What Police Are to Schools

White supremacy is real. White supremacy harms. White supremacy kills.

I taught for 7 years in North Lawndale and 4 years in East Garfield Park. During that time I listened to the testimony of Black students who were unfairly targeted by police on more occasions than I can count. I witnessed police officers in the community and inside the school building treat students disrespectfully, physically handling them in ways that wouldn’t be appropriate for an adult, let alone a child.

I remember one fight at school. It wasn’t a good situation – one student got so angry he tore my colleague’s classroom apart. But our school leaders and student Peace Warriors were handling it. We were getting things calmed down.

The police were called. They didn’t send counselors. They didn’t send someone to help defuse the situation. They sent a group of officers with vests and guns. They sent officers dressed all in black, large in size, with biceps you’d expect on professional athletes. They sent officers ready to physically engage with our children. I remember one in particular, flexing his hands, dancing back and forth on the balls of his feet, looking past me at the classroom where the students were talking with the dean.

I won’t repeat the words I heard them say. But I think about this event, and others, all the time. What were the officers planning to do? How would they have handled the situation if staff and teachers hadn’t been there, between them and the students? If our brilliant security guards hadn’t calmed the students and the officers?

When the police left, our counselors, the dean, the principal, and other community members helped calm the situation down. We helped my colleague set up his room again. Property had been damaged, but what is property next to human life? Why worry about physical objects when it is flesh and blood that matters?

The police as they are currently structured are a tool of white supremacy. The system prioritizes White people at the expense of Black people.

White people: Listen when people say they are being harmed. Believe Black people.


Why I Strike (when I want to teach)

It’s Day 8 of the 2019 Chicago teacher’s strike and I’m a little stressed. It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve been in my classroom, almost two weeks since I’ve delivered a lesson, almost two weeks since I’ve seen my students. It’s October, for crying out loud – I’m supposed to be at school teaching, or learning, or both. So after today’s picket I went for a run along the lakefront to blow off some steam and clear my head.

I spent the entire four miles thinking about my middle school cross country athletes.

Our team is small – just me, another coach, and nine students. Still, the kids are dedicated runners, and they’re really starting to grow as a team. We had a student compete in our network’s regional meet, and every time we run they get stronger as individuals and as a unit. Every athlete supports their teammates. If a student falls behind, others run back to pump them up, improve their pace, get them to finish strong. They’re good kids, and I couldn’t be prouder to be their coach.

We made it two weeks before the strike stopped our season. I hate that students who made so much progress are sitting on the sidelines, not practicing, not building on their new skills. I want to be teaching. I want to be coaching.

But we had to strike – and we must continue the strike until our fair demands are met.

This is my first year in Chicago Public Schools, my first in the Chicago Teacher’s Union. Though I miss my kids and cannot wait to be back in school, right now a Chicago teacher’s place is in the streets.

You see, I know what things can be like at schools without a union focused on social justice issues. I spent 11 years teaching at non-union private and charter schools on the west side. Although each school did things well, each also violated student rights in surprising ways. I’ve seen students expelled for getting tattoos that couldn’t be hidden, getting in minor fights, and admitting to gang affiliation. I’ve also seen students with special needs go without services because their school did not comply with state law. I’ve seen students who’ve experienced intense trauma struggle in classes as large as 37, and had administrators tell me “good” teachers deal with classes that size without complaint. I’ve seen high teacher turnover, and seen students go without key support staff because their school let a position sit empty.

Unfortunately, conditions in some Chicago Public Schools aren’t any different. Still, the district has one advantage privates and charters lack: a strong public employee union. When positions are cut and resources withheld, teachers can fight back. When the district fails to follow state law, teachers can fight back. When the city government funnels millions of dollars into private development at the cost of our public goods, teachers can fight back.

Right now we’re waiting for the mayor and CPS to agree to a contract that ensures students at all schools have reasonable class sizes and access to social workers, counselors, librarians, and nurses. We’re waiting for the mayor to agree to a contract that ensures elementary school teachers have the time necessary to prep for their deserving students. We’re waiting for the mayor to put in writing the equity she paid lip service to on the campaign trail.

Until we get that contract, we will stay out on strike. We won’t be in the classroom, and we won’t be coaching our student-athletes. We have to do it. If the union does not fight to make an equitable, high-quality education accessible to every student in the city, no one will.

We owe it to our children to strike. We owe it to our city’s future.


People, Life’s Sweetener

I’m not sure where the time went, but I’ve been in Montana for a week. I’m at Carroll College in Helena for a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar entitled Re-Enchanting Nature. The goal is to learn new ways to get kids excited about the environment through literature, poetry, and music – to build, as Wendell Berry might say, their affection for the place and space they inhabit.

I’d be lying if I said that’s all I was thinking about. My mind’s on home, family, and especially my dad. He comes up all the time – whether I’m reading, out for a hike, or listening to another teacher talk about their pedagogy. I’ve found focusing on the here and now to be an elusive concept. When life fundamentally changes so quickly, it seems it’s difficult to keep the day-to-day in perspective. Luckily, a few things have helped along the way.



