Small Stones Interviews: The Rev. Kat Banakis

Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois.

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The Rev. Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. Her writing, preaching, and teaching explore how to be people of faith in this time and place. She is host and producer of The Holy Holy Podcast, an interfaith program on life’s large questions bringing together secular leaders with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian voices. She is the author of Bubble Girl: An Irreverent Journey of Faith (Chalice, 2013), which puts Christian systematic theology into an accessible, narrative form for personal and group reflection on how our stories are wrapped up in God’s story. Outside of St. Luke’s, Kat works in fundraising consulting for large non-profit organizations. She and her husband live in Chicago. Full disclosure: Kat and the Small Stones editors were college classmates.

Small Stones: We are picking people to talk to who are engaged in education at all sorts of different levels and worlds, and part of why you came up is because of the podcast work you were doing in the second half of last year, and because so much of what that podcast is, at least from my perspective, is very educational. And not in a way that’s didactic or anything like that, but it seems like it was educational for the participants, and it was educational for the people listening. It was a really great interfaith, intergeneration dialogue… and that feels very last-administration.

I’m curious, given that you recently had that role, how do you look at what we have happening now, in the civic world, that’s really invoking a lot of notes of conservative religious positions, too?

Kat Banakis: So Karl Barth is a mid-20th century theologian, and he talked about how when you preach, you always do so with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. And when I was putting together the first season of the podcast, I was really looking at, and to use a religious term, exegeting, my congregation, seeing that so many of the young families coming in had grown up in multi religious or non-religious households, and really for me to be a good pastor to my congregation, I needed to expand my aperture and purview of interfaith work. This was to be able to gain fluency, to be able to pastor to them, and also because I think that it is important in the public square to have interreligious dialogue.

But you also make a really good point that it was, to a certain extent, a situation of the time, in that there was this burgeoning—there’s always been interfaith work in the US, but particularly since 9/11, thinking about intra-Abrahamic initiatives has been very live. And so it was intentionally the sort of topics that bring people back to religion, broad topics, and then doing interfaith education around life issues, which as you point out, felt appropriate to the time, and creating a space for interfaith education around life topics.

Fast forward to the present, and—

Continue reading “Small Stones Interviews: The Rev. Kat Banakis”

Small Stones Interviews: LaQuisha Beckum

“Whether I’m working with the teens, or with the college students, I’m always trying to ensure they are kind to themselves in the process.”

We are thrilled to present the first in a series of Small Stones Interviews, a conversation with educator LaQuisha Beckum.

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LaQuisha Beckum

LaQuisha (they/them) is a community college Psychology/Child Development instructor, currently at American River College, and a Program Coordinator with the Sacramento Youth Commission. They are also the president of the Board of Directors for the nonprofit Generation Reformation. Full disclosure: LaQuisha and one of our editors, Emily, were colleagues for several years at De Anza College. We caught up with LaQuisha in April to find out what they’ve been up to since the election and how the new administration, and its policies, are impacting their students.

Small Stones: So, you are the first person we’re actually talking to–thanks so much! How did you get into education, if we can start from the very beginning?

LaQuisha Beckum: I began my career as a camp leader back in 1996. I worked my way up to assistant site director, then site director receiving certification to work with 5-9-year-olds and 10-14-year-olds. That work was with the YMCA and lasted 5 years. During this time, I was also working as a TA for a professor at SJSU. I spent one year working at a teen center after leaving the YMCA, then went into research. I didn’t start teaching college until winter 2006 at De Anza College.

SS: So what are things are like right now for you, as an educator? You’re at American River now? Teaching psychology?

LB: Yes, I’m at American River College now. Students are hanging in there. I think they feel similar to the rest of us, without them having the historical notes we have. They are feeling anxious, afraid at times, hopeful (one teen told me that he hopes this will be a phoenix phase…things crumble only to be reborn into something better). I work with youth ages fourteen to nineteen AND teach at the college. Nothing that either group has said is vastly different.

SS: What historical notes do you think are most important? Fourteen-year-olds in particular have only really known one administration…

LB: I think above everything, is understanding systems…that these things aren’t created by individuals, that it’s a group effort! We can talk about the idiocy of Drumpf all day, but it took a messed up system to even make it possible for him to reach this rank of government.

SS:  I remember being afraid about what would come next if he weren’t elected, wondering what the system would spit at us the next time.

LB: Exactly…they are familiar with Obama, but they probably didn’t realize he dropped three bombs an hour on the Mid-East in 2016.

I have been quite numb since he [Trump] won.

SS: The optics were way better, but bombs are bombs.

LB: Precisely!

SS: How does it affect how you teach? I’ve been your student before in professional settings, so I know you connect with students well. Is that easier? Harder? More urgent? None of the above?

