What We May Be: Ep. 2 – Past and Present, Part 1

Episode 2 – Past and Present, Part 1

This week, Rafael explores education in schools and classrooms, from stories about being an immigrant struggling to understand playground games to the importance of rebellious teachers and the power of showing students that Shakespeare can be for them (and the struggle when it feels like it isn’t). Our guests are director Desdemona Chiang, multihyphenate artist QuiQui Dominguez, and high school teacher Caitlin Honig. Learn more, ask questions, and get involved at seattleshakespeare.org/education-celebration

Episode 2 – Past and Present, Part 1 transcript

Rafael Molina:

Hello, and welcome to What We May Be: Race and Education. Last week’s episode looked at some of the foundations of education. In this week’s episode, we’re going to take a closer look at how the past and the present of education intersect. We’ll be looking at the journey from student to educator, the evolution of an educational program and how the pandemic is changing how we teach in educational institutions. Our interview guests this week are Caitlin Hoenig, Marquicia Domingez, and Desdemona Chiang let’s get started.

Rafael Molina:

Hi, Desdemona tell us a little bit about yourself?

Desdemona Chiang:

Uh, well, my name is Desdemona Chiang. Um, my pronouns are she/her/hers. I am a freelance stage director, um, based in Seattle and Ashland, Oregon, sort of between both cities, uh, sort of got my start in theater pretty late in life. And, um, you know, was going to be a biology major and kind of pivoted at the last minute to, to work in performing arts. And I went to school at the University of Washington work on my master’s degree in directing and have been pretty much, um, working, uh, as an independent freelance director for the last 15 or so years. As a nutshell, that’s a really brief nutshell of my bio.

Rafael Molina:

Thank you. I want to talk about your experience as a student. What was it like growing up? What was your experience?

Desdemona Chiang:

Yeah, it’s interesting. I think if you were to ask me what my, my experiences are like was like as a student in my early years, uh, in grade school, I would say a lot of that was, um, a feeling of disorientation and otherness. Um, so I’m an immigrant. I was born in Taiwan and I came to America when I was like pretty young, like three and a half, four years old, but my earliest memories are of arriving in this country. Um, and even though I have a very, very vague, very, very vague memories of being in Taiwan as a young infant, pretty much. Um, my, my most formative memories are of landing in the US um, of going to McDonald’s for the first time, going to school in America and feeling like I didn’t understand the rules of how school worked, um, things, things that I never really thought about.

Desdemona Chiang:

I mean, I guess most kids don’t think about right. Like rules of the playground, like recess and like handball and like standing in line and, you know, duck, duck goose. And I would, I remember watching these kids play these games and me kind of not understanding, like, how did you, how do you know the rules of engagement? How did you guys pick this up? And all the girls happened to all know the same, like double Dutch jump rope, right. Or like the Ms. Mary Mack chant. Um, and I was just so baffled that has an entire culture of communication, but I was not privy to. So I think a lot of my early years, and this is not really about the learning part of it, but more about how you, how one feels like they belong in their social circle. Like I had a really hard time fitting in, um, and my first few years, and then, you know, in addition to that, I was in an ESL program, um, because I had to learn English.

Desdemona Chiang:

And so I spent half the day separate from the class and my own kind of private tutorial with a Chinese teacher who would help me kind of bridge the gap, right. The language gap. Um, so that then also kept me distinct and apart from the other students. So I think, I would say like the early, my early years in school were really about this feeling of alienation and trying to understand how I could fit in and trying and trying so hard to assimilate. Um, right. And I think that probably influenced a lot of how I ended up, you know, whatever choices I made as a teenager and adult. A lot of it was about, um, the desire to normalize and to sit in and assimilate. Um, and I would argue that’s probably a lot of how I approached my work in the theater as an adult. Um, that’s, I think, I think those early years in school were pretty formative for me. Um, as far as shaping my worldview. Um,

Rafael Molina:

Did you get a sense that there was an awareness about your feelings of, of alienation from the school or teachers?

