We All Have Prejudices, We just Don’t Admit or Know It!

Recently during my son’s Tae-Kwon-Do class, I had a conversation with the other Tae-Kwon mom. Only my son and his kid showed up for class. As is usually the case on Friday, most kids/parents take off the day. I loved Friday Tae-Kwon-Do classes because we get full monopoly of the teacher, when only a few of us show up! My son gets to sharpen up more on our skills. Hopefully, I too, can start Tae-Kwon-Do classes next year, Ensh’allah!
N’way, the Tae-Kwon-Do mom has a three-month old brand new baby. Gorgeous! Of course, we wandered into “baby talk”; what else is expected of mommies smitten with new babies! She told me, baby does not latch on the boobie, so she expresses most of the time and put her on the bottle, while still trying to get her some “boobie time”.
Which reminded me of the “New Moms Classes” I attended at the hospital where I had my baby. All we did was hangout in a room with other new mommies, and exchange “joys and nightmares” our new little humans were bringing unto us. It was a great way to get out of the house, expand your social network, while getting useful tips on parenting, child care and new baby deals. Sometimes, we invited each other out to potlucks in our homes or for a group stroll in the park with our babies.
Personally, I got much more than dinner and a stroll in the park. It was my first face to face with babies who could not latch onto boobies, and mothers who honestly need help with breastfeeding their babies. I must admit, hitherto, I had my prejudices toward women who said they had trouble breastfeeding their new ones. I assumed those were “white people problems” or “lazy mothers excuses” or mothers trying to find excuses not to breastfeed their babies. True, I had heard some expectant mothers in my prenatal classes say that they were not planning to breastfeed because they did not want their breasts to sag. Or that their breasts were for their men!
Don’t we all have prejudices, anyway? Many we hate to admit or are not aware of, as my case illustrates! Think about Charlie Hebdo Cartoons, Race in America, Abilities, Disabilities and Satire, which are all heated debates within the global public.
Back to breastfeeding, that was never a concern I personally encountered growing up or as a new mother. I was breastfed, and all of my siblings. Growing up as the youngest girl in my family, all my sisters [except one] had children before me. All breastfeed their children, except my eldest sister, who barely breastfed her first child, as she had to return to college to sit her examinations. I do not recall any any of my sisters complaining about “difficulty breastfeeding” or “baby latching on”, including my sister who had her first child at fifteen. It all appeared simple and natural! When my turn came around as a new mother, at no point did I experience difficult, pain nor baby failing to latch on. In fact my child latched on soon as he was handed to me to breastfeed in the delivery room. He never at anyone time failed to find that boobie, in darkness or sunlight, sleepy or awake, tired or relaxed! He was an “A+ trooper” at breastfeeding!
But not all my new mom friends had the same fortune with their little ones. Some had nipple issues, others complained about babies bitting them or disinterested. My Tae-Kwon-Do mom friend said her daughter latched on early postpartum, subsequently sliding off and showing disinterest in the breast. Not a fan of substituting with formula, she is expressing her milk and bottle-feeding, while continuing to keep her interested in “boobie time”. Bless her heart!
Similarly, if you grow up around people who look like you, it could be hard not to take life for granted. If every child in you know of found the breast even in the dark and breasted till s/he weaned self off, learned to sit, crawl, walk and talk and hit all other development milestones on time, walked on two legs, had no stutter, eat, played and slept just fine, that is your truth. It is easy to take those abilities for granted, without recognizing, as I increasingly learn, that many kids are born with autism, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell Anaemia, epilepsy, and many other developmental delays. If these kids are raised outside “mainstream society”, denied a chance into formal schooling, or segregated into own classrooms, it is easy not to acknowledge their existence or special needs. Though, my experience working in Special Needs classrooms has opened me to the advantages of providing “specialized spaces”, where they can freely express themselves without the encumbrances imposed by ‘normal’ societal expectations, demands and humiliation!
And, bless the hearts of those who do not see race as a problem in America! While there are outright racists, some are simply blind to their racist actions, reactions, thoughts or tendencies, until it hits close to heart. Recent wave of police killing of unarmed black men have further highlighted the divide in understanding and acknowledging racism in America. There is a section of folks who argue that such incidences would not have happened, if #MichaelBrown did not rob a convenience store or confront the police, #EricGarner was not illegally selling cigarettes on the streets or that 12-year old TamirRice was not wielding a toy gun in a public park.
Yet, Eric Garner was not resisting arrest when the NYPD chocked him to death on July 17, 2014 on Staten Island. Let’s talk about 17-year old ’skitties-weilding’ #TrayvonMartin, shot and killed by Michael Zimmerman or #JordanDavis killed by Michael Dunn over loud rap music, both killers self-appointed vigilantes exercising their Florida state-given right to #standyourground.
Haven’t we heard white folks bearing arms openly, then arguing with the police, walk away without being hit to the grown, detained or shot at? While, #MarcusJeter did not resist arrest, when New Jersey cops swerved into his SUV, causing him to hit his head on the steering wheel, assaulted him physically and verbally, lied about him trying to steal their gun, then turned around to charge him with eluding police, resisting arrest and aggravated assault on an officer.  No!
 
