Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Safe Spaces

I'm pretty sure I have subbed at Roosevelt for the last time this school year, unless something comes up tomorrow or next week. It's unlikely for next week since they only have three days of school and most of those days are exams. One of the things I noticed subbing there were these little stickers on many of the classroom doors that said "Safe Space". They are from the website and are to mark the room as a "safe space" for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students (LGBT). Being in a fairly liberal town like Kent I wasn't surprised at all to see them there, though they got me thinking about the whole concept.

As an educator, one of the things I remember having drilled into my head on many occasions was the idea of creating a safe environment in the classroom. Basically, every student should feel safe and comfortable in your classroom if you're doing things correctly. So seeing these stickers on so many doors definitely had me thinking "shouldn't they already be safe spaces for LGBT students as well as any other students at Roosevelt?" The answer is of course a resounding YES. I certainly don't have a problem with LGBT students feeling safe at school. No one should have fear going into a school or a specific classroom; fear of the teacher or the fellow students. Bullying is still too much of a problem at any school, Roosevelt included, because so much of it happens outside the view of teachers and administrators. Sadly, from my own experience in school, even bullying and similar actions that actually do occur in view of teachers is often ignored which, of course, simply perpetuates the problem. It is irrelevant why the bullying or harassment is taking place. Whether it be because of the student's sexual orientation (or perceived sexual orientation), their looks, their religion and/or ideology, or any other reason, it's all the same in terms of promoting an unsafe and negative environment for students. It's one thing to state that bullying and harassment aren't tolerated; it's an entirely different thing to actually enforce that rule and stop them in their tracks when they are witnessed firsthand.

Seeing these also got me thinking about the whole "gay rights" movement in general and their claims of fighting for equality. In reality, it's not so much about equality for everyone, but just for their specific group. The website that promotes and sells these stickers and other related materials is pretty specific that these are to specifically help promote safe spaces and environments for LGBT students first and foremost. Again, I'm not opposed to safe environments for any student, but why do these students need extra special attention? There are all sorts of "minorities" in a given school. I'd be willing to bet that everyone is part of some sort of minority whether it be racial, ethnic, ideological, religious, etc with some being part of more than one. To put in in perspective, as a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) I was one of just 10 students out of around 1,400 at Roosevelt High School my senior year. This year there were just 4 LDS students in the entire school. There were a lot of bizarre ideas and misconceptions about what I believed and while I never experienced any direct persecution because of my religion, I did, at times, feel uncomfortable expressing what would be considered more conservative viewpoints in a discussion. I would not be supportive if the school decided to make Mormon "Safe Spaces" like this because it would only further separate members of the church from the rest of the student body and perpetuate the "us and them" mentality. That's what I see here. In our eagerness to protect a group of our students--by all means a good thing--we are in fact separating them and potentially creating more resentment towards them. What about the 12% of the school that is black? Or the even smaller percentage of other races and ethnicities? And it bears mention...would we be so quick to bring the hammer down on name-calling and persecution towards those with conservative and/or religious beliefs? So much of the campaign against Proposition 8 in California claimed to be against the "hate" it was promoting, but one of the biggest ways too many groups "fought" this "hate" was by using hate back in the form of insults, slanders, generalizations, and even violence and property damage. Using hate to fight hate doesn't solve anything and makes the alleged victim as much a perpetrator and guilty as the people they are fighting. When you use fire to right fire, everyone gets burned.

So, if/when I have my own classroom, will I have this sticker on my door? I think the answer is pretty obvious: NO. My reasoning is that it would be inaccurate; not because my classroom would be unsafe for LGBT students, but more because it would be a "safe space" for all students including them. Do I think Roosevelt teachers are favoring LGBT students? No not really. In all honesty I don't think many have even looked at it from this angle. They see it as something good (and it is) and want to show support for diversity and tolerance but fail to see the hidden and unintended messages such a promotion sends to other groups or individuals who are also subject to persecution and harassment. In the end, every classroom needs to be a safe space for every student. And if you truly are for equal rights and equal treatment, make sure that applies to all races, ethnicities, ideologies, religions, etc. and not just certain ones; even ones you may completely disagree with! If you're just for the improved treatment of a specific group, say it! Don't make it out to be all inclusive if it isn't.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fair criticism?

To start off, as of yesterday (May 14), it's been one year since we left the house for the last time as we headed down to Maryland for Heather's graduation. I can't believe it's been that long already and had hoped I'd have a more permanent situation in place by now, but life is what it is. I certainly can't complain too much about my current situation, though. While I'm hardly living a life of luxury, I do have a nice place to live and my needs are met with people I love and care about. That said, I'm hoping a full-time job is on the horizon, even if it isn't a teaching job so I can move on to the next stage of my life. Of course I still think about the house and the whole situation with moving, but I find they are becoming fewer and further in between. Part of the problem is living with so many reminders. Much of our stuff is still in boxes in the basement, so every time I or Mom needs something that we haven't unpacked, we have to go searching down there or in other boxes. Every time I have to go searching through the boxes, it's just a reminder why so much of our stuff is in boxes.

