Everything is a Metaphor: Care as Praxis
I first started conceptualizing myself in relation to forests when I was a first year graduate student in the CUNY SPS Youth Studies program. A classmate was facilitating an activity designed to prompt reflection on the roles we saw ourselves playing in our respective youth-serving organizations. I couldn’t tell you what the other three options were because as soon as I saw forest I knew it was the only possible answer for me. I explained my answer in terms of a desire to provide a sense of abundance, shelter, and wonder, much like a forest might, to my students through my teaching practices. I was content with the answer I gave relative to the context I was in but was left with a lingering feeling that I’d be thinking about the prompt long after that class ended. Indeed, some three years later I sat down to write this poem:
taxonomy of the self
I didn’t understand this poem when I first wrote it but I have come to see it as a framework for my futurity and everything contained therein.4 It is simultaneously an autobiography and a declaration of future intent. Necessarily, it applies to my teaching practice and all the ways I show up in the world, both through my actions and artifacts. This theoretical exposition represents a wild-shoot erupting from the garden. It is a vital meandering into the wilderness of ideas and ideals. Consider this an invitation to get lost in the layers, stumble on the gnarly roots, and dig your fingers into the soil of this evolving forest. As you wander, ask yourself: How might the atmosphere of the planet change in response to the emergence of a new ecosystem defined by an ethos of care?
Before I ever considered that I might one day be an English Language Arts instructor, an acrostic poem erupted from my fingertips amid a moment of crisis stemming from encounters with authoritarianism and violence in my own home as a child. In this moment, I simultaneously branded myself as a poet and as a resistor of all forms of oppression, no matter how big or small. Poetry provided me with a sandbox where I could play with words and transform the expansive chaos of my life into something that made sense by drawing connections between my observations of the natural world and the complex social situations I found myself in.
Metaphors have always been my way of understanding and engaging with the world so I can’t help but pay close attention when I notice others reaching for them. I recently saw an instagram post featuring a gift given to teachers at a school in California for teacher appreciation week: a small succulent with a note that read: Teachers plant seeds of identity, criticality, intellect, skill, and joy that will grow forever. As soon as I saw it, I wondered: What would Freire think? I couldn’t help but categorize this line of thought as a veiled presentation of the banking metaphor of education (Freire and Maced0 2000). It angered me to think that someone could find inspiration in a statement that seemed rooted in a claim that students did not have those seeds before teachers planted them. A pillar of my personal teaching philosophy is the belief that my role as a teacher above all else is to help my students identify the seeds of their own abundant forest of ideas and desires and provide conditions that support their growth.
My personal commitment to anti-oppression work, which initially emerged as a primal instinct for self-preservation, now manifests most fully through my work as a teacher. In this professional orientation, the larger questions that guide my intellectual journeying always bring me back to questions of classroom practice and praxis. In my effort to render the contours of anti-oppressive pedagogy more clear, I am continually drawn back to anarchist lines of thought where writings on education are replete with metaphorical images of gardens.5 It seems only appropriate that my own contemplations of care in education would be so firmly rooted in botanical metaphors and anarchist ideals. For many anarchists, the utility of these metaphors is to elaborate on the role of the teacher to attend to the unique needs and desires of the students in the classroom.
Throughout my life, I have always been surrounded by plants and people who care for them. I draw so much wisdom from my houseplants and find such apt metaphors for teaching in caring for them:
● Every plant has different needs for light, moisture, temperature, placement, and substrate composition;
● Every plant has a different tolerance for having their needs go unmet;
● Conditions that can be tolerated are not necessarily conditions that encourage thriving;
● Plants should never be blamed for their caretaker’s failure to provide the appropriate conditions for their thriving;
● Some take longer than others to show you something is wrong;
● Some take longer than others to show you everything is right;
● Flourishing looks different for everyone;
● DMX on keeping orchids: They don’t need expensive supplies, they need your time and attention
In each of these metaphors, there is a direct parallel to caring for human beings. As a teacher, I am necessarily attuned to my student’s growth. This includes their academic progress but is much bigger than grades and scholastic standards. I am invested in the evolution and expansion of their personhood, their capacity to design themselves, and the extent to which they are able to contribute to the liberation and well-being of others through participation in community.
