Rather than a day off, good friday is a reminder of courageous conversations…and their limits

The courage of my friends’ convictions inspires me to write zealously, unafraid of the inevitability that I will be wrong, shortsighted, or dismissed or despised.  Today I enjoyed some conversations (necessary indulgences of friendship, continued delay of work) with friends I cherish who reminded me that most of the things worth saying, I cannot be sure about enough to assume are unassailable, but need to be said enough that I can’t shirk from the risk that comes with loving, hard truth.

I don’t post here on this WordPress site as often as I intended to.  This is because the internet can be a brutal place.  But so are the publics that Jesus, Socrates, Moses, Martin, Dorothy, Fannie Lou spoke to, fearlessly, to much realer brutality, with much higher stakes.  I want to make writing here a regular discipline of exposure, indeed of vulnerability.  Making peace with being seen as wrong or misguided as I am, being short of words or too tired to articulate carefully enough, making peace with absorbing opposition and trying to reply with grace.

Those particular friends today talked about walking the tightrope between academia and teaching as a profession, or contending as a confessing follower of Christ.  Inhabiting multiple spaces with integrity often requires contortions of language, of the symbols we project and the identifications we clothe ourselves in, a hard labor of multivocality.  That’s difficult for me.  Can I speak “Jesus” without being painted with the broad brush of  “right-wing nut,” or write about the moral tarnish of economic inequality without being marked as a marxist?  Can I admit to hopeful admiration of the hard work of teachers without being written off as a compromised cog in the machinery of social reproduction, or talk about “discourse” or “racialization” without being condemned to ivory tower irrelevancy?

Such fears cannot hold back honest engagement, because often, to love is not to hide.  So I confess my timidity this good friday, and I take from my Lord the example of public disgrace, of public foolishness, for the hope of joyful forgiveness set before me, for the chance to find spaces of reconciliation.

This good friday is not a day off for me.  It’s a day to remember that courageous conversations about our thirsty souls and our bankrupt systems need to be engaged in.  But good friday is also a reminder that, though we might speak up in the hopes of dialogue, we should often expect debate, or even still, dismissal, disgust, disgrace… death.  Silent sheep before shearers.  Good friday is a reminder that such eventualities do not remove the burden to speak, nor permit us to do so without love in our hearts and others before ourselves.  Because courageous conversations begin needed dialogues, but redemption requires pain and sacrifice, wounds of love.



The SCALLAHS Project: Immigrant Youth, Civic Action, Language, Literacy, and Argumentation

The research project I intend to be engaged in over the next two years involves the study of adolescent immigrant and “English Language Learner” students and how their civic participation influences their academic language learning, and vice versa. I want to know how immigrant youth involved in critical civic and political action find new meanings, purposes, and contexts for acquiring, using, and appropriating academic English, for example in the course of reading real-world texts that bear on the conditions of their communities and families, or in composing argument texts with real-world audiences where they have a chance to educate, inform, persuade, and mobilize others. Underlying this is my sense that students in our schools need a counter-narrative to learning for individual success or “getting a job,” but are hungry for spaces for their emerging political consciousness, hungry for meaningful social action, hungry for a community of purpose to surround them. In that context, learning to read texts and compose speech and complex, sophisticated communication rises in importance, but for other reasons than the standard, neoliberal ideology-driven ones often promulgated in schools.

SCALLAHS stands for Student Civic Action, Language, Literacy, and Argumentation in Hayward Schools. The idea is to make the classroom–and by extension, the schools–a place for interacting with the community on issues of concern within the community, learning to read the world and write the world, learning and communicating with local leaders and constituents in the course of becoming politically active, and engaging in literate activity that’s also empowering and makes a difference. I hope to enroll a few teachers to pilot with me, initiating a unit (or units) in their classes with English Language Learners. I hope to show that projects with these priorities can lead to the gains that test-focused educators are looking for, but more importantly, that students come to develop in their academic achievement in a way not subtractive to their cultural and community commitments, but in ways that are additive and agentive: they gain access to codes, to cultures of power, that they can use in the course of affirming their own voices and the concerns and causes of their own families and communities, ones often marginalized in schools and in the public space. It’s intended to be a social justice pedagogy, building on the work of teachers, activists, and researchers who have initiated youth action research as critical pedagogy, but with special consciousness of the linguistic and discursive aspects of such engagements.

More details on this project to come.