Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Take Time to Heal- A Gay Educator Looks at Orlando

[Ed. Note- This week's #WeirdEd (Weds, 7pst) will be about the tragedy in Orlando. Because of the weight and personal nature of the topic I reached out to Jess Lifshitz and asked her to give her take and also write and co-moderate the chat. The voice of a gay educator is what we all need to hear right now. Of course, I also have things to say and that can be found in my companion piece- Finding Love in Our Anger- A Straight Educator Looks at Orlando.]

by Jess Lifshitz

My heart, our hearts, have been wounded by the events in Orlando.

Wounds heal.

But what if wounds start to heal before being thoroughly cleaned out and made better? I worry that we are letting our wounds heal too quickly in this country.

When news of the mass murder of 49 LGBT human beings first broke, we felt outrage. We felt horror. We felt like something had to change. We vowed to do better. We vowed to do more. We vowed to make our country safer. And I do believe we really meant it.

But so quickly, our wounds start to heal.  We start to move on. We start to feel the peace that comes with distance. For some, it only seems to take a day or two. For some, it seems to come far too quickly for real healing to occur. I think that instead, we are allowing our wounds to scab over. Again. Without actually fixing anything. Again. This is what allows the infection to grow.  

So, instead of moving on, I am begging us all to stay hurting. For now, can we just please sit in our discomfort? Can we stay in our anger? Can we allow ourselves to feel the tragedy of nearly 50 lost lives? Can we allow ourselves to stay in pain?

Because I think this pain is necessary. We have to feel the full weight of what we, as a country, have become. We have to feel the horribleness of it all. We have to stay in it until we can begin to find our own role in it.

Because we do, each of us, play a role in what we have become. It is far too easy to blame one person, to blame one group of people, to blame everyone else. But I think that what we really need to do is start to look at our own selves. What is our role in creating the kind of country that allows something like this to take place? That is what I think we need to start to figure out.

As educators, I think that this is a particularly important question. Because I think that schools have the power to either contribute to a world that is unsafe or to contribute to a world that feels safer. We can lament laws that do not exist, but should. We can complain about the rhetoric that comes from our politicians.  We can bemoan the way religions continue to perpetuate hate instead of the love they are supposed to be spreading. But right now, we do not have control over these things. But we do have quite a bit of control over what we do in our own clasrooms. Over how we teach our students. Over what books we put on our bookshelves and over which ones we choose to read to our students. We have the power to make this world better by starting in our own classrooms and in our own schools. We have a choice to make, but if we don’t stop and think about and argue about and discuss that choice, then we will stay where we are and nothing will change.  Staying silent allows the infection to grow.

And there is so much silence in the world of education. Especially when it comes to LGBT issues and LGBT human beings.
I worry that teachers had less of a problem discussing the murder of forty-nine people with their students than they did discussing the fact that these murders took place in a gay club with mostly gay victims. Because we seem to have an easier time discussing violence with our students than we do discussing the fact that gay people exist. We get nervous. We get scared. We get nervous to say the words gay or lesbian or transgender.  We feel fear.

Well, fear is what got us into this mess.

We have to stop allowing that fear to silence us as educators. Because, yes, we feel fearful of how parents and administrators will react when we bring up LGBT issues in the classroom. But you know who is feeling a whole lot more fear than we are right now? Young kids who are on the terrifying verge of coming out. Young kids who want to come out but who have just seen that people just like them were murdered in cold blood at a place where they were supposed to be safe. That is real fear.

And it is our job to help them feel less fearful. It is our job to find ways to show them that they have every right to be themselves and also not fear for their own lives. It is our job to find ways to show them that being gay or lesbian or transgender is a beautiful thing and it allows them to find a place in a powerful, brave community.

And it is our job to help other students, those are not LGBT, find ways to be vocally supportive. It is our job to model for all of our students how to be allies and how to really stand with those who are being targeted with hate. It is our job to teach all of our students that you cannot make the world a better place by staying silent.

So it is time to start talking. And I hope that you will join Doug and me so that we can talk about what scares us, what stops us, what stands in our way. And so that we can also start to talk about how we can do better so that we can really allow the wounds of this country to begin to heal.  

Jessica Lifshitz is a 5th grade teacher, who writes about teaching and learning and what it is like to be a gay educator on her blog

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