Similarly, for many anarchists, “this discourse of cultivation was often situated in a broader ontological discourse of subjects being cultivated or shaped toward a preexisting, natural proclivity to cooperation or autonomy” (Nicholas, 2006, p. 244). While I don’t adhere to such an essentialist view of human nature, the virtues of autonomy and non-coercion have inspired me to look beyond the garden walls for a new metaphor that might preserve what is good about gardens while pushing for a more robust figurative model that emphasizes autonomy. Though I maintain that these garden metaphors are helpful to the extent that they provide a partial framework for nurturing and tenderness in human interactions, I’ve since started to wonder what educational futures we might access by looking to forests as metaphorical representations for social institutions, social relations, and power relations.
Student Understandings of Care (and Institutional Constraints)
Recently, a student I taught in the spring and fall of 2020 reached out to me to ask if I’d write a letter of recommendation to complete his application for a summer internship. I enthusiastically agreed to write the letter and gave him an outline of what I’d be saying, inviting him to share anything else he felt I ought to highlight. After attending to his request, I let him know I had a favor of my own to ask.
He’d always been encouraging of my work as a doctoral student and had actually addressed the email to Dr. Lydia, a loving reference to what he called me during our class. I mentioned that I was working on a paper about care in the classroom and wanted to know if he had any interest in speaking with me to contribute some ideas to the conversation. To my delight, he agreed to set up a video conference with me.
When we spoke, at first, he struggled to define care, seeing it as invisible and embedded into the fabric of his being. Ultimately, he identified that part of his challenge in defining care stemmed from the fact that it looks different for everyone and manifests differently in different contexts. He saw authenticity (both in self-representation and interpersonal connection) as central to care. He moved our conversation in an unexpected direction when he suggested that the authentic connection necessary for caring interactions to occur could be compromised by institutional design and the way teachers engaged with school policies. He explained that in his observations he felt like students often limited the aspects of themselves they revealed to teachers as a consequence of believing that authentic connection was impossible.
Through this conversation, I was reminded of the distinction Rolon-Dow (2005) highlights between aesthetic caring and authentic caring. Aesthetic caring attends to “technical aspects of teaching and learning such as curricula, academic goals, and teaching strategies” while authentic caring focuses more on trusting relationships where there is genuine interest in seeing, hearing, and feeling what others are trying to share about their lived experiences. I was also reminded of the work of Joseph Derrick Nelson (2016) highlighting the benefit of relational teaching strategies for Black boys. Nelson connects the void of understanding about the relational needs of Black boys to deficit-based framings that describe them as less emotionally capable and needy than girls of all races and White students of any gender. The words of my student suggest that many of his peers understand what researchers often fail to see. The deficit of care in schools is worthy of interrogation but students cannot be blamed for this.
Family as a Model for Care? The Womanist Affirmation and The Anarchist Critique
Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant (2002) calls attention to the practices of exemplary Black women teachers and identifies womanism (alternatively known as Black feminism) as the epistemological and ideological wellspring from which their practices of care emerge. This tradition is well aligned with an anarchist approach to education, particularly in its commitment to collective liberation, attention to structures of oppression, emphasis on individual power, and a commitment to social transformation through collective action.
The exemplary teachers featured in Beauboeuf-Lafontant’s research consistently drew inspiration from family relationships, particularly the one between mother and child, in their interactions with their students. Some teachers identified these parental dynamics as fuel for the urgency they brought into their work. Expansion of the mothering metaphor into general social transformation discourse has led to the emergence of the term “othermothering” which is often understood as a “universalized ethic of care” or a “collective social conscience” (Case, 1997, as cited in Beauboeuf-Lafontant, 2002). Like Beauboeuf-Lafontant, many scholars look to notions of maternal caring to provide models of care that might apply to other social formations beyond the family. Contrastingly, “many contemporary anarcha-feminists avoid themes such as mothering and the household out of a desire to avoid gender essentialism” (Verter, 2013, p. 105). For those of us who experience family as a violent and oppressive relational structure or for whom normative discourses of gendered caring do not apply, these frameworks might have nowhere fruitful to land. More than possible, metaphors for care unrelated to oppressive understandings of family and mothering are necessary.
