Thursday, January 7, 2021

Teacher of the Year

“The San Francisco School seeks to celebrate and cultivate the intellectual, imaginative and humanitarian promise of each child. “


This the first part of the Mission Statement of the school where I spent 45 years of my life teaching. Every school has some nice words, but I can testify that “we said it, we meant it, we were there to represent it.” From the very beginning in the mid-60’s until this morning, we made sure to tell the kids the stories that few schools would, the ones that would help them understand the destructive narratives of white supremacy, unchecked greed and hurtful power that runs throughout each and every day of our history. 


But neither then nor now were we pushing a political agenda. We simply told them what they needed to know to make their own informed decision, presented multiple narratives with the additional tool of always asking who benefits from a particular version of the story and who has the power to tell the story. Equally, if not more important, we worked hard to create a just and equitable little society in each classroom, to cultivate a place where difference was wholly celebrated even when it was challenging, to help each child feel like they belonged and were welcomed and were seen and valued. 


Naturally, we often failed because we are, after all, human. There were little dramas of subtle and not-so-subtle bullying that escaped our notice and caused some harm, there were little power plays in our own decision-making process that were neither just nor fair, there were teachers who did not feel wholly known or welcomed or valued. But it was all in a human-sized proportion and always with an eye to do better. 


Every day of the last four years (and more), I am astounded how our education system has graduated people from our schools who are incapable of clear, critical thought, who actively disparage the intellect and decide that whatever they want to believe is true simply because they say so. People who are incapable of imagining a tomorrow better than today, a narrative more hopeful and kind, people who have never had an art or music or drama or poetry teacher in their school who might help them uncover some beauty in themselves that they could bring out into the world. People who have not given a morsel of attention to feed their humanitarian promise, who think caring is weakness, who throw their unhappy selves around and blame others. In short, people who have not been properly guided to equally cultivate their head, heart and social conscience.


And so my mantra has been: “If only they had gone to The San Francisco School.” Believe me, after 45 years, I’ve now heard enough stories about alums that show that this is not naively 100% true. But it seems to be at least 95% true. Like the new COVID vaccine, I suggest that our school's way of teaching is 95% effective in inoculating our students from brainwashing, manufactured consent, purposefully propagated ignorance, senseless spin and cynicism. As far as I know, none of our alums stormed the Capitol yesterday or wished they could have. 


And that’s because people like this teacher are their teachers. And yes, she is my daughter, so I’m perhaps just a little over-proud, but the other teachers in the school all teach at this same level in their own particular style. So for those teachers who would like a model as to how to enlarge our necessary vision of what education really is and/or parents who would like their children to think and feel and act at this level, here is Talia Goodkin sharing how she responded to yesterday’s attempted coup. Note that this is a relevant for adults as it is for 5thgraders: 


In case this is helpful for other teachers out there ...a morning of teaching from the gut. 


Dear 5th Families,

What a time to be an American. I woke up feeling filled with dread about how to talk about yesterday's events with the class. These are the moments as a teacher where I wish I had a giant pause button so I could read all the articles, talk to fellow teachers, gather all the right resources. And I also know there is no "perfect" way to react and that kids will, as they always do, lead the way with thoughtfulness, grace, and hope. I want to share what came up to give you context if you're child wants to debrief more with you at home.


This morning, we started with sharing what we know about what happened yesterday and watching a couple of snippets of news coverage about the event. I shared the below quotes, which focused our discussion on the following themes:


1. Celebrating Georgia's Senate seat victories:

"While today's terrible display of terror and meanness shakes u, let's remember that Ossof, Jewish son of an immigrant and Reverent Warnock, first Black Senator from Georgia will join a Catholic POTUS and the first woman, black and Indian VP in our nation's capital. God Bless America." - Stacey Abrams


2. The police response (13 arrests vs. 14,000 + arrests during BLM protests):

"White privilege allows you to storm the US Capitol with no shots fired."

"And you thought 'Taking a Knee' was too much!?" – NAACP


3. The importance of using precise language:

"Don't call it a protest. It doesn't seek to shed light on injustice, but instead, seeks to shed blood. Call it terrorism. Call it insurrection. Call it sedition. Call it a riot. Call it a powder keg with hatred as its fuse- the kind that catches fire when prejudice is confused for patriotism, and burns brightest when the president lights the match." - A.T. McWilliams


4. The hypocrisy of our President:

"When the looting starts, the shooting starts." - Trump responding to BLM protests on May 29, 2020


"Go home. We love you. You're very special. I know how you feel." - Trump responding to pro-Trump riot on Jan 6, 2021


5. How Republicans who have fervently supported Trump are now changing their tune:

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house.” -Mike Pence


"We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes... with separate facts, and separate realities ... with nothing in common except hostility toward each another and mistrust for the few national institutions that we still share. It would be unfair and wrong to disenfranchise American voters and overrule the courts and the states on this thin basis. And I will not pretend such a vote would be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing."- Mitch McConnell


Then, students had 20 minutes of time together in breakout rooms to answer the following prompts:


Head: What information do we currently know about the insurrection that happened on January 6, 2021? What additional facts or information would you like to have?


Heart: How do you feel about the insurrection and what is happening in the aftermath? Are there particular moments or images that stand out to you?


Conscience: What do you believe was at stake in the events on January 6, 2021? What questions about right and wrong, fairness or injustice, did insurrection raise for you? How should individuals or politicians act in order to protect our democratic institutions?


Next, we reconvened as a whole class and came up with a list of questions that this brought up for us and things we want to find out more about. Here is their list:


·     How was this organized? Who organized it?

·     Will Trump get in trouble for encouraging it?

·     Will there be a covid spike afterwards?

·     How did they get through security?

·     Will there be any consequences for breaking the law?

·     Why do people believe that this was a stolen election?

·     How do we move forward?


In partnership,



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