Holiday Weekend Reading: President’s Day

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There is, as always, a lot out there worth reading. Here are several things we’ve come across lately.

“Why Teaching Civics in America’s Classrooms Must Be A Trump-Era Priority,” from Mother Jones. Kristina Rizga breaks down some of the reasons behind the vanishing of civics in the United States, signs of a possible resurgence, and why it matters.

The good news is that help may be on the way: The ideology of how to teach American history and civics might vary, says Ted McConnell, executive director of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, but there is strong bipartisan support for expanding social studies. If recent research is any indication, that support couldn’t come a moment sooner. When, in 2011, the World Values Survey asked US citizens in their late teens and early 20s whether democracy was a good way to run a country, about a quarter said it was “bad” or “very bad,” an increase of one-third since the late 1990s. Among citizens of all ages, 1 in 6 now say it would be fine for the “army to rule,” up from 1 in 16 in 1995. In a different national survey, about two-thirds of Americans could not name all three branches of the federal government or which party controlled the House of Representatives. In a third study, almost half of the respondents said the government should be permitted to prohibit a peaceful march.

Educator, author, and civil rights activist Jonathan Kozol has spent the past five decades writing about public schools. “Civic education should be empowering young people to ask discerning questions, and to feel that it’s okay to challenge the evils and injustices they perceive,” he said. But “civic engagement is being beaten out of kids by this tremendous emphasis on authoritarian instruction, and part of it is [the emphasis on] one right answer on the test. We need to empower young people to understand that the most important questions we face in life have limitless numbers of answers and that some of those answers will be distressing to the status quo.”

“20 Black Women You Should Be Following Right Now,” from Bitch Media, a list by Deeshaw Philyaw. If you’re on Twitter and you’re not following these women, remedy that. It makes the Twitter eggs worth putting up with.

In her book I’m Every Woman: Remixed Tales of Marriage, Motherhood and Work, Lonnae O’Neal wrote, “It’s not that I think black women have all the answers — only that we have struggled with the questions longer.” These words are as prescient and applicable to our present situation under the Despot-in-Chief as they are to the work-family life (im)balance O’Neal was writing about over a decade ago.

Since our foremothers were forced onto these shores, we’ve struggled with questions about freedom and survival, justice and equity, truth and lies. Long before we took to the streets and corporate boardrooms and courtrooms and classrooms and concert stages, the struggle lived in our bodies and in our children’s bodies, on auction blocks and in cold shanties.

No, we don’t have all the answers. But we’ve been living and loving and creating and fighting and figuring out how to make a way out of no way longer than anybody.

So listen up.

“Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” from the journal Decolonization, Indigeinity, Education & Society, by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang. An analysis of a term that is used more frequently than it’s understood. Abstract at the link; full PDF available for free.

Our goal in this article is to remind readers what is unsettling about decolonization. Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools. The easy adoption of decolonizing discourse by educational advocacy and scholarship, evidenced by the increasing number of calls to “decolonize our schools,” or use “decolonizing methods,” or, “decolonize student thinking”, turns decolonization into a metaphor. As important as their goals may be, social justice, critical methodologies, or approaches that decenter settler perspectives have objectives that may be incommensurable with decolonization. Because settler colonialism is built upon an entangled triad structure of settler-native-slave, the decolonial desires of white, non-white, immigrant, postcolonial, and oppressed people, can similarly be entangled in resettlement, reoccupation, and reinhabitation that actually further settler colonialism.

“Family Values: Mapping the Spread of Anti-Gay Ideology,” in Harpers. We read just about anything by Masha Gessen, especially post-election. If you don’t know her work, this exploration of the links between US religious conservatism and strains of the same in Eastern Europe and Russia. Gessen has left Russia for the US twice–most recently, due to fear of losing her children due to being gay–and so the subject is personal.

At the time, I think of myself as a journalist interviewing a marginalized political activist for a mainstream American magazine. I think I have the power. But in a few weeks, Brown will become president of the World Congress of Families, and in November he will both rejoice in the election of Donald Trump and begin hounding him on Twitter, demanding that he take a stand against same-sex marriage. In May 2016, the Russians are leading an international charge, with Komov at the U.N. Soon, we will witness how easily the balance of power can shift. The American president-elect’s pick for U.N. ambassador will be among his first announcements; it will be the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, who has no international experience but does have a track record of opposing both L.G.B.T. and reproductive rights. If she takes office, years of painstaking progress on L.G.B.T. rights at the U.N. will be reversed, with Russia needing to play but a small part.

But in May 2016 it is a theoretical, even condescending, question I ask Brown at the conclusion of our backstage interview: “Do you see a way for you and me to live in the same society?…If we can negotiate,” I ask, “is there a way that my family and yours can live in peace in the same society?”

“I don’t know.” Brown smiles — I think it’s a smile of awkwardness — and presses his hand to his knee, which has been shaking for the past ten minutes. “No.”

“The Forgotten Work of Jessie Redmon Fauset,” by Morgan Jerkins in The New Yorker. We (well, one-half of our editing team, at any rate) is fascinated with inter-war lit, and this article added several titles to our to-be-read pile. Fundamental to the Harlem Renaissance, but mostly unknown, Jerkins begins to remedy this.

“The Harlem Renaissance as we know it would not have been possible without her participation,” Cheryl A. Wall, the author of “Women of the Harlem Renaissance,” told me recently. “I think we lose a bit of our literary history if we do not acknowledge the contributions of Jessie Fauset.” So why has her own work been forgotten?

A simple answer to that question is that she was a woman. In his 1981 book, “When Harlem Was in Vogue,” the scholar David Levering Lewis writes of Fauset, “There is no telling what she would have done had she been a man, given her first-rate mind and formidable efficiency at any task.” And from the beginning the women of the Harlem Renaissance were slighted in celebrations of the movement. In 1925, when Locke published “The New Negro,” his landmark anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays, which aimed “to register the transformations of the inner and outer life of the Negro in America that have so significantly taken place in the last few years,” only eight of the thirty-six contributors were women.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Have a Swedish mud cake recipe. We can attest, having tried the real thing, that it’s worth your time parsing out some of the measuring oddities. No better way to end a long weekend.

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