Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Low Cut and a good line

Before - the fro is a little out of control. Like any little busy boy's hair - food, sand, and dirt in the hair was getting out of control. I noted, too, a sort of crazy and sometimes dry set of coils were ready for the expert hands of a barber. Off we went to have D cut Blueberry's fro. D works in an all black barber shop. If you're in Madison, I'm talking about JP's. D went for a low cut. I didn't really know what he meant, but I saw a lot of other young black boys getting the same cut and nod after nod of approval from clients. Honestly, I want to be a white mama with a decent understanding of black culture and practice - and hair is one of those things. Hair is part of cultural practice in all groups - and it is an expression of identity. To be totally honest, what looked cute and sweet to me was really getting out of control. And to confirm this feeling, noone in the barber shop was looking impressed by Blueberry's little boy afro - It was TIME!

When D finished Blueberry's low cut, he asked if we wanted a line. I gave an inquisitive look that silently asked, "do I?" to one of his colleagues, who was admiring Blueberry's finely shaped head. She gave me a clear affirmative. "Yes yes, a line is good," I said. I had once heard a black student of mine in conversation with his peers telling me that the most important part of getting my son's hair cut was finding someone who could do a good line. D did a great line. D was a great barber - he was gentle, attentive, and patient. Blueberry cried, but it was the cry of the unfamiliar, not the cry of fear or pain.
Oh what a kissable round head my boy has! I'm sad to see the fro go but I have to say, I allowed others with much much more cultural competency to guide me on this decision - and it's a good one. It's also the right practice for our family to engage the black community as part of raising a healthy young one.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nelson Mandela and Culturally Relevant Teaching

I learned on NPR this morning that Nelson Mandela is celebrating his 91st birthday. I heard this as I was driving to the last ession of my class, "racism in education." Interestingly, I have been working on creating more culturally relevant curriculum for my students - particularly for my students of color - as a direct result of some materials I have been exposed to in this class. My kids of color need more curriculum that makes their people's contribution to our history more meaningful in both local and global contexts. Typically, the education and action that moves me to make progress on my commitment to anti-racist parenting, helps move my commitment to anti-racist teaching. Had I heard about Nelson Mandela's birthday in a prior time in my life, I would have been interested and attentive. Indeed, I do teach a unit about Gandhi to my freshman that engages the non-violent strategies of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi. So, yes, I know Mandela's importance and significance, but I would not have thought, "how do I make this relevant (more relevant, importantly, to my students of color) to my work and my parenting?" Frankly, if I am honest, I don't care that much that my white students "get into" Nelson Mandela. I want my black students to really really be proud of this amazing black man and to feel a deeper sense of belonging to the stories we tell in history. I can't force that feeling, but it is the magic of culturally relevant teaching.

If you haven't heard about the new collection of Mandela's favorite African Folktales, produced by Alfre Woodard, check this out: I can't wait to hear the whole CD. And, if you want to know how to honor Mr. Mandela's life long work, check out this youtube video: One NYC campaign involves giving 67 minutes of your time to service, in honor of Mandela's 67 years as an activist. Here is the website:

If you are wondering what I mean by cultural relevance, Tami, on her blog "What Tami Said," delivers an eye popping comment for me, a history teacher, on her young nephew's experience with his history. She explains;

In the spring, my nephew's class at his predominantly white school studied the people, places and cultures of Europe and the Americas. And he says that he noticed this study included very little about the contributions of people of African descent. In the history of America, his ancestors were slaves and, it seems, nothing else. I am proud that my nephew had the presence of mind to recognize this inequity and ask his teacher whether some information about black Americans and the role of Africa in the building of the United States might be forthcoming. I am enraged, however, to know the answer he received from his teacher. The class wouldn't be covering information about black and African peoples, because "The school system doesn't want any trouble."


This classroom exploration and celebration of the rich history of Europe and the brave European men who "discovered, "conquered and colonized America (to the exclusion of any acknowlegdment of the history and contributions of anyone else--particularly people of color) left my nephew feeling rootless and unsure of his place in his own country. After all, to discuss his people is merely to invite "trouble"...Last week, the town where my nephew lives (and I live with my husband and stepson) was named among the top 10 places to raise a family by a major magazine. This isn't the first time our city has earned this tag, and like always, one of the things to be praised is the great school system. Interesting how "greatness" can be relative, depending on who your children are.

Full post here:

For those of us with children of color who are white parents, think about the issues of culturally relevancy for our children. We want it, don't we? (Rhetorical question, folks). We are in a very strong position as part of the dominant culture to really ally and advocate for new materials (indeed, for a multicultural democracy) in our children's schools.

You've got my ear. I've got work to do, blog readers, I 've got work to do!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Boys and Girls Club

This is what happens when an energetic 20 year old bikes 10 miles each way to work and hangs out doing art with 7-12 year olds all morning. She comes home exhausted from the Boys and Girls Club. Mom's not surprised, but all those promises to walk the dog this summer are getting overwhelmed with "lesson plans" and "quiet time to recover." Ah, the beauty of 20. What's for dinner, mom?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Cycling

Equipment Check.

Water check. Trail surveyed.
Sister (Songbird) present.

