Monthly Archives: October 2018

Mudbound and more

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” via Dr. King

So the Pittsburgh shooting happened Saturday night. A white man went in to shoot up a synagogue and killed 11 people. We knew. To be honest this wasn’t a surprise. I am Jewish. We are never completely out of the line of fire. I am not comparing Jews to other groups because of… whiteness.  Assimilation is real and the bulk of the Jewish community has failed to support other marginalized communities because we got comfortable. Facts. Moving on.

Every Jewish person who is exposed to the religion is constantly taught the tale of how we were persecuted everywhere we went. There is a paranoia to be Jewish. This is why some Jewish people join the NCAAP and are natural allies with PoC. My eyes were opened about my place in this society ever since a classmate walking by called me a kike while I was playing center field. Anyway. The evidence was clear. The LGBT community was terrorized, Brown children are in cages, a Black church was terrorized, and now a synagogue was terrorized. It was only a matter of time. We can literally see the radicalization going on before our eyes.

So Saturday night I needed to escape. I turn to my favorite my numbing tool the television. Netflix and chill yes, please. I flip through the critically acclaimed movies and see Mudbound. A friend had recently recommended it to me without saying anything other than you should watch it.

Mudbound is not a comedy. I was not ready for it. Here is the description of the movie:

Two Mississippi families — one black, one white — confront the brutal realities of prejudice, farming and friendship in a divided World War II era.

I totally skipped the words prejudice and brutal and focused on farming and friendship. It had farming and friendship alright. But it was really about prejudice and brutality. The movie was so well shot. The scenes are dark and you feel the dirt on you. I won’t ruin the movie but I will tell you I walked away disturbed. The movie did what it was supposed to do. It showed just how brutal racism was even into the 1940’s. The movie is still weighing in on my soul.

I walked away with a couple of major thoughts. It must have been so hard for Black servicemen to be treated as equals, saviors, and liberators in other countries only to come back here and be treated subhuman. This was the same plight that happened when the Vietnam War was going on.

This excerpt makes the point:

When black servicemen returned victorious after having defeated Hitler and the threat of fascism in Europe, in 1945, they soon realised that they were still denied basic human rights. Protest groups were formed such as the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.). Subsequently, demonstrations, sit-ins and boycotts pressurised the authorities to integrate schools and public buildings. Link

My next thought was this was the old racism. The out loud in your face racism. White people watching it may walk away feeling like I did but also justifying their lack of racism by saying I don’t condone that. I’m not in a hate group so I’m not racist. The new racism has shifted to a stealthy incognito blanketing the major systems of America although it seems like the old racism is working hard to come back to polite society.

In the midst of all this craziness, I am reading Brene Brown’s book Dare to Lead Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. I am attempting to understand and put into words the feelings that are going on inside of me. I know this is impacting me along with other things in my life. Brene’s book is helping me realize how to identify what is happening and communicate it. I know I turn to food when I get upset. This is why I have a half eaten box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in my cabinet that I only bought two hours ago.

So I am pinpointing my emotions now. I am Anxious. I have been for a long time. We are in the scariest of times that I know of.

I am Frustrated. I don’t see how and why social justice is not being implemented in all subject areas. Where is the action? By continuing to ignore the state of our country in our classroom we continue to empower the status quo which is no friend of equity nor equality.

I am Overwhelmed. Story after story with senseless murder after senseless murder. It is impossible not to be.

I don’t have an ending for this blog. Go watch Mudbound but be prepared for a harsh tale. Please vote. It may be the last time we can redirect this country back to where it needs to be. America is not perfect but it has the potential to be. I still believe.



Confront Your Past

This post has been a long time coming. I was recently given the push to write this. Let me start with this. I have the issue of speaking when I have no idea what I am talking about. In 2015 I jumped into a conversation I had no business being a part of. I stuck my nose in a conversation about race where I was completely out of my league. I hadn’t done any of the work of reading about race and the horrible history of the United States. Being blind to the past and being equally blind at the time of this encounter I entered an arena I did not belong.

My actions perpetuated white supremacy and were racist. The worst part was I vividly remember I was on the right side of this argument. If you want to read exactly what happened here is the blog that is still up on my site showing just how brutally wrong I was.  Instead of being able to see that I was creating more of a problem I believed I was helping someone out. My intention matters little when the impact harms people.

While I am proud of where my learning journey has taken me the truth is I have harmed multiple Black Women and other People of Color during this process. This harm is well known to me and I never have stepped up to publicly recognize and repair the harm that I have done. This is because of the shame that I felt once I realized just how much my gender (male) and race (white) played a role in my identity and belief that I was an expert on everything and knew better than everyone else. I have no excuses for my actions.

I would like to take the time now to openly apologize to these people:

Rafranz Davis. I was in the book chat with Rafranz when she published her book and was still stuck on the individual level of racism and had no knowledge about systemic racism. I said many things that were racist and white supremacist. I also attempted to document an interaction we had to show why talking about race on Twitter was a bad idea. This was shady. I apologize for my actions.

Sarah Thomas. I am in many Voxer groups with her and I have said some really stupid things about race and gender. I am sorry for my words.

