Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

White Flight Justification Songs

I am so sick of White People.  I am also sick of Black people.  I am sick of Jewish people, Hispanics, Mexicans, the Irish.  I am not yet sick of Norwegian people, but I might as well be. I am sick of tribalism, the male and female kind, even the Trans kind.  And while I am sick of it, I also [ironically?] hunger for it.  I look for the me-group with the yoga mats and the quinoa, the running groups and the ‘in town’ groups; the “I read” groups and the “I write groups;” the I-have-children-in-public-school groups.

So what I am sick of is the language of tribalism, the coded ways we raise up our “in groups” and demoralize our out groups.  We use coded terms, we obfuscate and play language games.  We call one group “recipients of government hand outs” and another group (e.g. farmers) as recipients of “government assistance” for example.   One school is “good” and the other is “bad.” Can we stop the code? My head is spinning.

I’m sick of it.  I understand survivalism and I understand why we gang up on each other. This is what humans have always done and continue to do.  And we teach tribalism to our children, making educational decisions that are “best” for them, but are just replays of the same ole tribal songs to maintain unfair status quo.  We can shrug our shoulders or we can try to name the crazy. In the spirit of public schools as one of the few places with potential to bring diverse tribes together in the U.S., I wrote this poem, trying to find dizzy language through a new song.  We all want “good” schools and what is “best” for our children, but at what cost? Whose? To what end?


moreover bigger or oversizer, formerly earnest earner,
under arrest him ate him, e-race him, tear-er asunder commuter,
all burrs and tsk-tsk-ers, ergonomic errors in words, perverse
universes of his-es and hers-es, funeral service’s hesitant
compute or pardon me sir, er, murmurs preceding er, Mister?
used in place of a name we name or rename, a game of er not:
poorer, browner, blacker marker of either/or er? burned
by your-er voracious more-ers, not veracous turners
to universes of verses to aver, to declare spring, rooting
for truths, veracity digger to ver, Spanish infinitive “to see”
as in see, er, what I mean?


Poem published in Tayo Magazine here: http://www.tayoliterarymag.com/melisa-misha-cahnmanntaylor

What can we do to advocate for tribes of difference, for unity in diversity? We can support public education.  Here’s a link to actionable ideas including the very simple act of rating your child’s public school at https://www.greatschools.org/.

We can volunteer and make that school a better place.  We can dispel the myths that “good” isn’t also code for class and race privilege, that we can change what we mean by goodness.  We can talk to our neighbors, our families, our friends.  We can change the song.


Actionable ideas to support Public Education: https://fmps.org/engaging-community-partners-to-support-our-schools-2/

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