Let’s Talk 2017

Don’t remember if I’ve posted about Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada before, but January 25th, 2017 was a good day.

Bell raised money in support of mental health, asking Canadians and Bell subscribers to share messages with #BellLetsTalk in text messages and various social media platforms. The idea is that by talking about mental health openly, we can help end the stigma around it, and hopefully better support those around us who are affected or who are dealing with mental health.

This year’s #BellLetsTalk results:

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Some people might say that Bell’s approach to mental health awareness isn’t the right one, that money needs to come to programs and from the government and while this is all true, at least Bell is actively doing something, and they are getting people talking. Change happens when people start talking. “We must all work to eliminate the stigma around mental illness” by Erin O’Toole is a good read.

I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, and in January 2016 when things got really bad, I had a few great friends who were instrumental in getting the support and medication I need. Things are not perfect now but they are better than they were.

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disrupting the norm p2

This post is a continuation of Disrupting the Norm P1 – a post about last night’s class which created discomfort for some when we began talking about LGBT students and issues that they face in schools.

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This is me – Cynthia. What do first see when you look at this picture of me?

I walked into one class and the professor said, “What’s your name?”

I replied, “Cynthia.”

The professor paused and looked at me with a puzzled expression.

I said, “I am Cynthia.”

I think she was expecting me to have a man’s name, even though I am a female, but my gender performance is more masculine.

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When you look at a picture of Caitlyn Jenner, who do you see? Do you see Caitlyn or do you still see and refer to her as Bruce?

Woman Looking at Reflection --- Image by © Elisa Lazo de Valdez/Corbis
Woman Looking at Reflection — Image by © Elisa Lazo de Valdez/Corbis

When you look at the person next to you, or in the mirror, who do you see?

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Why is it that one of the first things we think about when we see someone is whether they are a boy or a girl? Why does it matter to you if I am a boy or a girl?

Gender is a social construction, and if you look at Judith Butler’s work, she suggests gender is a performance. An important distinction needs to be noted, gender does not influence one’s sexuality. Because one’s performance of gender can vary, someone might not fit into societies stereotypical image of who a woman looks like or who a man looks like. Likewise, stereotypes about people’s sexuality are also not accurate. A gay man be ‘flamboyant’, or he may be very masculine. A lesbian may be very feminine in appearance and actions, or she may be more masculine, more ‘butch’.

Just because a young girl may appear to dress as a “tom-boy” or more masculine in appearance, this does not indicate that they are transgender, or that they are a lesbian. For myself, I know that I dress the way I do because this is how I feel comfortable. Are there times when my appearance becomes more feminine, certainly, however I do not always feel comfortable in those situations.

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I met another professor and I said, “Hi, I’m Cynthia.” I later found out that she began to question my gender. She told me that after a while, she thought to herself, “why does it matter what gender you are?” – Indeed, why does it matter?

This professor happens to be my course instructor. After class, I talked with her for a bit and we had a great conversation, where she shared the above information. We also talked about how I felt during class, whether I was able to talk within my small group, etc. I told her that the small group discussion was hard, as people are set in their beliefs. I also told her that in the large class discussion I did not say certain things that I wanted to bring up, partially because a few classmates were mad that we were talking about LGBT topics, as well as the fact that I questioned how much do I tell about myself? Do I need to “out” myself? Should I have to “out” myself in order to impact my classmates viewpoints, or for them to realize that what they are voicing may be hurtful?

The professor and I talked through these points, as well as others. I appreciate her showing me first that she cares about me, and second that she was willing to continue the discussion.

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The ultimate question our class was left with at the end of the night was:

How will LGBT students be supported and defended without resorting to something that constructs them as outside the norm, or something that labels them as ‘others’?

Excuses from teachers of “I don’t know enough” or “my students aren’t LGBT,” can’t be seen as valid or acceptable responses anymore. Everyone knows someone or has heard about LGBT rights. As well, I believe that religion can no longer, nor has it ever been a valid excuse for the homophobic treatment by Catholics towards LGBT people. If we are taught to love one another and to treat others as we want to be treated, I believe that we should do so.

While progress has been made, there is so much further to go. We often talk about race and culture, and avoid topics such as LGBT rights, because it is easier to talk about culture. Culture is what society likes to talk about – look at the media. Why do we put up walls when talking about / to LGBT students, families, health, etc?

 

disrupting the norm p1

Last night’s class created discomfort for some when we began talking about LGBT students and issues that they face in schools. Many were quick to defend inclusive actions, and to show that they are accepting. I’d like to share a few moments and talk about them, because these moments really caused me to reflect not only about myself, but the students in our schools, and policies that are / are not in place.

The first quote that resonated with me is:

Our job, as teachers, no matter who our students are or where they are when they come to us, is to start teaching them. We can’t play the blame game regarding whose fault it is that they don’t have the prior knowledge or skills we expect they should have learned in years prior.

While not specific to LGBT students, in general, this quote reinforces the notion that we as teachers must do our job, we must teach. We take the child as they come to us and we teach them, we catch them up as much as we can and we work to help them move ahead. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in what students don’t know, that we miss the point that they are capable learners and that they all have knowledge that they bring with them, even if it may be different from what we expect.

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Treaty education: to understand what it means to be a treaty person.

We are all treaty people. White people, First Nations people, people of different ethnicity who live in Canada.

Indeed we are all treaty people, but why is there still such a divide? Why do the dominant group in society only see First Nation people as being treaty people? There is still the notion that First Nation people are not equal to the rest of society.