Nearly every day, before or after our sessions, I climb one of Montana’s gloriously engaging mountains. I’d say distracting, but that’s not what I mean. No matter how gentle the trail, a mountain demands your focus if you want to climb it – demands the attention of every part of your being. Mt. Helena is my old reliable – I’ve been up and down four times, morning, afternoon, and evening. On my first full day in town I summited the mountain and then took the circuitous ridge trail seven miles back into the wilderness – no bears (I checked), just rolling green hills punctuated by bitterroot flowers, scattered forests, and the odd western tanager.

The best hike so far has been up Mt. Edith, a soaring, 9,500 foot peak still sporting patches of snow on July 6. The Coloradans in our group might go on and on about “soloing fourteeners,” but Mt. Edith’s the highest I’ve taken myself on two feet. There’s something about being in the thinner air – something piercing, something clarifying, something that says, “You are small, and so are your worries,” but not in a condescending way. The world is a big place to live in, and looking across 120 miles to the impossibility that is the distant, snow-capped Rocky Mountains drives that point home beyond a doubt.

There’s too much in this world for one person to worry about it. How can one worry about a mountain? Mountains?

Poetry and Place


Among the readings assigned by the seminar directors was a book of poetry by Melissa Kwasny entitled Pictograph. Kwasny wrote the sixty-five poems included in the collection as meditations on pictographs in Hellgate Canyon, just across the Missouri River from Helena. Pictographs are ancient paintings done on cliff faces, often using red ochre. Kwasny spent the last several years learning everything she could about them, calling equally on tribal representatives and university scholars. The ones in Hellgate are faded from weather and time, and although they’re not easy to understand, they are easily reached via a short hike.

Kwasny joined us on a trip to Hellgate as our interpreter. She led us as we burned sweetgrass and left tobacco offerings, then forded a stream to view the pictographs. Many of them had deep white scratches – not from modern vandals, Kwasny said, but from ancient visitors to this sacred space looking to take a bit of its power with them. The limestone cliff face was cracked, and fragments of the murals littered the ground. I’ve seen similar places where the walls are protected from the elements by plexiglass, and part of me wondered why the same hadn’t been done here. I don’t know for sure, but vulnerability may be part of the nature of the the space. This was not a museum we visited, but a living sanctuary, open to all who would worship there.

Back at Carroll, Kwasny modeled teaching methods to help students write poetry, then read a few of her own poems. They’re written in prose, a choice she made to avoid the interruptions inherent in verse. A standout is poem 52, “The difference between loneliness and solitude.” It ends:

But what is the difference between solitude and isolation? Last winter, I was busy. This winter, I talk to you. I tell you solitude contains loneliness as a sweetener.

Even when we’re alone, Kwasny seems to say, life continues to be about one thing more than anything else:

The People, The People, The People


Early in the week, another teacher asked me what the most important part of my Fulbright experience was. As I’ve done in the past, I fell back on a Māori proverb passed on to me in Aotearoa New Zealand (or at least the common English translation):

If you ask me what is the most important thing in the world, I will reply, “The people, the people, the people.”

The same could be said for my time in Montana. The seminar wouldn’t be as rich or as enjoyable were it not for the other teachers here with me. Teaching is a solitary job sometimes, and it’s an incredible thing to hike, learn, and break bread with such a talented group of educators. Whether or not we solve the problem of environmental education, each of us will leave Montana with new tools, new ideas, and new perspectives on education.

In the end, you can’t beat the view from the mountaintop – unless, that is, you reach the summit with incredible folks like the ones I’ve met in Montana.



My dad died on Father’s Day, very suddenly and without warning, of a massive heart attack. He was 65, and I wish with every bit of my being that he’d been able to live longer. He was a good man, a kind man, a funny man, a difficult man. It seems incredibly cruel that he’s gone, and I don’t know when I’ll come to terms with it. But remembering him helps.

Here’s a bit of what I’m remembering today.

Dad - Animals

Animals. My dad loved animals. He majored in zoology at Michigan State University and considered becoming a veterinarian. Though he never did so, he used his knowledge and compassion to maintain an evolving menagerie of animals at home. It wasn’t unusual for us to have half a dozen dogs, a handful of cats, some goldfish, and even a convalescing finch or two around the house at a given time. Sometimes I think we had more dog, cat, and bird food in the pantry than anything fit for human consumption.

Away from home, he was always on the lookout for new creatures to show my sister and me… even while behind the wheel of a car. I was in not one, but two, animal-related accidents with my dad. Once he stopped to let a flock of geese cross the road and a guy in a sports car rear-ended us. The geese were safe, but my dad went to the hospital and the car was totaled. Another time we were on the way to have lunch with my grandma, driving along a road set atop a gentle rise carved out during Michigan’s glacial past. My dad saw a hawk out his window and pointed for my sister and I to look. So intent was he on the bird that he drove us right off the road and down the hill. We missed lunch while waiting for a tow truck, but I definitely remember the hawk.