Desdemona Chiang:

Uh, you know, it’s, I don’t know, you know, I’m like six and it’s really hard to, I think when you’re that young, you have no comprehension of what the adult mind is. Um, and, and I didn’t, I just, uh, I just felt, um, I felt like my teachers were supportive, um, but oblivious. Right. And I also, I also didn’t think I had, I don’t think I had, um, the facilities and the tools to express myself in a way where I could voice my concern or alienation to right. There’s and also, you know, I’m Chinese, and just culturally, you know, we’re not conditioned to speak up right. When there’s difficulty. So there’s a culture of silence. That’s kind of ingrained in me culturally, too. Um, so I found myself doing a lot of, um, mimicry as a child. I would see what kids were doing and I was just literally following copy people as a means of just like, yeah, behaviorally, I know what’s going on. I understand what’s happening

Rafael Molina:

Right… What about college. How did your journey expand throughout undergraduate graduate? You know, now, including theater.

Desdemona Chiang:

I think once I decided that the theater was going to be thing I wanted to do, I just went all in, I went all in and it was hard because I feel like there’s no, there’s no one way to learn how to make theater. And I felt like a lot of my time was trying to play catch up culturally. Um, you know, and I had a reasonable, I mean, I had a solid education at Berkeley around theater, but, um, you know, even just understanding like what legacy you’re inheriting in a theater understanding like, Oh, this amount of Ibsen or this and that. I mean, it’s so Euro centric, right. And a lot of my undergrad training was largely Eurocentric theater. Classical theater was considered Chekhov, Shakespeare, Ibsen.. world theater was everything else. Like we never studied Asian theater as part of classical theater. It was always, you know, it was all Eurocentric work and Shakespeare had an entire class on Shakespeare and entire class on Chekhov. And I felt like I never got that, that sense where it was like, you know, we never got an entire class on Noh theater, Noh theater was like two weeks of instruction. Right. Um, these are all things I’m realizing, like in retrospect, but that my training and undergrad, and to some degree in grad school too, very much a kind of canonized Euro-centric look at what excellence looks like, what success looks like and what does mastery look like?

Rafael Molina:

We’ll be back Desdemona later…

Rafael Molina:

Here’s QuiQui Dominguez. Hi QuiQui. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

QuiQui Dominguez:

So my name is Marquicia Domingez. My pronouns are they them? Um, but usually people around town know me as QuiQui and I am an artist educator and behavioral therapist in Seattle, Washington. I have recently started a podcast with the Mirror stage theater company. So that’s one of the things now I can add podcaster to my resume, and I have been acting directing and dramaturging in Seattle since about 2012. And I worked with Seattle Shakespeare for two years in on the Seattle Shakespeare tour. What else? I, I, my main focus now has been creating online classes through Seattle Theater Group, as well as through Seattle Children’s Theater. So those have been my, my latest endeavors throughout all of this COVID 19, um, in person restrictions,

Rafael Molina:

Amazing, staying busy, love to hear it.

Rafael Molina:

You’ve been part of the statewide tour at Seattle Shakespeare Company for two years. Right. Um, working as an actor, a stage manager, what are ways that you’ve seen that tour evolve and grow in your time with it?

QuiQui Dominguez:

So, yeah, so the first year it just seems like we were all babies. Like we didn’t know, we were all very excited to be in the room and we didn’t know what to expect. And it was everyone’s first year on the tour. And so that was a big year of learning, just how the tour operates, how we work with the touring manager, how we work with schools and just the different cycles of like, what, what happens and what goes on. And I really showed up at a time where they really nailed, “we’re going to have diversity in this room,” and that’s not just, you know, one person of color that everybody is a person of color and they’re all different. And it’s all different shapes and sizes. It’s all different genders. Um, and preferred pronouns, it’s all across the board different. And then, so that was the first year.

