Monday, September 5, 2016

Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education

This weekend I went to see Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education. This is Anna Deavere Smith’s latest one-woman show, which focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline. In the first act and coda, Smith takes on the persona and words of many people she has interviewed, and in the second act the audience members are split into groups in order to have facilitated conversations about what they have seen so far. I found the performance incredibly powerful and thought provoking and I strongly recommend it to any educators (or people) in the Boston area.

My school year with students starts on Thursday and my focus for the last two weeks has been taken over by logistical details and setting up my classroom—covering bulletin boards, mounting whiteboards, arranging desks, unpacking all of my stuff from the closet, and scrubbing everything. However, going to this play reminded me that while everything I just listed is necessary in order to be ready for school, it is the bigger picture that I truly need to ground myself in before getting started. What am I doing to make sure that students are empowered and not marginalized in my classroom and school? When am I prioritizing compliance and how can I find an alternative? How will I make sure my students’ voices are heard and respected? What am I doing to get to know and support my kids as people, not just math students? What will I do when I see injustices committed against my students? How will I respond when I am part of enacting an injustice? What’s my location on the school-to-prison pipeline?

This last question is one that we were all asked to reflect on at the end of the play’s act two breakout group. My answer? I was never going to be sent to prison from school, nor were any of my friends or family. I grew up with that privilege. However, I am now part of a system that enables the school-to-prison pipeline, which means that I also have the power to disrupt it.

When several people shared out their location on the school-to-prison pipeline, one member of our group expressed a concern. She was concerned that people would come to this play, feel the catharsis that theater is intended to elicit, encourage other people to come, but have that be the end of the experience. She pointed out that us talking today was important, but that it needed to be followed by action. The American Repertory Theatre, where I saw the play, seems to be trying to address that concern. They sent everyone who attended a list of ways to get involved in Boston. I left still trying to figure out what actions I will take. But as I start this school year, I am committing to becoming more aware of and trying to change the actions of mine that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline and to speaking up about the injustices that I see/that are brought to me.

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