Dad and Mom

Storytelling. My dad was not the most gregarious guy, but he had a set of stories he loved to tell – even if only he remembered them in the way he told them. Most of them featured anecdotes about my sister and me as kids, or something weird the dogs had done, or stuff he’d read online that he found too good to be true. In one, I didn’t want to eat my vegetables as a toddler, so I stood up in my highchair and shouted, “Damn you, Dad!” In another, he turned his back on my then-two-year-old sister while at the playground for just one second and looked back to see her at the top of the climbing dome (the same one he swore I was afraid to climb even though I was two years older). Slightly exaggerated? Perhaps. But absolutely true to him.

He’d read to us as kids, too, even after we’d reached the age when many parents gave up on the practice. He was just that good at telling a story. The series I remember the best were Christopher Stasheff’s Warlock books, about a man from an advanced society whose technology causes him to be mistaken as a magic user when his spaceship crash-lands on a medieval planet (thankfully he doesn’t try to colonize it). The real magic was the feeling my dad brought to the pages, making characters come to life for us. I’ve never read the books myself, but I know the story of Rod Gallowglass and his adventures on Gramarye, can picture him riding his robot horse, as though I’d seen it in real life.

Dad - Books

Reading. Speaking of reading, my dad had a heroic appetite for books. He read everything that came in at our local library, then read it again when he couldn’t find a new book. His true passion was science fiction and fantasy. Our walls were lined with shelves full of Ace and DAW paperbacks – some of which now live in my Chicago apartment because my dad wanted to clear out some space but couldn’t bear to get rid of them completely. My dad’s books are dog-eared, with corners folded over, bindings broken, tossed in a jumble, loved completely.

One of the last things my dad did before he died was visit the library. He was scheduled to have surgery on his right rotator cuff last Wednesday and had prepared for his recovery by checking out a whole stack of new books. It breaks my heart he never got to read them, but my dad wouldn’t want to be in a world where he’d read everything anyway.

Dad - Beach

Genuine Love. One last thing, and I’ll start it with an animal story. We had one dog growing up that my dad loved more than any other: Toby, a Labrador-Bouvier mix, a big friendly dog who went everywhere with us as kids. When my dad retired, he decided he wanted a new dog, so he and my mom drove over to Last Chance Rescue. At one point, my mom saw my dad looking at one of the dogs with tears in his eyes.

“She looks just like Toby,” he said.

They got the dog, his last dog. Her name’s Gabby. She’s entertaining as hell, and she went everywhere with him until the day he died.

My dad kept a lot to himself – my uncle recently described him as “stoic” – but when he cared about something it was plain as day. His love was as clear and unadorned as his facial expressions often were inscrutable. He may not always have known how to express love, but there was no mistaking it for anything but what it was. My dad would do anything for my mom, my sister, and me – and that included spending most of his life working on the line at General Motors so we had enough money for food, health care, and education. He told me at my wedding that seeing me have a happy life, doing a job I care about and marrying someone I love, made all the hard times he went through worth it.

That was my dad. He had a hard time loving himself. He fought with anxiety and depression his entire life. Sometimes he won, but just as often he lost. But he loved his dogs, his stories, his books, and his family.

I miss him so very much.

Love you Dad.

Teaching White Supremacy

About a week ago, I attended a lecture entitled Discussing White Supremacy in Academic Classrooms. White supremacy is far from new in the United States, but the topic has taken on a renewed vitality given the current level of national discourse. I’ll summarize the lecturer’s key points below, then talk a bit about the implications for classroom teachers.

The lecturer, Adele Norris from the University of Waikato, talked about the problems she and others members of her university’s sociology faculty had when discussing race with students. She identified two main tensions, experienced both in faculty planning meetings and in the classroom:

  • Epistemic Exploitation (Berenstein, 2016). According Nora Berenstain, the theory’s originator, “Epistemic exploitation occurs when privileged persons compel marginalized persons to educate them about the nature of their oppression.” Educators and students of color are often expected to do additional unpaid labor teaching white teachers and students how not to be racist. In addition, women and people of color are often expected to hold specific roles at schools based on the assumptions of others.
  • White Fragility (DiAngelo, 2016). White people often do not grow up with the discourse of race and are therefore uncomfortable with it. Teachers must help students understand that the goal of discourse is not to make people feel bad, but to, in Norris’ words, “change the racist system in which we are all drowning.”

Norris made a couple of suggestions for the future:

  • White supremacy is not widely theorized. If we are to end its influence on U.S. American society, it needs to be actively studied and productively discussed in academic circles.
  • Institutions must be consciously organized to limit epistemic exploitation. At Waikato, the sociology department reflected on its practices, then went through a reorganization to ensure lecturers did not lead courses assigned to them based on externally identified characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality.
  • We should not look at racism as a binary either/or. To be called out for being racist is a difficult thing, but it should not be the end of the world. If someone calls you racist, it is probably because you said or did something racist. It is a call to personal reflection and action. The trick is to learn from the experience instead of resorting to feelings of outrage and despair.

What implications does this have for classroom teachers in the United States? We need to familiarize ourselves with the discourses of race and racism and become comfortable talking about them with students. It is abundantly clear that many students in the U.S. are not critically engaging with topics on race and racism while at school, and this negatively impacts their ability to deal with them as adults.