QuiQui Dominguez:

And then the second year when we had new cast members, it still had that same feeling, but we also got to collaborate with our, uh, production team being, I believe all people of color. Like even when everyone who came in that second year, it was all POC, I believe on the production team. And yeah, just see, see these new materials and work on the newest, the newest bilingual script that we had and the new dance and music that got to be incorporated. That seems like a big change. I will say the first year there wasn’t too much like music aspect outside of recordings. But the second year we had dancing, we had, I was playing my guitar. Anuh was playing their ukulele and the whole cast had like a, a song that we were all singing. So it got really a collaborative there the second year.

Rafael Molina:

Thank you. When you’re out there, um, on the field performing, educating, what are some ways that you’ve seen students affected or impacted by the work that you do, you and your ensemble?

QuiQui Dominguez:

We had a lot of, uh, our talk backs were great. We had the opportunity to do talk backs at almost every location. Sometimes it wasn’t possible just because things get pushed. Timing doesn’t always add up. But with, with our talkbacks, we had a lot, a chance to really connect with the students and have them tell us how they, might’ve never seen this show before this or how they weren’t interested in it. But seeing people that look like them made them interested in these, these shows or hearing it in Spanish, like how that would affect different kids in different ways, because they were either get, they would get it before when they weren’t, they weren’t fully understanding something. And then it would just hit them in a different way when it would be in there in their first language. So that was a big one with, with our Spanish English version of the Scottish play.

Rafael Molina:

Why do you think that that impact happens, you know, for students of color when they, when they go to something like Shakespeare and, and get to see themselves on stage and hear their, their natural tongue, why do you think that’s so impactful?

QuiQui Dominguez:

I think that that is so impactful because it goes back to the conversation about representation and access. So if I’m only ever seeing this one, if like Romeo and Juliet, if I’m only ever seeing Romeo and Juliet done by cis-gendered white people, then I QuiQui Domiguez, uh, Afro Latinex non-binary individual might not connect to it might say, well, that’s not for me. That must not be for me. But then having it accessible in a format that seems like it’s more for me or for my community helps me or helps the other people realize like, Oh, I guess this is for me. I guess Shakespeare could be for me because Shakespeare is one of those things that gets hoity-toity really quickly. And it’s, it’s just a barrier. And I think that it can be a barrier for a lot of people because they like learned it in their high school class when they like had to read it out loud and it just caused them a lot of anxieties. They never looked at it again, but there are all these beautiful stories that are interesting and fascinating and relatable on so many different levels. So giving, giving people an opportunity to connect with it and actually connect with it, see themselves, hear themselves represented. I think really changes, changes the experience for people all around.

Rafael Molina:

Absolutely. And I think that there’s so much power in doing things like Shakespeare through a bilingual lens, right. To give voice to a voiceless community that can, that then shifts, uh, that perspective of power in a room of an audience. Right. Um, is that ever something that like students talked about or that you saw, or that maybe you experienced?

QuiQui Dominguez:

I would say we, we would see it a lot. Like we, it wasn’t brought up too, too often in like talk backs, but you could sense it in the rooms. And it would be like the biggest shift when we would say something in Spanish and you would just hear certain kids like vocally and you could just see other people being like, I don’t know, I don’t get that. I don’t know what that is. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being in a space and being like, I didn’t get that thing, but that’s okay. Because the person around me who usually doesn’t get to speak Spanish or hear Spanish, they got it. So just having those different, those different responses were, were very interesting because yeah, it is about a power shift and that was not something that like I’d thought about before this, but it was just always great to hear the kids get excited, like as a theater artist, it’s just great to hear the audience. I know that so many audiences are like, you have to be quiet and only clap at the end and all this stuff, but I’m not that person. I want to hear people responding. I want to hear people get the joke. And when people would get the joke in Spanish, it would make me so happy because I was like, that’s why we’re doing this. That right there was for you. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it.

Rafael Molina:

How were different demographics in the communities that you visited affected by that? Was there a difference from, you know, from Seattle proper to rural Washington?

QuiQui Dominguez:

Well, it’s interesting. Cause sometimes when we were in rural Washington was we would have be doing our shows that had Spanish in them and they would be a lot of Spanish speaking students in the room. Um, but when we would come to Seattle, I was going to say, we, we would mainly do R & J, which is not bilingual. It was the 90 minute version. And that was always the, the conversation of, Oh, well they’re always studying R and J, so someone will probably want to do this.

