Archive for June, 2013

FREEDOM OF SPIRIT!

June 30, 2013 Comments Off on FREEDOM OF SPIRIT! General

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FREEDOM OF SPIRIT!

 

A few years ago, while attending a conference in Denver, I attended the finest presentation I have ever experienced. Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at the New York University School of Law, spoke about his book called Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights and his experiences as a man who is gay and Asian American. I was drawn deeply into his insights on “covering” –the ways in which we all feel pressured in some way to cover our true selves. Yoshino called for a common cause around a civil rights standard for authenticity and a renewed dedication to human rights.

When the time came for questions, I raced up to the microphone with a very pressing one. I asked Yoshino if he believed that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 was still a living and valid document. I have consistently used that document in my teaching, and had begun to wonder of late if it was considered outdated by legal scholars. To my happy relief, Yoshino affirmed that in his opinion it was still a strong and useful document. Since then, I have integrated it even more into my teaching and writing. Many young students today are not familiar with it. They don’t know that one of their human rights is to learn about human rights!

Article I says it all: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. As Yoshino argued so brilliantly in his presentation, we have the right to seek authenticity and truth in our lives. We have the right to be ourselves. For many Americans, that right has come only after immense struggle. It is the enduring spirit of freedom that inspired their courage on the road to equal recognition, equal protection, and equal respect.

I grew up at a time when adults barely whispered about homosexuality – it was still considered a form of mental illness. Any references to same sex relationships ranged from disparagement to repulsion. So, I personally would like to thank all the people who have worked so hard for so many years to retain the authenticity of their sexual orientation and whose struggle has given our society new words, new understandings, and new hope that civil rights will not be betrayed by our laws and courts.  Your spirit of freedom has awakened the hearts and minds of many!

I realize that same sex marriage is still a volatile and controversial issue.  However, civil rights for many other groups continue to be contested ground as well.  As Robert Shetterly wrote in his wonderful book Americans Who Tell the Truth, “Just as there will always be people who struggle for justice, there will always be those who try to take it away. Dissent is the necessary part of this equation.”

My hope is that we as a nation will continue to engage in the struggles necessary to protect the rights of all people.  And let’s step up our interest in addressing human wrongs like greed, discrimination, dishonesty, incivility, hypocrisy, and a selfish and consuming focus on personal acquisition. There is a lot of good to be done out there. Let’s do it!

PLEASE NOTE BOOK INFORMATION:

Shetterly, R. (2005). Americans Who Tell the Truth. New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books.

Yoshino, K. (2006). Covering: The Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights. New York, NY: Random House.

SUMMER LIGHTS!

June 23, 2013 Comments Off on SUMMER LIGHTS! General

SUMMER LIGHTS!

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Summer is here!  We are surrounded by more light from early morning into the evening hours.  Whether we are vacationing or driving or walking to work, the brightness of summer holds something special for all of us. From the city to the country —  brighter, lighter spaces open up. Brilliantly colored flowers in pots or window boxes or gardens call out to us, telling us to slow down and appreciate this time of light and warmth.

The lightness of clothing is also wonderful. I think about the winter, when I prepare to go out into the frosty cold early mornings to  racewalk.  It takes so long to put on the huge pile of clothing I set out the night before – tights, layers of shirts, a jacket, warm socks, mittens, a hat, and a reflector vest to warn the cars that I am on the dark, quiet streets.  It seems almost unbelievable on those snowy winter mornings that, within a few months, I’ll need just seconds to don shorts and a T shirt and head outside into the early morning light.

I always greet the return of summer with delight.  Wherever you are in time and place and experience,  I hope the lights of summer brighten your life! Enjoy!

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

 

HONOR THE MAN WHO HONORS THE CHILD!

June 16, 2013 Comments Off on HONOR THE MAN WHO HONORS THE CHILD! General

HONOR THE MAN WHO HONORS THE CHILD!

