Welcome back, teachers! We love you all.

A back-to-school roundup of posts and readings.

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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.

If you, like us, live in a place where far-right and white-supremacist groups have been coming to visit, check out “Students and Civil Disobedience: Lesson Plans and Activities” and its sister-post, “Students and Civil Disobedience: A Reading List” for ideas on how to contextualize this moment in US history. For those who might have students participating in marches and counter-protests, we have some tips.

Teaching climate change? We will post information as soon as we have it on how to help Houston-area educators and students as they recover from massive flooding. (If this is you, and you have the bandwidth, please let us know what would be helpful, and we will amplify!) If you are currently on dry ground, here are resources for helping students encounter the basic science and impacts of climate change in the classroom.

In the spirit of resistance, we wanted to highlight one of our lesser-read but best-loved roundups: our post on the history of several US and Canadian general strikes. Seattle, Winnipeg, and Oakland all hold history that we never encountered in school. Don’t let your students be like us.

Best of luck to all in the new school year, and watch this space for more Small Stones Interviews. And if you have your own story to tell, please get in touch!

#Charlottesville Resources

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.

With the nation still stunned from the horrific display of hate in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, families are once again faced with explaining difficult subjects to kids and teens. And as if hate speech, racism, and oppression weren’t enough, the president’s controversial remarks casting blame on “many sides” puts the burden on parents to educate their kids on the importance of tolerance.

In the meantime, technology is doing the heavy lifting — sending updates, tweets, posts, and breaking news alerts directly to our kids’ phones — long before parents have had a chance to digest the news themselves or discuss it thoughtfully with their kids. In many cases, kids aren’t at an age where they can make sense of these current events and are being thrust into a political debate that can seem scary or overwhelming. Often parents aren’t around to immediately help their kids make sense of challenging, upsetting situations.

The bottom line is that elementary school-aged kids and some middle schoolers have trouble fully understanding news events and their contexts. And though older teens are better able to understand current events, even they face challenges when it comes to sifting fact from opinion — or misinformation.

From Chalkbeat.org, an excellent snapshot of the developing #CharlottesvilleCurriculum. Since doing this work, we’ve fallen in love with curricula like these, generated by careful curators and excellent crowdsourcing on twitter. Chalkbeat’s summary is worthwhile if you’re pressed for time, but we seriously encourage those who can to delve into the developing document itself.

From Chalkbeat:

Looking for help addressing Charlottesville in class? Dozens of other educators have your back.

In the wake of the racist violence in Virginia that left one protester dead this weekend, teachers took to Twitter with #CharlottesvilleCurriculum to share resources for addressing racism, hate, and history.

From the #CharlottesvilleCurriculum itself (a publicly-viewable Google doc):

This is inspired by the thread created by Melinda D. Anderson#CharlottesvilleCurriculum on Twitterin response to the White Supremacist/NAZI rally, violence and murder that took place in Charlottesville.

As educators, our job is to protect, support, love and educate all of our students. Anyone can add to this document.  Please feel free to add & make your own copy. This is a working document.

Facing History is another excellent place; they suggest a couple of their already-existing resources as appropriate for our time and place today. First up, Holocaust and Human Behavior, a multi-media collection that can also be used as a printable book. The Table of Contents is a great entry point.

Also from Facing History, we recommend The Reconstruction Era and Fragility of Democracy.

Facing History has produced a series of videos and accompanying lessons that will introduce a rigorous study of the Reconstruction era into American history classrooms. Our video series includes interviews with scholars of the Reconstruction era who provide insight into this complex history and address questions of freedom, justice, equality, and citizenship that are at the heart of the Reconstruction.

We have also developed a complete unit that offers 16 lessons and many primary source documents. The unit, available in print, ebook, and free PDF, will guide students through a deep exploration of the Reconstruction era while enhancing their ethical decision-making and capacity for emotional growth.

More to come from us. If you have suggestions or additional material, please don’t hesitate to pass it along. And huge thanks to Claudia of Mindful Digital Life (among many other projects) for flagging these resources.

Our Inspiration: Voice of Witness

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.

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Dragon in front of San Francisco Asian Art Museum, which kindly hosted the VOW workshop

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.

Our interview process is directly inspired by VOW’s work. If you think you might want to speak to us—or introduce us to someone who might—please do get in touch at smallstonesedu@gmail.com.

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Last day of class: Group photo at the Voice of Witness 2017 “Amplifying Unheard Voices” workshop

Do You Have A Story To Share?

We are excellent listeners.

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Welcome, new readers!

Small Stones is a project founded in the wake of the 2016 election. We focus on curation, education, and narration, and right now, we’re waist-deep in our Small Stones Interviews project. That’s probably how you found us.

Do you have a story of your own? We would love to hear it. We’re currently working on our Small Stones Interviews guiding principles. Here they are in their current form:

  • 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.’ We think it’s important to think critically and compassionately about peoples’ stories. They are, after all, the fundamental stuff of history. We are living in a time of political and social upheaval that future historians will study. We aim to influence both how we see ourselves now and how posterity will see us. Because if we see ourselves differently, we may take different, braver action.
  • Stories can be transformational. Oral history is inherently humanizing because it recreates one-on-one conversation, rather than presenting a list of facts or abstract ideas. People learn about themselves and the human condition by sharing, reading, and hearing stories. When our children ask us what we did in 2017, we hope to tell them that we worked towards a better world by helping people listen to each other.
  • Conducting oral history is an opportunity to honor a person. We aim to be respectful, trustworthy, and accurate listeners to, and communicators of, our narrators’ stories.
  • The Small Stones storytelling process. When we interview you, you are giving permission for us to record, transcribe, and consider the interview for publication at org. However, you remain in control. You can call the process off at any time, you can edit the interview, and we’re happy to keep your identity confidential (i.e. publish it anonymously) if that makes more sense for you.

We welcome your thoughts and comments! And, if you’re interested in telling your story with us, please email us to discuss: smallstonesedu@gmail.com. Or reach out on Twitter. We’re at @smallstonesedu.

Small Stones Interviews: Eva Kaye-Zwiebel

“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.

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Eva on Nov. 8, 2016 after casting her vote.

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.

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Manna’s trunk on Nov. 8, 2016.

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.

Continue reading “Small Stones Interviews: Eva Kaye-Zwiebel”

Going It Alone, by Rahawa Haile

“Perspective is everything.” Hiking the Appalachian trail, by @rahawahaile.

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.

“Not really,” he says. “You’re African, not black-black. Blacks don’t hike.”

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.

Continue reading here.

Black girls’ childhoods matter.

But according to a recent study, many people are inclined to act as if they don’t.

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Protect and nurture our girls. 

We’re on a social-emotional learning kick these days, and a friend of the blog tipped us off to this Washington Post writeup: “Study: Black girls viewed as ‘less innocent’ than white girls.'”

From the article:

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.

It’s a short read, but worthwhile.