Again, I return to Daniel Pink. He’s a mentor to me - and I’ve never met the man.

10. “The first 10 years are the hardest.”
At a yoga workshop, Rolf Gates, a master teacher and former Army Ranger was sharing his story. He is the embodiment of what Brene Brown calls The Power of Vulnerability (a must watch TED Talk). Rolf’s life in the military was followed by heavy drinking which ultimately led him on a destructive path until he hit bottom. The support he received from Alcoholics Anonymous led him to meditation and yoga.

Six months into his practice he lost his sister to suicide, and without his practice of yoga, his faith, his discipline with meditation, he would have relapsed or worse. His emotional story resonated with me on a deep level. In a room full of yogis, I sat listening quietly as tears poured down my face. At a break, we talked. He told me the first 10 years are the hardest… and he was right.

11. Going back to 9/11 2001
I was working in NYC, living what was once a dream of mine - to work in the film business. I worked on Serendipity, the teen classic Swimfan, and landed a job as assistant to the president of GreeneStreet Films in Tribeca. That beautiful Tuesday morning on my walk across lower Manhattan, the first plane flew over my head at Canal and Hudson street. I walked towards the towers - and from just a few blocks away at Chambers and Greenwich Street, I stopped and I watched… 
I will never forget that day.

Soon after, I decided I wanted to teach. Being a teacher has been my role now for thirteen years.

At my previous school, three years ago, I was teaching my sophomores Catcher in the Rye by
J.D. Salinger (which I read as a student before going to boarding school at fourteen years old).
In a coffee shop one afternoon, I was reading it again. I had an epiphany. I felt I was seeing the following words for the first time.

Towards the end, Salinger writes (as narrator Holden Caulfield): 
"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around-nobody big, I mean-except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."
My epiphany reading in a coffee shop, (again, I am sensitive, so tears pouring down my face...) 
Since my brother’s death and 9/11, I had become a teacher, coach, and mentor - a catcher in the rye - not merely trying to make a difference, but trying to save lives.

We all save lives every day, and we don’t even know it.
Through compassion, we save lives - sometimes by just saying hello.  
You have no idea what it means to connect.
What’s your story? What’s going on?

We’re all connected.

12.  What will be your legacy?
Keep it simple.
Be kind. Be Kind. Be Kind.

13. This is it. Be present.
We get stuck in the past.
We plan for the future, or wait in limbo and uncertainty, for our real lives to begin, someday…
It’s not easy, and you’re never alone.

Make life good. 
For you, for others. If you begin with others, it will be good for you.
Meditate. Do yoga.

Find your passion - your purpose. Make it fun.
Forgive yourself - forgive others - often.
Remember rule No. 6.

I don’t know all of you, but I love you.
Please take care of each other like brothers and sisters.
Remember, love never fails. But remember to love with compassion.

Live, Love, Learn.
Peace be with you.

Thank you.

FYI: Here's the link to the video of this chapel talk (audio is best on a computer - not cellphones).
The following videos inspired this talkso I must give credit where credit is due:  

And as promised... the dance video that once embarrassed me - and still does - but I laugh...
(when I think how my mom shared it with all of my friends at my 8th grade going away party).