Reflections on the Week

WORK IN THE COMMUNITY

This past week has been a roller coaster of emotions, as usual. That’s pretty much expected for anyone involved in racial justice work. Part of my job this year as Ethnic Studies Program Manager is to go out and make connections with school leaders and community groups. My week got off to a good start when I met the leaders of the Densho Project. Densho is an organization dedicated to the oral histories of Japanese Americans. I learned they have free online resources for educators, including a training with clock hours! Why didn’t I know about this before? Because our systems are set up to exclude the work of our community, that’s why.

I also met with leaders from El Centro de la Raza where I got a quick history lesson of the resistance and liberation of Chicanx and Latinx Seattellites. Why don’t our students know the history of the occupation of the abandoned Beacon Hill School that is now El Centro de la Raza? Because our systems are set up to exclude the histories of people of color. I visited with the new executive vice president of Sea Mar, who told me they are so much more than a community health organization. Sea Mar has four low income housing projects across the state, a radio station, day care centers, and assisted living homes, and they serve a majority white, low income population while hiring a majority Latinx/Chicanx staff. Why don’t we know about their good work? Because our systems are set up to exclude the current action and resilience of communities of color.

I love my job because I have the opportunity to get out of my cubicle and meet with these amazing leaders, most of whom are people of color. I get to learn about the good work they are doing in the community, and I am beginning to get a good grasp on how our work can partner to serve our students and families. It’s exhilarating and depressing at the same time. Surely I can’t be the first person from Seattle Public Schools to have this idea, but when I meet with these leaders, most of them are excited to have someone come to them to talk about partnerships instead of the other way around. Some are frustrated their attempts to partner with the district have gone nowhere. This frustration drives me to continue this work. I can’t let our community down.

AM I DOING ENOUGH?

I am always plagued with this question. I was talking with a good friend, Alma Alonzo, about how she pays “Real Rent” to the Duwamish tribe. We talk a lot about “decolonizing” education. That’s a complicated subject with a lot of implications. Some argue that true decolonization requires land repatriation. We agree. I believe the first step in this is to decolonize our minds and the way we are taught. In the meantime, what can we do to right this wrong? Real Rent is one way, and I already financially commit to the ACLU, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, and I have recently committed to funding a project every month on Donors Choose. Where do I draw a line? On top of my financial contributions, my entire career is dedicated to racial and social justice. BUT! I still feel like I’m not doing enough. I will probably begin paying Real Rent, too.

This is a question I ask myself as I go to visit principals in their buildings to try to convince them to start the work of Ethnic Studies. Most principals say they are very interested. Some have used excuses about why they can’t. Am I doing enough to convince them of the urgency? Am I doing enough to protect the students in their schools? The principals who say they can’t or won’t generally use tests as the reason why they can’t commit to Ethnic Studies. We all know how I feel about that.

Many educators are willing and want to commit to Ethnic Studies, but don’t trust the district to support them. Most educators are familiar with the case of Center School educator, Jon Greenberg, who was put on leave when a single white family complained about his curriculum on race. Many educators also are aware of the closing of a Middle College High School where a predominantly POC staff that was teaching Ethnic Studies was displaced, and in some cases disciplined. And most recently, an Ethnic Studies POC educator at Nova High School was displaced despite outcries from students and communities. Nova is the only high school that has implemented Ethnic Studies in all content areas and made it a graduation requirement. This is significant as it is a majority white student population, and the demand for Ethnic Studies came from their POC students. Am I doing enough to convince district leaders to support schools like Nova and educators like those from Middle College who have rightfully developed a distrust of these leaders?

NWTSJ 2018

Fortunately, I ended my week on a high at the 2018 Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon. Alma Alonzo, Jon Greenberg, Rogelio Rigor, and I facilitated a session on how to create a decolonized curriculum. The photo at the top of this blog post shows that we had standing room only. We had over 50 participants crammed into that room. We ran out of handouts! There were also two other sessions later in the day on Ethnic Studies that were well attended.

I had the opportunity to attend a great session facilitated by Alma and Jennifer Charlton, two friends and colleagues of mine, called “Breaking Bad Allies; allies, gaslighters, and saboteurs.” It was just as awesome as the name and Alma and Jennifer killed it! I’m so privileged to have such dedicated, brilliant, and passionate friends!

alma and jennifer

Another facet of my job is developing, offering, and facilitating professional development for schools and educators interested in Ethnic Studies. Our first professional development, facilitated by Marquita Prinzing, Director of the Center for Race and Equity, was packed with 50+ participants from across the district. Most of the attendees were from K-5 schools and many had a role other than classroom teacher; para-educators, counselors, district technology positions, and more.

racial equity literacy

We have received many requests for this from educators in other districts. These events are evidence that our leaders aren’t doing enough to support the people who are ready and willing to do the work. Am I doing enough to engage those who are so we don’t lose momentum? I want to move from, “Am I doing enough?” to “What is my next move?”

¡La Lucha Continua! ¡No terminara facilmente!