Melinda Anderson. I jumped in a conversation I didn’t belong in and perpetuated white supremacy and male privilege. I was wrong. I regret my decision to go in a space I didn’t belong.

Shana White. I have not respected your knowledge nor time on Twitter. We have had conversations where I was unwilling to take responsibility for my actions. This was completely my fault for not realizing and accepting the truths that you were telling me. I ask for your forgiveness.

Christina Torres. I commented on your blog and told you the title was wrong. This was the stupidest thing I have ever done. What right did I have to tell you what word your title should have been? This was arrogant and showed just how big my ego was. Please accept my apology.

JLV. You tried to show me how my actions were harmful and I turned and ran back to white safety. I apologize for not listening to you when you gave me your time and energy.

The last person that really sticks out to me is Rusul Alrubail. I harmed you multiple times and multiple ways. I didn’t see where race, religion, and gender were issues in my responses to your tweets. I never understood every time just how harmful my actions were. The more I study and learn the worse I feel. I was really sad when my actions ruined the trust we had. I respect you and sincerely wish I was more aware of my racism when we would converse. I’m truly sorry I harmed you.

Trust is hard to earn and easily broken. I know that most of the relationships are broken beyond repair. I am finally stepping up to acknowledge my actions and attempt to repair the harm. Every day I attempt to get better and grow. This was something I should not have put off for as long as I did.

I would like to finish with thanking Melinda Anderson for making me take ownership of my actions.




Administration POV: How To Bring Social Justice into Your Curriculum

Doing something outside the “safe zone” is always difficult. I am lucky enough to work for an administrator named Craig Vaughn who not only believes in social justice he supports it with his authority and power. I am able to teach about intersectionality in large part because of his support. A lot of teachers are starting their own journey into how they can #DisruptTexts, #TakeaKnee in math, or #ClearTheAir of their school’s culture and climate. Mr. Vaughn was gracious enough to write how from an administrator’s view you should go about bringing social justice into your school and class.
If you’re trying to bring a new program to your school, regardless of the needs it may serve (educational, physical, social-emotional), be prepared to back up your idea with evidence or projections on how it will benefit the students.  Ultimately, you’ll want to tie this to student performance because, like it or not, that’s how administrators are judged.
For social justice, it’s an easy connection to school safety for which there is myriad research suggesting students perform better when they feel safe.  Beyond the connection to safety, you’ll obviously need to ensure any social justice program is aligned with standards as this will be your administrator’s safety net when parents or guardians feel that you (the teacher) are pushing personal beliefs on their children (even though we both know you’re not, and so do the kids).
Armed with information on how your social justice initiative will be a positive impact on the learning environment and help improve student academic performance, along with a clear connection to the standards of your state, you’ll be prepared to make a final and crucially important step towards getting your program in place: appealing to your administrator’s ego.  For this, you’ll need to understand just what type of ego your administrator works with; is he or she the type that likes to remind everyone who is in charge or is your administrator comfortable sharing or even side-stepping the spotlight (with the former’s ego being much easier to stroke than the latter).  This will be important to know from the outset, as you may need to be comfortable doing the work while an administrator takes an unfair share of the credit (but you’ll do it anyway because if you’re looking to implement social justice, having your own ego massaged is the least of your concerns).  I don’t say this to be critical of school leaders, but rather to help you understand that every building principal has to report to a superintendent who has to report to a Board of Education who have to report to their community constituents….and they all want to look good.
The biggest challenge to implementation will be to ensure they understand how social justice will benefit all students, cause minimal disruption (sad but true), and promote the excellence of your school and/or district.  Take a look at your school’s mission statement and you’ll most likely find verbiage that closely resembles the spirit of social justice.  Mission statements are usually top-down, with the Board playing a significant role in their development.  If you can make that connection, your path to implementation will be much easier.  You want to bring social justice to your school because you see the world these students will inherit and you know equality, unless change is made, will not exist for many.  You want to bring social justice to your school because you see the imbalance of power and you want to make the scales just.  Hopefully, these tips will help as you set about to do this good work for your students.
A huge shout out to Mr. Vaughn for taking the time to lend an administrators perspective to a very important goal of bringing social justice into the classroom!


Today was the first of hopefully many #Rewire conferences held at Tabernacle Middle School in NJ. This felt like an EdCamp on steroids. I saw a boatload of local educators who I truly respect and feed off of their energy and love. That idea can’t be accentuated enough. Local educational leaders who are passionate and innovative breaking bread benefits all of New Jersey. This conference felt like South Jersey had sent out an educator beacon call and everyone came running. I caught up with old friends, met some new ones, and strengthened relationships throughout the day. We speak about how important relationships are with students yet we rarely speak about how important it is to keep in touch with local educators outside our school districts.

The part that amazes me is that Barry Saide and Glenn Robbins were able to team up with On Course Systems and Nutri-Serve  to fly presenters in as well as get the food covered. The genius of this can not be understated. One small detail that I would like to highlight is that every presenter came for free! They gave up their time at no cost to the taxpayers or the conference. The conference was FREE! How many more barriers could Glenn and Barry remove for us?