Mom ready - she's pulling, after all.

Let's GO!
A perfect Midwestern Sunday.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Old School

Enough of the fancy stuff, a telephone book works great. Blueberry's favorite food is always the food someone else is eating. Clementine is his favorite target - probably because Clementine is among his most favorite people. And for good reason, look at the tender way he is holding Blueberry's foot. Sweetness.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Berry Love

berry berry mulberry love for Blueberry

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Racism in Education - Study Up

I've been prepping myself for a class I am taking next week through my school district. I teach for a medium sized district; a district with only one high school and one middle school. We are a sister district to the more urban and large school where my kids attend - the difference of 4 highschools with double the population per school and many many more students of color. But things are changing in my district and our little-ness is starting to erode. With change comes new challenges, and we are feeling the challenge of dealing with a more diverse student population; both for class and race.

The district I teach in has a hugely homogeneous staff. All of our school principals and vp's are white. In our high school there is one teacher of color. Support staff? Almost all white. We recently hired a diversity director who is a great guy, qualified, and a black man. I fear for his success, as it must be incredibly difficult to be the sole voice for kids of color in our district. He's got a helluva job.

This is a lot of detail to say that our district is hosting a seminar for teachers taught by a UW-Milwaukee professor titled, "Racism in Education." I wish we had a reading list. None so far. But that doesn't stop me from tirelessly working on the issue at hand. I'm super lucky that Blueberry's fairy godmother is a professor herself, a former director of diversity at one of the professional schools at UW-Madison, and a sociologist, anthropologist, and soon to be licensed social worker. Do you think I can learn something from her? *grin* So, she's been sliding some reading my way, tossing a few links my direction, and suggesting some future texts for my consideration. In addition, the summer has provided us with some super time to enjoy each other's company in the presence of adorable Blueberry while we talk and share stories about 'the raising of him." Her theoretical expertise, my on the ground experience = hopefulness.

Did I mention Songbird is working for Boys and Girls Club this summer. She's running the local art and drama program for them. It's kicking her butt and she's loving it. Throw her daily experience into the mix of discussion we've got it goin' on here! Whoo hoo! Seriously, we are talking up a storm around here. I love it.

Here are some recent reads/watches: (interesting set of videos on privilege)
Anything and everything by Beverly Daniel Tatum. You don't know her work? Try this for an excellent introduction to her point of view:
Then, read "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?"
By the way, the entire PBS series: "Race - The Power of Illusion" is worth excavating. I use this website to teach a unit on race in my cultural anthropology class that I teach to freshman. It's tough work to get first year students to understand how race has NO biological basis - but this site helps. Some of the clips are awesome. I especially love "Island of RedHeads" which explains human diversity in a super fun way.
Anti-Racist Parent is a daily practice, and Racialiscious has been provoking lately.

That's all for now...more later :-)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tennis Anyone?

Channeling the superstars, Venus and Serena! And, it's right out our back door:

There is ALWAYS time for a silly face and a giggle!

and a few mulberries on the walk home :-)

P.S. for Schwartz: I still don't think you could beat either Serena OR Venus - and you're not here to argue about this anymore :-(

Social Awkwardness - Race Again?

I've had the opportunity to have some adult time this week - and by adult time I mean social time designed to bring coworkers together outside of the workplace. Typically, I'm more of a hang out with my friends kind of woman - I'm not a social butterfly - although I have been told I'm rather like a chameleon and can hold my own in a number of social settings. True enough.

Lately I have found these social settings to be ripe with exchanges that make me uncomfortable and that require me to use some of the skills I have been developing as an anti-racist woman/parent/teacher. Recently I was in a conversation with a man who is deeply involved with a well known charity organization. I was hoping to glean some information from him regarding local (Catholic) worship communities with families of color. His response really astounded me and set off my whistles and bells. It was something like, "Let's set aside race, I mean, that's what we're all supposed to do, right? (ME: NO! COLORBLIND THINKING STINKS) Think about where you want him to grow up, with families like your own, families that think like you, feel about things like you do, families that are like you . (ME: THAT DOESN'T DESCRIBE HOW I WANT HIM TO GROW UP AT ALL!) I don't think any church would be threatened by your family. (ME:WHAT? I WASN'T THINKING ABOUT FAMILIES I WAS THINKING ABOUT MY SON'S FEELINGS!) You ought to think of sending him to a Catholic school where they don't have to lock lockers and where it is safe every day .(ME: I'M A PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER!) We had two boys at our church and school who were black and they did great;they felt so comfortable (ME: HOW DO YOU KNOW?) and none of us ever saw them as black (ME:TOKEN) , and we never think of their color (ME: THE ONLY COLOR YOU NEVER THINK OF IS YOUR OWN, THAT'S CALLED PRIVILEGE).

End rant. But really, I was so astounded by this conversation. It was so full full full of so much of the stuff that reminds me I have so much work to do to speak out to fellow white people in ways that get us all a little closer together. Gads - what a stinker that was. Reflecting, when Mr. Silly Pants and I made our way home, we were on the same page - we had the same experience in the conversation, we had similar thoughts. We've made progress as a "unit" -as a couple and as a family- and that was sweet.