Here’s to all teachers and educators returning to the classroom, wherever that might be for you. And what a first week it’s been. Below are some of our most popular posts that may be helpful as the new school year begins.
Here are some things we’ve been reading amidst the onslaught of daily news. As always, our goal is providing resources that may be useful to teachers and/or students, whether in the classroom or in the larger world.
Common Sense Media has updated a previously-published article, “Explaining the News to Our Kids,” in light of the events in Charlottesville. The article includes tips and strategies for discussing difficult news with children by age-range, which we found particularly helpful.
An organization at the root of ethical storytelling
Emily Breunig, one of our co-founders, taught community college composition for years, often using a text called the Voice of Witness Reader. So of course Voice of Witness was on her mind when she created Small Stones. That’s why we were so excited a few weeks ago when our other co-founder, Eva Kaye-Zwiebel, attended Voice of Witness’s four-day oral history workshop in San Francisco.
Voice of Witness (VOW) is a nonprofit dedicated to sharing the stories of people who have experienced injustice but are largely unheard in the public square. In fact, VOW’s tag line is “amplifying unheard voices.” They describe their mission like this:
“Our work is driven by the transformative power of the story, and by a strong belief that an understanding of crucial issues is incomplete without deep listening and learning from people who have experienced injustice firsthand. Through our oral history book series and education program, we amplify the voices of people impacted by injustice, teach ethics-driven storytelling, and partner with human rights advocates.”
If you’ve read or heard about Dave Eggers’s book What Is the What, about Valentino Achak Deng, a “Lost Boy” of Sudan, you might recognize it as part of VOW’s origin story. Eggers’s experience of working with Deng was instrumental to his inspiration to found Voice of Witness, along with Lola Vollen and Mimi Lok. VOW now publishes oral history collections and creates resources to help teachers, activists, and youth create oral history, too.
At this year’s training, Eva and 25 or so classmates participated in discussions, brainstorms, and role-playing with oral history teacher-practitioners. Then, everyone buddied-up to go through the process of telling a personal story and recording a partner’s story. (You can read part of Eva’s story here. VOW’s blog about this year’s workshop is here.) It was a very intimate and emotional experience: there’s a feeling of “nakedness” to sharing a private experience with another person, but also a feeling of strength in seeing that story written down, as well as its impact on others when it’s read aloud.
Small Stones publishes diverse first-person narratives related to education, civic-minded action, resistance, and anything else fascinating that falls into our laps. You can download a description of our interview process here.
Our guiding beliefs and goals for these interviews are:
History is personal as well as factual. Facts and statistics are part of history, but so, too, is personal experience—otherwise known as ‘your story’ or ‘oral history.’ First-person stories are humanizing because we all have them, whether we’re famous or not.
Stories can be transformational. People learn about themselves and the human condition by sharing, reading, and hearing stories. They also foster connection with others. We aim to to foster a sense of agency in our narrators and ourselves via storytelling.
Oral history is an opportunity to honor a person. We aim to be respectful, trustworthy, and accurate as we listen to and share our narrators’ stories.
Our standard process is to record, transcribe, and edit the interview cooperatively with you. However, you remain in control: you can call off the process at any time; you can edit the interview; and we’re happy to publish the interview anonymously if that makes sense for you.
“Institutions are just habits. They’re nothing. When they’re broken, they’re broken.”
Eva Kaye-Zwiebel is a co-founder of Small Stones. In June she attended a Voice of Witness oral history workshop, where she talked about the 2016 presidential election against the background of her grandmother’s life. She told this story in an interview, which we’ve edited to create a first person narrative.
My brother was at my house on Election Day, November 8, 2016, when a giant box arrived from my Cousin Nancy. I looked at it and thought, “What the heck is this?” As we were opening it, I remembered Nancy had told me she had the steamer trunk Manna used to move from Germany to the United States. I’d said Nancy could send it to me. Manna was my grandmother. Her name was Marianne, German for Mary Ann. When she was little she called herself ‘Manna’ because she couldn’t pronounce her own name, and that became the family variation on grandma.
Before the election my brother and I talked a little. My reputation is as the professional worrier in the family and I didn’t want to dump too much of that on him. He knew I was worried and that I had gone to Nevada to knock on doors because I didn’t have a good feeling about the election. I wanted to be able to say I’d done what I reasonably could.