What’s more – epistemic exploitation is a demonstrably real phenomenon. I’ve seen it in schools in the U.S. and in New Zealand, where African American, Maori, and Pacific teachers are often expected to go far beyond the classroom requirements of their job for no additional pay. Beyond the additional stress and pressure this can cause, it’s plain not fair. Schools need to critically examine how much they ask of their faculty, and ensure the workload is evenly distributed.

The resources exist for us to learn – all we have to do is prioritize finding them. Norris, Berenstain, and DiAngelo are just part of a long tradition which seeks to help Americans learn to love one another.

The stakes could not be higher. If we are to remake the U.S. as an anti-racist society, we must actively reflect on what we contribute to that society. We must actively counter racism in all its forms.

Finding the Village

It’s difficult to imagine, but I’ve hit the halfway point of my Fulbright Fellowship in Aotearoa New Zealand. I gave my mid-point presentation last Thursday, and thought I’d share what I talked about.

My project focuses on community-inclusive schooling. It’s cliché to say it takes a village to raise a child – but it’s also true. Many people are invested in a student’s education. Often, they work in isolation. Researchers suggest teaching practices. Politicians set policy. Principals formulate institutional goals. Teachers plan and execute lessons. Parents guide, love, and support. Friends and family offer help along the way.

If the people involved in raising a child don’t work together, where is the village? If there is no village, what of the child?

With my project, I hope to provide some support for the village.

Research Question

Over the past few months, my broad research goals have gained greater focus. Here’s my current question:

What meanings and practices do students, parents, and educators bring to community-inclusive education in Aotearoa New Zealand?

This question provides a limited observational focus within set groups of people. When looking at meanings, we are concerned with how people understand the world around them. What do teachers think about community-inclusive education? Do students believe that schools help serve their individual goals, or do they see class as a necessary evil on the way to football practice? Do parents have positive or negative associations with school buildings – and if so what does this mean for parent-teacher conferences?

When discussing practices, we look at how people actively engage with the world. If schools exist as co-created institutions, actively seeking the wisdom of their communities, what does this look like? How do teachers go about creating lessons informed by their place and space? What do students think teachers and schools should do to better meet their academic needs? How can parents – who themselves have limited time and resources – best involve themselves in their child’s education?

We aren’t just looking at what people think here – we’re looking at how they think they should act.

Observational Context

I’ve spent time at all secondary schools – and an important community organization – within one Wellington-region city. I made this decision based on my nine years working in the same Chicago community. Instead of taking snapshots of educational practices across the entire country, I want to gain a better understanding of what people are doing in one area. My hope is that not only will my findings be useful to the people in the local community, but that they can inform positive actions for my home school community.

Theoretical Perspective

My study focuses on three main pedagogical approaches, each of which must be considered if the others are to be fully understood.

  • Place-based education (PBE): pedagogy rooted in that which is (physically) local. PBE emerges from the concern that by focusing on a student’s developing global competence we neglect the actual communities in which people live (Lane-Zucker, Sobel, 2004).
  • Culturally-Relevant Pedagogy (CRP): pedagogy rooted in a teacher’s ability to make course content meaningful within a student’s cultural context (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Gay, 2010).
  • Critical Pedagogy of Place (CPP): an effort to align both environmental and cultural pedagogical practices (Greenwood, 2003).

The community is not just a physical or cultural space – it is the combination of the two. Cultures do not emerge from the ether – they are the way they are because of their physical surroundings.

It is not sufficient for us to simply know who our students are and where they come from. If we are to teach them well, we must actively involve their place and space in our curricular design.

Informal Observations

My data comes from educator interviews, student focus groups, and parent focus groups. While it is too early in my project to report any findings, the following themes are starting to emerge.

  • Schools are trying to use PBE and CRP. There is an awareness among educators that students learn best when their place and space are considered.
  • Teachers crave research and best practices. Teachers want to use the best methods available to help their students learn.
  • Students enjoy PBE and CRP practices. When students see their place and space considered at school, they are more likely to be engaged.
  • Parents perceive that teachers are trying – but are “ruled by assessment.” Parents know that teachers often don’t have time to do everything they’re asked to accomplish. They are frustrated, but don’t know how to change the situation.
  • Parents want more teachers with local knowledge. Parents believe there is a link between student success and how well a teacher knows the community.
  • Real funding problems inhibit full rollout of PBE and CRP. As always, so much about school comes down to money. Even when schools have been able to identify community resources, they may not be able to access them due to lack of funds. This could simply mean the inability to hire someone to act as a community liaison.

Next Steps

I am continuing my interviews and focus groups, with the goal of learning the perspective of as many community members as possible. I won’t be able to talk with everyone in my chosen city, but my hope is to learn as much as possible from as many people as possible.

It takes a village to raise a child. We all know many children. If we work together, maybe we can find the village.

Re-thinking schools: hours, training, partnerships, and money.

In a recent, probably well-intentioned move, Florida Sheriff Peter Grinnell offered to provide teachers in his county with 130 hours of firearms training. This got me thinking about four things that affect teachers across the country: hours, training, partnerships, and money.

