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Centered: The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column.

 

 

By all accounts, August 2017 will be one of those marked by tragedy and violence where we saw the best and worst in humanity. Like many people, I struggled to come to grips with what was unfolding before my eyes on television.

On August 11 and 12, I had made plans to binge watch The Handmaid’s Tale…ten episodes, two days. At some point, I switched over to CNN and for a moment I could not figure out what was real and what was fiction. What was unfolding on CNN looked frighteningly similar to the show I was binge watching. That night and into the next day, we witnessed things that I thought were part of our history. Was I ever wrong. I never saw so much hate and vitriol. It made me wonder who we are as a nation and if we have learned anything. I knew bigotry and hate existed, but never did I imagine I would hear words like “Jews will not replace us” from people carrying burning torches. Images from history books of lynchings, the Klan, concentration camps, and Nazis flooded my head. Never did I think that someone would use a car to literally run people down. That is what happens in other countries — not in America. Evil and madness were on display that weekend. America was not at its best that weekend…far from it.

Two weeks later Hurricane Harvey obliterated the Texas coastline and the flooding that ensued was of epic proportion. Weather reports told us that this one was going to be bad, but I don’t think anything could prepare people for what happened. Emergency services were overwhelmed and in that moment the best of what this country has to offer emerged. Volunteers from near and far came with boats to rescue strangers. They literally put their own lives in danger to help others.

August was not a good month for us. In it, we saw the best and worst in all of us. And, now with Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, ready to make landfall on US shores and the announcement to end DACA, it appears as if September is not going to be much better.

So where do we go from here? How do we turn these events in time into teachable moments? The responsibilities of teachers are immense. It is our job to teach science and social studies while teaching respect and compassion. How do you do these things when the messages from their own home might be different? How do we get kids to respect differing opinions but at the same time understand right from wrong? How do we get our students to separate fact from fiction and think critically about what they read and see? How do we get our students to stand up for what is right and not follow the crowd?

I don’t have any easy answers to these questions, but I do know, now more than ever, America needs its public schools and well-prepared teachers. These are challenging questions for even the most experienced teacher. And, I know there is goodness in us all because I saw it on display in Houston and in the faces of those who came to help the injured in Charlottesville.

We need to have some very uncomfortable discussions about race in America. We need to be willing to confront the reality that people of color live every day of their lives. Until we address some ugly truths I don’t think we can make things better. And, if we don’t have these conversations I fear the chasm will only get wider. Our democracy depends on it.

In the coming weeks and months, the Arizona K12 Center will start to plan our 2018-2019 professional learning calendar. If there is something we should consider to help you address these questions, please let us know by emailing us at info@azk12.org. In the meantime, we will be looking for ways to help you address these challenges because I know we are at a point where these can no longer be ignored.

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