The box was absolutely empty. It’s an empty wooden crate. I guess I expected a more finished trunk. The wood is raw, like, ‘be careful when you touch it, you might get a splinter.’ It has metal hinges and a place to put a lock on it. It’s maybe three feet by eighteen inches by twenty inches. It’s sturdy. It has Hamburg Line stickers on it and the address she was going to in Harrison, New York.
I laughed when we opened the box because it was too ‘neat’ for it to arrive the day of the election. Manna left Germany in 1935, and this is the trunk. If it happened in a story, you’d get mad and throw the book because it’s too neat.
Manna was a force of nature, and she was grumpy. I think she was like that before her country fell apart and the whole family left. But she left early; she was one of those people. She was in medical school in Switzerland and, if I remember my history right, the Nuremburg laws or some of Hitler’s legislation went into effect in Switzerland before it did in Germany. She had to leave school because she was Jewish. As a result, she looked around and said, “This is not the place for me. This is not going to go well.” And she up and left before the family. She ended up getting her US citizenship the week before Pearl Harbor. Of course then Germans couldn’t get it and my grandfather was an enemy alien in Los Angeles during World War II.
“Perspective is everything.” Hiking the Appalachian trail, by @rahawahaile.
The essay below, Going It Alone, was published in Outside magazine in April 2017. Its author is Rahawa Haile of Oakland. We invite you to read it, both for the beauty of its language and also, most importantly, for its thought-provoking content. We then invite you to read this ‘Behind the Story’ article from the Columbia Journalism Review, written by Elon Green about and published in June. If we can sum up why we’re sharing this article, it’s probably a brief line in Ms. Haile’s article: “Perspective is everything.” – Sm.St. eds.
From Outside Magazine:
“What happens when an African American woman decides to solo-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine during a summer of bitter political upheaval? Everything you can imagine, from scary moments of racism to new friendships to soaring epiphanies about the timeless value of America’s most storied trekking route.”
It’s the spring of 2016, and I’m ten miles south of Damascus, Virginia, where an annual celebration called Trail Days has just wrapped up. Last night, temperatures plummeted into the thirties. Today, long-distance Appalachian Trail hikers who’d slept in hammocks and mailed their underquilts home too soon were groaning into their morning coffee. A few small fires shot woodsmoke at the sun as thousands of tent stakes were dislodged. Over the next 24 hours, most of the hikers in attendance would pack up and hit the 554-mile stretch of the AT that runs north through Virginia.
I’ve used the Trail Days layover as an opportunity to stash most of my belongings with friends and complete a short section of the AT I’d missed, near the Tennessee-Virginia border. As I’m moving along, a day hiker heading in the opposite direction stops me for a chat. He’s affable and inquisitive. He asks what many have asked before: “Where are you from?” I tell him Miami.
He laughs and says, “No, but really. Where are you from from?” He mentions something about my features, my thin nose, and then trails off. I tell him my family is from Eritrea, a country in the Horn of Africa, next to Ethiopia. He looks relieved.
“I knew it,” he says. “You’re not black.”
I say that of course I am. “None more black,” I weakly joke.
I’m tired of this man. His from-froms and black-blacks. He wishes me good luck and leaves. He means it, too; he isn’t malicious. To him there’s nothing abnormal about our conversation. He has categorized me, and the world makes sense again. Not black-black. I hike the remaining miles back to my tent and don’t emerge for hours.
Overall, the study concluded that when adults compared white girls and black girls they viewed black girls as needing less nurturing, less support and less comfort.
“Ultimately, adultification is a form of dehumanization, robbing black children of the very essence of what makes childhood distinct from all other developmental periods: innocence,” the authors wrote. “Adultification contributes to a false narrative that black youths’ transgressions are intentional and malicious, instead of the result of immature decision-making—a key characteristic of childhood.”
The authors wrote that these perceptions may be contributing to discrepancies in school discipline and juvenile justice charges among black girls. The study noted that black girls are five times more likely than white girls to be suspended from school and 20 percent more likely to be charged with a crime.
This sets off alarm bells for us for many reasons, particularly through our current lens of SEL. If black girls aren’t given the space that all children need to practice learning about and handling emotions–or are given that space grudgingly, without the benefit of being seen as children in need of support–we as a society are setting them up for consequences both earlier and later in life.
