Sara K. Ahmed is a teacher dedicated to promoting what she calls social competence. She notes that,

We often ask kids to put themselves in someone else’s shoes before we give them the opportunity to voice what it is like to be in their own shoes. I have made mistakes in the past in that in my own fears of being dutiful and being ok with the status quo, that I was working much harder to silence kids than I was to amplify their voice. And I have had to remind myself that we are not in the crusader, savior business of giving kids a voice— they already have one, and that we can be in danger of doing more harm than good when we don’t believe that. So the question I am starting to ask myself is, how am I actively contributing to a system that silences kids? And as soon as I see it, what I am going to do instead that centers their identity, their hyphen, and voice?

In the personal story Sara shares below, she notes that living a hyphenated life can be awfully complicated. Early in her presentation, Sara explains:

On one side of my hypen, I am “American”. By birthright, by schooling and soccer games, by BBQ’s and birthday parties, by public library card, by voter card. I am brown-eyed Americana—1st generation. And on the other side of the hyphen I am East Indian. By blood and bangles, by saris and smells of chicken, and masalas, and curries throughout my childhood home.

But on 9/11 my hyphenated identity became a little more complicated. The invisible became visible.

See, my last name is Ahmed and I was raised Muslim. By Friday prayers, by Sunday school and summer school that I never wanted to attend. By a family who fasts during Ramadan, by a father who prays five times a day when he isn’t playing tennis or watching tennis. But to be fair to my practicing Muslims brothers and sisters… today, I more accurately identify as the daughter of two awesome Muslims.

Indians-Muslims-Immigrants-American Citizens.

So you can imagine how all those hyphens line up for me or a family like mine on 9/11.

Americans(hyphen)Indians (hyphen)Muslims (hyphen)Immigrants

The story is available on audio from Heinemann Press below.

Reflection Questions and Teaching Suggestions

Consider using the following thinking routines to begin a discussion of Sara’s story:

Sara’s story offers multiple entry points. You might ask students to share a word or phrase that resonated with them and then allow them an opportunity to share why it stands out for them. If the group is small enough, it might be interesting to ask each member of the group to share their selection and explanation out loud. Notice where phrases and ideas overlap as well as the differences in the way students respond to the text.

Consider what you think Sara wants her listeners to take away from the story. If you choose that ask that question, don’t forget to allow students to explain their thinking, you follow up by asking simply, “what makes you say that?”

In her reflection on identity, democracy, power, and voice, Sara uses the word proximate again and again. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Proximate this way:

1immediately preceding or following (as in a chain of events, causes, or effects)proximate, rather than ultimate, goals— Reinhold Niebuhr
2avery near CLOSE
bsoon forthcoming IMMINENT

What do you think Sara means when she uses the word. Why do you think she uses it multiple times in this passage?

A powerful thinking routine for closing the conversation is the three whys. Consider:

  • Why does this story matter to me?
  • Why does it matter to my community (however you choose to define your community in relation to Sara’s story)?
  • Why does it matter to the world?

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