Rafael Molina:

And it’s part of the curriculum.

QuiQui Dominguez:

Exactly. So I’m just thinking about, I’m just thinking about the differences of those two performances and in the Scottish play. And R&J are two very different stories and are, are like the whole experience on either end is so different. I’m just thinking like we’re in, in the, uh, R & J, we’re in more classical attire with the swords and we are fighting how they did in classical times. But, you know, with Scottish play, we were, it’s a very, very violent play and there’s daggers and all the scary imagery, and then you have the Spanish. So it’s like, that was just such an exciting thing to do. And to be a part of that, I think that people were just super excited to be there and to witness it and be a part of it, even if they couldn’t always understand what was going on.

Rafael Molina:

in terms of Like, you know, the work that feeds your soul as a BiPAP, does that align with it work like you experienced doing Mackers and this specific production of Mackers?

QuiQui Dominguez:

Yes. I, I, the work we did on Mackers, it was a lot of collaborating and it was a lot of, uh, experiencing Shakespeare in a way that I had not before. So when I have been in previous Shakespeare shows or worked on, um, cause I, I did the curriculum for Greenstage for a couple of years to like working on that material. It was always very traditional project product done in a certain way. And with our production of Mackers, like we were the witches and we were like in a dance circle. So we got to like come up with what we do in this dance circle. And we got to go with our crazy ideas and really help collaborate. And that, isn’t something that I really experienced with Shakespeare before this experience.

Rafael Molina:

And that’s so important because it’s, it’s part of the inherent nature of our work, right?

QuiQui Dominguez:

Yeah. And, and with R & J cause I don’t get me wrong. I just want to say for the record Lake RNJ is right up there in the top favorite plays. So I was totally excited to be a part of it, but because it is the staple show that Seattle Shakespeare knows we’ll probably be picked up because they’re always teaching that material in school. There were a lot of rules around it. There was a lot of, this is the same blocking from last year. This is the same script from the last like 10 years. This is the same. Everything is exactly the same. These are the same. We got new costumes. I will say they were beautiful, but like the sets the same, the blocks, the same, everything rigid, rigid, rigid, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it did feel like we were a little bit more constraint with our abilities to be creative in that.

Rafael Molina:

Thank you, Kiki for your insights and your time.

QuiQui Dominguez:

Yeah. Thank you. I’m glad that we could chat about this.

Rafael Molina:

Here’s Desdemona again. Moving into your role as an educator. How did these feelings of alienation cultural and printing, you know, these ideas of what success looks like and assimilation, how did that shape and evolve things like your curriculum or just being in a classroom leading students?

Desdemona Chiang:

When Richard E.T. White at Cornish…I would say I owe so much of my career to Seattle, to his, um, advocacy and his sponsorship in some ways of my work. And when I was offered a teaching position there, um, to teach directing, um, part of me was like, I don’t want to shake things up and maybe this is me because I just generally feel that when you’re teaching in theater, like there’s no, there’s no right way to teach theater. There’s no right way to like learn theater and learn directing. And I, and I don’t know, maybe it was intentional what I remember thinking, okay, whatever Kathleen’s doing, I’m gonna do the opposite, whatever she was doing, I’m going to do the opposite, whatever the fact, whatever core faculty is doing, I want to be that rogue adjunct Oh, captain, my captain. I want to be that rogue adjunct that tells you, you can do the opposite.

Desdemona Chiang:

You know what I mean? I was weirdly interested in being disruptive because I feel like there was something I also just generally, when it comes to higher education and the arts, like there’s something that’s kind of counter-intuitive to that. Like we grow as artists through disruption and failure. Right. And if I can, if I can just keep telling students like, Oh, the way you’re doing it, totally different ways to do it. Totally opposite ways to do it, you know? And maybe that’s just, you know, me kind of owning the fact that my own name, my kind of, um, you know, internalized outsiderness. Um, uh, but that was something that I, I think I didn’t realize I was doing on purpose, but I think I was probably doing on purpose, um, was wanting to come in and be like, all right. You know, in the world of education, I’ve always felt a little outsider.