Hours. Most teachers I know do not have an extra 130 hours available for firearms training. A recent study notes that US teachers spend far more time teaching and less time planning than teachers in other countries, a fact my Fulbright experience has directly confirmed. Before I even left the States, a Fulbright teacher from Singapore visited my school. He could not say enough positive things about my students, but the workload of teachers left him near tears. Imagine this scenario:

  • You are a social studies teacher at an average US high school. You teach 5 classes a day, including 3 sections of Grade 9 World Studies, 1 section of Grade 11 Economics, and 1 section of Grade 12 AP Comparative Government. How many hours of your day do you need to plan effectively for each of those classes? How many hours of your day should you spend planning for each of these classes?

A teacher with that load is looking at 25 instructional hours a week. If we operate under the traditional US 40-hour work week, that teacher has 15 hours remaining to them. Of course, other duties will take up perhaps 10 hours of that time, so let’s say 5 hours. Is that enough to effectively plan for each class? How much overtime should teachers be expected to work?

So: extra training in general is a good idea – but – we must restructure school days to provide for it.

Training. Any training added to a teacher’s schedule must inform their primary responsibility: supporting student academic growth. This should include additional content-area learning as well as pedagogical learning. If I want my students to learn, I cannot forget what it is to learn myself. Most teachers are motivated academics in their own right – you don’t become a math teacher unless you really freaking love math. If we give teachers access to training that makes them better content area experts and better facilitators of learning, they will jump at it – if given the time, that is.

So – who should schools partner with to provide ongoing learning opportunities for their teachers?

Partnerships. Not local sheriff departments. Teaching and learning are not the primary responsibilities of sheriff departments, and so any partnership with them would not support the primary goal of schools and teachers. Instead, schools must partner with other institutions of learning.

It is increasingly common for teachers to enter the profession with not just an undergraduate degree in education but also a master’s degree. Even teachers who find a school right after undergrad are motivated to go back to school and get their master’s. Teachers want individual relationships with institutions of higher education. Perhaps schools themselves should actively seek out more direct institutional partnerships.

We must consider the cost of such partnerships. My school has hired outside university consultants in the past, and the price tag can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. As our understanding of “good teaching” continues to evolve every year, this is not a sustainable proposition, especially when schools tend to be the first things de-funded by municipalities looking to save money.

Money. As with most things, access to money is the problem. However, we must refuse to acknowledge it as a deterrent to worthwhile academic partnerships. The US is the wealthiest country in the world. We’ve essentially solved the problems of war, disease and hunger. We have enough money to think creatively about academics, even if it is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the very few.

As things stand, universities are big money institutions. Whether or not they carry the for-profit label, schools function as businesses. Students pay exorbitant tuitions each year, and they keep increasing. The NCAA – a college organization – earned more than $1 billion this past year alone. Universities are a brand, and the successful ones roll in money.

High schools, on the other hand, are not intended to turn a profit. They are intended to provide a tax-funded education to all students. They cannot afford to partner with for-profit institutions of any kind – including universities. Critical knowledge that can help teachers is often held captive behind a paywall, accessible only to the most privileged high schools.

We must redirect our wealth so that we all profit from it. Let’s start with schools.

Kids speak. We should listen.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, everyone wants to talk about gun violence. Why, they ask, does the U.S. have so much of it? Why do nearly a third of Americans own a gun? Why do young people have to lead the opposition against gun manufacturers and their paid lobbyists?

The first two questions are too complicated for a short blog post, but to the third I say: Why not young people?

Let’s think about this for a moment. Adults have proven themselves incapable of stopping tens of thousands of Americans from being shot and killed each year. These stats aren’t new, but they’re always worth re-stating. Every year US Americans can count 13,000 homicides by gun, 21,000 suicides by gun, and 80,000 human beings who’ve been shot in some non-fatal manner. This doesn’t count the people who’ve otherwise had their lives irrevocably altered by a gun – for example, the students at Stoneman Douglas who were not shot or killed on February 14.

Adults as a body politic are not taking action, so maybe someone else should take a crack at it. What’s more, we’ve got a long history in the US of disenfranchising our youth until they stand up for themselves. This may be another sea change moment. I hope it is.

Ultimately, the reason I’m in Aotearoa New Zealand is to look at how schools and communities partner to empower young people to become active participants in society. This is the true aim of a culturally-relevant, place-based education. Over the past couple of weeks, however, I’ve been thinking I need to tweak my focus. Students aren’t becoming members of society – they are members of society. We minimize the voice of young people at our peril – they often have their fingers closer to society’s pulse than we do.

The classes I’m taking at Victoria University of Wellington have helped me think about these issues. In one, we are looking at the way adult society both fetishizes and criminalizes youth. We want to stay superficially young while shouting down young people as inexperienced, immature, and perhaps dangerous. Whether this sense of superiority is based in pseudo-science (their brains aren’t even finished growing until they’re 25!) or purported life experience (you’ll understand when you’re older!), it exists. As teachers, we need to structure our classrooms so that students enter as full members, thus helping them understand that they are just as equally full members of our society as a whole.