Continue reading “Small Stones Interviews: LaQuisha Beckum”

The Voices Behind Studs Terkel’s “Working”

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If you’re like we are and you find oral histories fascinating, you’ve probably encountered Studs Terkel’s WorkingIf not, you have a major treat in store. Terkel went around the country in the early 1970s, interviewing people about what they did all day. The result was an incredible collection, one that gave insight into the lives of a wide range of ordinary people. We can attest that it’s excellent for high school or college classroom use, whether in full or as excerpts.

Radio Diaries, in partnership with Project&, has now done one better and made some of Terkel’s audio tapes (via  available for online listening. Check them out if you’ve ever been interested in hearing the voices that Terkel preserved so well.

You can find the feature, Working: Then & Now, at Radio Diaries.

Oral History Resources: StoryCorps

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Maybe you’ve heard their snippets that pop up from time to time on NPR shows. Maybe you’ve seen the booth somewhere and wondered. Maybe you’ve even spent some time in there, in conversation with a loved one.

If none of these hypotheticals are true for you, you’ve got a major treat in store.

StoryCorps mission is, in their own words:

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

For educators, the site is a treasure trove of materials. From a community college perspective, when Emily was helping students conduct oral history projects, a few resources in particular were invaluable.

  1. Great Questions. There are pages upon pages of questions here, organized by general subject area, that you might want to ask as you conduct an interview. Categories include “Growing Up,” “School,” “Family Heritage,” “War,” and “Great Questions for Anyone.” Not doing an oral history project with your own students? These may very well be useful in the classroom in a lot of different contexts, whether in ice breaker games or as a way to “interview” a fictional character.
  2. The Stories tab is an excellent place to begin if you’re introducing students to the whole concept of oral history or interviewing. Here you’ll find a curated sample of oral histories recorded in the StoryCorps booths. At the time of posting, there are stories up about garbage men, Japanese internment camps, adoption, and trans children. One that caught our eye this time around is titled “I Never Planned on Being a Leprechaun.” In Emily’s experience, nothing else helped students begin to understand the value of taking oral histories–and the responsibilities that go with it–better than hearing others doing just that.
  3. The StoryCorps app. Maybe one of the best ways for non-professionals to interview others, you can use the StoryCorps app to plan, record, and archive your interview to the Library of Congress. Yes, archive–they are collecting stories, and yours can be one of them. Find the app here.

And there’s no need to have an immediate classroom use for any of this. We can testify that it’s completely possible to spend hours just listening to the material that’s here, free for all to access.

 

Discussing Violence, in School and out

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It’s been quite the half-week in news. US strikes in Syria, terrorist attacks in Stockholm and then Cairo, and now a shooting at a school in San Bernadino, California.

Chances are your students may be feeling a bit on edge.

Here are some resources that we’ve found to help process violence with students, whether that violence takes place in schools, in the community, or in the world at large.

Colorín colorado has a good 15-item list for talking with children about violence in schools, but we think the tips could work for discussing violence that takes place in many  different settings. Bonus: at the bottom of the post are links to resources in eleven different languages: English, Spanish, Korean, French, Vietnamese, Amharic, Chinese, Portuguese, Somali, Arabic, and Kurdish-Bahdini. We also appreciate the citation of the  National Association of School Psychologists’ age-specific tips:

Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.

Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.

Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a PDF with information about talking with children about war. They note in particular that certain groups of students may need more care and attention when dealing with these subjects:

  • Some children might be particularly vulnerable to anxiety and distress during a time of war. This includes children of refugee or immigrant families; children with depression, anxiety, or other mental health needs; and children who have experienced prior trauma or loss. For children who have experienced prior losses, anxiety about war could result in increased worries about separation. Children with histories of trauma could experience a resurgence of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therefore, it is important for parents and school personnel to keep in mind children’s vulnerabilities in understanding their response to concern about war and to consider any extra needs they may have.

We highly recommend this resource from UNICEF, Talking with Children about War and Violence in the World. It’s got great information and suggestions, and it provides these through a Q/A format, highlighting questions that a teacher or other adult might have.

12. How can I talk with children if I feel that my own grasp of the facts and issues is inadequate?

Fortunately, we don’t need to be experts or know all the facts about something in order to listen to children. The questions of very young children seldom require complicated technical answers. When older children ask for information we don’t have, it is fine to say something like, “That’ s an interesting question, and I don’t know the answer. How can we find that out together?” The process of figuring out where to get the information, and going through the steps to obtain it, can be a powerfully reassuring experience for children, especially when a trusted adult participates with them…

(Fair to say that this particular question is frequently our response to a lot of what’s going on in the world today, and it’s always helpful to us to have concrete tips for what to do when you have no idea where to begin.)