There were too many fantastic sessions for me to choose from. The first session I attended was lead by Eric Russo. It was titled Learning to Ride: Supporting Rigor for All Students. In the presentation, we discussed the idea of a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. This is nothing new nor groundbreaking but he did have feedback that had two columns. The one column said something akin to mastered the second column said not yet.

That gentle switch of phrasing made me think of a blog that Andy Milne just published today about how a simple change of phrasing can have a huge impact. Check out this part of Andy’s Blog:

A second study was created was created in which three groups of women were created and told to set a health and wellness goal. When faced with the temptation to break their goal one group was told to  “just say no”. A second group was told to say “I can’t”, while the third group were told to say “I don’t”. The results were impressive!

  • Group 1 had a success rate of 30% (just say no)
  • Group 2 had a success rate of 10% (I can’t)
  • Group 3 had a success rate of 80% (I don’t)

The theory behind this simple linguistic change is that when our students say “I can’t drink alcohol because it breaks academic code” they are reminding themselves that their behavior is being constrained. Effectively they are suggesting to themselves that they are being forced to do something.

When our students say “I don’t drink alcohol because it might affect my grades” they are reminding themselves that they are in control over the situation presented to them.

What is the impact when we use Eric’s idea and give feedback that says not yet instead of F or no or needs improvement? That subtle change could be huge. It is something worth looking into for sure.

My favorite session was given by Ira Socol and Pam Moran. I have followed Ira for years and knew I would learn a ton. I did not know Pam but it was clear from the beginning that she was no slouch in her own right. She came into the room and interacted with the crowd right away. She was instantly likable and obviously extroverted. Together they worked really well. Ira seemed like he may have a tendency to pontificate and Pam knew what needed to get done and how to reign him back in.  She was able to redirect him as well as provide fantastic content on her own.

Their session was titled Creating a Timeless Learning Culture. I loved how Ira and Pam were able to highlight some of the history of education and tie it to the present time. The idea of timeless learning is:

“…use progressive design principles to inform pathways to disrupt traditions of education today and show you how to make innovations real that will have a timeless and meaningful impact on students, keeping alive the natural curiosity and passion for learning with which children enter school.” link

My favorite activity was when we pretended to know nothing about earth or education and we had to describe what kids in a line looked like. Most of the students’ arms were behind their backs. They pushed us further and asked when as adults we were in lines and why? What would it look like if we got rid of lines? My favorite part is that there are some very useful reasons for lines. We don’t have to swing the pendulum fully! The thought activity did help you get ready to be critical of anything and everything in school. We need to be our own best and worst critics of education if we plan on making meaningful change.

Dr. Jamil Maroun. If you see this man talk to him. Enter his network because he is fire. The day was great but his talk had my soul jumping. Jamil starts off with his family story. his parents immigrated to America with $250 they borrowed from their friends and they struggled but were able to live. he spoke about how tight he was with his family and his 95-year-old “girlfriend”. So far I am engaged and want to see where his story goes.

As he talks about his journey and his goal he drops this bombshell. “He never saw a baby born with boots on.” And goes on to explain how no one succeeds without the help of others in their lives. Bootstrap theory debunked with one statement. This was the greatest statement of the day, of the month, of the year! I never saw a baby born with boots on. Mic drop he’s out right?

Nope. He then goes on to explain how as a country we are losing our humanity. He showed pictures of kids from war-torn countries covered in blood and dirt. It was hard to watch. It pales in comparison to what reality is for those kids though. Jamil is Lebanese and he had family members harmed during what I believe was the “2006 Lebanon War, also called the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War and known in Lebanon as the July War and in Israel as the Second Lebanon War”. link

I have just been learning more about Palestine and Isreal and realizing that as a country the United States is currently doing, and has done in the past, a lot of things that have harmed people that the average citizens know nothing about. We can’t continue to ignore the world that we are supposed to be bringing into our classrooms.

His final message was one of love for this country. It was clear that he loves America enough to want it to be better. He is proof that you can come to this country and succeed. It is possible but it takes a lot of people and some luck.

A agree with Jamil. Our humanity needs to be brought back. People are reduced to numbers. We cut medicare yet increase the military. We have no money for education yet give the banks millions. We have lost sight of the fact that people are being harmed by cuts to social programs and education. We need to get back to believing that we should be helping every person in this country not just the few and the elite.

I will finish with my favorite sections called Glows and Grows:

Glows: Nutri-serve and On Course Systems coming on board to help with cost!

Glows: The presenters were fantastic.

Glows: Tabernacle middle school was a great site.

Grow: The attendance was very passably white. I know every superintendent in Burlington County received information about this but there has to be a way of getting more teachers of color represented. I don’t know the answer but if you can run a conference on no money and you want this to happen there is no way Glenn and Barry can’t find a way.

Glow: The idea of Moonshot presenters being picked that day

Glow: The Imagineering room at Tabernacle!

Grow: Glenn’s suit. SMH

Glow: The conference. What an amazing event. And there is a whole other day tomorrow.