Despite its centrality in the literature on caring, the family is not the only social organizational model of care. Emma Goldman, an iconic figure in anarchist histories, persistently situated her political commitments in relation to her care-work as a nurse and midwife. Goldman asserted that “her nursing practice helped shape her utopian anarchist vision” (Connolly 2010, p.84). This linking of public health work and anti-oppressive values is echoed in Sophie Lewis’s (2019) comment: “It can hardly be an accident that, as anyone who spends time in midwifery networks will realize, so many of them are anti-authoritarian communists” (p. 8). In Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against the Family, Lewis argues for a reimagining of pregnancy as economic-labor and advocates for a framework which transcends the familial structure from which many models of collective care draw their understanding. Lewis contrasts the embeddedness of the notion of biological ownership in many cultural understandings of family with the ways marginalized communities across time and space have developed inventive kinning practices as an act of resistance against institutionalized, property-and-heredity-centric marriage. These counter-kinning practices can promote a sense of collective responsibility for children rather than seeing them as wards (or property) of their parents and families. I wonder how relational metaphors that capture the connections linking public-health care-work, anti-capitalism, and and utopian liberation might support broader social transformations than could be achieved through notions of care tied to the hyper-personal, property-oriented sphere of the family at the core of USian society.
Enacting and Modeling Care with my Co-Teacher
Time and Attention
Currently, my role as an ELA teacher is situated within a New York City-based non-profit invested in the college-going futures of public high school students. I arrived at this organization with a fledgling critique6 of the NYC public school system7 and the theory of action represented by other organizations which pull kids from public school to wedge them into private school. Fundamentally, the mobilization of vast resources to focus on the high performers/talented-tenth8 feels misguided when much of the problem is that racial stratification resulting from the engineered scarcity of resources and opportunity is a defining feature of USian society.
More than any other school year, 2020-2021 left me feeling like my enactment of my values in the classroom can be at odds with what I believe is expected of me in my role at this organization. The sustained trauma of the pandemic has amplified the amount of tender responsiveness students need and it has felt more important than ever to center care in my teaching practice. In previous semesters, the ELA curriculum for 11th grade provided a more easeful space for my care centered approach with content focused on identity and values and a planned exploration of self and society through creative non-fiction and personal narrative writing. This past school year, the 11th grade curriculum was decidedly focused on the college application process. I have never had to work as hard to revise lesson plans to integrate more critical framing of key issues in the college process (e.g. what makes a “good” school, how professionalism is defined, or how some values are cast as absolute rather than culturally bound). My co-teacher and I work to dissect every lesson plan with a critical lens, not as some abstract intellectual exercise, but because we care about our students and believe that these conversations about the college process represent sites of significant possibility for anti-oppressive education.
Where lesson plans ask us to play the role of gardener, training our students’ growth towards narrow aspirations and definitions of success, our modifications represent an attempt to chip away at the walls. Ultimately, the revision of lesson plans to reframe or redesign activities is an act of care but there are times when our shredding and recasting of curriculum feels as if it pushes the limits of the autonomy prescribed by our job description. There have been moments when we speak in opposition to the values enshrined in the organization’s track record of steering students into competitive and prestigious universities. Nevertheless, I don’t ever feel like I choose care over teaching because it is at the foundation of my teaching practice. Situating care as foundational requires that I take my time. It requires that I resist certain structures (e.g. schedules and lesson plans) which impede my capacity to genuinely connect with my students. It requires that I work to ensure I am seeing my students’ complete humanity. It requires that I work to earn their trust. Care requires both time and attention. Time. And. Attention.
In another exchange with the student I mentioned earlier, I was delighted to hear him reference his experience with my co-teacher and me as an example of authentic caring. When I asked him for clarification, he made specific mention of the way that we take time to establish a sense of community at the beginning of each class by inviting people to share meaningful updates rather than a vapid Red-Yellow-Green temperature check favored by many instructors to expediently transition into content delivery. He explained that he saw the unstructured invitation to share whatever felt significant as a demonstration that my co-teacher and I truly cared about what students were experiencing and had to say about their lives.
