Tag Archives: politics

Historiography

1 Apr

I have a term paper due in 16 days.  As I write this, I am perched on the edge of my creaky steno chair.  A space heater is cooking my feet.  My laptop is situated in the half-square-metre of space available on my desk.  Finn McMissile and Mater are grinning at me from among the broken toys awaiting repair.  There are crumpled tissues of unknown provenance.  And the user’s manual for a George Foreman Grill….

My paper is meant to explore evidence of cosmopolitanism in ancient Rome, and then hopefully draw some parallels between now and then.  Possibly shed some light on the social construct of race, in all its arbitrary and divisive mystery.  And maybe break it down, just a little bit more, in this slow and precarious progress toward an “us” without a “them”.  But I did not expect to be confronted with the vitriol of two hundred years of scholarship.  Of black scholars fighting for voice.  A white scholars fighting for silence.  And the well-meaning of all races writing and rewriting and then vehemently protecting their personal empirical interpretation statement of history.

Emphasis on the ‘story.

I chose this topic because Kwame Anthony Appiah’s explanation of cosmopolitanism makes such perfect sense to me.  We don’t need cultural homogeneity.  We don’t need for all of us to be the same.  We need to accept that we are all different people, with different traditions, and different values.  We need to suspend our judgement unless and until people are getting hurt.  And we are obligated to educate and to become educated.  To say, “Hey, man.  I don’t understand why you’re doing that.  Maybe if you explain it to me, we can work out a better solution.”  This learning before judging, this conversing before condemning – imagine the world we would have if all of us could work that way.

It’s the sort of idealism I teach my children.  And I do that because I believe it to be possible.  I believe that choosing to learn in the face of ignorance, anger, fear, and condemnation is the bravest act that anyone can commit.  Second only to protecting others from harm.

Perched on this chair in this space surrounded by tasks not completed, obligations not fulfilled, projects not initiated; my head is spinning with the implications of these words:

“History is not about fact.  It is about interpretation.” – Maghan Keita

In this space with the detritus of my life stacked all around me, on a continent where fear kills minds and boys with brown skin and women in black robes and thousands of other faces I will never know or see or love….

It is very, very hard to feel brave.

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I’m a mother, corporate refugee, grad student, quiet activist and child care provider.  I live in Canada and write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, living healthy, and learning with kids over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day.

Turning In: Musings on The Poverty Mentality and Early Education

4 Jan

Sitting with the kids in the car outside Tim Horton’s yesterday, listening to The Adventures of The Little Mermaid book-on-CD for the bazillionth time, my mind began to wander.  We were tired.  We’d been skating out at the Victoria Park Oval.  We’d gotten up early to prepare for the work-week resuming and were filled with the excitement/dread of getting back to reality the following day.

Mike was buying coffee for me and hot chocolate for the kids.  The car was warm.  The narrator’s voice vaguely British and soothing….

I’d chatted with someone the afternoon previous about a woman we both loved and respected.  How she had survived so much and remained indefatigably positive.  Optimistic.  The physical embodiment of grace.  And how, now, when faced with her own mother’s death, she had That Voice.  That kicked-in-the-gut Voice that quietly tells all who will listen that things are so very bad, so achingly bad.  And that they won’t get better for a long time.

Someone I love very much knows that Voice too intimately.  Most of her life it could be heard beneath her laughter, above her tears.  I’ve heard that voice from adult ESL students, from colleagues, and even from children who have passed through my life.  It hurts, That Voice.  And I’ve struggled with turning away or providing comfort, with abdicating responsiblity or risking offense.  With taking their pain for my own so we both can bear it.  Except we know that doesn’t work, right?  Spreading the pain around doesn’t make it thinner, lighter, more forgiving.  It’s just more pain to bear.

I applied to grad school without any expectation of being accepted.  I wrote an intellectual biography and entrance essay that broadly addressed the goals of becoming a better care provider, parent and tutor via greater understanding of the socio-political basis of our education policies, theories and outcomes.  Broadly because I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.  I had no idea what I wanted.  I mean, four years of business school taught me well how poorly designed I am for business.  I was, um, optimistic that grad school wouldn’t have the same result.

In the warm car with tired legs and drifting kids and Ursula the Sea Witch plotting her revenge….  I thought about how That Voice is most often heard from those who know hunger with painful intimacy.  And how endemic the poverty mentality has always been in our low income communities, both naturalized and immigrant.  And how we teach it to our kids, That Voice, and systemically limit their options in order to protect them from a world that has hurt us so badly.

What if we could make it better?

Are our early learning programs effective that way?  Are we helping our three and four year olds build trust relationships?  Are we protecting them from suspicion and fear?  What about grade school?  Are we connecting with these kids?  Are we fostering optimism via mentorship opportunities and helping them find ways to be successful?  Is it even our place to do that, as educators and volunteers?  What are the ethics, here?

And in the community, how are we reaching out to new immigrants?  How are we breaking this cycle?  Historically, new unskilled residents disappear into micro-countries of people from back home.  And while I know, as a black woman in a predominantly white community, what a comfort it can be to look up and see people who look like me, I remember the heckling one of my ESL students took from her own family some years ago:

“You think you’re better than us?  You need to read and write like a white person?”

You think you’re better than us?

I don’t have enough information.  Last night, I lay awake for hours.  Brain spinning.  An email from one of my dayhome parents gave me much to think about in terms of parenting strategies and behaviour management.  Leaving me to wonder again about how negative attitudes can be mediated in care environments, and how integral is that child-careprovider connection.  And how sometimes it is nearly impossible to maintain.

I don’t have enough information.

On my pillow, I thought about swim strokes and body position in the water.  I thought about watching my Bug and my Princess slip around on their skates and their giddy, grinning joy.  Their concept of “can’t” is severely limited, right now, and I am so grateful.  They understand “not yet” and “when I’m older”.  But not “can’t”.  Not, yet.  I thought about That Voice, that kick-in-the-gut we carry with us everywhere when we’re poor.  That “Can’t”.

How can we make it go away?

I need more information.

Belle wrote not long ago about that creative spark, and how we find it.  When I read her post, I didn’t know how to respond.  I mean, doesn’t it just come?

No.

I think, for me, the spark evades until I’m turning in so that the distractions of getting through the day, of walking through this life, can just glide past me.  I need to turn in, to get out of my own way.

Grad school starts in six days.

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I’m a corporate refugee, grad student, quiet activist and child care provider.  I write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, and life looking after other people’s kids, over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day.