So, No! #Blacklivesdontmatter! Nor does Satire speak one universal language! Manufacturing concern about the wellbeing of the most vulnerable, marginalized and underrepresented in our society, from everybody will always be an uphill battle and insurmountable, because we as a people will never be offended by the same thing at the same time. Hate speech is as relative as freedom of expression or freedom of speech. Not everyone is or will ever be CharlieHebdo or AmedyCoulibaly at the same time. In fact, some will never be either, because both feet are not in the same place at the same time. So, whereas the Swedes interviewed on the streets for their reaction to Charlie Hebdo cartoons may excuse the caricature of other people’s eminent personalities as part of life’s opportunities to laugh off, I suspect they may not LOL [Laugh Out Loud] when the subject of caricature is their mother, father, other loved one of themselves.
Perhaps if we acknowledged our prejudices, recognized that we do not know it all, and opened ourselves to learn, reflect and internalize beyond our comfort zone, the world might start to become a better place.
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Does Anybody Really Care about Teacher’s Welfare…?

Taking on Teacher TenureThe other day I read an article entitled “Taking on Teacher Tenure” by Haley Sweetland Edwards in the Time, November 3, 2014. The gist of the article was Vergara v. California, the court ruling that struck down decades-old California laws that had guaranteed California teachers permanent tenure and other job-related protections. Plaintiffs in the case argued that students stuck in classrooms with poorly performing teachers are denied the “right to a basic quality of educational opportunity”. Since most students cited to be attending bad schools and bad classrooms were Latino and Blacks, the case took a civil rights twist, arguing that those students were denied equal protection before the law.
The plaintiff, under the umbrella of Students Matter had the strong backing of David Welch, a 53-year old Silicon valley businessman and engineer, according to the Time article. Given the obsession with numbers in the Silicon valley, the complaint included a tabulation of  income loss to students in classrooms with poor performing teachers. For instance, that bad teachers undermine lifetime earnings of their students by$250,000 per classroom. Basically, tenure equals bad teachers; bad teachers create bad students; bad students get poor future earnings. The trial court judge agreed with the plaintiff!
Bye bye bad teachers in California! All schools will now have good teachers, producing excellent performing students, and future big money-makers, right? I find the argument simplistic, and Huckin Filarious! It perpetuates the convenient blame-game which posits that students successes or failures in-school and after-school depends primarily on their teachers. Teachers should be the ‘fix-all magicians’ for their students’ in-class learning and post-classroom performance. Teachers should excel at teaching, educating, babysitting, disciplining, guaranteeing safety, security and sound health in the classroom, and imparting exemporary leadership and management skills to their children. The responsibility of creating a ‘successful student’  is hardly proportionately distributed among all parties involved in the students academics -parents or guardians, school administration, the state and federal government and the students themselves.
In this case, as well as existing policy and public condemnation of teachers, the assumption is that those students performing poorly are all receiving poor quality of education from their teachers. Not that they might be bad students, per se because they are not interest, engaged or capable of participating fully in their classroom experiences and excellent learning. Where is the evidence that all students who go through excellent teachers and schools excel in their academics, and/or have highly rewarding post-graduation careers? Shouldn’t all students from the nations top performing schools and colleges, that tend to attract higher performing teachers have six-figure plus earnings post-graduation?