Desdemona Chiang:

So let’s let go all out with being outsider, right? Like I will, I will teach you the dark arts of the theater and we’ll do things. We’ll do things, unconventionally we’ll do things the way that’s like maybe vigilante and breaking the rules and I’m deeply skeptical. And yet I understand deeply skeptical of institutional education. And yet I understand that there’s a necessity for it. Um, but we need one person to be like, listen, let’s try to break it.

Rafael Molina:

Absolutely. How do you hope that, uh, teaching the dark arts, um, how do you hope that impacts the students that you have?

Desdemona Chiang:

I mean, I have to try, at least I hope it teaches them a sense of autonomy. Right. Um, and that’s one thing as I’m sure you know, this, you took my class, but like, you know, I always tell the directors I can do this is your class.

Desdemona Chiang:

Right? You lead this. I don’t, I’m, I’m the person who will give you feedback. But at the end of the day, like you’re in charge of your rehearsals. I’m not going to tell you how to rehearse it. I don’t know what to tell you how to do your grand plan, how to do anything. I think you need to practice owning your choices, owning the difficulties and owning the successes and failures too, in the process. And I think on some level that can be misconstrued as kind of negligent, right? It’s like, Oh, I just want to sit there and not teach. I’m like, no I’m teaching, but there’s there’s. I mean, how, how do you teach? How do you teach leadership? If you can’t let them leave? Because we’re always valuing collaboration. Um, which I think is sometimes misunderstood to be compliance.

Desdemona Chiang:

Um, so I, I try to, if I can, without being jerks, right, don’t be a jerk, but productive and difficult, right? What’s that like John Lewis, there was a John Lewis that said, like he had a great quote about being a difficult person. We’re making good trouble. Right. He was like, you want to get into good trouble is what John Lewis would say. There’s something about, I think this idea of, of being difficult for me to stir some shit up, right? You want to stir things up, challenge conventional. Cause what you don’t want to do is fall into the trap of getting complacent. And I think, especially in education and a world of as, as an educator, if you’re given a syllabus and you teach that syllabus over and over and over five years later, like what are you doing? That’s new, right? You fall into a reliable pattern of security.

Desdemona Chiang:

And I think that’s like, it’s dangerous. And there’s, I think there’s a reason why during the pandemic, the entire education was flipping out. We’ve become so standardized that we can’t cope with disruption. And of course, and, and in some ways of course education should be secured because we don’t want to be chaotic when we’re teaching young people. That’s not great either, but there’s gotta be a balance. There has to be a way where you can create a structure and a system of security and then disrupt it so that your students can develop a sense of grit and resilience. Like how do you, how do you create a safe place to fail?

Rafael Molina:

Well, thank you Des for your time and your insights.

Desdemona Chiang:

Thank you for having me

Rafael Molina:

Up next. Caitlin Hoenig hello, Caitlin. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Caitlin Hoenig:

So I’m a teacher at Franklin high school in Seattle. I just started my seventh year working there. I teach language arts and human geography and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’m a big fan of Franklin. Um, I got my master’s in teaching at UW and before that I studied English and theater at Virginia Tech. Um, and I grew up all over the country cause my dad was in the Navy. So I visited like 45 of the 50 States. Um, Oh, wow. Yeah. It’s five more to go right when we can travel again. And when I’m not teaching, I do spend my time, mostly reading and writing and watching a lot of movies and television with my husband, Brian and our two cats. Um, and I guess like the big takeaway of all this is that I’m really interested in storytelling, like fiction and nonfiction and consuming and creating. And I just really liked how stories are able to like both present new information so we can learn from people who are different from us, but also, um, it connect people who like we can find common ground in our shared Human experience.

Rafael Molina:

Um, what does the conversation look like when Franklin decides what outside programming to bring into the school? Who has the agency and then what is that process like?