One day, in response to our welcoming invitation for community share outs, several students expressed that they were feeling distressed about something that had happened at an earlier meeting with the entire student body. Recognizing the stress and agitation our students were expressing in the chat window, my co-teacher and I decided that we’d let go of the lesson plan we’d been handed for the day and take time to unpack the tension the students had carried into our “classroom.” We learned that the morning meeting had sparked a conversation among students related to the definition of racism in the chat window. Students from our class reported that a student was “attacked” for the perspective they espoused. Our decision to attend to the aftermath of the morning meeting seemed to be affirmed by students who later reported that they appreciated being able to engage in a productive discussion about the incident in our class. A few stated that they felt less stressed. When we reached out to the meeting facilitator, we learned that the response to the eruption in the chat had been to “shut it down because we had to get the students to class.” It was hard for me to imagine what good was to come from sending them to our scheduled class time with no warning of what had transpired. It is easier for me to quantify the harm that comes from silencing a conversation like this rather than seeing it as an opportunity to enhance our collective listening practices.
If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And what are we to make of the tree that is cut down? How do we understand the moral difference between going unheard and being ignored? What is the value of listening?
Listening is a Pillar of Care
Anarchists, overwhelmingly, are concerned with issues of representation and persistently extoll the virtues of self-representation. Jamie Heckert (2010) notes that while this is often expressed as a commitment to involving people in the decisions that affect them, it goes much further and deeper. This commitment:
might also be expressed as the dignity of listening to others, the dignity of being listened to. This process might begin with learning to listen to oneself, to the authority of one’s own experience, one’s own knowledge, one’s own body. Indeed, it is essential in learning to question others claims of authority (p. 191-192).
It felt important to explore the emotions students brought into class after a critical conversation was shut down. Heckert’s commentary on listening provides me with a retroactive explanation for why I felt a sense of urgency to respond to our students by probing deeper rather than turning away to focus on the day’s lesson plan. I realize now that I was concerned that a consequence of the refusal to practice collective listening would be a hypothetical student’s decision to silence themselves rather than critically question the messages broadcast by authority figures. The feedback I’ve gotten from my supervisor this semester9 echoes what my students have told me: They show up more fully for the content when we get to it because time and space have been dedicated to meaningful acts of care.
Every week as my co-teacher and have prepared our lessons, most of our time has been spent thinking about how to create multiple spaces for authentic connection and care to be enacted in our classroom. Since March 2020, our students have encountered each other almost exclusively in scripted and programmed virtual spaces. The loss of informal socializing time has been disruptive and devastating for the vast majority of our high school aged students. I have also borne witness to students blossoming in the virtual classroom in ways that would have been unlikely to occur on a similar time scale in a shared physical space. In both instances, the significance of cultivating caring communities is paramount.
Amid so much trauma and disruption, peer relationships feel more important than ever. In embodied times, it was not uncommon to see students extending supportive gestures to peers having a rough time. A hug here. A dap there. A sideways glance in the classroom. An invitation to spend lunch together. A silent walk to the subway as a loud gesture of solidarity and compassion. As we approach our fourth virtual semester, our students continue to need so much more than the Introduction and Check-in (5 min) at the beginning of our video-conference class and the conversational liberties they take in breakout rooms. In our planning sessions, my co-teacher and I consistently triage lesson plans to identify where we can cut 5-10 minutes to expand our initial check in with students. Creating dilated time to sit with the things students share during that check in time has enabled us to overcome some of the connection-blunting aspects of virtual learning.
Many of the “best practices” emerging in virtual teaching draw on the wisdom informing embodied praxis. In the before-times, I would often use the Homework Check (5 min) at the top of a lesson plan to check in on my students. Of course, this would always take much longer than 5 minutes. In a room of 22 students, giving each of them even 30 seconds amounts to 11 minutes. I’d often spend 15 minutes checking homework while my students worked on an opening activity. It was one of the most consistent observations I got from my supervisors in my first 3 years of teaching.