 

 

Migra Watch

Witness, Accompany, and Advocate During ICE Raids

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This is a personal post. Yesterday, I, Eva, participated in the first post-election event that made me feel potentially useful — beyond marching, phoning, or attending a meeting. I am sharing in case you want to look for similar opportunities. The event was a 2-hour training to be a witness to ICE immigration raids.

Community groups in Santa Clara County, California, are setting up a rapid response network that will have its soft launch this week: a hotline for undocumented immigrants, and their family and friends, to call if ICE shows up at the door. A dispatcher will answer the phone, guide the caller through his/her rights, and text a network of citizen-witnesses who will come to the site of the raid to document it.

Here’s how my event was advertised:

Come learn how you can be a rapid responder so that we can respond to calls from community members concerned about immediate ICE actions throughout Santa Clara County.

The Rapid Response Network aims to expand the community’s capacity to monitor and document ICE operations in real time. We will support the process of gathering evidence used to free someone from ICE custody. We will expose the intimidating and unconstitutional tactics ICE uses to detain immigrants.

Please invite others to attend to help us build the Rapid Response Network we will launch very soon with many partners and volunteers, like you!

I’ve now been trained to be a citizen-witness, with basic knowledge of how to comply with ICE directives while recording the encounter on my phone and documenting the unfolding events. How many agents? What did they say? From which agencies did they come? Badge numbers. Vehicle license plates. And more.

The attorney who helped train us recommends US citizens serve as witnesses because we’re at lower legal risk than immigrants. It’s also something white people can usefully do, with more possible roles if you speak Spanish (I don’t).

I was trained through an event organized by PACT-San José. If you live in Santa Clara County, you can go to their events calendar to sign up for a training. In the event of a raid within 2-5 miles of your address, you’ll receive a text asking if you can come document it. Even if it takes you a while to arrive, it’s helpful. We learned that raids in the Bay Area have been 3 to 6 hours long.

I’m told San Mateo, San Francisco, and Alameda Counties have similar networks. I did some online searching and found the San Francisco Rapid Response Network and another in Brooklyn, NY. The PICO website appears to be a place to hunt for more area networks (I started on their press release page).

Teaching Climate Change

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Image by Liam Gumley, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

One of the more frustrating experiences we’ve had lately was clicking on a link for  NOAA climate change game, only to find that the climate kids portion of the site is not live.

This isn’t really a surprise. But we expect better from our administration.

In the meantime, here are some climate change resources that are still available. In our experience, games and simulations can be among the best ways to help students really understand just what climate change is, how it works, and what we can do at this point to interfere with the negative outcomes. Here’s a great example of how this can work from The New York Times.

For readers with a little more time, here’s a 2015 paper from Nature that we highly recommend, “Climate change games as tools for education and engagement,” written by Jason S. Wu and Joey J. Lee. From the abstract:

We argue that games on the subject of climate change are well-suited to address these challenges because they can serve as e ective tools for education and engagement. Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in the development of such games, many featuring innovative designs that blur traditional boundaries (for example, those that involve social media, alternative reality games, or those that involve direct action upon the real world). Here, we present an overview of the types of climate change game currently available, the bene ts and trade-o s of their use, and reasons why they hold such promise for education and engagement regarding climate change.

For fans of Model UN and Mock Trial, organize your own World Climate Simulation! Climate Interactive has all the instructions and materials you’ll need, all free to download and use.

How Does World Climate Work?

World Climate is a simplified international climate change negotiations meeting for large groups, typically 8-50 people (although it has been adapted for use in groups as large as 500). A facilitator leads the group, playing the role of a UN leader, while each participant plays the role of a delegate representing a specific nation, negotiating bloc, or, in some cases, an interest group. Everyone then works together in their respective roles to reach a global agreement that successfully keeps climate change well below 2˚C over preindustrial levels globally.

Simulation events vary in length, but most run 2-3 hours. Condensed versions have been run in as short as 45 minutes.

During the event participants must face the climate science, engage in the drama and tensions of global politics, test their ambitions against a climate-modeling tool used by actual climate negotiators, and then reflect on how the experience challenges their assumptions about climate action.

World Climate is suitable for, and has been used with, people from middle school to graduate school students, community and religious groups, executive leaders, scientists, and everyone in between.

Pop on over even just to take a look at the interactive map of where others have hosted their own World Climate Simulations. Good inspiration to become your own marker on the map.

The BBC has an online game available to all who have Flash. You’re playing as a member of the EU, so it might not be incredibly up-to-date, but it’s worth a visit. Notable also is the attention given to explaining the science behind the game design.

For now, we are pleased to report, the EPA climate site for students is live. Via this site, students can take a virtual Climate Change Expedition and learn some of the basics about climate change. Each stop contains a short video, and students will be collecting passport codes as they go. Educator resources for the site can be found here.