The three of us sat in the lounge at 12 am and solved all of educations current reform problems over a decaf and a bottle of red. Been there? At a conference surrounded by people that looked nothing like you but came together driven by a common motivation or search for inspiration? Recently in Atlanta GA. I was in this space. Laura is an Latina-American Indian (as she self-identifies) instructional coach and Greg her African American teaching partner. We are more alike than different.
Laura asked about wine the same way I had asked her about fear and ego one year earlier, beside a tree, crying.
“Why do people smell it? What is the difference between red and white? What food does this wine go with?” I answered her questions with the knowledge that I was afforded from my wine drinking family and from the cultural community I was born and raised in. Being from a Canadian grape region helped. But none of those reasons were as expicit for explaining my privilege as the fact that I was white and born and raised in a predominantly white community. I watched Laura hold her glass of Grand Callia (Bodegas Callia Reserve 2006) by the bowl. I described the quality of the glasses we were holding and their ability to make the taste of the wine reach its potential. I told her to hold her glass by the stem so that her body temperature would not change the quality of the flavour. I felt terribly snooty doing this. She asked me to tell her everything. “The stem gives you perspective on colour, clarity, sugar content and nose, without the stem the wine changes by your observations instead of simply by it’s exposure to air. Fingers move faster on a warm bowl for example.” And then she stated.
“You are the first white person to tell me these things. You are the first white person I have asked. Knowing these things gives me access James, access I would not have otherwise. Holding the glass here is easier but I am only going to hold these glasses by the stem from now on.” Paulo calls these cultural norms the dominant syntax.**
Culturally (by societies’ standards) Laura and I are different all the way around. Spiritually we are the same. We ask each other questions and answer without any fear of judgement simply to learn about and from each other. I recall seeing this kind of interaction between my daughter and an African Canadian boy at daycare years ago. I watched and listened as they explored each others differences. They recognized and silently honoured one anothers’ skin and hair and eyes and then played with dolls.
There is a catch though. All the dolls looked like my daughter. Access.
This experience translated to the PLC table for me. I have been surfacing and challenging our teams’ assumptions and beliefs about education and access. It was early the next morning when I woke up and recorded a rough blog entry about how we must respect the time spent together at the PLC table and the role of access and culture. We must hold it by the stem I thought. Our cultural experience with discourse, discussion, argument must be fully understood for the full flavour and complexity of human interaction and learning to take place. As the leader, principal, coach, facilitator I can’t take the easier way out, try to control it all. I have to hold the glass by the stem instead of the bowl. I have to make sure others at the table hold it the same. If we do we stand to learn a great deal about each other and our work together.
I have been privileged my whole life. Privileged because of my skin. I am trying to replace the kind I have been born into with the incredible learning privilege I have been afforded by folks like Greg and Laura and certainly the staffs I have worked with. I have learned powerful lessons from Laura and Greg in just a few meetings over 2 1/2 years. Why? Because I am privileged to have met them by chance. Thank you friends. Keep holding your glass by the stem (unless there isn’t one).
(The Pedegogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire.)