Time, November 3, 2014

Time, November 3, 2014

Undoubtedly, within the same classrooms of bad teachers are students who excellent in their academics and earn high incomes post-graduation. Others excel in their classrooms but do not necessarily enjoy high earnings post-graduations, while others who do not excel in academics may earn highly post-graduation.
Not the same vigor goes into inquiring how “on-the-job wellbeing” affects teachers’ attitude toward teaching, and creating an excellent learning environment for their students. If, as Vertaga v California argues that, good teachers produce excellent student performance with higher financial earnings in the future, shouldn’t it follow that improving teachers’ welfare would enhance their performance and their students classroom experience?
Evidence suggests that the world’s best schools in Finland, Singapore and South Korea seek out teachers from the top third of each graduating class, unlike in the U.S. where close to half of teachers come from the bottom third of the graduating classes (Editor’s Desk, Time, November 3, 2014, 2). An investment in teachers would mean an investment in a good classroom experience and a well-trained student. This requires an teaching environment where teachers are valued, and their needs and welfare respected as much as those of their students. Teacher training is just the first step to ‘moulding’ a good teacher, that should be coupled with classroom support with teaching aides, technologies, school counselors, support staff, other school departments and out of school family support for the students learning.
Time, November 3, 2014

Time, November 3, 2014

Instead, what the Vertaga ruling does is to escalates job insecurity within the teaching profession, already undermined by poor remuneration, budget cuts and politicking. Partly why tenure was introduced, to protect teachers from politicking and short-sightedness about the teaching responsibilities from outside interest groups.
Even without taking away tenure, teachers are already stretched working under unfavorable conditions that have them question whether to stay in the teaching profession and for how long! In our school districts, public school teachers are no longer assured of salaries during the summer when they are not actively teaching in the classroom, even though they are technically active developing creative teaching aides for the next school year. Never mind that they did not request for or have any input in the three-month long institutionalized vacation on the school calendar by national school planners. The intentions are laudable, to give teachers and students a much deserved break from school activities, enabling full rejuvenation by the next academic year. Instead of resting in the summer,  teachers are busy scrounging around for a decent living, taking on seasonal short-term employment as bagging groceries at departmental stores.
Blaming teachers for students’ future earnings is in my opinion insane and mind boggling! How many PhDs, which is the highest display of academic intellect and attainment earn incomes equivalent to what they put into their education? Instead of escalating job insecurity, and chasing away those who entered the teaching profession as their passion and first choice, why not invest in strategies to improve teachers classroom performance and build their confidence in the classroom? Why attack the entire teaching profession with legal sanctions, because of a section of poorly performing teachers?
Realistically, teachers, especially in public schools are among [if not] the most hardworking public workers and a key asset to national development, yet lowly remunerated and under-appreciated. Policy makers, legislators passing legislation, litigators and judges making all sorts of pronouncements against the teaching profession are comfortably seated on their ‘high horses’ of big paychecks and big perks, while throwing teachers further under the bus. It is an easy and fancy privilege to judge a teacher’s performance in the classroom, if you have never been in front of a public classroom. It is also disingenuous to pretend that all students ‘churned’ out of classrooms with excellent performing teachers go on to earn great incomes and perform excellent in the post-graduation employment.
I support every effort to improve the teaching and learning experience proportionately across all public schools irrespective of zip code, but not at the expense of teacher’s job security and protection. Work with those teachers not performing great, rather than a uniform onslaught on the entire profession. Teaching in public school requires the academic credentials at least a Bachelor’s degree for a teaching position, and continued enhancement and refresher courses. More importantly, the learning about teaching comes from the classroom experience, helping to further equip a teacher with creativity, adaptability, thoughtful planning and resourcefulness — much of which is learned from cumulative classroom experience.