In the other class, we are studying how teachers help students actively participate in their society. Joel Westheimer, building on the work of Paulo Freire, Ira Shor, and others, identifies three different types of citizens: Personally Responsible, Participatory, and Justice-Oriented. Each type of citizenship has value, but the latter two categories imply a greater focus on identifying effective solutions to larger societal issues. It’s wonderful to so publicly see students acting as Justice-Oriented citizens across the United States. It’s equally disheartening to see so many adults dismiss their voices and actively pass laws intended to make it both less appealing and more difficult for young people to be politically active. If the role of social science teachers is to assist students in their growth as citizens, we must question any society that seeks to counteract those efforts.

Of course, the United States is certainly not the only country to limit youth voice. It happens in New Zealand too. However, there is a growing movement in the country to lower the voting age to sixteen. Whether or not it actually happens, it is an interesting proposition. Some point out that young people appear to be single-issue voters, but the same could be said for adult voters who evaluate candidates solely on their stance on abortion or gun rights. Others simply want to shrink the electorate rather than expand it – and young people certainly tend to lean more toward one end of the political spectrum than the other. The point is that the conversation is happening in earnest, with editorials written by young people popping up in the national news and politicians left and right forced to comment.

Whether or not we allow young people to vote, their voices must be part of the national conversation. They are not becoming people, they are people. It’s time we recognize that fact.

Urban Tramping: A close-up of Wellington’s environmental recovery

As my friend Amanda writes, it is easy for Aotearoa to become a beautiful blur. I’ve done and experienced so many things in my short time in Wellington that it’s hard to keep everything straight. Today I’ll focus on one thing – a tramp through the city to see the Red Rocks and Sinclair Head fur seal colony. On the way, we’ll learn a bit about New Zealand’s history and a lot about its environmental struggle.

To get to the reserve, I had to either take a bus or walk two hours through a part of Wellington I’d never seen. With nothing but gorgeous green around every corner, I figured the extra miles couldn’t hurt. I was right – well, mostly. But we’ll get to that.


I started up in the hills of Kelburn, the central suburb where I’m staying for the first couple months of the fellowship. Much of Wellington outside the CBD is situated on hills like this. Steep inclines are just a fact of life here.



One of the neat things about Wellington is the Town Belt – a stretch of nature reserves set aside in 1840 which surrounds the city. Much of it – like this section – is undergoing work to ensure that native flora and fauna survive. This means removing invasive species like possums and ship rats by setting traps – like I saw two women doing in the woods at the top of these steps.


After a brief moment under the trees I found myself in Tanera Park – just another green space in a city that has so many.


After the park it was onward to Ōwhiro Road, a street which stretches onward to the ocean, ending in the suburb of Ōwhiro Bay. The name – pronounced OH-fear-oh – means a couple of different things in Te Reo Māori depending on where you look. Google Translate spits out “embedded” when you type in Ōwhiro. Not quite believing this, I headed to the online Māori Dictionary and its extensive list of sources. Its definition, “moon on the first night of the lunar month,” sounds much better.


About half way down Ōwhiro Road I started to see metal creations like this guy. I thought it was a little out of the blue at the time, but they made a lot more sense when I turned a corner and saw this:


Yup – that’s the Wellington City Council Southern Landfill. The trash sculptures and garbage trucks I’d seen with increasing frequency made a lot more sense now. It’s not something we think about much – where does all this garbage we produce go? Until a recent ban on the importation of foreign waste went into effect, New Zealand sent much of its garbage – over $15 million USD worth – to China for recycling. The country will have to figure out a new plan for its trash. For now, Wellington’s Southern Landfill accepts “green waste, household hazardous waste, and electrical waste,” and appears to have robust composting and “second treasures” programs. Will the change in Chinese policy require it to change what it accepts? The answer remains unclear at the moment. What is clear is that like other places, New Zealand must cut its production of non-biodegradable waste. There just isn’t much room for garbage in a country the size of the state of Michigan.


To deepen your sense of environmental despair, immediately opposite the landfill is the little Ōwhiro Stream, which – as a sign proclaims – is maintained by its friends. Unfortunately, despite their efforts, the stream has been contaminated by construction and demolition waste from the landfill. The landfill’s operators, T&T Landfills, were investigated for the contamination and have been fined, but locals continue to report problems with the stream. When I walked by, the area certainly smelled sweet and metallic – indicators of ammonia, magnesium, and iron in the water. The scent lingered as I continued down Ōwhiro Road (which changed its name to “Happy Valley Road” around the entrance to the landfill), passing beautiful houses built into the rolling hills. Rolling hills with what looked like white vents set at their peaks.


