PAWLP Social Justice Group – Time for Reflection
By Janice Ewing
This school year has amplified ongoing challenges and created unique ones as well. Now, as the end of the school year approaches, many teachers do not know what the fall will look like. More than ever, teachers need supportive communities in which to learn, grow and refuel. One such community is PAWLP’s social justice study group. As we’ve shared in previous posts, this group challenges us to examine our biases and assumptions, to place them in a larger historical context, and to translate our new understanding into action within our schools and communities. Along the way, we find that a corollary to learning and growth is discomfort. The willingness to sit with discomfort has led us to a deeper refueling, based less on restoring equilibrium than on finding new ways to see and to navigate the world around us, personally and professionally.
Our social justice study group continues to meet on the third Saturday of each month. When we meet on May 15th, we will finish our discussion of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua. Of course we are never really finished with a book, because the ideas and reflections that we have shared from and in response to the book are ongoing. Still, each book that we complete offers a natural stopping point for reflection, and that process leads into the selection of the next shared text. In the past, we have also used the summer months as a time for members to choose individual texts and share their new learning with the group. We’ll talk that through and make that decision at our May meeting as well.
Along with This Bridge Called My Back, we have also been reading The Tradition by Jericho Brown. One of the reasons that we chose to read this poetry collection is that it is as the One Book/One Philadelphia selection this year. This led us to set up a collaborative book talk session with the Philadelphia Writing Project (philwp.gse.upenn.edu), which will be held virtually on May 12th (You can find details about this event and our study group at pawlp.org).
In a year that was filled with challenges at all levels, this group has provided a valuable space. Some of the participants have commented that they didn’t know what to expect from meeting virtually, whether the atmosphere of sharing and trust that we had been cultivating as a group would flourish. We were gratified to find that it did. In spite of some people feeling over-Zoomed from their weekday schedules, this group flourished as a time and place for growth. In addition, as in many groups, our experience was enriched by the participation of members from other geographical areas, who would not have been able to join us face-to-face. We’re grateful for these new relationships and hope they will continue.
I invite you to reflect on the groups or communities that have sustained you this year. How have they provided sustenance? Have they also opened the door to discomfort and struggle? How have you changed? Thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.
Janice Ewing is a 2004 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project and a current member of the advisory board. Her interests include teacher inquiry, collaboration, and mentoring. She and her colleague, Dr. Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).
Hi Andy — My thoughts are that although we have not had much direct discussion of Critical Race Theory, it is directly related to much of our thinking, in that we have been examining systems of oppression and marginalization and how various “isms” intersect. My sense is that the term Critical Race Theory, in many instances, is being used, as you said, in political movements, to push back against efforts to introduce or deepen equity work. I think that in some situations the term (understood or not) has become a convenient rallying cry against upsetting the status quo.
I’d like to hear what this group thinks about Critical Race Theory, its real or imagined impact on districts, schools, and teachers, and about the political movement against it.
I’m glad you’re joining the conversation and invite you to share in our reading and dialogue on third Saturdays, too! We’ll be considering our next shared and/or independent readings, and your interest in CRT could invite us to consider a more explicitly theoretical text that discusses and/or applies CRT in K-12/community settings, which is fascinating. I believe that teaching is an inherently political act and I’d be excited to consider how CRT can add to my understanding of race, equity, and change in our educational and political systems. I facilitate the group’s meetings and just want to also clarify that I wouldn’t propose that our PAWLP social justice group collectively “thinks” or speaks as one—we are a group of educators across a variety of schools, localities, experiences, and identities who engage regularly in dialogue but not with the purpose to articulate an agreement or shared agenda about ideas that include (but do not exhaust) anti-racism, intersectionality, inclusion, equity, and literacy instruction. I hope each of us continues to share our experiences and learning on the PAWLP blog and in our classrooms and communities, but when we do, I believe each person is speaking uniquely from their perspective and does not represent the fullness of the group’s dynamic conversations and beliefs. I hope to see you in a future meeting, and take care. -Liz (they/them/she/her)