Time, November 3, 3014

Time, November 3, 3014

What do you mean the gunmen @CharlieHebdo Are Not Muslims?

Whenever a vengeful attack by a group identified as Muslims occurs, the world very quickly reverberates into “Good Muslim v Bad Muslim” echoes; thanks to Dubya Dictionary! Who would have known that a man caricatured as ‘having no brain’ during his presidency, would enrich our international lingua!  Talk about satire, right?
Once again, following the recent murders at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, we find ourselves profiling those gunmen as bad muslims, terrible, evil, savages, inhuman, terrorists, who hate freedom, and against all the ‘good civilizing western values’. Plenty of columns have been written, arguments advanced, interviews conducted, airtime dedicated on TV, radio, internet, social media, and every news source to interrogate how people can be so evil as to carryout senseless murders!
I am one of those who have visibly extended my allegiance to #JeSuisCharlie, not because I buy into the ‘Good Muslim v Bad Muslim rhetoric, but for what I felt as disproportionate reaction to hurtful, hateful and degrading speech of the pen and ink. I condemn any form of shooting, murder or violent attack on a person, a people or a community. I wondered why, if the gunmen were terribly insulted by the Charlie Hebdo satire, they did not hit back with own satire! On second thought, a part of me realizes that a pen with print-ink can be as hateful as a sword with bullets. Violence begets violence! I recognize as well, that it is easy to apportion blame and responsibility, when it is not you that the world is repeatedly humiliating, making a caricature of, profiling or psycho-analyzing as evil and violent.
Charlie Hebdo Satire about Islam and the Prophet

Charlie Hebdo Satire about Islam and the Prophet

I am uncomfortable that, once again, in the world habitually bombarded with a smear campaign depicting Islam as a terrorist religion, we are forced to defend the validity or folly of such generalization. Even more troubling is the fact that believers in Islam, Muslims and followers of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.A.W.S), by their own responses, reactions or actions, have not done a great job defending their faith or fellow believers. Unintentionally, they are aiding the smear campaign against their faith and believers, by self-assigning themselves into the “Good and Bad Muslim” camps. Whereas the #CharlieHebdokillers seemingly validated the claim that muslims are ‘inherently violent’, other muslims who did not agree with the actions of the gunmen are claiming “those are not muslims, do not represent islam nor rightly practice the Islamic religion.”
I wonder who is to say that one is not a muslim or practicing ‘the real’ Islam? Unless one has founded a religion, who has a right to decide that one is more muslim than the other?. You either have to be Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ or Kibwetere in southwestern Uganda to exclude another believer from Islam, Christianity or cult worship respectively.
To claim that one is not a muslim because they do not practice religion the way you do, is to pretend that there is uniformity of understanding or in the practice of the faith, and to undermine its diversity of traditions and interpretations. Recall that Islam has many classifications, -Shia, Sunni, Sufism, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, and many more, with different beliefs, believers, traditions and practices. Nor can Christianity claim uniformity, given its multiplicity of followers -Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, Latter Day Saints, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers and plenty more!
Why then, should some muslims disown as ‘good believers’, those who in their reading, interpretation and dedication to the religion, seek to avenge what they see as onslaught on that which they hold dear to their livelihood, belonging and community? We may not like or think like others, but we cannot decide who has a claim to social beliefs and belonging. Like Black folks, ’good’ muslims are now buying into the dominant social pressure, distancing themselves from those within their faith, whose actions seemingly do not augur well with the public image they wish to portray of themselves and their religion. Choosing not to [publicly] interrogate this troubling and disproportionate profiling, politicized assault and humiliation of the muslim faith by some muslims and non-muslims.
Going back to “Dubya” once again, his presidency was marred by various scandals at home and abroad, when the “War on terror” turned into the “War of Terror”, with fabricated allegations about WMD in Saddam’s Iraq, assault on civil liberties and freedoms and wire tapping. While many Americans opposed Dubya’s presidency, felt humiliated at home and abroad, distanced themselves from the actions of his government, some moved or threatened to move to Canada, none questioned whether Dubya was an American or suggested he was not an American.
So, why then, should muslims dismiss the “Muslim-ness” of fellow believers they do not agree with? Why do we easily dismiss those we do not agree with as bad, savages or non-believers? Portraying ourselves as against any form of hate, violence and brutality, when among us are people who joyful celebrated the brutal murder of Osama Bin Laden and vengeful humiliation of Saddam and Gaddafi, and endorsed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We look away when drones strike entire villages in Pakistan, but scream at beheading of western nationals because acts of violence are more gruesome and inhumane when carried out by those ‘bad muslims”! Ultimately, the folks who died at #CharlieHebdo love and believe in freedom of expression as much as those who reacted to the misrepresentation and inappropriate satirization of their beliefs. The violent choice of reaction by the gunmen do not make them less or more muslim than Muslims who react with a pen, street protests or passive objection.