Anyway, that was on my mind the last few days but that's all I have to say about that. Another thing I've been thinking about concerns a lot of criticism I've been seeing from friends and strangers about Ohio in general. It was troubling to see so much of it, so I started thinking about the criticisms I've laid out about Idaho and Utah on this blog and in my discussions with people. Was this a case of "what goes around comes around" and just getting a taste of my own medicine? I really thought about this and analyzed what people were criticizing about Ohio, how I felt about it and why, and what my criticisms of Utah were and why. What I came up with is that, no, this isn't a case of karma at all. Why? Well let me explain!

The biggest reason the majority of criticisms I see of Ohio bother me is because they are almost always about things that cannot be helped, most often the weather. No amount of moaning and groaning is going to change the climate, make it sunnier, warmer, less rainy, or less humid. The weather is what it is. Yeah, we all complain here and there, but some people it seems can't find anything else but bemoan a cloudy day (but are largely silent on sunny days...hmmmm). If you're going to put a lot of energy into criticizing something, at least make sure it's something that can actually be changed! When was on my mission in Arizona and New Mexico, I didn't enjoy the desert at first. Too dry for my taste, hardly any green, and to be honest, having the same weather virtually every day got boring! I definitely learned to appreciate cloudy days and RAIN! When it's cloudless for 2 months straight and it's 100 degrees, for someone like me it lacked variety and interest. I got used to the whole climate and desertscape of course, but in the end it made me appreciate the green here in Ohio and in the east in general. Even now, when we have rainy days here I say I enjoy them because that's how things grow. Sure is nice not having to worry about irrigation! That's not to day I didn't enjoy short-sleeve weather in January! :)

While Utah's desert climate is something I don't particularly care for, it is the least of my criticisms and is far more secondary than anything. In fact, I always enjoy the mountains, especially when they still have snow on them. As for the weather, it's really not a whole lot different than Ohio since, while it is still desert, it is around the same latitude so temperatures are similar. As I started thinking, no, my main criticisms at Utah are all culturally related. In other words, they are things that could potentially (and in my opinion should) be changed. Remember, having lived in even harsher desert climates than Utah, I hardly have the same criticisms for Arizona and New Mexico as I do for Utah. Why? Because Arizona and New Mexico largely had cultures that were close enough to what I was used to (though still different...there is definitely a difference between west and east in this country!). As I have explained many times, it's not all of Utah culture that bothers me, it's the parts that are so intertwined with LDS doctrine that too many inside and out cannot recognize the difference between cultural traditions and actual doctrine. Arizona had a smaller version of that with many of the Mexican immigrants and the Catholic faith. It was very hard for them to separate what was actual Catholic doctrine from culture as they have become so melded.

There are definitely things about the culture here in Ohio that people don't like. For some it's too conservative; for others it's too liberal. Some complain it's too slow, too boring, too political, etc. Most of these criticisms are valid (based on one's experience), though at the same time they are hardly unique to Ohio. With Utah, and Idaho to an extent, much of the cultural problems I have are because I am the same religion as so many out there, so I guess I expect certain--and higher--standards from members of the Church, particularly in how we treat each other. Indeed, it's much more of a Utah LDS cultural problem than just a Utah cultural problem (remember, I have many friends who are Utah residents and natives!). It's not so much a problem because of Utah, but more because of the high concentration of members and the history of isolation in the late 19th century which allowed many of these cultural meshes with doctrine to really develop and take strong root. In other words, it could've happened anywhere. I would imagine it would've happened in Illinois had the Saints not been forced out, though it would've obviously been different since the Nauvoo area in the late 19th century wasn't nearly as isolated as Utah was.

To close, let me reiterate: yes, too much criticism can be a bad thing, but if you're going to complain, at least make sure it's something that could actually be changed if the right person or people heard you or that you could change yourself. Nowhere is perfect; everywhere we go we're going to find things we don't like about certain places and certain groups of people. The key is understanding not only what we feel by more importantly why we feel that way. If we can't rationally understand and explain why, then perhaps we're just being overly critical. On the other end, in hearing criticism we need to understand the why and lend a listening and sympathetic ear. Maybe the person would benefit from some "local advice" on how we deal with this or that (which is why it doesn't bother us as much) or maybe it's something we've never even considered and now have an additional viewpoint! Critical thinking is key!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kent State and May 4

Growing up in Kent, the events of May 4, 1970 are never far from most people's minds here. If you're not familiar with those events, they are commonly referred to as the Kent State shootings or Kent State Massacre. Basically, 13 students were shot by members of the Ohio National Guard on the campus of Kent State University on May 4, 1970. 4 of those students died. Anyone who was around at that time or has been here long enough to know the story has an opinion, usually strong, about what happened and why and who is to blame. I'd say we have quite a few of the extremes here. On the far right you have those who believed the National Guard was not only completely justified in firing but "should've killed em [students/protesters] all." On the far left you have those who firmly believe the shootings were very deliberate and planned by the Government to suppress opposition to the Vietnam War. Every May 4, particularly years like this where it's an anniversary ending in 0 or 5 (this year was the 40th anniversary), the debate continues in force. It's hardly absent during the rest of the year, but it especially visible around this time of year. 2010 was no different.