In our class, it is easy for my classmates to talk about culture and race. This topic does not appear to cause them discomfort. I wonder if this is because our school board has mandated that treaty education be taught to all students. I do believe that it is easier to talk about race as well because LGBT people are still considered to be abnormal, to be the other and to not be normal. This causes panic and fear, where the dominant hetero-normative group maintains their power, dominance and privilege over ‘the other’. It causes discomfort for many people when they are being asked to consider and talk about a group of people still considered to be abnormal, regardless of the progress LGBT people have made.

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A classmate share the following story with us:

A girl at school has always been a ‘tomboy’. One day she came up to us and said, “I wish to be called and identified as a boy.” My classmate then went on to talk about this student and his experience in school. While the classmate was talking, she kept referring to the student as “her” even though she had told us that the student wished to be called “him”. I interrupted her story and said, “I understand that the student’s sex is female, but he has told you that he wishes to be known as “him.” Why then in the last 20 sentences that you’ve shared with us, do you keep referring to the student as her?” My classmate was unable to recognize that she was doing this, and kept trying to avoid my question.

I didn’t push any further, because there was tension and I could tell that perhaps she was uncomfortable. While she has said that she and other staff are supporting, the language my classmate was using showed a contradictory stance.

I believe that language is the area to start with when working to respect youth who are expressing their gender in ways that challenge the norm. Do you say, “boys over here, girls over there? Or hey guys?” Think about how this language impacts students who are transgender or those who perform gender outside the norm..

While challenging our thinking, our language and our discourse is disruptive work, it is work that must be done. In recognizing that this not easy, and that it will take time, we will feel uncomfortable. It is hard but necessary work.

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Schools are regulated spaces for LGBT students,in that they are expected ti act “straight”, to blend in with the other students, to not outwardly express their sexuality through traditional stereotypes such as being a “flamboyant” boy, as this may indicate that he is gay. While LGBT students are accepted, I question if they really are. Are they able to be themself? Are they able to talk, dress, question openly, or are they told to keep quiet? Do schools integrate without extra effort, stories about LGBT families or kids, or do we make known that we are being inclusive by saying I read a story yesterday, “And Tango Makes Three” or “A Tale of Two Mommies” or “King & King”, where the story talks about LGBT families.

I no longer believe that schools can be an “anti-bullying” school. Schools cannot  just be accepting, or tolerant. People and schools have to change, which will take time. Likewise, we can no longer assume that our schools or our classrooms are hetero-normative. Students themselves may be beginning to figure out their orientation or how they identify, some may have LGBT family members or they may know a gay person for example. Discrimination is felt by all, those who are straight and those who are on the LGBT spectrum, within our classrooms and schools by the language and classroom that is created and fostered.

As a member of the LGBT community, I don’t want people to be tolerant of me. I want people to at least accept that I am a human being. I also don’t want my sexuality or my gender to be used against me/ to single out. I want these things to not matter and for you to not worry about them, to worry about who I am.

 

 

into for ED 808

The Education 808 class that I am currently taking has a class blog. Check it out if you’d like to keep up with our learning about social justice and globalization in education. I wrote a post regarding my thoughts about social justice for the site and wanted to share it here.

Hi everyone. I’m Cynthia – a second year, full-time grad student. This class, along with ECI 804 this semester are my last classes. I will begin working on my thesis in January focusing literacy education, diverse groups of learners, and using technology as more than an adaptation or modification.

I see social justice in terms of helping those in need and working to create a more just place for all people and all students. Ideally it would be nice if people were treated equally and everyone had enough to cover their basic needs, as well as having their rights to education and health care met; sadly this is not a reality. One thing that bothers me is how much easier it seems to be able to help those in other countries, when here at home, we have people who can use our support and issues that need to be solved. I also think about global education through a social justice lens which involves teaching students about a variety of issues, thinking about others, doing good at home and in the world, and to be empower students to begin to take action to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. Students become global citizens when they are able to think about the world and helping others, as well as recognizing that while they may be students here in Saskatchewan, but that they are part of the world, and have the potential to make a difference for all.

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Photo Credit: appratt via Compfight cc

I believe that approaching the curriculum and student engagement from a critical perspective incorporates pedagogy that draws on the life experiences of students, and on community issues. I believe that all students, regardless of class, race or ability (for ex.) should learn about social justice issues that are happening. Topics such as homelessness, struggles in education, cultural diversity, human rights, globalization and LGBTQI issues have a place to be taught in the classroom. All students to some degree, even if an issue doesn’t directly impact them, will know someone who is. It is important to teach about these issues in order for students to be able to think about them and work towards making a difference and taking action, even if that starts locally.

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Photo Credit: Gay Liberation Network via Compfight cc

There are a few social justice topics that I am really interested in and concerned about. As a member of the LGBTQI community, I am concerned about the rights and treatment of LGBTQI people. While progress is being made in the United States, there is still a long way to come in the rest of the world and even in Canada. Acceptance is one area where progress still needs to be made, in order for bullying and suicide rates to decline.

Another area that I am concerned about is how students of different abilities and different ethnicities are included in classrooms here in Saskatchewan and the education they are receiving in relation to their peers. While many schools seek to practice inclusion, often times, this ends up as providing an illusion of being inclusive of all students. Specific teaching moments have led me to rethink what it means when I work to be an inclusive educator, because the very act of identifying those who need to be included, is impacted by power, deficit thinking, the production of societies norms, and stereotypes and labels that are applied to students. I believe that all students are capable of learning that teachers need to hold high expectations for their students. I also think that it is the job of educators to ensure an equitable classroom.