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For many years, my university required all students to take a synthesis course before graduation. This course was designed to provide the opportunity for critical thinking about important social problems and students were encouraged to take the synthesis course in a department outside of their majors. My department offered a synthesis course called Childhood in America. When I taught it, I usually had male students in equal or greater number than females. This is uncommon in teacher education courses, where females tend to greatly outnumber males. Many of the men in my course came from majors such as criminology, communications media, and business.  To be honest, a lot of the students in the course didn’t really select it – it was one that was still open and fit their senior year academic schedules.

Still, I was grateful for the opportunity to try to reach students who otherwise would have graduated from college without ever taking a course on important issues related to children.  It wasn’t always easy; some of my male students in particular were initially hard to win over. I remember one semester, when I had a few male business majors in my class. They were nice and good students, but at the beginning of the course they didn’t make a secret of the fact they thought the topic of childhood was – well – irrelevant or maybe even a little silly.

This changed when they completed the required 5 hours of volunteer work with children. As they later reported it, they went to a child care center where they were greeted with tremendous enthusiasm by some of the little boys in the group.  They were surprised and saddened when some of the boys cried, and one or two grabbed their pants legs and tried to hold on to them, as they left.  These seemed to be little boys who did not have men in their lives and longed for male company. My students’ experiences led to a very productive class discussion of the role of men in the lives of boys and girls, and the critical contribution of men who honored their responsibility to children.

Toward the end of the course, I always tried hard to leave my female and male students with some thoughts about the importance of responsibility to children in our society.  I would tell them the story of an afternoon in my later childhood when I went to a local orphanage with my father. I can’t remember my exact age, or why we were there, but there was something my father wanted to deliver to an administrator. As he spoke with the administrator, children in residence were milling around the room. A little girl ran over to my father, placed her hand in his, and said, “Daddy? Daddy?” The administrator explained that this happened whenever a man entered the orphanage – this child was in constant search of her father. My father felt very bad about her and talked to me about the sadness of children who lived without families as we drove home.

I’ve heard similar stories many times since, from teachers and social workers and graduate students. There are children in schools, in programs, in foster care, and in institutions who are in a state of eternal longing for the return of a parent or parents. In many cases, their hopes are dashed again and again. Strangers may come and go – but they are not their parents and they will not be taking them home. These children may continue the wait throughout their lives.

In my course, after telling the story about my father, I would focus more on the men for a few minutes, asking them to think about their responsibilities to women and to children. I would tell them that one of the greatest impacts they could have in life would be to become role models who treated women and sexuality with great respect, and honored any child they created with a lifetime of love and care. Would they ever want to irresponsibly father a child who, abandoned, might spend a childhood or even a whole life fatherless – longing for them, pretending that one day they will come – and waiting forever without their dream coming true?

These is a sad thought on Father’s Day, but what I describe is a reality for many, many children.  So this weekend is a really good time to honor all the men who have honored their responsibility to children! They are fathers and partners and uncles and friends and neighbors and relatives and grandfathers – they are teachers and social workers and nurses and doctors and legal advocates—they are all the men everywhere whose commitment to and compassion for children is exemplary.  The depth and value of what these men contribute to the lives of children is priceless and beyond measure.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

 

 

 

 

 

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO WRITE?

June 9, 2013 Comments Off on WHY IS IT SO HARD TO WRITE? General

 

Books

Now that my busy spring semester is over, I have the freedom to work daily on my new book STANDING UP FOR SOMETHING EVERY DAY.  It is so wonderful to have an opportunity to concentrate once again on topics that have fascinated me throughout my career – child advocacy, social justice, ethics, and respect for diversity. Writing about these topics, for me, is always a labor of love. So, why is it still so hard to write?

I once described academic writing as doing brain surgery on myself without anesthesia. Initially, I feel confident that I really know my topic – I know what I want to say and why I want to say it. Once I actually start writing in earnest, however, absolutely nothing comes easily. I start to call everything I am sure I know into question. No matter how many times I have written or taught about the topic – I now have to relearn it in the light of new creation. I begin to change my thinking about many aspects of the topic, which means that many of the ideas in initial drafts must be revised with new perspectives in mind. The process becomes totally absorbing – it is ever present in my conscious thought. Each morning I review the last day’s work, and see ways in which my writing must be clarified and strengthened. Then I begin to write anew – steadily but slowly. I need to walk out into my garden at regular intervals to rest my mind – to allow myself some pleasant distraction from intense concentration.

It occurred to me today that I have a “dating” stage and then a “marriage” stage with my writing.  The “dating” stage is when I get the initial idea, get excited about it, do some conference presentations on it, and propose it to a publisher. It is definitely a period of hope and romance – a time to fall in love with a project and believe that the work will make a difference to others. My “marriage” begins the minute I actually start writing what will be published. The relationship between me and the book remains strong, but the complexities of absolute commitment emerge. Everything seems to take longer because the seriousness of the endeavor is now absolutely clear. Writing is a big responsibility – to ourselves, to our publishers, and to our readers.

Still, my love for writing is stronger than ever. The important ideas will always be greater than we are – but the opportunity to consider and describe them to others is a precious, enduring opportunity.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

AS CHILDREN SAY GOODBYE

June 2, 2013 Comments Off on AS CHILDREN SAY GOODBYE General

AS CHILDREN SAY GOOD-BYE

It is time for the end of the school year and thus for children to say good-bye to the caring and safe environment of their schools.  For some children, this summer will be a time of great adventure – family travel, summer programs, swimming pools, and visits to friends and relatives. But for others, leaving school might mean something very different. Families need a lot of economic resources to build safe and productive summers for their children. For our children of poverty, or our children whose families are currently experiencing the illness of a parent or sibling, or experiencing numerous other personal and family challenges — this summer might mean a lot of time alone at home or on the street. They will miss their schools and their teachers and the emotional and physical safety net that might dissolve for a few months.

When children leave the schools, we have the opportunity to think of all the wonderful things that school offers them. All of them, we hope, have had the opportunity to learn and grow and develop into better students and better future citizens. But schools also offer children many other important things – safety, nutrition, comfort, encouragement, and the warmth of caring professional adults. When they walk out the door this June, they walk into the increasingly disparate resources of families in our nation.

The political and educational leaders of this nation should realize that schools are far more than places where children serve as political pawns who spend their days rehearsing for standardized tests. Schools are places where the fine adults of our nation who have devoted their lives to teaching do their daily work; they are places where children whose lives are challenged beyond the knowledge or belief of the affluent and powerful of our nation find security and solace. Schools are places where relationships are formed and where children are helped, protected, and encouraged. They are also places where teachers have the courage to teach all day, knowing that some of the children in their classrooms are returning to circumstances that are troubling.

I am very fortunate as a professor of education, because I have the opportunity to work with my students during their field experiences. When I visit classrooms, teachers often share the worries they have about some of the children in their classrooms. Recently, for example, I quickly noticed that a little child in one classroom appeared to have some significant emotional challenges. His teacher spoke with me sadly about several significant problems in this child’s life circumstances. She said that, when she first started to teach, she used to cry all the time about such children. Over the years, however, she has come to believe that she must do the very best that she can in her classroom and then just hope that the children will ultimately be OK. At the end of our conversation, though, she confessed that she still had trouble sleeping at times because she was so worried about some of the children.

This teacher is not alone. Many teachers have spoken of such worries in my graduate classes or when I visit their schools. A former graduate student of mine once gave me a copy of a drawing and a little essay that a first grade child in her school had completed in class. The drawing and words beneath it depicted an unthinkable act of cruelty the child had experienced at home the night before. I cannot even speak of it, but I do keep it hanging on the bulletin board in my office. I want it to remind me of my responsibility to do everything I can as an educator to make lives better for children.

I would like to ask everyone in the United States, especially our leaders, to stop and think this June about all our children leaving school for the summer. If you could talk to them, many would tell you that they will long for their schools and teachers until they return. The reasons for this are complex on a social, economic, and political level –assigning blame to challenged families and communities is not my purpose. But respect and high regard for our teachers is long overdue! Ask the children! Many of them are leaving their greatest allies for the summer and they cannot wait until they return to their loving teachers and the safety of their schools. Maybe, by next fall, with some reflection, we might become more of a nation that respects the human relationships in schools and reveres those who dedicate their lives to children!

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children