Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Would You Kill Baby Hitler? OR Dear All Men
What are we going to do to stop predatory white men from getting away with rape and the dehumanization of women?
Correction- What are we going to do to stop it from happening?
Men, I'm talking to us. This is our job. Dr. Ford and the other women who have been coming forward with their experiences, knowing full well the GOP will bring to bear all manner of smear tactics, they're doing what they can. They're doing the hard work. I'll admit, this is the first place that I was conflicted about writing this. I initially thought, "This is a women's issue. I want to support the voice of women here and share their stories." But see, I did that here already. (Holy cow, that was a year ago.) And while it's vitally important that we hear AND BELIEVE women, they're already having those conversations. They know, and believe each other. Except for the big percentage of white women who still insist on supporting Trump because...economic anxiety makes you a Nazi? At this point I don't know how to reach them. The people they're supporting have already come for them, and they still didn't stand up.
But they aren't the ones committing the crimes. They aren't the ones normalizing this behavior with "locker room talk" and "I LIKE BEER!" That would be those humans like us, the self-defined men. This is learned behavior. It comes from somewhere.
Consent is a constant hidden lesson, and it's our job to make it visible. Here's a simple, at-home, personal example. I've got two young boys. They're rough and tumble. Tickle fights happen. If you've got a small child, you know it's fun to make them squeal with tickle laughter until they can barely breathe. But they're laughing, we're all having a good time. I'm also not stopping. I'm bigger, so they can't get away. I could keep tickling until it's not a game anymore.
I don't. But I could. And I could even hide behind, "We're playing! They're laughing!"
What a message.
I have to be very aware that when I'm wrestling with my boys, and often they start it because Daddy is tired when he gets home from work and wrestling is not on the To Do list, the fun stops the second they lose the power to stop the game, the second it doesn’t stop when they want. Sure, they squeal with laughter when we play Get Away From The Monster. It's all in good fun. As long as I'm clearly communicating to them the whole time that when they say stop, we stop. There's two of them, so double-teams happen. They get carried away, so even if one says stop and I stop, the other is full-on going for it. He's having a good time. I need to be clear- The fun is over and everyone stops the second one person decides the fun is over and it's time to stop. They can learn this.
This is a teaching blog, so let's put it in the classroom- asking kids to come up and give answers and work at the board, and accepting kids who want to pass. That's not enough, though. We have to have the conversation. We have to be explicit about consent. We, in my class, talk a lot about listening to each other and respecting one another. Fourth graders still need reminders about how to play nice on the playground. We do group work, and they need to be taught how to work together. How to deal with conflict disputes. The lessons here become all kinds of interpersonal relationship skills, and one of those is the idea of personal responsibility. How are you responsible to your fellow humans? See each other as fellow humans. Equals. Peers. No one is less than. Every lesson, every moment, every read aloud choice, can emphasize that. It’s my job to make those lessons crystal clear.
Our other big task, my people of the male persuasion, is upending the social order that benefits us the most. Too many things in this country are broken and unequal, and when there's a problem in the store you find the manager. We're the manager, and we have been literally the entire time. It's time to see that as a problem. To explicitly point out gender and racial issues in the textbooks we use and the read alouds we choose.From kindergarten on up. Kinders can handle it. Kinder teachers are smart, they can make anything comprehensible to five year olds. Kindergarten is where you learned to see all these weird little marks and translate them into language that you can think in. Anyone who can teach that can teach anything. It’s all in the delivery. And if it starts there, the rest of us can continue the work. Overt and subtle, but always with clarity. See, for example, Tricia Ebarvia and the #DisruptTexts movement and chat.
There are some who would argue, “It’s not our job to teach politics.” At this point in the world, if you’re not willing to bring it up, then you’re openly ok with it and teaching politics by omission. If “Be a decent human to everyone, and stop when someone asks you to stop” is “teaching politics” then we should scrap this whole thing and start over. Being an ally isn’t enough. Call it out. Go on the attack. Educationally. As a teacher. Unless it’s not a student. If it’s a grown-up then layeth the smacketh down. Verbally. Unless they’re a Nazi. Punch Nazis.
Teaching is a long game and, as I keep telling my first-year-of-teaching grade level teammate, nothing happens quickly. We need to keep pushing, keep climbing. Keep teaching. I don’t know how to fix people like Brett Kavanaugh and those who would defend and support him. I don’t know if you can. But I’ve got access to the next group coming through, and I can help them see humanity as a whole worthy of respect. I can make choices that help that.
I’ve seen boys use girls or femininity as a punchline. I’ve heard the comments. At their age my kids don’t think they’re being “mean” yet. “Just joking!” So we talk, either me and the boy if it was a small incident, or we stop and have a whole class conversation if the situation calls for it, about why that was funny and how it actually wasn’t. I let them find their way to realizing it was disrespectful, guiding and prodding. The class knows respect is a whole group responsibility and, while I’m not advocating being cops, I am stressing that we’re all in this together and we can help point out, respectfully, when someone is out of line. It starts here, in elementary school. My boys can learn how to talk about women when they’re around women and when they aren’t (Spoiler- The same way). Then holding the boys responsible for their words and actions, something that obviously hasn't been done in the past, instead of excusing it with "boys will be boys" or some other rape culture encouragement. The laughter Dr Ford heard, the humiliation she spoke to, these can be prevented in the future.
Play the long game. Take that time travel question of “Would you go back in time and kill baby Hitler?” What if instead you could go back in time and give the kid the kind of education and world-awareness that would prevent him from becoming that monster in the first place?
If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.