Taking the Spotlight

I am a reluctant Teacher Activist. I’m reluctant because, as you can read on my home page, I have severe anxiety. My anxiety both pushes me to act and recoils from the spotlight. This is a dilemma I’m frequently faced with. I’ve come to learn, however, that systemic change requires leaders to embrace the spotlight. I’ve become more comfortable with it. There’s still a part of me that feels like a braggart, but the more I take leadership positions, and the more people join me in my campaigns, the more I realize my spotlight will be transferred to them. And what is the purpose of leadership if not to lift up the work of others?

To embrace my spotlight, this week I am reblogging from one of my Alma Maters, Western Governors University, who spotlighted me for my Teacher of the Year recognition. It was originally posted here. The full text is below.

WGU Washington Grad Making Big Impact in Seattle Public Schools

Tracy Castro-Gill’s workspace at the headquarters of Seattle Public Schools is decorated exactly as you’d expect. An award-winning educator and champion for racial equity, she’s draped her desk and surrounding walls with imagery symbolic of the values she works so hard to impart to young learners: justice, empowerment, and inclusion. Where she works as the district’s Ethnic Studies Program Manager is a nexus of the rich, wonderful diversity that shapes the city and the region.

Tracy only started working in education less than a decade ago, but – after earning her master’s degree from WGU Washington — she quickly made a name for herself in her field. The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction recently named her the Puget Sound ESD 121 Regional Teacher of the Year. Tracy was one of nine teachers honored for, among other considerations, strengthening their respective communities and fostering better lives through education. That recognition came less than a year after Tracy received the Golden Apple award from the NAACP.

Among the many factors contributing to her professional success, Tracy acknowledges the value of her experience as a WGU Washington Night Owl.

“WGU provided the freedom for me to learn pedagogy from a racial justice perspective, because there were no professors trying to convince me that I shouldn’t,” said Tracy. “I am grateful WGU uses a model to create a foundation for teaching and learning without an expectation to check your personal experiences at the door.”

Before moving to the district office, Tracy taught social studies at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle — one of the most diverse middle schools in the state. She earned an outstanding reputation teaching an ethnic studies world history course, as well as leading racial equity professional development programs for her colleagues. From there, she says she accepted her new position to have a greater, more lasting impact.

“My goal is to make systemic change and doing that from my classroom proved too challenging.”

Not that Tracy is afraid of a challenge; she just wants to be in the best place to succeed. She says WGU Washington fit that bill, with the flexibility and affordability she needed as a working, adult learner. And the same can be said for her new role in Seattle Public Schools, where the décor surrounding her provides hints of a brighter, more accepting future. And tucked humbly in the corner of her desk: her Teacher of the Year award and Golden Apple, symbols of her hard work and the important difference she’s already making.

The Danger of Multiple Perspectives (CW sexual and racial violence)

After this week I’ve thought a lot about what to write today. I bounced back and forth between the dangers of multiple perspectives  – what with Indigenous Peoples Day tomorrow – and all this mess with the newest Supreme Court member, and there’s a lot of mess packed into that whole mess. I decided to combine the two into one post. Really, when we look deeply at it, rape culture exists because we’ve allowed too much space for multiple perspectives. White supremacy exists because we allow for multiple perspectives. Our curricula is so white because we allow for multiple perspectives. “Wait,” you might be saying, “isn’t white supremacy just one perspective and we need to make space for others?”

Let me explain.

 

THE MYTH VS THE REALITY

 

The myth of multiple perspectives is that if we allow for diversity of thought and opinion, we will come to a better conclusion. In a perfect world where systems of oppression don’t exist, that may be true, but we live in a world of mansplainers and whitesplainers and straightsplainers and cissplainers and cisstraightwhitemansplaining. The reality is that cis, straight, white men hold the power in any conversation. When we open the space up to their perspectives, we are opening up the reality that they will own the perspective if we don’t set boundaries.

I’m in the middle of reading the book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker, and in the book she chastises the “chill host” saying that taking a laissez faire approach to hosting an event is selfish, and in the absence of leadership, a guest will take control of your event, inevitably steering it in a direction they see fit. She gives an example of a man taking over a dinner party when the host goes to tend to the meal in the kitchen. By the time the host has come back, the male guest has completely taken over and the host doesn’t try to stop him for fear of appearing impolite. Parker asserts we can value diversity as long as we know our purpose.

Priya’s book is about social gatherings, but aren’t all social interactions social gatherings? When we sit down to watch TV as a family, if there are no boundaries, who usually gets to control the remote? In our classroom, teachers know all too well that if they don’t have clear boundaries and routines, learning will be a challenge. Courtrooms have strict protocols for a reason. Without them, contentious hearings will be unmanageable. Now, here’s the kicker… all of those examples I just gave are founded on the idea of white supremacy; the patriarchal nuclear family, the teacher as the “sage on the stage,” and the entire legal system in the United States was created to uphold the white, cisgender, heteropatriarchy. In order to fight this and be aware of it all the time, we need to carefully consider whose perspectives have more weight than others in order to achieve our purpose. My purpose is liberation from oppression. What is yours?

 

MY ME, TOO

 

As we’ve seen these past couple of weeks, rape culture and misogyny are thriving. Something that stands out to me in so many of the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories are the women who never reported because they weren’t sure if it was considered assault. This is my story, too. My rapist was my husband. My ex-husband was abusive on so many levels; mentally, emotionally, and sexually. Each layer of abuse was carefully crafted to uphold his primary form of abuse – sexual abuse. I think it’s important to note that I had to pause here and take a deep breath. I have only shared this story with one other person.

My ex-husband has an addiction to fetishes. The way he would commit his abuse was guilting me into performing acts I didn’t want to engage in. I would do it because he would threaten me with things like leaving me, finding a woman who would do it, and withholding affection. Once I performed the act, he would start fights with me because it was clear I wasn’t enjoying myself. He would then use the gaslight, “If you really loved me, you would enjoy pleasing me,” or “I work to provide for my family, and you owe this to me.” I worked, too, and went to school on top of maintaining our home and children – not that those things should matter. I just want to give context.

One evening, this fight went all night long. At around 4:00 a.m. I began crying out of sheer fatigue. I was tired physically and emotionally. I just wanted it to stop. He agreed to stop if I would have sex with him. You can imagine my shock. After all of that he thought sex was a good idea? I told him no and that I was too tired. He persisted and I just wanted the arguing to stop. I laid there, motionless, while he had sex. When it was over, guess what his complaint was? Yup. How dare I not enjoy it?

It’s taken me a long time to realize that was rape. I did not consent. It was survival for me, and sex and love should never be about that. The truly frightening part, and here’s the danger of multiple perspectives – to him it was just a fight. We had a lot of those. His perspective caused me to question mine. He is white, but this story isn’t about his racism. It’s about the expectations put on women by the Eurocentric, nuclear perspective of family led by the husband. I know I worked harder than he ever has, but because he is a “man” and was my husband, the expectation was for me to submit to him. He wasn’t the only person taught that. I was, too. That’s why it took me so long to be able to say, “My ex-husband raped me.”

Allowing this white supremacist perspective via my ex-husband has had long lasting consequences for me. I battle PTSD, and my most recent relationship – which was the most beautiful joy of my life – suffered because of my trust issues. We allow this to happen to women because we allow white men to control the perspectives we are taught. If we try to shut down these perspectives we are accused of censorship and not valuing multiple perspectives. Rape is wrong. Full. Stop. Eurocentric patriarchy is wrong. End of story. There are no other perspectives to hear. We must stop allowing harmful narratives from entering our lives for the purpose of protecting womxn. I wish someone had kept them out of mine.

 

PEOPLE VS COLUMBUS

 

Maybe I should have ended on the Me, Too story, because I’m feeling exposed, but this blog is about education, so I want to bring it back to that.

With the 2018/19 school year in full swing and Indigenous Peoples Day coming up, teachers all over are teaching about Christopher Columbus. Notice how that works? In Seattle it’s Indigenous Peoples Day, and we’re teaching about Columbus. Some might say, “Yes, but we’re teaching how bad he is.” But we’re still centering him in our lessons instead of centering the experiences of indigenous people past and present.

I was made aware of a lesson my own child was engaged in at their school, which happens to be the school I taught at. It’s a well respected lesson among social justice educators and is part of the Zinn Education Project published by Rethinking Schools. I work with two editors of Rethinking Schools and respect their perspectives. The problem is the lesson seems to take the angle of teaching from multiple perspectives. I don’t think that was the intent, but given how teacher preparation programs are so staunch about social studies teachers “remaining apolitical,” I can see how many would think it’s about multiple perspectives, especially non-Native educators.

The lesson, People vs Columbus, includes 5 perspective readings. Each “perspective” is accused of the genocide of the Taíno people – including the Taíno themselves! The other four accused are Christopher Columbus, his men, the king and queen of Spain, and Empire. I’ve been told by my Rethinking Schools colleagues that it’s written in such a way to corral discussion into siding with the Taíno. The Taíno reading, however, includes language like, “You failed to fight back against the Spaniards. This meant that you brought the fate of slavery and death upon yourselves,” and, “ . . . as a result of this Taíno failure, all the Native peoples of the Americas suffered.” Imagine being a Native student and reading that the genocide of your ancestors is their own fault!

This, in my opinion, is a multiple perspectives fail. It does not carefully consider who controls the perspective in the classroom. In the United States, the chances of it being a white person are 90%. The chances of it being a non-Native person is likely higher. When it comes to oppression of any kind – misogyny, racism, or insert “ism” here – the boundaries of perspectives allowed need to be clear. We don’t allow anyone to debate whether or not the Jews were responsible for their genocide, and we shouldn’t.

Teaching “multiple perspectives” cannot be a laissez faire free for all. There must be very clear delineation between right and wrong. Rape culture is wrong. Genocide is wrong. As educators we must check the perspectives that say otherwise! When some fool comes into the conversation saying shit like, “Boys will be boys,” we must say to them their perspective is not welcome. When people say, “The Jews would have lived if they didn’t give up their guns,” our response should be, “Get out of my house with that nonsense!” “Diversity of thought” and the unchecked space for “multiple perspectives” works to uphold white supremacy. Period.