We Don't All Need Band-Aids
Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Monday, March 8th is International Women's Day, and I plan to honor it in my class. When I was a teenager, there was no #feminist, #BlackLivesMatter, #Metoo, #Bellletstalk or #Pride. These open forums for discussion simply didn't exist, but even if they had, I think I cared more about the next Brad Pitt movie than social justice. Teenagers care about these issues, but for the most part, are only getting bits of the conversation on social media. Some discuss what they see with their parents, but the grand majority are unsure how they apply to their personal lives.
As their English teacher, my job is to make sure they can read, and think critically about what the world is sending out via social media or other forms of communication. I never would have dreamed it'd be how I would teach.
As an education student at McGill, I envisioned myself reciting Shakespeare and poetry. Although some kids can still relate to those things, they're obviously more interested in the real world around them, so finding a balance between teaching social justice and literature is a bit of a tight-rope walk, but I'm up for that challenge. In the week before spring break, a student teacher started working with me, and we've both decided addressing these issues through literature and making it relatable to students' lives is the way to keep them interested, engaged and open to learning more about their roles in society. It's nice to have a young teacher to work with, from whom I can learn a few new tricks.
Don't get me wrong; I am not fully charmed by social media and read with an extremely critical and often cynical eye, but I cannot ignore the fact that my students, and eventually, my own children may run to (insert social media trending here) for sources of "what's happening." As a teacher, I can't help but feel somewhat responsible for showing them how do scroll through the rubbish (maybe even ignore it from time to time) to get to the issues.
Last week, I told them, "Because I'm old, I'm on Facebook, and 'cause I'm a total nerd, my news feed is filled with information about books and literary events." That actually got a laugh, so I consider it a joke, although not one I intended to make. I told them about "Freedom to Read Week" and we discussed censorship and banned books. We read about Canadian author Robin Stevenson who was asked not to come to a scheduled school visit because one of her books included information about a gay activist. My students were (thankfully) shocked and we discussed the importance of freedom to read. They had more to say on the topic than I could have predicted, especially since I'd prepared my lesson that morning (shh...student teachers, do your planning ahead of time.)
For Monday's class, to highlight International Women's Day, I plan to read The Paper Bag Princess (because this Sunday is also #PBPDay), and although it was written by a man, Robert Munsch, it was at his wife's request to have a book about a girl who saves the day. I will also read from Monique Polak's I am a Feminist, in hopes to debunk what young people might think it means to be a feminist.
I'm ready for the questions that will inevitably come, because they always do whenever I do a unit on Black History Month, or Gay Pride. Some brave student will ask, "Why isn't there an International Men's Day? or a White History Month? Or a Straight Pride Month, and don't All Lives Matter?" They ask because social justice is something we all seek, not because they're trying to be obnoxious. They really just want to know. Here's my answer:
We don't all need Band-Aids.
I wait for the furrowed, wrinkled brows and head tilts of confused youthful minds, and I continue.
If two kids are playing and one falls, bleeding, I'll give them a Band-Aid because they need it. I can give both kids Band-Aids if I wanted to, but the unharmed child doesn't need it. Now, image the injured kid didn't fall, but was pushed. How would they feel if I gave the other child a Band-Aid?
We honor different people who have been oppressed, objectified or underrepresented because they need the love, kindness, respect, and support they haven't been shown for so long, and on top of that, they've been pushed down.
I'm not suggesting these honorary days, months, hashtags, etc. are a Band-Aid fix, as the metaphor goes, but rather a way to start the healing, start the conversation and become an ally.