Photo: Skip Schiel
It wasn’t easy to know how to be a good teacher, with all the models from my own schooling floating around in my head. With help from the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s and my students in the 1970s and the Brazilian thinker Paulo Freire, I learned not to lecture but to listen and create dialogue between my ideas and what my students thought and said. I learned to pay attention to the emerging moment in whatever groups I worked with—from elite University classrooms and boardrooms to community gatherings as far away as South Africa. I became a teacher who helps people find the power of voice to speak their most difficult truths. Click here to see my CV.
After moving back to the West Coast in 2009, I started two small, diverse and intimate writing groups that meet monthly. Here we explore how to get beyond the judges in our minds and find our way into the language of the heart. All of us share an intergenerational perspective, a concern for the earth and for healing the damage of colonizer mind in its various forms. Once we held a celebratory reading night and shared our work with friends. These groups aren’t open, but if you contact me, we can think about other options once my own book is out.
Group Reading and Celebration
Click images to enlarge — Photos: John Cary
In the 1980s and 90s, I began to reach out to community, labor, and environmental groups where grassroots people struggled to make a difference with the written word. In Boston I helped plan an annual Management and Community Development Institute, where non-profit leaders from all over the country gathered to study popular education, Community Land Trusts, undoing racism, and writing for social change. I found myself offering workshops as far away as South Africa and Ethiopia, often set up by friends who had been in my classes at MIT, Tufts, or this Institute. Some of those same friends—experienced community organizers long before I met them—are now teaching the power and liberation of writing to grassroots people in their home countries. Shamim Meer, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, teaches workshops all over the country that have published their own books. Also based in Johannesburg, Bobby Marie offers trainings, where writing is tied to organizing.
I began my life as a teacher while a graduate student at the University of California, surrounded by the life-changing insights of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964. When I saw in my first classroom that joining with others to change oppressive systems sharpened critical thinking and nourished the power of voice, I shifted my focus from medieval literature to teaching writing. When I moved to the Boston area, my initial jobs were with amazing students, the first in their families to go to college. I later worked with grad students from all over the world who had come to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to learn about changing unjust social and environmental systems. All of us struggled with writing about ideas and worked together to develop the tools that became Undoing the Silence. What I wrote in this milieu about the silencing of student voice became well known in the field I was teaching in. I spoke at many conferences and visited departments of urban and environmental planning around the country. See my academic CV here. A version of the course I developed at MIT is now being taught at Tufts University by Grace Talusan.