We hope you’ve been enjoying the first Small Stones Interviews. (And if you’re new to this space, welcome!) We certainly learned a lot in conversation with these educators, and it’s our hope that featuring these conversations here will help us all to better understand the landscape of teaching and learning in this moment.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be featuring interviews with an anonymous civil rights lawyer and an educator who trains teachers in social-emotional learning techniques. And there’s a lot more in the works that we’ll be previewing soon.
We are always looking for educators, broadly defined, who want to chat. Get in touch if you’re interested!
Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois.
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.
To mark the incredibly infuriating news of the day, we are reposting our March 30th post on Teaching Climate Change. We’d argue that there has never been a time when it’s more important for educators to have quality, accurate information so as to educate the next generation. We’re all in this together.
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.
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.
First in our reading list is, appropriately, a summer reading list, via Public Books. It’s curated by their section editors, and covers topics from Global Black History to Literary Fiction to Comics. Our library lists just expanded from reasonable to out-of-control…here are a few we’re really excited about:
School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook). This warm, witty, and inclusive picture book filters first-day-of-school jitters through the perspective of the school itself, giving young readers a new outlook on a familiar place…
In Gratitude by Jenny Diski (Bloomsbury). Part of it is mourning: those of us who read everything Diski wrote read this memoir-of-dying as a goodbye to an essential habit. Part of it is the pleasure Diski always gave: seemingly familiar stories told by dispensing with any of the usual reference points, like some sort of trick of the light making you step gingerly into a room you thought you knew…
Underground Airlines by Ben Winters (Mulholland). In the spirit of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle,this account of slavery still ongoing in 2016 America asks readers to notice how much (or how little) has actually changed in our own world of racial profiling and third-world factory production…
Public Library: And Other Stories by Ali Smith (Anchor). Smith’s latest collection looks uncannily like the bookshelf of a library: you don’t know what you’ll find next to what, but you do trust that some logic governs the juxtapositions. The lyrical statistics and laconic anecdotes that caulk together Smith’s stories add up to a story of their own, about the neoliberal British state replacing librarians by volunteers and selling off reading rooms to private fitness clubs. The collection ends with Smith’s partner going through her dead mother’s purse to dispose of credit cards, reward cards, driver’s license: “The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to throw away was her library card.”
Next week’s interview is with an Episcopal priest working in interfaith education out of Chicago. If you’d like to get a quick preview of what we’ll be discussing, check out this quick read from Daily Kos about the contemporary Sanctuary Movement:
A month after popular vote loser Donald Trump’s election, some 450 houses of worship nationwide pledged to become sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, with one church in the Los Angeles area calling for “holy resistance” to his mass deportation force. And houses of worship have heeded the call, with the number of congregations vowing to protect immigrants from ICE doubling to 800, according to a new report from 60 Minutes. Undocumented parents like Jeanette Vizguerra—recently named one of Time’s 100 most influential people—have fled to churches for safety and as a last recourse.
And in honor of our first Small Stones Interview, we want to finish up by highlighting LaQuisha Beckum’s non-profit, Generation Reformation, and some of its programs. Check them out, and get in touch with the organization if you are local, have question, or even have services to offer! They are particularly looking for funding to complete the Generation Reformation organization site, which you can find here. The Facebook page is here. One of their projects is an after-school program that you can check out here.
“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?
We are still here! And despite what our posting schedule might indicate, we’ve been hard at work–when not drowning in the news cycle.
Next week we will bring you the first installment in a series of educator interviews. Part of what we hope to do with this space is feature voices of the people who continue to, for lack of a better way of putting it, work their asses off to make sure that the future of our civic society is better than the present. We’ve been talking with classroom teachers; we’ve also been talking with people whose education work is a little less traditional. All of them, we feel, have an important angle on what it means to educate in this moment, in this country.
It’s not too late to share your story! If you’re interested in having a conversation with us that could be featured here, get in touch. We’re excited to share the organizations and programs our teachers are working with, but we are very open to anonymous interviews as well.
Check back soon. We think you’ll be as fascinated as we have been to hear what these educators are doing.