There has been much discussion in the Comprehensible Input-based teaching world about the role of authors, publishers and distributors of materials….specifically novels. It began with information regarding Blaine Ray and his son Von’s company, TPRS Books, but it has expanded beyond that scope.
The first concern focuses on what narratives teachers purchase and use in their classrooms. The second concern is how this, or any company, uses their profits. The third, and the most concerning, is what effect these three things have on students and on teachers from communities marginalized in these products.
I have been teaching for almost 40 years. The materials used now bear little resemblance to the ones used even 10 years ago. The changes have been welcomed by so many communities. It does not erase the fact, however, that there were decades of sharing hurtful materials. It does not change the fact that it is common for schools to still be using materials from 10, 20 or even 30 years ago.
A large number of educators have been very vocal on Twitter and Facebook regarding the production, distribution and use of materials that demean or completely fail to recognize our students’ heritage and individuality. They have been educating others on the harm that has been done. Some have done it gently, others more forcefully. They are asking those who have caused harm (intentional or otherwise) to publicly admit their involvement. They are asking for apologies. They are asking for financial support for organizations that support those that have been demeaned because of their race, class, identity, sexual orientation and other qualities. Qualities they were born with or born into and have embraced….despite the fact that others have, or may, want to harm them because of it.
An additional issue has arisen because this discussion, and the naming and implication of names looks and feels like a personal attack to some. Others are concerned that perhaps we should not be bringing political and religious views into the ‘business” of teaching.
What I do know is this: We are all a product of the social, political and religious circles we grew up in…whether we have accepted them or rejected them. We actually TEACH that concept to our students. Everything we think, say or do is a result. It is impossible to separate ourselves. The issue of inclusion, of acceptance, IS a personal issue for anyone who hasn’t been included or accepted. And criticism, of any kind, almost always FEELS personal.
So, as I said, names have been named and folks have been called out. There have been responses and responses to responses. As someone who knows many of the people identified (by name or by implication), I have been following all of this, or as much as I can, via this space and Twitter. I have been awed by the eloquent sharing of personal pain of the posters and their loved ones. Your words have changed the lives of hundreds of teachers who read these posts. Believe it or not, there are SO many people who have never had a conversation about this topic with someone in the LGBTQ+ community or who have a true relationship with someone from another race, religion or ethnicity. For some of you that will sound ridiculous, but I promise you that is true.
This may seem like a simple issue for some: If you hurt someone you should own up to it, you should admit that you are aware of it, you should apologize sincerely and take any action you can to make amends. It just isn’t that simple for most people.
The only thing that is simple right now is that there is a Call for Change. A big one. An important one.
People can change. We cannot change people. People have to want to change themselves. We can only change ourselves. The first time I ever read that I had to sit down for a few minutes. Really. I had been raised to believe that we could change people and that if I wanted people to change, then I could, and should, make it happen. And, in the way I was raised, as a woman, it was definitely my job to make that happen. I still have to go back and ask myself this question: Have YOU ever really changed anyone? (the answer is always no) or this one: Who do you know who has changed ONLY because someone else wanted them to. (the answer is no one…and least in terms of long-term change)
I can change myself. I can support, both publicly and behind the scenes, the people I know and meet from a marginalized community. I can do so without bragging, without nagging, without putting them in a spotlight they might not want to be under. I can put a spotlight on them when they want to shine. I can offer them words and actions of support. I can offer words and actions of support to others who support them. I can say thank you over and over to all who treat everyone (or at least try to!) as a valuable, world-changing individual.
I can talk to those who cause harm if it is clear that they are unaware of the damage. I can practice being gracious if they will not listen, or respond in a way I desire. I can be a physical or emotional buffer for others when they are being harmed. I can separate myself from those who cause harm. I can do so physically. I can do so emotionally. I can do so electronically. I can do so financially. Frankly, in the past few years I have done all of those things….inside and outside of this community.
I cannot make up for the pain that others have caused. I cannot heal the hurt, but I can offer my support and my understanding. This is what I have been thinking about. This is how I hope to continue, using the words and insights shared, not only by this community, but by the ones I love in my own life who know this pain.
We don’t know what we don’t know. Perhaps these exchanges may never change Blaine’s and Von’s (those who have responded to the charges) feelings or perceptions. But I know that it has made many people stop and think about themselves. I have no doubt that the damage that has been done is real. None. I have seen it myself and talked about it with my own students. They have been my best teachers. But again, people don’t know what they don’t know…whether they don’t know out of ignorance, denial or are protected by the corner of society they chose to live in.
However, when someone comes forward (and in this case a very large group) and says, “There is a problem.” then yes, there is a problem. At the very least there is the problem that not everyone thinks a problem exists. It is a good time to listen to others…to listen in order to understand. It is a good time to look at the problem and see what can be done. It is a good time to learn more in order to know more…to know more in order to do better. It is actually a gift, an opportunity, to grow, to change, to adapt.
And that brings me around full-circle: People can change. We can’t change people. People can only change themselves. We can only enact change in our own lives.
So I ask myself….what can I do in my own life?
What changes can I make emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, intentionally, and spiritually to treat everyone as a valuable child of God and the Universe?
What changes can I make in my purchases, relationships, literature, music, art and media that will support my growth and the growth of others?
What can I learn from others and how can I give grace to others as I watch them on their journeys?
How do I respond when my path is at odds with someone else’s so that each of us has the opportunity (even if we don’t take it) to connect and grow in understanding.
PS I know that some of you will wish that I name more names, identify more problems and state my own responses to what others have said and done. I’m not going to do that. It’s tempting (hey, I’m human!), but I’m not. Why? No one will change because I put their name and my opinion of them out there in print. I may not like what people think and do, but if I don’t, I have probably already told them that privately, and several times. These problems are out in the open, that is what matters. If others need me to chime in before they can agree/disagree with what is going on, then they need some time in thought, research, conversation and/or prayer, not my opinion.