When I first started, I’d often worry that my priorities were misplaced because I’d rarely get through a whole lesson plan. The feedback I received from my supervisors often centered around time management and lesson pacing: “You took 11 and a half minutes on homework checking and didn’t have time to get to the final reflection.” My students’ feedback at the end of each semester would give me the confidence I needed to purposefully deviate from the lesson plan to make time to truly listen to them, even if for just a moment. End-of-semester surveys always revealed that most students appreciated the the way I used homework checking time to meaningfully check in on them. By abandoning the aesthetic demands of the time blocks that seek to structure my relationships with students, I can wander into a space with them that is mutually nurturing and affirming because it is dense with authentic multi-layered, connections.
Care is Non-Hierarchical
Having the opportunity to work alongside a co-teacher every week has amplified the importance that I assign to care and clarified my understanding of authentic care as fundamentally non-hierarchical. Care is behavior that is life affirming and life sustaining. We are all worthy of care. We are all deserving of care. We can all extend care to each other. Often discussions of care in education center on the extent to which students experience care as conveyed by their teachers. However, care flows in all directions. The compassion that my students demonstrate for me and my co-teacher is one on-going way that they demonstrate care for us. It should also come as no surprise that I care for my co-teacher as I care for my students.
One day, she was not feeling well and decided to keep her camera off for the first half of our class while I took the lead on facilitating. She explained her rationale to our students and asked for their understanding and forgiveness. When she was done, I expressed gratitude to her for showing up for our learning community and affirmed that she was able to contribute meaningfully to our collective experience without her camera on. I told our students that they should give themselves permission to make whatever choices they needed to do to care for themselves and be as maximally engaged as they desired. For me care goes deeper than a feeling I express for my students. A significant part of my care praxis is rooted in affirming self-care and modeling self-care in a way that highlights the relatedness of individual and community thriving.
It’s also important to consider the way that teachers are cared for by the schools and organizations that employ them. The fact that I even have a co-teacher is a reflection of the commitment that my organization has made to caring for staff. When we first transitioned to virtual learning, we migrated our classroom-based programming to video-conferencing software. The original teaching model relied on individual instructors. The co-teaching model was developed as a direct response to concerns instructors raised about burnout10. Though there are so many ways that my organization is imperfect, there are signs that care and love and cooperation are values at the center of the work we do.
Tearing Down the Garden Walls, Wandering into the Forest
The calamitous disruption wrought by the pandemic has pushed many people into a state of desperation to go back to normal. In this frenzied attempt to Make America Fine Again, we are rushing to build back a structure conforming to the same faulty ideological principles that have animated the violent spirit of this country since its invention. In the field of education philosophy, “the question of ‘what should our society be like?’ is, for the anarchist, not merely ‘overlapping’, but logically prior to any questions about what kind of education we want” (Suissa, 2010, p. 4-5). Acknowledging my desire to live in a society that is informed by principles of equality, liberty, solidarity, agency, autonomy, voluntary association, and mutual care is making me resist this call back to a USian normality that never served me as a neurodivergent queer Puerto Rican person and certainly doesn’t serve the students I encounter in a job that only exists as a response to the structural faults of this nation.
What if instead of building the garden walls back up, we let them crumble? What roses will grow in the concrete ruins? What forest will evolve as the garden remembers the vitality of its wildness? How might the atmosphere of the planet change in response to the emergence of a new ecosystem? Beneath those abstract wonderings is a more concrete, practically oriented question: What do schools look like when they are not acting as load-bearing columns in racist, capitalist, settler-colonialist structures?
In Anarchism and Education, Judith Suissa (2010) points out that education philosophers have periodically explored what it would mean to have states without schools but wonders how often the inverse possibility is explored. Instead of taking the state as a given, what if we started to imagine schools without states? What would a school look like if it were no longer part of the apparatus of a white-supremacist, settler-colonial state? What would teaching and learning look like? What values would inform its operation and design? Who would the stakeholders be?
Skeptics of anarchism often engage in disingenuous critiques of anti-statist positions by drawing a false equivalency between “society” and “state” (Graeber, 2004). This conflation is a trap but Graeber proposes that we can release ourselves by accepting:
that anarchist forms of organization would not look anything like a state. That they would involve an endless variety of communities, associations, networks, projects, on every conceivable scale, overlapping and intersecting in any way we could imagine, and possibly many that we can’t. Some would be quite local, others global. Perhaps all they would have in common is that none would involve anyone showing up with weapons and telling everyone else to shut up and do what they were told (p. 40).
