Hooray For Monday: Motivation from RBG

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a new blog series we’ll be posting each week with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 

Last week was rough.

The president announced his intent to “restore patriotic education to our schools” through a new commission. He also decried the teaching of Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States, which provides a critical look at the US history of slavery and racism, as “propaganda.” Hopes that in-person schooling can resume continued to sink as Covid cases started spiking again. And on Friday evening, the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.

It’s a hard Monday to say hooray to.

According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah, which began Friday night, is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness. That is surely a good descriptor for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Perhaps we can find some motivation for this Monday in her words.

2019.09.14 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Mural, Washington, DC USA 257 33040 | Artist Credit: Rose Jaffe

“Don’t take no for an answer. If it didn’t work today, tomorrow is another day.”

The Notorious RBG was a living example of resilience. She was, as my daughters say, fierce. According to the urban dictionary, someone who is fierce possesses the “combination of a positive mental spirit, bold words, and unapologetic actions used collectively.” Antonyms of fierce include violent and furious.

What does resilience look like right now? What would it look like if we taught our students to be fierce?

At a time of great upheaval and fear, perhaps the most important thing we can teach our students is the power of their own resilience. We can teach them to take action in support of their words, to embrace positivity, to reject violence and fury.

Consider these resources:
Teaching People’s History in the Pandemic (Zinn Education Project)
Teaching about Race, Racism and Violence (Teaching Tolerance)
Ashoka Youth Venture
Alliance for Youth Action

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Justice Ginsburg’s life work demonstrated the importance of doing your research and being prepared when you confront a person or idea with which you disagree. In her words, “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

At this moment when so many of us do indeed feel angry, is it possible to follow her guidance? How can we persuade people when, in some cases, we may be too furious to talk to them?

Teaching is an act of social change. It’s a way to promote social justice, which is precisely why it’s under attack right now. We can create a better future by teaching our young people to better understand their present. If we teach our students how to be civil with one another, perhaps they’ll do a better job of creating a society that cares for and listens to its people than we have.

“You can’t have it all at once.”

It’s easy to become paralyzed by the urgency of the moment. But change takes time, so starting small makes sense. Start by taking care of yourself. Do something small today. Show kindness to a student or colleague; show kindness to yourself; go outside and take a walk; ask your students how they would write about RBG and other leaders in our country if they were writing the history books for the next generation.

The full text of Justice Ginsburg’s quote above reads, “You can’t have it all at once. Over my lifespan, I think I have had it all, but in given periods of time, things were rough.”

Things are rough right now.

That’s why it’s so important to be there for your students, and also for yourself. Keep fighting the good fight and creating spaces where your students can voice their opinions and dive deep into discussions of importance. But take care of yourself, lean on friends you trust, let us know how we can help.


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