I Never Signed Up to do “Men’s Work….but…

Perhaps, those who know me maybe surprised that I am making genderized statements. After all, I am that kind of girl often pigeon-holed as a Feminist. You know, feminism does not come with collar popping praises, similar to capitalism. It is too loaded, too abhorred by plenty, as much as it is celebrated and revered by others. To some, it is the “Coming of Age of a Woman as a [Public] Person”. To others, It is the end of Womanhood, as we love, know and expect of a good and worthy woman. I personally chose to stand aside and let the battles rage on.
I am a very proud woman; it is my third or fourth identity after: 1) Human; 2) Muganda; 2) Black; 4) PanAfrican; oops it is 5) Woman, in order of my identity. No one can ever take away from me the fact that I am born human; the rest I have annexed as I come of age into this world. It is possible that Black comes before Muganda, though my unequivocal allegiance to Ssabasajja Kabaka – King of Buganda supersedes my cling onto blackness. Biko grandpa got this
Then, if my “woman” identity is so far off, why I am making genderized statements that I Never Signed Up to Do Men’s Work..?
As I repeatedly say, to be human is to be contradictory. I hate to be pigeoned-holed into any form of identity, thought process, time period or affiliation. My thought process, my understanding of life, my allegiances, my desires and my commitments are as transient as my geographical belonging.
There was a time I thought it matter greatly that, My Mechanic is a Woman. Not anymore! I want my mechanic to be as knowledgeable, courteous, consistent and cost-effective, as possible. I do not know so much about cars, otherwise I would be fixing them like I do with parenting. Whereas I detest social constructionism, and repudiate structuralism, many a times, I cling on to certain structures with nostalgia.
I reminisce about the days when men and women lived their social lives in their equal right, without necessarily having to compete with each other for recognition. Men enjoyed things men do [hanging out, playing soccer, flexing muscles, and women did the same [chatting, laughing hysterically, and cooking meals], stories I learned through experience, passed on to me as tales from my mother or my social circles, or have read about.
As a woman, my grandmother, who did not go to school, commanded the house to order. My grandmother guaranteed that food was planted and grown on family land by family labor – boys or girls, gardens weeded, four Sonic 13 on all six lanesood harvested and cooked for the family to eat. She ensured that every member of her household actively engaged in household chores, kept them grounded with respectful behavior for elders, adults and the neighborhood, and supportive of one another. She was The Boss Lady in the household, who never shied away from sparing the rod..and… No! She did not climb trees to harvest the mangoes, or ladders to construct the houses and barns and kitchens. She did not fix broken bicycles or pans, or build cars with children. She was a good Muganda woman, with the necessary mechanics for sharpening a blunt knife.
My grandfather took on his role as the overall in-charge of the household, especially the financial provider for the family. He went out to work for financial compensation, paid his monthly tax burden, school tuition for over fifteen children and bought the meat, sugar, bread, whenever he could afford. He also bought the land on which his family house resides to date. Prior to his death, he demarcated a plot of land equally to each of his children regardless of their sex – girls or boys.
I can say the same about my father, who took to [not heart but] muscle being The Head of the Household. While not without his faults and shortcomings, my father ensured that school tuition fees were paid, land purchased to farm family food and build family houses, and builders paid. He bought food home, especially his favorite fish and meat, and clothed the family and toiled himself into retirement.
My mother contributed greatly to holding the family together and supported my father’s financial pursuits. She provided a clean and reliable supply of my father’s wardrobe, wore the pants and dresses whenever my father was away from home or traveled for work, supervised builders on site and ensured abundant supply of water and other building material, planted food, managed the farms and gardens and brought food on the table, contributed to the children’s wardrobe, scholastic needs and upkeep, and run the general household. She was Superwoman!
Then enters moi, who came into feminism embracing its mantra as, The Radical Notion That Women Are People, a bumper sticker on a Senior Female Law Lecturer that I greatly admired as a feminist and scholarly activist. That summed up all my attraction to feminism, as a young girl. I did not want anyone restricting the length of my dress, the style of my hair, the offices I could step into, the words I could public say, the arguments I could engage in, or the causes I chose to defend. I did not want anyone defining my public lifestyle and pursuits. I wanted to climb trees, speak about human rights violations, wear my knee-high dresses or saggy jeans pants, rock dreadlocks, party hard, and drink to this and that, whenever I felt like.
But NO! I did not want to take responsibility for climbing ladders to build or paint my house, fix my bulb, repair my car, wash my car, shove snow from the driveway, build cars, carry loads of household equipment, mow the lawn or pay my bill at a restaurant on a date. That is what men do. Nor did I sign up to be my son’s playmate, especially in ‘boys games”, or build his cars. I love watching and learning vicariously through him, but do not enjoy being the center of making it happen.
Fast forward, and here I am: dressed up as a Ninja, playing flash, sonic, spiderman, supergirl and batgirl. I am the ‘adult partner” to his Cub scout meetings, building cars, building rail tracks at home and anything boys do. I do not mind climbing trees, and chasing him around the yard. Though, I do not want the entire weight fitted onto me. I want him to build cars with boys and with males. Perhaps then, we will have a winning car in the next Pinewood Derby Car Race.Team Biko Sonic 13 at the Pinewood Derby Car Race