This imagining of anarchist forms of organization represents a way to begin thinking about education without a state. Graeber’s description evokes the voluntary, multilayered, complex, ecological relationships that one might find in a school-as-forest.
We do not need to take Graeber’s description and use it as a guide to invent novel solutions for the problems we identify with education. As Abraham De Leon (2006) emphasizes:
examples of real schools operating under more radical guiding principles demonstrate that alternative methods can work, and are working worldwide. It is our job to highlight these and further explore through research how and why they are working. Only then will we uncover new modes of teaching, learning, and the ways in which we “do” schooling that our practices will ever be truly empowering and revolutionary (89).
Ethnography is a methodology particularly well suited to uncovering the gifts of human ingenuity (Graeber, 2004). However, transforming education away from something that looks less like a garden and towards something that looks more like a forest demands a fundamental rejection of hierarchical power relations for which ethnography is no antidote. Such a rejection requires ethnography to be infused with other methodological commitments.
Critical education scholars like Carr and Kemmis (1986) have called for a dissolution of the boundary between education practitioners and education researchers. Going further, critical youth studies scholars have emphasized the transformative relational power of participatory action research. Akom et al. (2008) understand participatory action research, particularly when done with young people, as “more than a research methodology; rather it is simultaneously a: methodology, pedagogy, and a theory of action for creating social justice and social change” (p.6). Research to document extant manifestations of human brilliance and ingenuity must necessarily involve young people and their communities to avoid reproducing the same hierarchical fault lines that privilege the perspectives of the state, teachers, administrators, and university-based education researchers.
An approach to education that disrupts the power relations between teachers and students requires a fundamental willingness to trust in the capacities of young people and to involve them in the design and decision-making processes that shape schooling practices. Unfortunately, this orientation is at odds with how most teachers are trained to think about and engage in their work. Kumashiro (2000) observes that “educators are trained to delineate what they want students to understand, plan a lesson to get them there, and then assess whether they indeed came to this understanding” (p. 39). For many educators, it can be paralyzing to grapple with the fundamental unknowability of what students learn or how they will act based on what they learn. For Kumashiro (2000):
anti-oppressive education should aim for effect by having students engage with relevant aspects of critical theory and extend its terms of analysis to their own lives, but then critique it for what it overlooks or for what it forecloses, what it says and makes possible as well as what it leaves unsaid and unthinkable (p. 39).
An anti-oppressive approach to education must take up concern with young people’s analyses of their lives and the meaning they make from their experiences. This approach is antithetical to the educational evaluation methods derived from formalist education psychology. Suzanne Gallagher (2013) describes these as educational technologies of power “which authorize those embedded in [education’s] meaning-making to name and define persons, especially as ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’” (p. 70). When I first encountered the Foucauldian notion of “technologies of power” in Gallagher’s work, I immediately wondered what “technologies of liberation” might look like. David Graeber (2004) notes that what I might refer to as technologies of liberation have already been named. Peter Lamborn Wilson called “that set of mechanisms which oppose the emergence of domination” the Clastrian machine in honor of the anarchist anthropologist Pierre Clastres. What remains when we deconstruct conventional educational institutions with such a machine? What values emerge as salient when technologies of power fall into disuse?
Fashioning a Clastrian machine for the field of education can help us disassemble the garden walls and depose the gardener-teacher as the architect of knowledge and meaning. Such a machine might make it more possible for us to return to the liberation of the forest. This document is neither blueprint nor prescription for how we might conjure this wilderness. My words might be more intelligible as a warm patch of damp earth teeming with seed-life, “a spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas” (Lorde 1985, p. 37). In other words, take this offering as a poem. Far from a frivolous luxury, poetry is a tool for making sense of our most untamed dreams and conceptualizing how we might make them manifest. It is the very imperfection of metaphors’ analytic reach that makes room for the radically imaginative possibilities of our wild future.
Akom, A. A., Cammarota, J., & Ginwright, S. (2008). Youthtopias: Towards a New Paradigm of Critical Youth Studies. Youth Media Reporter: The Profession Journal of the Youth Media Field,2(4), 1–30.