At the next intersection I received my first reminder that, no matter how similar the environmental issues I saw were to those back home, I was definitely not in Chicago. This was the first of many earthquake and tsunami safety markings I saw along my hike. The whole area lies right on the Wellington fault, just one of many fault lines in the region. The image below (produced by GNS Science for the website Te Ara) gives a good view of the fault:

Wellington Fault Line

The 1855 Wairarapa Earthquake struck along this fault. At 8.2 on the Richter Scale – the largest quake ever recorded in Aotearoa – it fundamentally altered Wellington’s  landscape. Nowadays, people mostly remember it for raising the city center, creating the perfect surface for a train route around the bay and, more importantly, a cricket ground. It’s true – with less than ten people killed, the Wairarapa quake sounds relatively benign in terms of lives lost. My midwestern brain, conditioned to expect land to be flat and stationary, found all these signs warning me to watch whether or not the WATER HAS RECEDED AN UNUSUAL DISTANCE FROM THE SHORE and if so to HEAD FOR HIGH GROUND to be relatively terrifying.


Luckily, the view of Ōwhiro Bay was worth it. The rocky beach is part of the Taputeranga Marine Reserve, which runs along the coast for something like 10 kilometers. On the reserve, all marine life in the sea and on the foreshore are protected. In Ōwhiro Bay, this mostly means gulls.


Yes – those gulls. But, as fellow Fulbrighter Abby McBride (a sketch biologist and Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow) reminds us, there’s more than just one kind of gull. I believe I saw all three of New Zealand’s species, including the black-backed gulls pictured above, just on the beach, along with a group of variable oystercatchers.


The nearby visitor’s center had some helpful, terrifying advice.


But led to more excellent views.


The entire Tuputeranga Marine Reserve is a former quarry, as you can see from the cuts along the hills visible in the photo above. The Tonks family first collected shale from the beach, then later started the quarry operation in the early 1900’s. The quarry ran for years, but eventually the public grew concerned about the operation’s impact on the environment. Perhaps more importantly, the government wanted to remove quarrying from such a visible spot along the coastline. They bought the land from the Swiss conglomerate that owned it in 2000.


The quarry’s impact on the area is clear. What is less visible is the human history of the bay. Signs at the park indicate that the Ngāti Mamoe iwi lived along the coast for 150 years, but left around 1460 CE, possibly in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake which caused what is now the Miramar Peninsula – then an island – to collide with the rest of Wellington.


Whatever the case, the Ngāti Mamoe and their successors planted karaka trees for their fruit. The berries of the karaka – seen above in this photo from the NZ news aggregator Stuff – produce a potent neurotoxin which can be fatal if ingested. The Ngāti Mamoe and other Māori iwi developed ways to prepare the berries to avoid the toxin, and the fruits look bright and smell sweet, a bit like dates. Still, it’s best to stay away from this beautiful tree.


Back to the walk – the waves along this portion of the coast really are quite violent. But still, there are some people who live out this way, at least seasonally.


At the foot of this hill is a bach house, the New Zealand answer to a holiday hideaway. Pronounced “batch,” three groups of these homes can be found throughout Tuputeranga. Though the origins of the name are obscure, their history is not. The ones in the reserve have been designated as “historic” by the NZ Historic Places Trust, and date back to 1910. One was even used as a supply depot during WWII.


Past the bachs was another of the landmarks on my hike, the Red Rocks, or Parwhero in Te Reo Māori. Science tells us that the coloration of these rocks is a result of the collision between the Pacific and the Australian Plate – the very forces which created New Zealand itself. Essentially, the land folded in upon itself, causing immense pressure on the basalt in the area. As the land eroded over time, these now-red rocks were exposed to the elements.


As is often the case, the Māori have a better story, and like so many this one involves Maui. In this story, Maui, “the greatest trickster hero of Polynesian mythology,” steals his grandmother’s jawbone in order to go fishing. He’d forgotten bait, so he punched himself in the nose, then smeared the resulting blood over the jawbone-hook. The red of the rocks, according to this story, is the red of Maui’s blood. The fish he caught? That’s the North Island of New Zealand, known in Te Reo Māori as Te Ika a Maui, the Fish of Maui.

Two other stories involve the hero Kupe. In one, Kupe cut his hand on a shell, staining the rocks red. In another, the red is the blood of Kupe’s neices, who mourned him so violently when he died that they cut themselves on the spot.


Despite the violence of the myths, this section of the tramp is peaceful and flat. That doesn’t mean the name’s aren’t dramatic, as the gap known as Devil’s Gate shows us. The name itself is far more hellish than the terrain around it.


The biggest danger, in fact, comes from the fact that people are allowed to take their vehicles through the rocky outcrop. As with everywhere in New Zealand, there’s a sign present reminding you that if you do something silly with a car not rated for this sort of environment, ther will be consequences.


On the other side of the Devil’s Gate I found what I’d come for – the Sinclair Head fur seal colony. I’d been warned that I’d smell the seals long before I saw them, but this definitely was not the case during my visit. A strong breeze kept me upwind of the seals, so when I emerged from the Devil’s Gate I was shaken to find this guy resting on a rock fifteen feet away from me. I’d been warned by signs at the visitor center to stay “twenty meters away from the fur seals, or FARTHER AWAY THAN THIS ROOM IS LONG.” This was clearly not going to work out.


The seals just lay there, however, sunning peacefully. It was serene, sitting with the sun on my face, watching these wholly alien creatures in this alien environment. I’d almost forgotten that I was in a tsunami-earthquake deathtrap.


