Teachers On The Front Lines: Respect and Compassion, Caitlyn Jenner and Dignity For All Students Act

Last night, like many, I watched much of the ESPY Awards.  There were a few moments I was looking forward to, but the highlight for me was Caitlyn Jenner's acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Bruce Jenner was always part of my American landscape.  I was born a year after the triumphant Olympic showing.  Bruce was a symbol of athleticism and pop culture, even throughout the 80's always showing up on TV.  When "Keeping Up with The Kardashians" came to E! TV, new generations met Jenner.  I remember feeling bad for him, the batterebyd sidekick to a flock of women who bullied and belittled under the guise of love.

This spring, in the midst of a unit on Language and Gender for AP Language and Comp, we talked at length about gender, respect and language used to talk about gender and oppression.  At the time, Jenner was still being harassed relentlessly by the paparazzi, targeted on a daily basis, photos being published in places like People Magazine.  That same week Glee would be having the episode highlighting the storyline of Coach Beiest played by the incomparable Dot Jones, that would be featured in People as well. We spoke at length about what motivates sales, language used in mainstream media and who is a target and who is a hero.  My students came to some clear conclusions about media and money and how the same issues could be covered so differently with in the same source.

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Yesterday I began the preparation homework for the Dignity For All Students (DASA)Workshop I will be taking on Saturday at Hunter College.  It is now a requirement for all new state teaching licenses.  I didn't have to take it prior to beginning teaching 8 years ago.  I am going back to school this fall, a new license on the horizon and I thought I would take care of the requirement this summer.
One of the articles I had to read was called "Interrupting the Cycle of Oppression:The Role of Allies as Agents of Change" by The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian.  Having studied Theatre of the Oppressed and the work of Boal, the thinking in this piece was not new to me, but I could see how it could be not only new but transformative for others. Ayvazian does an exceptional job that outlines what oppression is and how allies can be voices of change rather than of continued oppression.

As I listened to Caitlyn Jenner last night, reflecting on the very public year and a half she has had and thankful that she did not fold under the oppression forced on her, especially by the media.  I thought the quote below was telling:

(Photo Credit: Leverne Cox Facebook Page)
That's the rub though, isn't it?  Kids don't have the same tools 65 year old Jenner has.  As advocates and educators we are on the front lines of growing up and it is our responsibility to do two things. The first is to be agents of change in our own teaching and learning communities, providing safe space where students, no matter the obstacle or oppression they may face, to feel strong, supported and empowered.  The second, is to provide our kids with the knowledge and tools that bullying, harassment and oppression is not ok and that while we are all members of some group that is oppressed, we are all also allies to another oppressed group.  Students have the power to be allies and agents of change in their own lives and the lives of others.  It is our responsibility to support them as they rise to the occasion.


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