Beauboeuf-Lafontant, T. (2002). A womanist experience of caring: Understanding the pedagogy of exemplary Black women teachers. The Urban Review, 34(1), 71-86.Connolly, C. A. (2010).
Carr, W., & Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming Critical: Education Knowledge and Action Research (1st edition). The Falmer Press.
Connolly, C. A. (2010). “I Am a Trained Nurse”: The Nursing Identity of Anarchist and Radical Emma Goldman. Nursing History Review, 18(1), 84-99.
DeLeon, A. (2006). The time for action is now! Anarchist theory, critical pedagogy, and radical possibilities. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 4(2), 72-94.
Du Bois, W. (2014). The Talented Tenth (1903). In N. Chandler (Ed.), The Problem of the Color Line at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: The Essential Early Essays (pp. 209-242). New York, USA: Fordham University Press.
Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition (M. B. Ramos, Trans.; 30th Anniversary edition). Continuum.
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Lorde, Audre Geraldine. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984. Print.
Nelson, J. (2016). Relational teaching with Black boys: Strategies for learning at a single-sex middle school for boys of color. Teachers College Record, 118(6), 1-30.
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1 As a young teenager, I found myself reading about how to care for roses and finding hope in their capacity to flourish in a variety of conditions, even rocky, nutrient-poor soil. I saw possibilities for how I might be able to care for and cultivate myself in spite of the challenges of my surrounding context. I started to see education (institutionally-mediated and self-directed) as a way to infuse nutrients into the rocky substrate I had been raised up on. In my MA program, the metaphorical salience of roses remerged when I encountered the work of Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade who speaks often of how his asset-based pedagogy is inspired by Tupac Shakur’s metaphor of a rose growing from concrete.
2Gardens are sites of aesthetic care. They take shape according to the whims of their caretakers. Gardens are not sites of authentic care. Despite my perennial wildness, as an adolescent I found myself a prized flower in someone’s garden as a diversity-admit at New York City private school where I was trained like a vine in all manners of social and scholarly performance.
3 Reading “Emergent Strategy” by adrienne maree brown pushed me to think about decentralized networks as fountains of justice-oriented social action and transformation. We need to break free of the trellis, to climb wildly up a tree, to be in authentic community, to be embedded in networks of authentic care and mutual dependence. We need to be in the forest. Forests are robust and adaptable in proportion to the extent to which they are diverse and intergenerational. They are wild, abundant places where discourses of deservingness and worthiness do not apply. See the work of Brian Mercado in this issue for further insights on how these discourses are weaponized in schools.
4 “For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives. As they become known and accepted to ourselves, our feelings, and the honest exploration of them, become sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas, the house of difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action. Right now, I could name at least ten ideas I would have once found intolerable or incomprehensible and frightening, except as they came after dreams and poems.This is not idle fantasy, but the true meaning of “it feels right to me.” We can train ourselves to respect our feelings, and to discipline (transpose) them into a language that matches those feelings so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream or vision, it is the skeleton architecture of our lives” (Audre Lorde, 1985, p. 37-38)
8 In a 1903 essay, W.E.B. Du Bois called for an educational strategy focused on the most intellectually talented Black people, a group he referred to as “the talented tenth”, to address the problem of pervasive racial injustice in the United States.
9 Observation debrief write up: Of all the classes I observed this semester, y’all’s stood out as having the most organic, continuous student dialogue and discussion, which, from my vantage point, is because of the strength of your follow-up questions and genuine interest in what your students are thinking and feeling. I knew this to be true of both of you prior to this semester, but it’s been a challenging semester for many of us, and “being in” your classroom space was a reminder of how much is possible when we care about students and drop fully and intentionally into the classroom space. That kind of emotional act makes so much space for students to learn and engage with the classroom, each other, and themselves, as evidenced by how vulnerable E* was, for example, during the Advisory discussion, and how beautifully that conversation unfolded afterwards. Thank you for this.
Something else that stands out to me is how intentionally you engage one another. You always make a point to ask “Hey Afua/Lydia, do you have anything to add to this?”, but you don’t spend too much time talking between yourselves. This kind of intention shows the co-teaching dynamic at its best.