Personal Reflections and Connections

This is an essay I wrote at the beginning of a course on Social Justice in Education.  We were asked to engage in self-examination and articulate social justice in our own lives and teaching.

October, 2020:

The deeper my understanding of social hierarchies, discrimination and social justice teaching, the more I realize that I am in a bind.

I am coming to understand that I am in a bind as a human being. I operate simultaneously in the world with a mix of internalized oppression (sexist, ageist, remnants of working-class angst) and also benefit from White racial privilege, and other social privileges (cisgender, heteronormative, middle class, able-bodied). I self-identify as a “progressive liberal” but I am becoming aware of my own implicit biases (thanks, IAT test!) that absentmindedly compel me to act as a white supremacist. (Is that really me? The one who only lives and speaks in White, middle class woman, and all must code-switch in order to be seen and heard?)

And I am in a bind as a teacher. Sometimes knowing full well, sometimes suspecting, always sensing that the environment of my music room sucks on some level for some children who walk through the doors, despite my herculean efforts to do the best I can.  I could never articulate the reason why I sometimes felt like I had failed as a teacher. So many days driving home from school emotionally wrung out, defeated, depressed, sad for the children and our hurried interactions. I have often thought that my true function as a music specialist was to engage in a sort of musical educational triage – quick and dirty, patch the biggest learning holes and send the children off until next week, next year, hello, goodbye.  I am learning that it is also educational structures outside of me that are preventing me and my students from humane engagement interpersonally, as well as with learning and enjoying each other and music.

Can I change this – become unbound?

I must, because, unfortunately, my binds don’t only bind me.  They impact the success of all of my students of color, gender diverse, all the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, because I can implicitly convey lowered expectations for their success and force all of them to be seen and heard according to my terms, my culture. And then they internalize my sense of their worth and the vicious, humiliating cycle spins.  NPR’s Invisibilia has a great video explaining the power of expection. View it here.

Personal and Professional

I am glad that I am now in the process of breaking free of these insidious unexamined habits of thought and behavior that are binding me from being fully human and connecting with others. I hope to help to free the school system and its inhumane structures (some of which are of my own making!) that are preventing my students from feeling known, respected, and safe to express themselves in music class and enjoy the rich and beautiful medley the world has to offer. I’m pretty sure I will never fully reach my goal, but I am committed to trying.  I am looking forward to the day when I can drive home from work feeling exhausted, but confident that I made a positive impact in my students’ lives.


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