“I knew that if I waited for permission, I’d never receive my turn.” Shirley Chisholm – Self-Advocacy
How do you know when you should stand up for yourself?
Children are taught from a young age that when they want something they should wait their turn until they are granted permission. Waiting cultivates patience. It shows good manners. This attitude works in some settings but when it comes to gaining respect from others, the whole idea of waiting becomes burdensome and futile, especially when other people treat you poorly. Sometimes, children should be taught to advocate for themselves to get people’s attention about injustice. Figuring out when to do this in the right way is a life-long moral challenge.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts for a conversation about self-advocacy using the Teach Different 3-Step conversation method. Make sure you go to teachdifferent.com to learn more, and check out our library of conversation plans, where we’ve compiled dozens of quotes, each with their own claim, counterclaim, and essential question.
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Steve Fouts 00:05
Hey everybody, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We are teaching different with American politician and education advocate Shirley Chisholm with a quote about self-advocacy. “I knew that if I waited for permission, I’d never receive my turn.” Self-advocacy is a profound concept, especially among adolescents since they’re young and have had a lot of things done for them in their life. As they grow older they’re being asked to take on more and more responsibilities for the decisions and choices they’re making. Some embrace self-advocacy, but others are seeking direction, and hesitate to put themselves out there. What claim would you say she’s making that you can’t wait for permission, sometimes you just have to act?
Dan Fouts 01:31 – Claim
If you were to wait for permission, you may never get it, and then you wouldn’t get what you want. This is really profound. I think you have to think about the types of things that she may have been dealing with as an African American woman in the 60s. What opportunities and experiences were denied to her because of her race and gender. You can’t wait. You have to advocate for yourself, because if you rely on others, it’s not going to work out. I’m thinking of bringing this to students. Ask them about a time when they decided not to wait for permission, and jumped ahead in line, metaphorically speaking. What did they do to assert themselves and not ask permission from an adult? That would be an interesting question to ask.
Steve Fouts 02:37
That’s one angle to take with the power structure dynamic of asking for permission from those who have a degree of control over you. Another way to read this, would be to get into things like peer pressure, and some of the dynamics of the social relationships that the students have. Some students are seen by others as not needing permission to act in certain ways. They seem to have more freedom to be who they want. Whereas, if you’re not in the right social clique, or you’re perceived as coming from a certain type of family or friend group, you don’t have as much license to do what you want, in the eyes of your peers. There are some subtleties here that I think you could bring out with students. What would you say a counterclaim to the quote is? I agree with this one. I think you do need to self-advocate.
Dan Fouts 04:02 – Counterclaim
I think the other way to look at this is that it’s important to wait your turn, to have patience. Don’t go out and advocate for yourself all the time. Instead wait for others to do their work. That’s also an important virtue. The students could connect with this question, what are some things that you have to wait for, that you can’t go out and get all by yourself? They might talk about things in their family that they have to wait for, maybe the privilege of getting a car or some sort of material item, where they have to go through something and wait before getting it.
Steve Fouts 04:54
There’s an element of fairness involved. Shirley Chisholm, being an African American woman, is from a group in our society that’s been treated unfairly at different points, so she lacks faith that things will end up being fair if she waits. Her belief that you have to set your own terms, that you can’t rely on a system or structure to set fair rules, makes a lot of sense with who she is, and what she experienced. In school we teach kids that they have to wait their turn. When kids are really young, that’s an important virtue as well. It’s a difficult counterclaim, for someone like Chisholm. I think that sometimes waiting for your turn is the right thing.
Dan Fouts 06:11
You could bring it to a very practical, concrete level. When you’re on the playground, and there are a lot of kids, you have to wait your turn. There are other more basic examples that I think the kids could bring up, when waiting your turn is appropriate. Back to what you said. When you talk about civil rights and justice, it’s definitely a hard one to stomach.
Steve Fouts 06:45 – Essential Question
I wrote the counterclaim as relying on others to get what you want. Another way of saying that you put your trust in a system that will allow you to get your turn. We have to do that, too. If we’re always advocating for ourselves, people will look at us like we’re always trying to get ahead of others, or that we’re bossy, or trying to break the rules of the system. If everybody’s breaking the rules of a system, then the system doesn’t work. So, there has to be a balance. If everybody’s trying to get their turn and being self-advocates, you’ve got chaos. But it’s a fair notion. The experiences of the students are going to influence how they answer a question like that. It will depend on what they’re used to. Are they part of a fair system, or one where they feel like they always have to stand up for themselves.
Which brings us to our essential question that can close this conversation. How do you know when you have to stand up for yourself? Not an easy question, and it probably changes throughout your life and with new experiences. In school, you might feel that the system is unfair. You feel like you have to protect yourself all of the time, but when you get into a career or a different setting, you might have some more reliable structures to rely on. So, it’s going to depend.
Dan Fouts 08:51
Back to the quote, which was about permission. This is about permission. When should you ask for permission to do something, and when should you just do it on your own, and not ask permission. Essentially make your own rules. That’s a tough one. We honor someone who advocates for themselves, but we also honor someone who plays by the rules. You have to figure out when you want to act on your own volition and when you want to play under the system. This is an important question. People are going to face this at school, in their families, in the workplace, and in the larger society. A question that will be answered in different ways now and at different stages in someone’s life.
Steve Fouts 09:58
We hope you enjoyed the conversation with Shirley Chisholm this week. Make sure you visit our Conversation Library where we have many conversations like this, each with a different quote, a sample claim, counterclaim, and an essential question to get you started. Keep teaching different. We will see you soon and thanks for being here.
Dan Fouts 10:30
Good luck with your conversations.