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The Northern California Writing Project is a professional development organization devoted to improving the teaching of writing in our service region.

June 2022
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Day: June 4, 2022

Inquiry by Julia Murphy

Inquiry by Julia Murphy

In the Summer Institute and throughout the year, Northern California Writing Project teacher consultants are invited to engage with in-depth writing prompts in generative groups. We believe classrooms hold the world inside of them, and teachers witness the impact of family systems, larger culture, local communities, political debate, and public health, alongside their own lives. Dispatches is a place where we explore these intersections and tangles, joys and impossibilities, with the aim to honor our educators and those they teach.


How do I separate the idea or practice of teaching from the feelings of teaching?
What is the place of feelings in teaching?
What is the place of feelings in learning?
Why does high school feel so bad (to me?)
Does high school empirically feel bad?
Who thrives in high school?

What do youngs want?
What do they NOT want?
Is desire incompatible with reality?
Which reality?

Where is the best place to ask questions?
Is it safe to ask questions in school?
Is it safe to be wrong in school?
For whom is it safe to ask questions/ be wrong in school?

What do we not know, that we need to know?
What did we know once, but have forgotten?
Do we need to learn, or just remember?
Is there a space for remembering?
How far back does remembering go?

How do we become whole people?

  1. In everything worth doing, there is a sacredness.

What do I say to students watching a TikTok of Russian bombs exploding in Ukraine?
What do I say to students on their phone with their mother, evacuating as propane tanks blow up like bombs, in a town engulfed in flames?
What do I say to students who worry about the future?
What do I say to students who worry?
What do I say to students?
What do I say
What do
?

Where is the place that feels safe?
Is it with each other?

How do we know when we are loved?
Is tough love really love?
Is all love tough; but at the same time, kind?
Can we be tough and kind?
Where/when do we need to be tough?
Do we need to be tough?

Who are we when we let our guard down?
What is our guard guarding?
Who is our guard?

Is the scorn we feel from other people real?
Is this where our shame comes from?

Where does our shame come from?

Why do I think of high school and shame in the same thought?

Is it all the nightmares of being naked in school?
Why does the body carry shame?
How does the body carry shame over to our minds?
How is shame used to motivate people?
How is shame used to motivate people in school?
Is shame necessary, to learn how to be a person?
What place does shame have in our culture?

NOTE: “Our culture” being middle class white culture
Because education is middle class white culture
Because acknowledging white privilege might induce shame
And that kind of shame is unacceptable
The kind that comes with making a mistake
Because education doesn’t make mistakes
Because data-driven and standards-based is objective reality
And education is now in the bright light of objective reality
And this latest (PBIS, Nurtured Heart, Race for the Top) is the best framework
The very best and latest in educational frameworks
And administrators don’t make mistakes
Although “lies, damned lies, and statistics”
But white middle class culture doesn’t make mistakes
Not mistaking a phone for a gun
Not a mistaken hail of bullets in a no-knock raid
Not mistaken systems of redlining and restrictive real estate covenants
Not mistakenly denying other people’s cultures experiences reality humanity

Not mistakenly denying other people’s cultures experiences reality humanity.

  2. In everything worth doing, there is an impossible ideal.

How do I be a person who matters
When a swastika shows up on class materials
And I wish someone important would come make a statement to my class,
But all I have is myself—
Is that enough?

Why is every tardy punished with a detention
When a swastika blossoms like a tumor and is dealt with in secret,
With no resolution,
As though hate has ever done anything but flourish in secrecy?
As though the greater crime is not being on time?

Why does my mind go from crime to punishment?
What did that ever change?
Witness:
Swastikas, still.

What are we missing?

What do we not know, that we need to know?
What did we know once, but have forgotten?
…Is shame necessary, to learn how to be a person?
What place does shame have in our culture?

How do shame, mistakes, punishment, and white culture play out in school?
When does a mistake become a crime?

Is school safe for people from different cultures?
Where is a safe place for people from different cultures?
Is safety an illusion?
Why are we so scared?
How does this fear affect us in our bodies?
In our lived experience?

NOTE: There are different levels of real and present threat.
White culture’s imagined threats are given precedence over other cultures’ real threats.

NOTE: Poor white (people) may be part of white culture’s imagined threats.

Are white people imagining a time when white culture is not dominant, and that is where the fear is?
The imagined threat?

How does this relate to education?
How does this relate to making a mistake?
How does this relate to our guard, and what it’s guarding?
Who is the “us” I refer to?

middle class white Us
I cannot not belong here

I do know (believe) that there is a place for each of us; and by that us, I mean US, all of us.
I do know (believe) that I want safety for everyone, a place to just be.

Where is a place to just be?
Our place?
My place?
Are they different places?

    3. In everything worth doing, we find ourselves and our place in the world.

How do we come to the idea of work?
What is my work?
Is my job getting in the way of my work?
What am I doing when I’m not making a living?
If we say that “time is money,” how does that diminish time?

Why do we make distinctions between work-life and life-life?
Why do we have guards, or different people, for our different lives?
What are we protecting?
Who are we protecting it from?

Does the “we” determines the “what” (we protect)?

Who is safe right now?
What is safety?

Is it time to invite these questions into our practice and relations?

Our practice= our work, if not our job.
Our relations= how each of us individually identifies, in relation to the collective.
The everything.

Teachers:
How much of the everything must we know?

What is knowing?
How is knowing different from feeling?
Can we have legitimacy from a place of feeling, or does it need to be knowing to be legitimate?

What is legitimacy?
Who decides?
Is it the same as authority?
How does legitimacy relate to experience?
How does legitimacy relate to being right?

NOTE: Teachers like to be right.
Teachers put importance on being right.
Teachers like to be sure they are right.

How can teachers be sure they are right?
How does it affect students, if teachers are always (sure they are) right?

  4. In everything worth doing, we begin by doing it wrong.

And do it again,
And learn
—And find the possible

Is dominant white middle class culture product-based, or process-based?
Are we teaching for products, or processes?
Are we teaching to be right, or for liberation?
Are we teaching gently, creatively, organically?
(Not always)
Are we teaching with joy and solidarity?
(Not always)

Is it possible?

I know (believe) that it is,
Or that it could be,
—by moving bravely towards the impossible

Can we build a bridge to the impossible out of questions?

Am I ready to start building this bridge
Not knowing where it will take me

Certain that I will leave the world before it is done,
But also certain that its building is my life’s work?

Look. I have begun.

And:
will you build with me?


Julia Murphy is an artist, educator, and regular person. She lives in Chico, CA. www.pedalpress.org