“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…
“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.
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.
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?
If you’re like we are and you find oral histories fascinating, you’ve probably encountered Studs Terkel’s Working. If 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.
Over here at Small Stones, we are busy with our own oral history project (come talk to us!), and one place we love to go for resources is Voice of Witness. Today, here’s a look at what they offer for educators.
First up: a webinar series on conducting oral history projects with students. Registration is required, but resources are available to check out now. We particularly like the resource guide “Listen Up: How to Plan Your Oral History Project.” At the top of the PDF is a list of excellent examples of other projects, notably some from high school students.
Also available, as a free download (or for purchase as a physical book): a teacher’s guide, The Power of the Story. You’ll find curricular material that can be used with Voice of Witness’s oral history collections, material that stands alone, and guides to creating your own oral history project.
From the foreword, written by William Ayers and Richard Ayers:
Oral history can be a truly revolutionary pedagogy. Because the work is propelled by questions instead of answers, it liberates students from the dull routines of passively receiving predigested in- formation. Instead, they become actors in constructing history and contributing substantively to the trajectory of the curriculum. They invent and experience the method of science, proposing explana- tions of the world, and then investigate to test the truth or to modify their explanations.
Students can approach the work as artists, filled with creativity and inventiveness, generative mistakes and sparkling epiphanies. Teachers can learn to take an attentive and supportive backseat, after sufficient preparation, and watch democratic education emerge from projects that the students themselves have learned to own. Through these projects, the stories that have been hidden, sup- pressed, and ignored begin to take center stage, and the real dimensions of one’s community and its struggles burst forth and grab the mic. This is why oral history, in form and content, can become a central project of social justice in our classrooms.
Resources from Michigan State’s African Studies Center
One of us studied for a graduate degree in African politics and remains interested in both current political developments and the question of how to introduce American students to (some of) the history, politics, and cultures on the continent — which has more than 50 countries and is approaching 1 billion inhabitants.
At the risk of eliding too many topics and peoples under the label “Africa”, we hope you’ll forgive us using the shorthand of “African countries”, just as we godless, ahistorical Americans refer to “European countries” while knowing Belarus, Greece, and Denmark are quite different. (But, do also check out the criticism blog Africa Is a Country.)
With that prelude out of the way, we’d like to introduce you to Exploring Africa, a resource out of Michigan State University. Their mission (see block quote, below) is to provide high-quality K-12 teaching resources, and they have a federal mandate and funding to do so.
Exploring Africa contains three main sections or resources:
Curriculum consists of 5 units of 30 modules in total, covering an introductory unit, history/social studies, the humanities, and regional and country lessons.
Country Overview contains a clickable map of each country on the continent. Upon clicking a country, you’re taken to a page of country information, including a political map, links to background information (CIA World Factbook and many more), and a curated list of recent news articles.
Special Topics covers some major issues like “Diamonds and Warfare”, the creation of the African Union, and more.
It’s a really neat, deep resource we hope you’ll explore.
Please — don’t be put off by the university-level affiliation or the fact that the introductory video begins with a white professor. These folks know the stereotypes and history they’re up against and they quickly get to resources that have been piloted by a diverse set of teachers in a diverse set of schools.
Exploring Africa Mission Statement
Exploring Africa is produced and developed by the African Studies Center (ASC) at Michigan State University in an effort to address the severe shortage of high quality African resources available to students and educators, particularly at the K-12 level. As an academic community comprised of more than 200 scholars who study Africa from a diversity of more than 20 disciplines, we are acutely aware of the need to provide learners and educators with resources that help them to engage Africa in a comprehensive manner, taking into account the continent’s rich diversity and complexities. Recognizing that for many people their only formal introduction to Africa will come in during their K-12 schooling, Exploring Africa is a serious attempt to provide this important community with curricular resources based on solid interdisciplinary scholarship that provide them with the opportunity to adequately engage Africa through knowledge, resources, and thoughtful learning activities that allow students to construct a more comprehensive and sympathetic appreciation for and understanding of Africa.
The MSU African Studies Center is a National Resource Center for the study of Africa (Title VI Center) that mandates the Center to actively engage the K-12 community in promoting the study of Africa.