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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Discernment

For three years—the three years when Luke was nursing—I taught a class at Pendle Hill titled “Discerning Our Calls.” I could use a class like that right now, so I find myself trying to remember the things I taught others.

The first stage of discernment we discussed was opening a space to listen. Often the business of daily life keeps us from attending to our own thoughts and feelings, let alone listening for divine guidance (which is how I understand discernment). I was reminded of this last night when Tom asked me how my day had been, and I felt embarrassed to admit I hadn’t done very much. I’m used to packing some accomplishment into every minute the children are in school. Going to the gym, visiting a friend, and reading all felt self indulgent, especially given how hard Tom has been working lately. But talking to Tom helped me realize that I’m in this phase again of needing to make space to listen. Exercise is necessary for my mental and physical health. The visit with my friend gave me a chance to think aloud about different writing projects I could pursue. The half hour I spent reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X helped me stay connected with the tug I’ve felt lately toward social justice work.

Lately my posts here have mostly been about sorting through my mom’s stuff, but two and a half weeks ago I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas present from Tom, a weekend conference at Pendle Hill titled Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Malcolm X: The Quest for Personal and Social Transformation. It was my first weekend away in the nine years since Megan’s birth, so mostly I just enjoyed not having to mediate a sibling spat for forty-three whole hours. In addition to that and uninterrupted adult conversation, I was also nurtured by the life stories of three remarkable people who worked tirelessly to combat the injustice around them. I was particularly moved by the discussion that stemmed from Malcolm X’s story about a teacher who told him that it was unrealistic for a “nigger” to become a lawyer, despite the fact that Malcolm was a top student and class president. The teacher encouraged him to become a carpenter, an incident that prompted some of the course participants to share their observations of how black students are still limited by teachers’ low expectations of them. There were stories of urban schools that didn’t even bother to give homework or teach how to write a research paper because the teachers had already given up on their students, stories that put my complaints about the amount of Megan’s third grade homework and her upcoming research paper into a totally different perspective.

For at least twenty years I’ve had what Quakers would call “a concern” about racism in our country. I’ve tried to become aware of my own socialization about race and the messages my children are now receiving from the world around them. I’ve tried to speak up when I hear or see racism, though I have to admit that what I mostly see and hear are patterns that aren’t as deliberate as the Montgomery bus segregation of my childhood and therefore harder for me to know how to combat (see Pool Politics). I’ve felt this concern about racism and its companion, economic injustice, stirring in me again lately, but I’m uncertain about what to do with it. Volunteer to tutor at a public school? Develop more courses to diversify the university’s curriculum? Write about it?

And then there are all the other issues of our day: the war, the environment, government surveillance…This administration is giving us no lack of issues to protest. Why is racism the concern that’s percolating in me now? One possibility is that it’s connected to my mother’s death. My mother was liberal, down right progressive on many issues. We could commiserate about the war or the Bush administration or the greed of Enron. The only thing we fought about was racism, namely hers which surfaced whenever I dated someone who wasn’t white. This is one of the things I find hard to forgive her for.

Part of discernment is listening to what is stirring within us. Another part is sifting through that stuff to discover what we’re called to do in response. I want to try to be patient with this process and give myself the time and space to discern what I’m called to do next.

4 Comments:

Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I recently read Kozol's Shame of The Nation about the continuing segregation of our schools. It is quite motivating (in an oh-my-gosh-I-have-to-do-something-about-this way) I am trying to write an article about desegregating Texas schools but I am having a hard time with the research right now.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks, Lone Star Ma. And good luck! I think Kozol must be the man I heard on the radio. I also found him very challenging. We send our children to a small Quaker school that is one of the most diverse in the city (our statistics are usually around 50/50 white/non-white, which is how they count things). On the one hand I appreciated Kozol's point that families like ours--whites who choose private school--are part of the problem. On the other hand, our children are now going to a school that is much more diverse than the nearest public school, which is almost 100% black. Am I wrong for wanting my children to have the 50/50 experience, which I do think is healthier for all the kids?

7:00 AM  
Anonymous stephanie said...

I agree with you that the 50/50 split is probably healthier, Eileen. I know a white woman who attended a school that was mostly black for a couple of years. It actually resulted in her having more negative feelings toward blacks because some of the kids were quick to make an issue of her race, and her time there was fraught with racial tension. She knows what her attitudes toward race "should" be, but the negative experience leaves an imprint that is hard to dispel. (Of course we should not forget that a great majority of blacks in this country have probably had similar experiences as my friend -- if not in school, then elsewhere.) I think it's *very* hard to be a small minority in a school, no matter what your position may be in the outside world. Your Quaker school sounds like it has hit upon a good balance that gives everyone a chance to feel that they are seen and valued.

I haven't read Kozol's new book, although I've heard him speak about it on the radio. I should check it out. I'm probably one of the "bad guys" since my bi-racial children are homeschooled, but our decision was more about schooling in general than about race. Race factored in, however. First, I don't want my children limited by the "dumbed down" expectations some teachers have of children of color. Second, we enjoy living in our diverse city. The city is small enough that there is good diversity in the public schools, but they are not the greatest by any other measure. Rather than flee to the suburbs in search of "better" schools (where our kids would then encounter the problem of being a small racial minority), we homeschool and happily stay put. :o)

1:39 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

No. I think we all have to choose what is best for our own families. Personally, I would not be troubled by sending my kids to a school that was almost all a different ethnicity form their own, but if there was a Quaker school here and I could afford it, I definitely think we'd be doing that no matter how diverse or not diverse it was, although I definitely think that highly diverse environments are important. Most people don't get to choose what is best for their families, though, and I definitely think that desegregating schools keeps people who are in positions of power to make good changes from just ignoring inequities.

1:47 PM  

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