“You don’t know the pain other people have had.” – Joe Biden
Following yesterday’s shooting at congressional Republicans’ baseball practice, and thinking about the oral history training we’re about to attend, we offer this excerpt from an interview by Terry Gross with former Vice President Biden. Biden’s point is not new, but today feels like a good day to remember that we share humanity with our political adversaries, and that where possible, we should foster empathy as well as passionate and principled disagreement. The interview took place earlier this week. Full text and audio here.
Terry Gross: I want to ask a few questions about you and your life. You’ve been touched by death several times. Beginning when you—just before you took the oath of office as senator, your wife died. Your baby daughter died. Your two sons were hospitalized ’cause of a car accident. Your son Beau died not long ago. You were read last rites when you had your aneurysm. Thank God you survived.
The Senate is a place where it’s real hardball. I mean, collegial or not, it’s about politics. It’s about hardball. It’s about power to get your agenda passed and so on. A lot of people are there because they like power, because they really value power and want to have it. So coming from this place where you’ve been exposed to mortality and to, like, the ultimate meaning of life, what was it like to be in the Senate, where it’s not a place where I’d imagine it’s easy to express vulnerability, where you have long, reflective
“I’m definitely one of the people who didn’t realize how fragile everything really was…”
Our third Small Stones interviewee has requested anonymity. She is a civil rights lawyer actively working on what we non-legal minds like to call The Legal Resistance (hey, it sounds cool). We hope this interview will be just her first foray into educating laypeople about what’s going on in government and the implications it may have for our lives.
As you might expect, she’s experienced some pushback, and therefore we’ll be keeping her identity under wraps. Though we can’t tell you who she is, we’re happy to be able to publish our conversation in full below. Read on to find out what keeps her heading into work each morning, despite some very real misgivings about where the system is headed.
Small Stones (SS): How would you define what you do? I’ve been poking around your firm’s site, and it seems like you deal with a lot of good things!
A Lawyer (AL): I say I’m a civil rights lawyer, but I also do workers’ rights and consumer protection. I do a lot of “this looks important and interesting and like I could be useful. I’ll do that for a while.”
SS: That’s actually an excellent segue to my most pressing question. How are things different for you all, day to day, under this administration?
AL: A few ways, I think. First, when everyone thought Hillary would be elected, we had all of these plans about how we would push forward and make the world better, and we still have those, and some of them are still viable. But a lot more of what we do now is trying to protect the status quo.
With Scalia’s death and the new appointment, we were gearing up to try to get a bunch of things before the Supreme Court , and now we’re on the defensive. And that’s true with everything.
SS: As a layperson, it’s been a bit disheartening to see how many governmental norms are really dependent on everyone agreeing that they are norms.
AL: Yeah, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m definitely one of the people who didn’t realize how fragile everything really was—and just how quickly it could change when everyone decides to just stop agreeing.
Warmup reading for our upcoming interview with a civil rights lawyer
In advance of this week’s Small Stones interview with a civil rights attorney (coming soon!), we’ve been thinking about how much we, personally, know about our individual rights. For sure, we’re quite privileged ourselves—white, highly-educated, and relatively wealthy—allowing us to mostly assume we’ll be treated legally and fairly. But, we’re both women, one of us is a religious minority, and the other has been pregnant, so we we’ve felt some fear, too.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has lots of handy “Know your rights” guides: if you have an encounter with the police, if you experience voter intimidation, if you’re a religious minority, an immigrant, pregnant, work in a nail salon, and so forth. Below, we excerpt their summary of rights if you’re a Muslim (or perceived as Muslim) and experiencing discrimination at the airport. You can read the full text here.
Your Rights at the Airport and the Border
The Constitution and federal law prohibit customs and border agents from performing stops, searches, detentions, or removals based solely on religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs.
You have the right to:
Be free from discriminatory questioning at the airport or border. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have the authority to ask your immigration status when you are entering or returning to the United States or leaving the country. They have the power to determine whether non-U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have the right to enter the country. If you are a U.S. citizen and you have presented a valid passport, you do not have to answer officers’ questions, although refusing to answer routine questions about the nature and purpose of your travel could result in delay and/or further inspection. If you are a lawful permanent resident, we recommend you answer officers’ questions… Officers, however, may not select you for questioning based on your religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs…