Dignity

I’ve done lots of work with students on the topic of dignity over the years. In 2013, my classes participated in Global Dignity Day for the first time. We learned about dignity and created products like collaborative poems on the topic.

In 2014, I built on our prior learning to personalize the idea of dignity. A post I penned four years ago called “Reclaiming Storytelling” describes the work done to address both the overarching question “Do teens really have to care about dignity and tolerance? and the idea that digital storytelling may be a way for Anishnabek students to reconnect and learn about their cultural worldview and perspective.

With the publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Report in 2015, I embarked on a collaborative inquiry project with Jaclyn Calder called #craftreconciliation. Woven throughout this exploration of the report are the ideas of dignity: identity, tolerance, equity, racism, gratitude, self-worth, respect, and diversity. To answer the question, “What does reconciliation look like?”, students needed to unpack not only what it meant for others to reconcile, but what it meant for them to receive reconciliation. In other words, how could they think about reconciliation as an act of reciprocity? Is this an appropriate question? What other approaches might be meaningful?

These broad themes also shaped the work in my grade 9 class.

Reinventing Room 121 blog post from February 2015

So why “dignity” this year?

I have had a beleaguered year and in an effort to right the ship, my work with students shifted from an explicit discussion of dignity to that of gratitude. Upon finishing Alan Gratz’s Refugee, I launched my classes into a #12DaysofGratitude event. Each day students considered a pre-set prompt on an aspect of gratitude. I opened each conversation with references to the novel and then wrote my own gratitude tweet in front of them. The last prompt asked students to consider, “What do you wish for in 2019?”

So as I headed into the winter break, I had a number of obvious choices for #onewordont: gratitude, notice, note, attentive, observe. And yet, I hesitated. As each day passed, I remained noncommittal.

I ran different ideas past my husband. Then my daughter.

I talked to my 4 month-old puppies.

Eliot (named after George Eliot) and Socrates (named after..Socrates)

What about perseverance? Or persist? Or health? Or conversation?

I really wasn’t getting anywhere. In frustration, I put the whole endeavour aside and dove into the festive season. A diffuse learning approach is what I needed. Do a bit of baking and cooking. Play some cards. Tell some stories. Catch up on favourite podcasts.

On the morning of December 29, I listened to Seth.

And discovered, or rediscovered dignity, that it encompasses acceptance, gratitude, equity, respect, trust, forgiveness, and the idea of noticing or to see.

In Refugee, my students and I were repeatedly confronted with the power of being seen or not seen. In the end, being seen saved the day. The realization and recognition of our shared humanity make the world a better place.

Ultimately, I am compelled by Seth’s notion that

when we see each other, when we grant each other dignity, instead of stripping it away, we become more human.

This is what we need today, the opportunity to see and be seen so that we create a real opportunity for reciprocity in our personal and our public lives.

The alternative is soul-crushing.

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2 Comments

Filed under Year End Reflection

2 responses to “Dignity

  1. Julie,
    This is beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing your path to your word. I wondered about visible as my word, after reading Refugee with my class. It was such an important part of the story, and is so important in how we see each other. I also really liked the fact that leaving the process of thinking of your word to stew for a while helped you find your way to it.

    Like

    • Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts with me, Lisa. I’ve explored the theme of “seeing” (do I truly “see” those around me? and do others truly “see” me? Is it even possible to see others?) in other recent books like Bone Gap, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, and All the Light We Cannot See. Seth’s interpretation of “seeing” someone as the expression and offer of dignity and of finding our way back to humanity dovetails with my own thinking. In this time of identity politics and populist nationalism/provincialism, we need to be reminded about what connects all of us.
      On the process, do you also have the experience of letting something go that you’ve grappled with only to have it come back to you effortlessly and from an unexpected source? I share this learning experience with my students often by asking them to theorize about why this happens to me; what conditions might need to exist for the “magic” to happen? My hope is that students begin to understand the power of metacognition in their own learning process.

      Like

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