This and That of 2014

Facebook shared its review of my year 2014, though I did not endorse it. Nothing against FB’s compilation about me. In fact, it 2014 in a Wrapcaptured plenty of blissful moments I had throughout the year, filled with celebrations, travels and social living, fitness, community engagement and giving-back.
A little flashback! We celebrated my birthday in the Spring, and my son’s birthday in the Summer; traveled to visit Atlanta family in April; visited Philly-based friends in May; and more friends in Pittsburg in November. We enjoyed the child’s extracurricular achievements: obtaining a yellow belt in Tae-Kwon-Do; a Bobcat badge in Cub Scout; his name plastered on the “Wall of Fame” in the Summer Reading Program at our local library, and multiple Certificates of Appreciation collected from reading to Therapy dogs in our library ‘Paws ’n Pages’ programs. Don’t forget ‘Trick-or-Treat’ on Halloween, first pumpkin carving before Thanksgiving, playing at the park, riding his bike, playdates with the neighbors and plenty of experimenting with baking and other cooking. this might all sound like it was “all about the child”, but I had my fun too,  keeping well and fit, rolling on the hills of Mount Pocono, and “Run[ning] and getting Dye[d]”. Plenty of “firsts” recorded, since re-sailing ashore, including settling in suburbia America for the first time. So, it was a good year!
Well then, why did I not endorse “Facebook ‘glitz n glamorous’ review of my YR2014? Perhaps because I have another version of my year, blasted in one word ‘Displacement’! I started off the year with a lot of positive vibes, umph and soccer mom power, resolving to keep it rolling positive all-year round. Too bad resolutions are not meant to last 265 days [or are they?]! The Year 2014, rolled out a tougher, more challenging and less appealing side of itself, testing me several times to keep it real resolution-like. Not know to “conform to the norm” [oops! Did I just confess that I kind of break and make the rules, sometimes 😏], I kind of reshuffled my resolution, inadvertently, and picked up a couple new preoccupations for the year 2014. Makes me wonder, if I should totally give up on resolutions….!
Because…
My emotions, my joys, my confidence, my umph, stability all got ‘jerked up’. My optimism, my security, my sense of self and hope, fell victim too! True, I had some semblance of support system ‘dans temps en temps’, and here and there, but a larger part of what I know of myself and what I have cultivated of myself became displaced. I regard myself to be a strong independent savvy and creative person. I can sell every part of myself [decently] for the greater good of family, community and self. I give and trust openly, and fight for what it right, just, fair and worthy. As a young college Sophomore, I was already visiting supermax prisons facilities, interviewing inmates deemed the most dangerous persons, petitioning government criminal justice institutions for human rights violations, and mobilizing legal aid and human right entities to provide pro bono legal representation for indigents. All that, pursued and accomplished without much of a clout of contact cards or diploma papers, but the zeal and thirst to just do it! See what I am saying: Been there, done that! I am tougher than deer meat!
Yet, 2014 flustered me into many moments of self-doubt and self-criticisms, causing me to cow into myself! Though, when you have an extra mouth to feed, you do not have the luxury to dissolve completely. You cannot let go, no matter what you do. Instead, you listen to Aaliyah…“Dust Yourself Off and Try Again…” You need to succeed, and you need to chase success hard and faster than the wind, with all the aggression and persistence, because there are plenty more chasing before and after you.
How have I done that? Find the things that bring a smile to your face and brain, adopt them up or keep doing and reigning them. In my case, I go out running miles to stay sane mentally and emotionally. My favorite runs are in the rain, although that seems to have claimed my delicate mobile phone, causing me to ‘need’ a new one before end 2014. Whenever I go out, I wear a strong happy face because the world does not need to interface with your suffering; it is loaded with plenty of its own!  While out dropping and picking up child from the school bus stop, I spend a minute or more, chatting with the moms to share about us and catch up on ’the village gossip”. I scout for and get involved in social engagements to meet new people, projects and places. I signed up child for Tae-Kwon-Do and Cub Scout, to grow our social/community circles where we live, in the middle of everywhere! Together, we participated in Cub Scout “Go-See-It, at the environment centers, Veteran’s Day commemorations, visited a Radio station, the Volunteer Fire Department, toured the library, and the summer street fair. Plenty more of course, at different seasons throughout the year. Of course, I read, read and read, as I write, write and write. That helps put me ‘onboard’ to share my reflections and my passions.
Among my greatest passions is to aggressively defend the “Wholeness of the Human Spirit, beyond the color-line”, and our “Common Blackness in Diversity”. Toward the end of 2014, I spent a large chunk of me, highlighting the human worth, human dignity, and uniformity of Black people. Ironically, even among descendants from a black heritage, are many preoccupied with highlighting and advocating differences than sameness of Black Folks! Still, I am passionately committed to defending the peremptory norm of the “Right to Be”, “to Self-Determine”, “to Self-Define”, as a right for all, and the indisputable danger of a single story. More so, to forge, afford and guarantee a decent living for us all!
May 2015 be the year of new tears of happiness, slim body and fat bank accounts, ripe investments, hope to reality, thriving family, and smashed records! And if it maybe displacement, again, may displacement be in a comfortable open, free and and happy place of belonging and proprietorship!
Happy 2015, Y’all!

Different shades of Special Needs

“There is no one student who is similar to the other. And no one student behaves the same everyday,” so she said to me.

I cannot agree more! Picture being in any classroom of Students with Special Needs. Whatever special need you can think of: Autistic Support, Post-Hospitalization, Life Skills, Early Intervention or Multiple Disability Support. Or so you may believe! Turns out, that is not always the case.

Even when a class is categorically labelled as “Autistic Support”, the students come in “Different Shades of Special Needs”. Each with own disability, no uniformity, and with varying needs that a class teacher who has not one, but possibly eight or ten students is expected to ably manage every single day. Moreover, there is no guarantee that any one of the children will display consistent behavior and attitude on every other day, or throughout a  single day. Happy in the morning, sad by mid-morning, and erratic, violence and explosive in the afternoon. Happy one minute, crying the next, then bouts of laughter!

I, for one, had no clue what “Austin support” entailed before I ventured into a classroom of elementary autistic support students. I imagined that they are similar to students with Multiple Disabilities, till I found out about a special category called – Multiple Disability Support (MDS). Still, I wanted to experience dealing with and teaching autistic children. My fears and initial reservations were not in vain! Challenging, scary, traumatizing and soul searching, are among the many thoughts that come to my mind reflecting on my experience in two separate classrooms of K-4th grade students with autism.

No! The kids did not throw stones at their teachers, although they were capable of hurting with the same zeal as they were loving in the same instant. Like any other humans, they hurt the people they love and care for! They pinched, scratched and punched their teachers, then smiled and asked for special favors with barefaced shame. They screamed, cried and ignored authority, but expecting the teachers’ attention and kind heart to give in to their demands.

In one classroom, I experienced different shades of autistic children. One boy scratched me (and other teachers) several times with his blackened nails. Yet, he obeyed when told to sit down on the ‘calming chair’, until he was asked to stand. When he was asked to eat, or when the TV showed scenes he did not like, he yelled. He became distraught, restless and cried repeatedly when he saw school buses pulling up in the parking lot an hour before official close of school. To calm him down, we told him to put to put on his jacket and prepare to go home, or just ignored him.

Then this kid with a beautiful smile, picked up his mess whenever he was told, and agreed to sit down but after persistent reminders and supervision.  Yet, every after lunch, he became erratic, rolled himself on the floor, took off his pants and underwear, put his hand in his pants, threw books off the shelves, ripped the classroom apart, spewed out plenty of obscenity and stormed out of the classroom, running and screaming down the hallways. A minute later, he was a calm lovely boy, apologized for his nastiness, and said he wanted to see mommy! Another kid, generally calm and obedient, responded to instructions quickly, did great one-on-one class activities, and excelled in his academics. Except when he was not engaged in classwork, and every after lunch, he was unsettled.

The room teachers did a great job managing their classrooms and responding to the needs of their students, especially in comparison to:  a) my prior experience in other special needs classrooms; and b) with the insurmountable challenges they had to deal with. Only two teachers, one permanent and her Associate – for eight autistic students! Yet, they used various activities and techniques to engage their students in learning as much as possible, as a group and one-on-one at individualized level. They taught their students to work for special privileges, counseled them when they were acting up, and rewarded them for good behavior. Still, that did not deter the explosive students from going off, or the cool ones from staying calm.

I wonder if after the experiences, thus far, my expectations of transformative teaching are dwindling following my in-class observations and interaction with the teachers and students?

I know for sure that each student is different from another, and from each time of the day. For many kids, adjusting their program to half-day and returning home in the early afternoon, might be helpful for both the kids and the teachers. After all, many are restless after lunch and hard to keep interested or attentive within the same classroom environment, even when teacher substitutes rigorous academics with age-appropriate infotainment, TV programs, internet videos, iPad and hands-on learning. For some kids, their medication seems to wane down by lunchtime, making them more agitated and uncomfortable for the rest of the afternoon.

Beside the dire need for human resource enhancement for classrooms with autistic children, introducing half-day programs for some kids might be. They could return home after lunch to their parents, breaking the monotony of staying for a longtime in one physical, human and learning space. With additional human resource, the teachers would afford to split roles, and take the kids with capacity to participate in mainstream classroom special activities.

Or more exercise and stretch routines should be added into the classroom schedule, to reduce the length of disposable time. Plus, a little one-on-one massage might also do the magic. Though, it is a heavy task engaging students one-on-one, given all the work required of the teachers in a day to fill out daily paperwork on each students, plan the next day, clean up, cater to students with extra-special care needs, and prepare student for pick-up or drop-off at the end of the day. Sustaining transformative learning is a challenge without parental cooperation and participation of parents in reinforcing the skills learned and taught at school.