Caitlin Hoenig:

Yeah. So decision-making within a public school can be pretty complicated, but I’m really grateful that administrative team really values, uh, bringing in expertise from the community. And so even though there are like hoops, you have to jump through as far as paperwork and whatnot. Um, if, if a teacher comes forward or any adult in the building, honestly it doesn’t have to be a teacher. Um, and they have a connection or an idea they’re excited about. Uh, usually, uh, administration will, will support it and help make that happen.

Rafael Molina:

Oh, wow. It’s great to hear that you have so much support from your administration.

Caitlin Hoenig:

Oh yeah, for sure.

Rafael Molina:

What about like the demographic of your school? Does that affect any of the decision makers?

Caitlin Hoenig:

Yeah, I think that’s really present. Um, I don’t know how much information you’ve looked up or if your listeners will know about the demographics of teachers and students in Seattle. But, um, so 89%, I looked this up recently, 89% of teachers in all of Washington state are white and it’s much better in Seattle. 81% of our teachers are white, but 52% of students in all of Seattle public schools are students of color. And in Franklin in particular, it’s about 90%. Uh, so we ended up having, having a lot of white educators, teaching students who are not white. We at least I feel this way. And I think a lot of my colleagues do too, that we want more representation. And so I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about me and my take on language arts. Um, so if I’m going to bring in people from outside, um, to show like, Hey, this is what you can do with poetry, or this is what you can do with live theater or music. Um, I do want to be finding people who look like my students or maybe had a shared experience with my students, just so that they can see that, like, this is an option for them maybe as a career, but also maybe just as like, this is something that can bring you joy. Um, so yeah, I do think demographics plays a pretty big role in who we decide to partner with.

Rafael Molina:

Um, with school happening right now and the pandemic still happening. What are substitutes that are coming in for these programs? Are there substitutes? What are, you know, how are things being done differently at the school?

Caitlin Hoenig:

Yeah, that’s one of our biggest hurdles right now. I think a lot of teachers kind of feel like we’re all just treading water, trying to stay afloat with stuff we’ve done before or maybe making completely new stuff. Um, so I, I don’t know if many teachers have prioritized bringing in outside experts right now. I think a lot of people just kind of have this hope that this is going to be an off semester or an off year. And then we can get back to some sort of relative or something. But I do think a lot of people have been this year, reanalyzing, the texts they’re using. So I’m teaching 10th grade this year, which is world lit. And his like previously world lit classes have had, you know, one or two texts from Europe. And this year we were like, you know what, no, it gets world lit.

Caitlin Hoenig:

We’re going to focus on hitting every continent. Other than Europe. They’ll probably get some European authors their senior year or whatever. Um, I think that’s been happening in classes all around my building. I don’t necessarily want to speak for all buildings. Um, and what kind of texts we use, so incorporating like podcasts or television or, you know, stand up comedy or even a, you know, like poetry, just like the idea that a text is something beyond a traditional novel. Um, I think that’s been something a lot of us have been doing in part because there are confines from the district understandably. So about like, you don’t want just anyone popping into, um, the like virtual classroom. And so, so that’s been something that’s really tricky. Um, I hope we come up with better solutions.

Rafael Molina:

Sounds like, you know, jumping in you’re, you’re figuring stuff out. I mean, it’s, it’s a great opportunity to, from, from what it sounds like to explore mediums that were not being explored before.

Caitlin Hoenig:

Yes. And I also think as much as it’s, you know, like the world right now, it kind of seems like it’s on fire and there’s so many terrible things happening because we’re being forced into this school. Can’t look anything like it’s sloughed before there’s freedom to, well, then let’s just try anything right now. And so I teach an AP course as well, AP human geography. And I think a lot of times there’s kind of a focus on trying to prepare students for that big test in May, but like, how do you do a multiple choice tests virtually and you know, guarantee that people aren’t looking up answers? So my prism, I had been like, you know what, let’s throw out multiple choice tests this year, and we’re gonna just going to go switch to almost all project based learning and, um, written assessments, which have historically been a lot more success successful, especially with students of color. You know, that’s not really related to art, but it is related to teaching and considering who are students are.

