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Kathryn Smeglin’s Learning Story

A large sheet of blank paper hung on the chalk board in my middle school art room. On top of the paper, in front of my quietly puzzled 8th graders, I wrote ISLAM/ISLAMIC ART. When I asked them what words came to mind when they read the paper, they barely paused before calling out in torrents, ‘Suicide bomber! Twin Towers! Terrorist! Habib! Plane! Hijacking! Turban! Caves! Osama! Jihad!’ With fewer than 5 minutes of class gone, the diverse group was in chaos. Kids were leaping from their chairs. Two students had to be removed from the room. I grabbed the guidance counselor from across the hall to calm the class while the principal (who was fortunately passing by at that moment) talked down two friends who were ready to punch each other. Obviously this was a lesson we needed to continue. When the class came back together, everyone was quiet. The first student to speak said, ‘I don’t think it’s fair that people should be able to say those things! Not all Muslims are like that.’ ‘ ‘Yeah. My friend is Muslim, and he’s not a terrorist.’ This sentiment echoed around the class. Several students apologized for their comments, noting

“The Color Line”

One of the most powerful learning experiences of my life is a recent one where, pursuing a personal goal to develop my “will, knowledge, skill and capacity” for interrupting social inequities, I signed up for a two-day training. The most significant learning took place around an exercise called “The Color Line.” After filling out a self-report questionnaire and scoring myself about the degree to which I experience privilege in my life, I placed myself on a continuum based on my score. I wasn’t surprised to find myself closer to the high end of the scale — I am, after all, a white woman — nor was I surprised to see the lowest scoring participants were people of color. What did surprise me were other patterns the trainers were able to predict: the high percentage of low-scoring participants who held doctorates, how the continuum progressed from darkest to lightest skin tone, the exception of a smattering of whites in the mid-range who turned out to be members of biracial families, for example. While that activity gave me — and other participants – a lot to think about, the trainers were savvy enough to not leave it at that. Our homework was

Professor Geer

It was Bill Geer who launched me on my “life of unlearning.” In fact, Professor Geer (as we insisted upon calling him no matter how often he said ‘call me Bill’), challenged us to live just such a life, taking the term from Lincoln Steffens’ essay. It was, he would bellow from the front of the class room, “a damn shame that so many smart young people come to this great University just to convince themselves that what they already know is all they need to know.” Disabusing us of such nonsense and getting us to think for ourselves was a mission he set himself to with great relish, and I was lucky to have stumbled upon him as a professor. I met Bill Geer at a pre-college camp sponsored by the campus YW/MCA. He was one of a number of lecturers and speakers that came that long weekend to try to get us to think about what college held in store; we were more interested in finding our first dates for the football home opener. To this day he is the only thing I really remember about the camp. On a clear evening he held forth about the so-called

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