In our efforts to measure the #DisruptTexts impact around the country and world, we are sharing the work educators are doing in their schools and districts. We are so inspired and moved by the reports and we encourage everyone to consider the ways this work needs to permeate their environment. These efforts will always look different because they should be based on your particular context.
Dawn Kasal Finley (@kasal_finley) teaches in St. Louis, Missouri and shared with us her growth and learning from #DisruptTexts.
She begins by telling us about her teaching context. We can’t express enough how important it is to understand the socio-political dynamics of your teaching context. That important framing determines the type of work we need to do. All of our efforts should be based directly on the students sitting in front of us and the community in which we teach. She explains:
“Before I knew about #DisruptTexts, and before it was a movement, I started teaching in a majority white (there were 2 black students out of 600+ when I started) all-male school. There were only 5 female teachers and 1 Black teacher (male). I knew right away that I wanted my students to see the world from a perspective other than their own white, middle-class, world. Most of them live in zip codes that are predominantly, if not entirely, white and come from grade schools of the same demographics. I also took into account our city’s troubled history and present with segregation, racism, police violence–Mike Brown was killed 10 miles from my school. But it was a world away from my students. His death was the August of my 2nd year of teaching. Through my own identity work as the White Adoptive Parent of two Black children, I knew the value of what I had to do. I knew the work was hard and I knew I had to use my classroom to attempt to make the world better for my own children and all PoC. I accepted early on that the work was one White people had to do, and as a White teacher it was my responsibility. Most of my disruption work started with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TedTalk “The Danger of a Single Story.”
“Not having colleagues wanting to engage in this work and still only using Twitter periodically, I started my journey to expose my students through a lot of hit or miss ventures.” We know this part of the struggle is real. We appreciate your commitment.
And then, her turning point: “It was in the fall of 2016 when we were having a class discussion over The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass when a student said “…the good slave owners…” when I realized I could not be subtle or nuanced. I had to be intentional. I had to do more than just expose them to stories; I had to push them. I had to teach them history (more than I was).”
Here’s how she responded, and the actions she took:
“I revamped my Honors Jr English class to be organized around the following essential questions:
My first intentional act of disruption was to show the History Channel documentary on Nat Turner. After we watched, I asked the students to write a reflection where they had to explain “Why isn’t Nat Turner celebrated as a hero?”
The essays were emotionally difficult to read. The idea that Nat Turner would be seen as a hero was impossible for so many of my students. I kept pushing their thinking. Exposure wasn’t enough. I still needed more.”
And then, she disrupted a text deemed a classic; a text that so many people hold dear to their hearts without considering its limitations and exclusion of voices and narratives.
“The Great Gatsby was the required book for 11th graders. After 3 years of Gatsby and more work and reading on equity, anti-racism, social justice, coupled with an increase in students of color (by the fall of 2016 we had about 18 and there were tensions), I still knew I had to do more. I did my first paired-text work (Fall of 2016). I assigned The Warmth of Other Suns prior to reading Gatsby. This text more than any other changed my teaching. My students were able to see connections with people’s stories in ways they were unable to see earlier.”
Here’s how #DisruptTexts shows up directly in her work:
“The work of disrupting is difficult and created through trial and error and not giving up. I stumbled across #DisruptTexts prior to the start of the 2018-2019 school year. My participation in the hashtag pushed me to do more. I dropped my essential questions around the American Dream and added the questions: Whose stories are told and privileged? How does this impact our world? This year I took out all of the readings by white authors aside from “Self-Reliance”, “On Civil-Disobedience,” and The Great Gatsby. I added There, There, Scene On Radio’s “Seeing White” podcast, kept The Warmth of Other Suns, and added social justice book clubs.”
Dawn ended up making some really big personal and professional changes based on her work:
“No one else at my school was willing to do this work. I ended up leaving my job based on my political views and my need to ask students to question their beliefs. The work of #DisruptTexts continues to inspire and push me to do the heavy lifting of this work and to push and challenge my students and colleagues to do more.”
Dawn, we thank you for your work and for your resilience in the face of loneliness. You’re right: this work isn’t easy and it can be quite taxing. Thank you for being a part of this work, and I hope that our digital community can be the welcoming space you need. Keep up the disruption!