Rafael Molina:

That’s amazing. Um, with the pandemic forcing a reinvention of how you teach and the content in your classes, what do you think is holding us back from using this as an opportunity to change the framework in schools to be equitable?

Caitlin Hoenig:

Oh, I have thoughts on this and I’m a little, um, like a little worried about, uh, how, how radical I can be on this recording. Um, I have you listened to a different podcast by the New York Times just put out Nice White Parents, are you familiar with it

Rafael Molina:

I am not familiar with it. Um,

Caitlin Hoenig:

It’s great. I recommend listening to it’s about five hours. Um, but it, it does kind of analyze how essentially a stakeholder in the community who has a lot of power and influence are parents, but specifically white parents it’s specifically looking at the podcast, looks at integration in New York city, which is one of those things where a lot of times we think about integration, a lot of Americans jump to what was going on in the South, but, uh, schools in liberal cities like New York city and Seattle are, you know, just as segregated essentially because of defacto segregation. When you look at people who have pushed for integration, when white parents push for Integration it’s often because they want their children exposed to diversity. Um, but when parents of color have pushed for integration, it actually doesn’t have anything to do with exposure. Like they, don’t just, they want their kids to go to school with white kids.

Caitlin Hoenig:

Um, but it’s more about they see the income inequality or inequity of the schools right now, where schools that have are in historically black and brown communities and neighborhoods don’t have the same access to resources. The same quality of materials and integration is a way to get their kids better access to those things. And so, um, all this to say, I think if there’s a perspective of, I need to guarantee that my kid always gets the best opportunity, which is a very natural desire for a parent. If you are a parent that your child is already in a position of privilege, um, and you continue to work toward making sure your kid keeps having an advantage for their individual success, going to continue to have inequity in the school system. And so part of it is we as a whole society need to prioritize, you know, equity and, and giving students and communities that need more, they should be getting more.

Caitlin Hoenig:

And that sometimes does mean there’s a compromise of, it might not benefit you or your child individually because of, you know, everything else that’s going on in society. But I think a secondary part of it is, you know, school functions the way it has always functioned. And we are charged with, it’s a very difficult task as educators of balancing. We want to prepare our students for the world. They’re going to enter as adults also want them to go out and potentially live in a society that we think is like ideal or like change the world. Right? When people talk about things like high stakes testing, you know, um, if you’re talking about writing and you have to pass a writing test to graduate, and you have a child who maybe wants to go to college because they’re trying to pursue a higher paying job, and that student maybe speaks in a dialect like African-American vernacular English.

Caitlin Hoenig:

And there’s a lot of evidence like linguists have studied this for that African-American vernacular English or some people know it as Ebonics, um, is rule governed and students who speak in AAV E are following the rules of their dialect. Um, there’s no reason to think that that’s any better or worse. Um, but specifically it’s not worse than people who speak maybe closer to standard American English, and yet English teachers feel the need to, um, have students who maybe speak with this dialect, learn to write in standard American English, because it’s like, well, when you leave, there are judgmental people out there who don’t know about the complex history and linguistics behind all this. And we don’t want to like make it so that you can’t pursue those opportunities because you write a cover letter and someone assumes stuff about you that they shouldn’t assume about you, you know, in an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter how you write it matters what you’re saying.

Caitlin Hoenig:

Right. You know, and that’s like not really the society we live in necessarily, which I think is really, um, difficult. And I think they know that, right. My students know so much more about the world than I did when I was their age. They care so much about making it better. And they’re, they’re really upset by injustices and what’s what’s wrong. And so I feel actually gen Z has given me a lot of hope because they get older. I don’t think that passions might go away. So I am hopeful that our society would be better in the future. I do think it’s interesting that it, from a standardized test perspective, uh, what we seem to care about are things like getting the right answer and doing this the right way and thinking about academics a certain way. And we don’t necessarily test on seals like cooperation or, uh, empathy, right? Like skills are actually very important to, uh, adult life and work. And which are things that I think oftentimes students of color are strong in, like there’s a focus of on community and sticking together and supporting each other. And so I don’t really know what that would look like on a standardized test. Like how do you assess someone’s ability to work in a group? But I think it’s noticeable that that’s not something required to graduate.