Being raised in Kent I've heard quite a few stories from many different angles. Both sides of my family were living in Kent at the time, so they remember it from the townspeople perspective. Many of my teachers in the Kent Schools were students at Kent State at the time, so I've heard their perspective as well. On top of that I've read many of the published accounts and have heard a number of speakers including Alan Canfora, one of the students who was shot. He is the director of the new May 4 Visitors Center on campus and has made a living not just lecturing on the shootings, but making sure they don't become simply an historical event. He is largely responsible for keeping them in the headlines even 40 years later.

Personally, from my ideological perspective and from my study of history I think the reality of what and why is somewhere in between the two extremes, which is of course true for most issues that have very different views: the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. For the Kent State shootings I definitely feel a ton of mistakes were made on all sides and that the end result was from a "perfect storm" of mistakes and instances where emotion trumped logic. In the end, I don't think anyone deserved to die as a result, but at the same time I also don't think the deaths were purely intentional or desired on the part of the local, state, and federal governments or the National Guard. I don't buy the government conspiracy theory because I have not seen or heard any valid motive for the government to kill college students. Even the 9/11 conspiracy theorists have a plausible motive for the conspiracy (an excuse to go to war), even though I think it's out in left field. I have yet to hear what the motive for shooting 13 college students at a virtually unknown college campus was. If it was a conspiracy, it was a pretty horrible and lame one. If the alleged motive for the shootings was suppressing dissent, why stop at 13 with 4 dead at one college campus? Why go after college students and not specifically target Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) or the Black Panthers? The same could be said for simply inciting fear to bring people in line. Had the shootings been one of a wide range of similar incidents, that would've been one thing, but it was for the most part isolated. Historically, it appears much more as a result of the incredibly high emotions running in the late 1960s than any coordinated government conspiracy to eliminate or damage dissent or the radical groups operating at the time like SDS. In order for a conspiracy theory to even get off the ground, it needs a valid motive. As of now, the Kent State shootings doesn't fit the possible motives I can think of very well at all.

I certainly do not have a problem with commemorating the events on a yearly basis as a memorial. The families of those killed are still around and still live with that loss. I know the sister of one of the victims and I know from my own experience with the loss of a loved one that missing someone never truly goes away even if we get used to them being gone. That said, what bothers me about May 4 is too often it becomes much more of a political rally with a specific left-wing agenda and far less a memorial service, which is why I tend to avoid campus on May 4. I feel the real lessons of May 4 are the dangers of letting emotion overrule logic and fairness. If the students and protesters had shown some restraint in their anger leading up the shootings, the Guard--who were the same ages as the students and already fatigued from addressing a violent strike just before this--would've never been called to Kent in the first place. Even immediately after the shootings, some students/protesters were so enraged they were ready to rush the Guard. Thanks to the pleadings of some professors, this was prevented otherwise many more would've likely been injured or killed and the Guard would've clearly been justified in firing out of self defense.

We still cannot say for certain WHY the Guard fired. A recording was recently released which experts claim has orders for the Guard to prepare to fire. There is no audible order to fire prior to the Guard actually firing and the recording opens more questions to me than it answers. Not only are the "orders" in a non-military standard form (the Guard uses military orders) and the recording does not let us know who is saying them, but there are other gunshots heard that are clearly not the gunshots of the rifles used by the Guard, though they could be gunshots from pistols Guard members were known to have. But hearing from Alan Canfora, you'd believe we have solved the "mystery" of why and can now fully apply the conspiracy label to the shootings. No Guard members present that day have ever stated there was an order to fire. Call it what you want, but after 40 years I hardly think any of them are simply saying that to protect anyone anymore. The commanders are all most likely dead by now and Guard members were already cleared of any charges at the Federal and Civil trials. But even then, he wants to open a new investigation to find out who gave these "orders". I'm not opposed to finding the truth, but I have a hard time believing a recording that audio experts could barely discern the "orders" from will help us know who said them. I mean, really, unless some secret memo is uncovered from James Rhodes or other government official telling the Guard to go in and kill students, there will ALWAYS be questions about conspiracy, motive, and just an emotion-driven accident.