There have been so many wonderful things that have happened in these few months, so many insights and experiences, understanding so much pain but yet hope in educators, students and community members that express a desire for a change in the way things are now. One of the big things that have shaped my past few months has been ideas surrounding the school to prison pipeline.
I had never heard of this term before but essentially, much research has shown that there is a direct pipeline that we have created in the schools here for students, especially black boys, to go to prison. In the U.S., not only can children be sent to prison, but there has been an uproar in the communities because of the unfair treatment of Blacks in schools and in the justice system with the stories of Eric Gardner and Mike Brown moving the country to march and protest in the streets.
My first insight to the school to prison pipeline was during a teacher training session where ex-inmates – who had recently come out of prison after serving say 15 to 20 years since they were 12 – were facilitators at a teacher training session for teacher candidates at the University of Washington. Their stories of pain and hurt in the primary and secondary schools resonated with me. They said one thing was needed – a more human, a more relationally connected classroom. In one class at UW, a professor quoted, “I can’t teach you until I know you.” Yet when asked if they felt that their teachers knew them, no one raised their hand. So many students don’t feel that their teachers know them as humans and individuals as they go through 12 years of public school. It was the moment for me where I felt connected to the deep heartache and hopes in Seattle.
It’s been difficult to move to a whole new city and try to feel connected but there are some things that keep me real. Thursdays at the Southwest Youth and Family Services is when I get to hang out and walk alongside students who have recently dropped out of traditional high schools in Seattle or the neighboring city, Highline. Thursdays at Southwest have kept me grounded and to be honest, kept me still excited about being here. It’s these teachers and students that remind me why I’m in graduate school, why I’m in education and that what I do matters. It’s been a safe place where I can just be in community, listen and build real relationships before thinking I can jump in and “create change”.
What has been wonderful about UW is that I get to think about research in a whole different light. In my Design Based Research class this quarter with Megan Bang and Phil Bell, we grapple with research actually getting involved in the beautiful mess of schools and classrooms; we talk about teachers as agents; we talk about not being afraid to get involved in the mix and to open yourself up to be changed by your own research and the interactions you have alongside those who participate in it. Research is not just the study of some phenomenon. It’s usually messy, filled with emotion but messy is good, messy is how the real world is.
I’ve learned that sometimes you need to be emotional to deal with the emotive and strong objectivity means that you talk about who you are, where you’ve come from and the lens that you are using to view the world, because who you are matters. And who I am is a collection of others because I’m only at this place in life because of other people that have pushed me and got me here. My humanity has depended on and been shaped by so many of you, just as how objectivity in research will depend on my ability to bring our voice, and the voices of those that we represent to it.
It’s been a lot of growing and grappling but I’m so glad I have other teammates to grow alongside with. In Thailand, we are expanding the Tutoría network next week to our third school.This school, Sahasat, is so close to my heart. It is the school I’ve known and grown up with the Lahu community since I was 12. Now to be able to go back and affect teaching and learning there, in the community that planted the seeds that brought me to where I am today, is an incredible honor. As Phil Bell who quoted Brian Smith said, “Here we are building the future of education the night before it’s due.” I’m en route right now to Chiang Rai and jumping straight into that beautiful mess of designing alongside teachers and students the future of education the night before it’s due. I couldn’t be more excited, nervous and hopeful to build that beauty together.
I will definitely write about that experience in the next monthly update as I’m sure the school will have incredible insights about learning that I want to share with you. Thank you all for keeping me in check and calling me out when I don’t write to you! I miss you all dearly and can’t wait to see some of you soon.
Some other fotos from STUDIO, Thailand in December and Seattle: