Category Archives: commentary

Harnessing the Power of Remembrance: Creating Space for Understanding

Last year, I was aware of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which occurs annually on November 20th, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be in my classroom on that day, because I was in my district role instead.  I was a bit resigned to the missed opportunity to acknowledge it until a few days afterward.  As I was walking down the hallway to my classroom, it occurred to me that bulletin boards still featured Remembrance Day poppies, poetry on Remembrance, reflections on peace, and commentary on “Why We Remember.”  Those conditions actually provided the ideal context to have a conversation about the Trans Day of Remembrance in my Grade 6/7 classroom.

In my classroom, I adjusted the schedule and created space to have a conversation. The conversation was initiated by prompts on the board:

What is the purpose of Remembrance?

What are examples of things (occasions or events) we choose to remember or acknowledge?

Why are these things worthy of Remembrance?

Students had a pretty good understanding of the importance of Remembrance Day and the conversation started off with replies like:

The purpose of Remembrance is:

  • To show respect for people who suffered
  • To give thanks for people who made sacrifices
  • To acknowledge the progress we’ve made
  • To celebrate achievement we’ve accomplished
  • To avoid making the same mistakes we’ve made throughout history
  • To learn about the things we benefitted from but that we didn’t experience ourselves

We then began to generate a list of things we remember or acknowledge.

The first suggestion someone made was their birthday, so we had a brief conversation about the importance of birthdays, and how we recognize and celebrate them on an annual basis.  That conversation expanded to anniversaries.  Initially, students spoke about things like their parents’ wedding anniversaries and then we moved towards annual events or remembrances that were acknowledged more universally.  We talked more about Remembrance Day and the significance of it.  We talked about the historical significance of “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.’  We reiterated the importance of the observance of a “Moment of Silence” and reflecting on the loss of lives. We talked about Orange Shirt Day / Every Child Matters and the importance of Truth and Reconciliation, which included some conversation about Residential Schools and recognizing the impact colonization had on Indigenous populations.  Students made a connection to Japanese Internment, and we had some conversation about how Japanese-Canadians were treated during that time, how important it was to acknowledge how unfair some of the practices were, and how we avoid doing the same thing to an arbitrary group of people in the future.  This included a conversation about Human Rights and laws that are intended to protect people from injustice.  We talked about the Terry Fox Run and how we acknowledge Terry’s achievements, and the contribution he’s made to Cancer Awareness and Treatment.  We elaborated on how cancer treatment has evolved and improved because of the funds raised annually.  We also acknowledged that we’ve learned things from people who passed away, who weren’t able to benefit from the lessons we’ve learned about cancer and how to combat it. We talked about Pink Shirt Day and the International Day of Pink, and how we attempt to address bullying by drawing attention to homophobia and the role it often plays in bullying.  I saw this as an ideal opportunity to ask students if they had been aware of another “Day of Remembrance” that had just passed.  No one indicated any knowledge of “The Trans Day of Remembrance” acknowledged on November 20, or that a ceremony might have been held in their community.  Consequently, someone mentioned that they thought they might have heard something about that on the news.

We had a brief conversation about the definition of transgender.  Most students were already familiar with the term and had a pretty solid understanding of it.   I asked if anyone might know why there was a Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Someone suggested it might be to acknowledge their “coming out” and another student articulated that a day of remembrance usually meant someone died.  This lead to a conversation about:

  • prejudice or discrimination towards transgender people
  • confusion and fear over what it means for people to be trans
  • clarification of the definitions of “transgender” and “cisgender” (cisgender was a relatively new, and fascinating term for students, which enhanced their understanding of the term transgender)
  • violence directed at trans people
  • suicides of trans people who lacked support or acceptance
  • responses to crimes directed at trans people (or the lack of response) – including assaults / murders

We talked about how a typical ceremony or observance might involve the reading of the names of trans people who lost their lives over the course of the year. (One student pointed out that it was similar to the “In Memorium” portion of the Oscars – I was surprised that a 6thgrader watched the Oscars).  Someone else commented that it was like when they showed series of pictures of unarmed, black men that were killed in incidents involving police and made a connection to the Black Lives Matter movement.

We wrapped up the conversation with some suggestions about creating safe spaces for others and, specifically, for people who identify as transgender or non-binary. This included concepts of being an ally, the availability of universal washrooms, providing education, empathy, and the concept of acceptance.