Rafael Molina:

Yeah. It’s so true. Just, just the way that you’re framing it, of like, it’s, it’s so interconnected to the society that you’re going to jump into. Right. And that framework of like, what is excellence? What is the thing that’s going to propel you forward and, and help you navigate that society.

Caitlin Hoenig:

Right. Yeah. And I think it’s important, especially for white people in positions of influence. I don’t necessarily want to say power, but maybe power too, to, to think about this stuff. They maybe haven’t had to think about before, you know, we’re uh, was how you were assessed in school something you were more inclined to already be good at, just because of the way, like everything around you was structured, you know, and think that’s not fair. How can we change that? It goes beyond just education, but it’s very connected to education.

Rafael Molina:

Thank you, Caitlin, for your insights and your time. That’s all for today. This series is a fundraiser for Seattle Shakespeare company’s educational department. If you enjoyed this content and would like to learn more about Seattle Shakespeare Company’s educational programs, or if you’re able to support us with a donation, please visit seattleshakespeare.org/education celebration. We’ll be back next week with another episode. So subscribe wherever you get this podcast from.

Join our conversation with the following speakers

Desdemona Chiang, Director
QuiQui Dominguez, Multihyphenate artist
Caitlin Honig, High school teacher

See other episodes

Episode 0 – Series Trailer

Intro to the series by Rafael Molina, our host

Episode 1 – The Brainstorm

Featuring Dedra D. Woods, Michelle Burce, Manny Cawaling

In our first episode, we explore the foundations of education. You’ll be introduced to Seattle Shakespeare’s education programs, as well as what education and racial equity look like for individual artists, educational and theatrical institutions, and our society at large. We are joined by artist and activist Dedra D. Woods (Artists of Color Seattle); Seattle Shakespeare’s Education Director, Michelle Burce; and Manny Cawaling of Inspire Washington. Learn more, ask questions, and get involved at seattleshakespeare.org/education-celebration

Episode 2 – Past and Present, Part 1

Featuring Desdemona Chiang, QuiQui Dominguez and Caitlin Honig

 This week, Rafael explores education in schools and classrooms, from stories about being an immigrant struggling to understand playground games to the importance of rebellious teachers and the power of showing students that Shakespeare can be for them (and the struggle when it feels like it isn’t). Our guests are director Desdemona Chiang, multihyphenate artist QuiQui Dominguez, and high school teacher Caitlin Honig. Learn more, ask questions, and get involved at seattleshakespeare.org/education-celebration

Episode 3 – Past and Present, Part 2

 What’s the difference between diversity and equity? How is education changing? What kinds of people are our education programs trying to create? Rafael delves into these questions and more, while exploring after school and camp programs at Seattle Shakespeare. Our guests this week are director and educator Valerie Curtis-Newton, teaching artist Anastasia Higham, actor Sunam Ellis, and former Seattle Shakespeare student Violet Keteyian. Learn more, ask questions, and get involved at seattleshakespeare.org/education-celebration

Episode 4 – The Future

In our final episode, Rafael explores what the future of educational theatre, Seattle, and the arts community at large might and could look like. Learn about artists who are pushing us forward with new interpretations, new work, new people in the room. Dive deep into the Shakespeare Equity Engagement program with Lamar Legend, learn more about upstart crow collective with Rosa Joshi, and hear about what BIPOC and predominantly white institutions should do next (and so much more) with Sara Porkalob.

We hope you will be inspired by each episode to actively decolonize, restructure, and create accountability in theatrical education, and then you’ll come back here for a virtual exploration of the camps and classestalkbacks and toursstudy guides and student stories you heard about on the podcast.