Who do You Want to be in the World?

“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.”  ~Helen Keller

Photograph of young boy drawing on a large piece of paper.

Jack adds his ideas to a mural that will serve as inspiration for a public art installment.
All photographs courtesy of Steven Landry unless otherwise noted.


Dear Jack,

I’m writing this letter after attending the JoLLE Conference with you. It was just supposed to be a quick visit to support a friend, support a cause, and hear your dad play guitar. However, you lit up the moment we entered the event space on opening night. You marveled at the art on display, listened intently to the keynote speakers, and took notes. You didn’t want to leave.

The theme of the conference was – Activist Literacies: Inspire, Engage, Create, Transform.

This conference did that for you. You were engaged, inspired, transformed.

When you heard K.C. Nat Turner give his keynote address, you were hooked. He spoke about the killing of children in drone strikes and you began to ask questions. Specifically, why would our government fund a program and sanction missions that kill children? This is not an easy question – for you or for me. I have to admit that I didn’t have a great answer for you, but we did have a great conversation. It was at this moment that I stopped thinking about you as just my child, and saw you as a person in the world. A person with thoughts, questions, and a voice.

We sat at a cafe table by a window, eating sandwiches and talking about safety, and what being safe in the world affords us. We marveled at how lucky we are that we have food, a house, a car, pets, books, art supplies, musical equipment, technology, and how that makes it easier for us to ask questions and take risks. We talked about how we are all interconnected and made out of star stuff. We talked about being small in a vast universe and how is it possible to be heard when we are so tiny. We decided that every small thing we do adds up to be a bigger thing, so we should just keep on doing the little things.

I know you are aware of what I do at my job, but I am not sure you know what I am passionate about in my work. My deepest desire is to help create learning experiences where everyone is included, where students who come are not made to feel like second class citizens just because they don’t see well, or hear well, or read well. My goal each day at work is to help people think – what barriers are inherent in what I am creating? How can I reduce those barriers? I want people to believe that it is not the learner who is broken, but it is the curriculum that is broken. Because people are the way they are. And we should respect all people. We should help all people feel successful when we can. I strive to create learning that isn’t just accessible, but is also inclusive. Radical inclusivity – that is my praxis.

I am grateful that I experienced this conference with you, because it kindled a fire. You are now in the process of finding your voice, your power, discovering how you want to be in the world.

Photograph of a boy and woman looking at a drawing.

Jack, a 2nd grader who attended the conference with his mom, in Karen Gerow’s session “Drawing in/on Math.”

Right now, at age eight, you draw constantly. You might love art more than Minecraft (that is a lot). You spend your time making monsters, zombies, stickmen in various states of trouble, mazes, maps, skulls, cityscapes, and alternate dimensions. Seeing art by both adults and children on display in the same space – at the same time – flipped a switch for you. I think for the first time you realized that what you create, what you have to say, your voice, matters to more than just you.

Right now, at age eight, you drum constantly. You might love drumming more than art (that is a lot). You drum with sticks and cymbals. You drum with your hands, beating out rhythms on the table or on your body, when you are not at your kit. Your teacher allows you to drum when you work at school. Listening to the songs and music created and composed by kids opened your mind to the idea that your music, your voice, matters.

Through this conference, you learned that art and music are valid ways to be in the world, to communicate, to demonstrate understanding, to communicate, to inspire, to contribute, to maybe one day change the world. You spoke with adults who have spent their lives dedicated to helping students find their voice and use that voice to create change. I am looking forward to taking this journey with you.




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