Over the last, say, 56 days, I have suffered from alternating waves of being. I slosh back and forth from a deep need to speak out and be heard to a profound pull to cut myself off from the world and hide in silence. I wrote my last post during my most recent wave of voice. In the three weeks following, I hosted a Women’s March huddle with 20+ people from my area, including friends and now-friends who want to organize in support of a variety of causes. We learned about recent efforts of organizations like Moms Demand Action, Battleground Texas, TX21Indivisible, and American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. We broke out into groups to get to know more about each other’s priorities, availability, and skill sets that can help increase our active engagement as democratic citizens. We started a facebook page to communicate action items and a google folder to record our work and share information we’ve gathered.
A week later I met with two inspiring women who work with TAMSA, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment. We talked about my experiences working in schools where over-testing had significant negative effects on students, teachers, and the quality of instruction in schools. We brainstormed about opportunities for me to testify to legislators about my experience and provide ideas for authentic student assessment of writing.
On February 25th, I worked alongside my Heart of Texas Writing Project colleagues to put on a workshop for 50+ Austin Area teachers entitled Building on Strength: Multilingual Students and Writing Workshop. We engaged teachers of multilingual students in conversations about how to create safe spaces for our immigrant students even with today’s hostile climate, how to provide authentic and student-centered writing instruction, and how to use strengths-based teaching to push back on deficit-based programming and pedagogy in our Bilingual and Dual Language classrooms. In my opening, we marveled at the linguistic strengths of three of my former students.
Following the Building on Strength workshop, I met with my HTWP book club group. We’re reading For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action. I cried a bit as I asked my colleagues/peers/friends for help with how to take the same strength and conviction I have speaking at conferences along with me when I talk with family that differs sharply from me politically. Besides the bout of tears, I mostly sat silent. My wave of voice had hit its peak and began to slope down to its trough.
Three days later I got up early to attend the Texas Tribune’s Conversation with Congressional Public Education Committee Chairman, Rep Dan Huberty. I was uplifted to hear about his strong opposition to school vouchers and to over-testing in schools though dismayed at his part in and support of the A-F rating of our Texas schools. I listened but didn’t raise my hand when the moment came for questions, though questions I had.
I made it to my March 5th meeting with our newly formed South Austin Action and Advocacy Group, though barely. I skipped my appointment to get deputized as a voter registrar with Battleground Texas. I have writing to do, I rationalized. I can reschedule.
In the following period of silence, to fight the urge to drug myself with mind-numbing television, I am reading and writing. I just finished writing a grant application with more fervor and verbosity than the grant reviewers will be anticipating. Don’t hold it against me, NWP. I continue to read For a Better World and also to re-read segments of Teacher Organizing for Change: Making Literacy Learning Everybody’s Business. I am up at night scribbling in my notebook and sneaking off to my desk where I can re-write the outline for the book proposal I’m determined to send off in a few months.
And three days ago, before the camping trip where Rob, Maya, Fritz and I unplugged entirely, Maya said something that created a ripple that reverberated through me until I had to sit down and write here again. I was deep in the trough when she said it and so we were watching a movie. A princess movie. And I was feeling guilty. And then she said, “Mama, all the people in this movie have white skin.” And I felt this little glimmer of hope. I had forgotten to notice but Maya hadn’t. Maya reminded me to put on the critical contact lenses that only some of us in this world have to be mindful to put on every day.
She reminded me to wake up and that through talking with her about issues of privilege and representation in our consumption of all forms of media, she has been awakened. When we teach critical literacy skills, when we talk to our children about the marginalization of people, languages, and cultures, they are listening. And changing. They begin to see the world and how it favors some over others. And that is the first step not just to changing but to making change. And so, though in my action there are periods of silence, maybe, if my periods of voice are strong and focused enough, I can rest assured that when I am silent another person in my tribe will let her voice rise.