I could have sat peacefully for a while longer, but the slanting sunlight and the passage of the Cook Strait Inter-Island Ferry reminded me that it was getting late, the tide would come in eventually, and I had a long ways to go. There is such a thing as enough history and hiking for one day.


By the time I got to a nearby brewpub for a much-needed burger and a pint, I’d gone around nineteen kilometers in six hours or so, counting stops to take photos and find the closest tsunami escape routes.

In all, you might just take the bus down and start from the trailhead, but I’ve always found there’s no better way to learn about a city than to walk it. By wearing out the soles of my shoes rather than a bus seat, I saw a truer picture of New Zealand’s environmentalism than I would have otherwise received. Plus – what’s a selfie in front of a big blue ocean if you haven’t got one of you sweating next to a parked car as well?


Walk on.



Melbourne Music

I’m finally in Wellington, and soon this blog will become all New Zealand, all the time. Before that happens, I’d like to wrap up one last little thing about my time in Australia. Whether I’m in Chicago or abroad, I’m always on the lookout for a good concert. As it turns out, Melbourne is an incredible town for music. Take this as a “you should check this out” post, no more, no less.

After the march and rally I took part in on 1/26, I saw six different bands between the Share the Spirit Festival in Treasury Gardens and the GIVE IT BACK! Survival/Invasion Day Benefit Concert at The Tote. Now, I’m no music critic, but most of the bands I saw have limited exposure in the U.S., and they’re all worth a listen.


The first song I heard wasn’t live, but rather blasted from a pair of speakers mounted in the back of the ute at the front of the march (you can see it way at the back of the above photo). Everyone knew it but me – Treaty by Yothu Yindi, a group made up of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians.

Treaty was written to commemorate an unfulfilled promise. Unlike other first nations groups (most relevant to my current situation, the Maori in New Zealand), Aboriginal Australians do not have a treaty with their country’s government. Whether or not similar governments have followed the treaties they make, the call for a treaty in Australia was loud and clear during the march and rally on Invasion/Australia Day. In 1990, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke promised such a treaty, but one has yet to be ratified.

Yothu Yindi’s frontman, Mandawuy Yunupingu, was first and foremost a teacher. He served as Australia’s first Aboriginal school principal, and worked to develop a culturally-appropriate pedagogy for his students. Treaty, his most famous song, is the perfect mix of message and music, with the driving refrain breaking up lyrics in English and Gumatj, backed by guitar and didgeridoo. For me it was a history lesson.

I followed the ute to the Share the Spirit Festival, which served as a necessary come-down from the events of the march and rally. Chants and speeches were replaced with informational booths, food trucks, and musical acts, none of which disappointed.

The first act I saw live was Kaiit, who had a bit of a Lauryn Hill feel and idolized Amy Winehouse. Here’s her big song, Natural Woman, which is an ear-worm if I’ve ever heard one.

She’s got other songs worth checking out, including the subdued 2000 n somethin, a meditation the artist’s space in the world. In the video, Kaiit wears a Free West Papua shirt, a cause which she mentioned during the show.

I listened to a couple of songs by Dan Sultan, who played solo electric without a band. At the festival his voice was set to ballad and his guitar was set to crunchy. His stuff with a band – like the song Kingdom – may give a more complete understanding of what he’s about.

Closing out the Share the Spirit festival was a Philly, an Aboriginal Australian rapper from Mildura, 500 km northwest of Melbourne. He brought energy and political commentary to the stage, though he had to settle for “featured” in the most important song his group performed on the day – Australia Does Not Exist.

Philly stood on his own on tracks like Dreamchaser, which you can hear in a studio session here. Other tracks focused on themes far too familiar to Americans – police brutality and the struggle for equality in an unequal nation. Sadly, Black Lives Matter is as necessary a statement in Australia as it is in the United States.

After the festival ended, I had two options: find a way to watch the Australian Open, or head to the Tote for more music. I chose the latter. Though it’s late and I’m too tired to do them the justice I’ve tried to do the above musicians, each of the following is worth at least a few minutes of your time.

  • MoonloverMy notes from the night tell me they were something of an early-’90’s Radiohead mixed with Bowie. Thou Shall Be Free is a representative track with dreamy guitar and lazy layered vocals, though most of what they played at the concert was more up-tempo.
  • Dave Arden. A living history lesson, Arden actually took the stage twice (the second time when Philly didn’s show up for his evening set) with two different bands of Aboriginal Australian artists. He was at turns hilarious and thought-provoking. Listen to Kookatha/Gunditjamara Clan, in which he layers a story about his roots atop driving acoustic guitar.
  • Squid Nebula. Questionable name, good band. That’s their picture at the top of this post. Really enjoyed the singer’s mellow voice and the professional rhythm section. I was ready to ignore the two guitar players until each ripped off a more than serviceable solo. Try Ricochet.

If you’ve read this far, hope you found something you liked to listen to – I certainly did. If I had to pick two musicians to keep following from this group, it would be Philly and Kaiit. Each packs a vital energy and essential voice that I’d love to hear more of. More than anything else, my time in Melbourne reminded me that it’s always worth keeping your ears open for new music. You never know what you’ll find.