Overall, a powerful and productive conversation that allowed them to make connections to many important learning opportunities they’d been exposed to in classrooms, at home, and in the media, over the course of their young lives.

Some resources to provide some context for the conversation:

CBC News Article: Day of Remembrance a time to Reflect on Anti-Transgender Violence (Nov 20)

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/transgender-violence-remembrance-day-1.4409770

Information about Transgender Awareness Week (Nov 12 -19) GLAAD

https://www.glaad.org/transweek

 

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Dear Families…. Can we talk about inclusive language?

I’m hoping that the way I’ve addressed this post hasn’t caused shock and awe.  According to some of the inaccurate statements being circulated about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), you should be offended that I didn’t address you as “mom” or “dad,” or “ladies” and “gentlemen,” and you should assume it’s because the words “mom,” and “dad,” “ladies,” and “gentlemen,” “boys” and “girls,” are all banned.  You should assume that my intent is to devalue you, and eliminate your influence over your children.  Please do not be lured to such ridiculous conclusions.

In the context of SOGI conversations, using an address like “Dear Families” instead of “Dear Moms and Dads” or “Dear Parents” has become a contentious issue.  I’ve been teaching for 22 years and I started using “Dear Families” long before SOGI policy was enacted or SOGI was part of the provincial curriculum.  I prefer it to “Dear Parents / Guardians.”  I didn’t make this adjustment because policy demanded it or because someone told me I couldn’t use the words “mom,” “dad,” or “parent.”  I did this because it reflected the unique situations that students go home to on a daily basis. To suggest that all kids have a mother and a father is willfully ignorant of the daily lives of a lot of children.  Granted, at conception, the contribution of genetic material from a biological mother and from a biological father may be necessary, it is not true that all those “donors” play an active role in their children’s lives afterwards.

Some Anti-SOGI extremists are claiming that by opting for inclusive language (like “families” instead of “parents”) that educators are somehow trying to undermine the status of parents, interfere with their parental rights, and ban the words “mom” and “dad.”  There is no such ban and there is no such objective.   We recognize how important parents are as partners.  I can tell you right now that I don’t have the time to go through every book in the library and replace the words “mom,” “dad.” I’m not even sure there’s enough white-out for the task – and besides, my mom and dad taught me to respect and appreciate books.   See what I did there?  I used “mom,” and “dad” – in the same sentence no less.  I haven’t been struck by lightning, I haven’t had my credentials stripped, I haven’t been disciplined by my union.

I have no interest in eliminating or devaluing words like “mom” or “dad” from our vocabulary.  Moms and dads are amazing beings.  I am fortunate to have both my mother and father in my life.  I also happen to have their acceptance, love and support.  They’ve played valuable roles in the person I’ve become, and their identities as my parents are non-negotiable.  I have no intention of revoking “Mom” or “Dad” from either of their lists of achievements.

Recently, each of my siblings became parents for the first time. Watching my sister nurture and interact with my niece is magical.  Having a child in her life has so obviously enhanced her sense of purpose and her sense of being – as well as her ability to function under sleep deprivation conditions. Hearing her daughter first articulate the words “mum,” “mama,” or “mom” has been an affirming emotional experience. None of educators’ efforts to create inclusive, welcoming spaces for students is an attempt to erase or undermine the role of any mother.  I’d be the first to resist if anyone attempted to steal this title from my sister, from my mom, or from any other person who, under whatever circumstances, assumed the role of mother.

Similarly with my brother, his connection to his son, and the pride he takes in watching the development of this little person in his life is undeniable.  His new role has enhanced his life and has transformed his identity in a powerful way. The pride both my siblings display in becoming parents and assuming each of their roles as “Mom” or “Dad” is something that will always deserve recognition.  The terms “Mom” and “Dad” are not in danger of extinction.

For the record, becoming an uncle has been a privilege and is a new and important aspect of my identity.  Hearing these little human beings refer to me as Uncle, might just melt my heart a little – even if I’m reluctant to admit it at times.  Uncle is a title I’m more than happy to own.  There is something irresistible about having “Uncle” attached to your name, regardless of how they butcher the pronunciation of the title or of my name.  Uncle is another word that is not in danger of being extinguished.  Interestingly enough, if a notice came home from either my niece or nephew’s schools, inviting “families” to come to a performance or open house, I’d feel like I could attend.  If the notice was addressed to “Moms” and “Dads,” I would feel like I wasn’t welcome, and that their grandparents were excluded from engaging with their grandchildren at a school event.  What kid’s life isn’t enriched by the presence of a whole bunch of people who love and support them, and show up for them?

When I address the collective of a class, I try to be inclusive of all the incarnations of family that may exist (i.e. “Share your brainstorm with your family,” “Are there any adults at home that might be able to volunteer for our fieldtrip?”).  When I speak to an individual child, I use the terms that are appropriate for their specific context (i.e. “Did you show your notice to your mom?”  “Are your grandparents coming to pick you up?”  “Do your dads know about the early dismissal on Friday?”).  When I address the collective, I try to use inclusive language.  I try to avoid making assumptions about the people I’m talking about, and I try to avoid leaving someone out.  When I address the individual, I use the language and terms that are specific to their situation.

Here’s an example of avoiding making assumptions: I go to a party. I engage in conversation with a colleague.  Someone I wouldn’t necessarily call a friend.  Maybe more of an acquaintance. I don’t encounter them frequently outside of work and can’t say that I know a lot of details about their life.   I’m curious if they came alone or whether they are attached to someone.  If I ask “is your husband here?,” I’ve made an assumption about that person’s sexual orientation and that the person is married.  If I adjust the question to “Are you here with your spouse?,” now I’m being more sensitive and providing the opportunity for that person to self-identify their sexual orientation, but I’m still making the assumption they’re married.  If I ask “Did you come with someone tonight?,” I’m not making any assumptions. The answer might very well be “no.” The answer might be, “My friend, Gus, came with me.”  If that person points to someone on the opposite side of the room and says “See that person over there in the grey sweater…that’s my wife,” then I know that when I refer to that person’s partner it’s clear that the appropriate word to use is “wife.”

Imagine going to a meal at a restaurant with a large group of friends.  You all order different items from the menu.  One person orders steak. One orders pasta. Another orders pizza.  Someone opts for chicken.  Someone else asks for lamb. One person orders a salad.  Someone else gets a burger.  Someone orders a stir fry.  One person orders salmon.  Someone else has fish and chips.  Someone else has lobster.  One person orders only from the appetizer menu.  One is a vegetarian.  Their partner is a vegan.  One has allergies to peanuts.  One is gluten free.  One wants their salad dressing on the side.  And two want to make substitutions.  This is obviously a diverse dining group with a complicated order.

At the end of the evening, you’re curious how everyone’s experience was. You’re the one who coordinated the evening and you’re hopeful everyone’s had a good experience.  You consider asking “how were your fish and meat?” Most people had some form of fish or meat, but will everybody be included in your invitation to evaluate the experience?  You figure that covers most of the party.  You have made some assumptions about some of the menu items.  It’s not abnormal for pasta, or even salad, to include a meat, or seafood option.  You realize that “seafood” might be a better word to choose, because it would include fish, salmon, lobster, and the shrimp in your friend’s stir fry.  You realize that more of the guests will be included if you ask “how was your meat or seafood?”  You scan the table, considering the guests, wondering if anyone will be left out if you ask “how was your seafood or meat?”

You pause at the vegetarian and the vegan.  You ask yourself, “How do I include everyone? This is ‘nuts.’”  You catch the eye of your friend who you hope is carrying their Epipen, because you know they’re anaphylactic.  You scroll through vocabulary in your brain seeking the right words.  You consider “how was your entrée?”  That seems pretty inclusive, until you realize that your partner only ordered from the appetizer menu.  They are attentive to detail.  Will they feel like they can contribute a response if their appetizer was served with everyone else’s entrée, but, technically, is still categorized as an appetizer and not an entrée?  You do not want to risk the them feeling undervalued or excluded.

The server comes by to deliver the bills.  Placing the bill on the table, the server addresses the collective and asks “How were your meals?”  A simple, inclusive question that anyone at the table can answer.  After several nods and responses, the serve asks individual questions, specific to people’s orders.  “Was the steak done to your liking?  The chicken was amazing, wasn’t it?  The wild salmon really makes that meal, don’t you think?”

That’s how inclusive language works.  It might take a little training and awareness.  It might take a little practice.  It’s not about being politically correct.  It’s about being kind.  It’s about being respectful.  It’s about creating situations where people are not “othered” in some way.  It’s about creating situations where everyone is welcome.

Call it SOGI.  Call it fostering appreciation for differences.  Call it encouraging acceptance.  All teachers are attempting to do is to make safe, comfortable spaces where kids can be kids.  Where they feel included, and appreciated by the communities in which they exist. They are encouraged to be visible and authentic, and to develop pride in who they are.  That’s how kids develop into exceptional beings – when they have the environments that allow them to learn without fear or shame.

“That’s all.” – Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada.

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False Narratives: How LLTT uses SOGI 123 as TNT

If she were elected, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson would be required to work with teachers like me. (Questionable OPINION on SOGI).  I’m not going to lie…this is NOT something I would look forward to.  My primary issue is that valuable time and resources would have to be invested in responding to false narratives that she promotes.  She clearly has many misconceptions about how education works – and about SOGI.

Her attack on the resources of SOGI 123 continue to be ridiculous and her political platform and public identity is based on a misrepresentation of truth.  She takes “nuggets” from lesson plans, resources, and videos and sensationalizes them with ominous exaggerations.  What she claims with regard to the intent behind them, and how the materials are used might be analogous to me suggesting that, because the Bible mentions slavery, the intent of all Christians is to teach young kids to recruit slaves.  The mere mention of a group of people, and clarity around what their experience might entail is not indoctrination.  We don’t try to teach children to be gender fluid, but we do try to ensure that students who identify in that manner feel safe in their classrooms.

Thompson is under the impression that that when we talk to students about gender as a spectrum, we are attempting to make ALL students gender fluid.  The vast majority of students will identify as male or female and no one is interfering with that aspect of their identity.  SOGI inclusive education is simply about asking students to recognize that SOME people have a different experience of gender that is not adequately understood within binary restrictions.

Teachers make decisions about resources that are relevant and meaningful to our learning objectives (as defined by the curriculum).  We adapt and design lessons to be engaging and informative.  We are responsive to the dynamics of our classroom, and because those dynamics are so unique to each classroom, we rarely follow any lesson plan exactly as written.  So, to take quotes from a suggested plan, and suggest that all teachers are teaching it exactly as drafted is, at best, misleading, at worst, willfully ignorant.

There are certainly lots of recommended resources and lessons plans available to choose from for ANY subject area.  There is such a wealth of resources available, that, even if we endeavoured to, we wouldn’t be able to use them all.  The fact that 14 books that feature transgender characters exist or are recommended does not mean that those 14 books are going to be used in the classroom. It simply means that teachers have choices.  It allows for teachers to think critically about the materials and select texts that are developmentally appropriate and connected to themes they are developing in their classrooms.  These books are often used among a multitude of other books.  Resource selection and use is informed by experience gained in practicums, methodology courses, seminars, professional development opportunities, and building relationships with our students.  Our choices are informed by the needs of our students, some of whom identify as trans.

Thompson taking issue with the number of books available is a little like claiming a 10 000 volume library collection insists that patrons become paleontologists because Thompson found 100 books about dinosaurs.  Or claiming that grocery stores are force-feeding green beans to their customers because there is a display of them in the produce aisle.

Interestingly, Thompson will promote the perspective of one doctor who engaged in a study (that has since undergone some additional scrutiny from peer reviewers since it was initially circulated) and claim it as the definitive understanding about trans identities.  She neglects to include all of the other perspectives of doctors and researchers whose work represents other findings.  Take some time to Investigate the differences between the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Pediatricians.  Thompson’s material comes primarily from one group, ignoring that one is considered the authority on pediatric issues, and the other is regarded as a politically-minded Anti-LGBTQ+ group. Her selection and promotion of resources appears to undergo less scrutiny than the ones used in classrooms, something I consider irresponsible when one is making public claims about complex topics, and claiming to be an expert on things that negate the lived experiences of others, and ignore the professional perspectives of health providers. When it comes to what resources and how they are being used in classrooms, I’m going to defer to the judgement of the trained professionals that step into classrooms to do the challenging work of educating children.

I continue to encourage anyone who wants a rational understanding of what SOGI is and how it is actualized in a classroom to talk to their child’s teacher. It is dangerous to rely on the perspective of someone who cherry-picks her resources, uses them out of context, makes inflammatory and inaccurate claims, and who so clearly polarizes the conversation.  Sadly, the presence of this candidate and the volatility of her platform, will actually distract teachers from the important work they do because we’re going to be busy correcting miconceptions about SOGI that are the result of this candidate’s fear-mongering.

 

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