Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Are We Still Living in 1896? (Jonathan Koloz)

Separate… but Equal?
When teaching my sophomores about the “changes” that came about post-Reconstruction that heavily affected the way in which Americans portrayed race in society, Plessy v. Fergeson is a landmark court case that is always discussed. The concept “separate but equal” as a policy dictated by government decision does not make sense at all. The idea of segregating schools based off of race, but portraying these institutions as equals, does not work in practice. Realistically, who would have the better buildings? Whites. Who would have more recent textbooks? Whites. Who would have the more qualified teachers? Whites. Is it possible that, according to Jonathan Koloz in his article Still Separate, Still Unequal: America’s Educational Apartheid, that the American school system has not progressed past this 1896 Supreme Court decision despite the efforts made by Thurgood Marshall and other influential participants of the Civil Rights Movement to put the effects of Brown v. Board into action?
To be honest, the statistics that Koloz provided did not seem to surprise me. Inner-city schools, such as those found in Detroit, Chicago, and New York, have a disproportionately high African-American and Hispanic population. However, to hear from a teacher in the South Bronx that she has been “teaching for eighteen years” and it was in this year she had “the first white student” (3) she ever had truly puts into perspective the large number of minority students found in large cities (well, is it even appropriate to say ‘minority’ when clearly this population is the majority?). I have always assumed (and I hope this isn’t me being na├»ve) that schools which are named after prominent black leaders (Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Rosa Parks, etc) are heavily populated with people of color. However, what I found to be absolutely insane is that when a school named after Dr. King was placed inside “an upper-middle class white neighborhood”, many white students opted not to attend and it instead became a “destination for black and Hispanic students who could not obtain admission into more successful schools.” (4) As Koloz put it, this particular school is “one of the nation’s most visible and problematic symbols of an expectation rapidly receding and a legacy substantially betrayed.” (4)

Can Money Help Buy a Good Education? Uh, Do You Breathe to Live?
My hometown of West Warwick is known for not having a very productive school system. Actually, I think West Warwick has one of the highest dropout rates in the state. When I would have begun elementary school in the early 90s, my parents opted to send me to Catholic school for my entire thirteen years of education. This didn’t come without a price. My father worked three jobs, totaling about 90 hours a week, for a good 20 years of his life. He felt a quality education for his children was his biggest priority. So, to me, when Koloz talks to these (let’s face it) hypocritical parents who send their children to “Baby Ivies” (9) yet ask questions like “Is it really the answer to throw money into these dysfunctional and failing schools?” (10), the result is rather frustrating. Of course my parents sent me and my siblings to Catholic school because they wanted a better education than the public school of my town could provide. You think my father wanted to spend the majority of his life inside the walls of Stop and Shop/ truck delivery? Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can buy a whole bunch of other things, like supplies, technology, and a safe building with heat for students to learn in. Speaking of heat, the big joke in my classroom last year was that the heater hated everyone because it hardly ever worked. I mean, I literally held class in the room with students wearing gloves and jackets. However, looking at schools that have “green fungus molds growing in the office where students went for counseling”, classes with “thirty-four kids and more”, “no outdoor playground and no indoor gym”, and barrels to “collect rain water coming through the ceiling” (7) definitely make me appreciate the school I teach at. My school is relatively clean, there is hardly any graffiti (except on desks), and classrooms have bright colored posters and student work everywhere. There are beautiful art murals throughout the school painted by former students, and the custodians are always cleaning well-populated areas. The idea that children who attend under-funded schools feel as though they are “being hidden” (5) away and forgotten about is depressing. What kind of child benefits from learning in this type of gloomy environment?!

It’s All About the Environment
Speaking of school environment, whose idea is it to have these Fascist salutes, rote lesson presentation, silent lunch period, no recess, forced electives like “hair braiding” and “sewing” when students actually want to take college preparatory classes, and Level Four achievement of excellence that Koloz describes from pages 13 to 18? I mean, students typically don’t like school to begin with; why give them reason to hate it even more? How come students who attend affluent school get to take electives like the history of rock and roll and future engineers of America “solar car building”? (Read more about these awesome elective classes that I wish I had in this New York Times article: High Schools Add Electives to Cultivate Interest) And what’s with this no recess thing?? I literally had half hour recess from kindergarten to eighth grade. In high school, I had an hour and half of study every other day. I got a break from “rigorous academics” every once and a while, and last time I checked, I think I turned out okay. At some point, don’t kids need a break? Is it because I went to school with an overwhelmingly white population (literally, there was a Philipino girl and a Spanish girl in my high school class comprised of 110 girls) that I was allowed this “privilege”? (Johnson and Delpit have got me really thinking about this word a lot…) Why can’t students with overwhelmingly large people of color populations have this same leisure period? Why are certain suburban schools run like resorts while certain inner-city or urban ring schools are run like prisons? Is this justifiable? Is this the de-facto segregation Koloz is referring to as the premise of his article?
I found the story that Koloz provided on page 15 to be absolutely ridiculous. A teacher who merely wanted to bring a pumpkin into school for a holiday treat had to academically justify her pumpkin with semantics?! IT’S A FREAKIN PUMPKIN!! Can’t learning just be FUN?! Isn’t that why kids actually LIKED elementary school?? Ya know, cause it was FUN! Speaking of pumpkins, schools seem to be killing fun the same way Lucy killed Linus's pumpkin in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

Why can’t some things in school just be for enjoyment every once and a while? Spirit week this week confirmed for me why I absolutely love the school I work at- students AND teachers engage in community building activities because it provides an opportunity for bonding! Kids are able to laugh with and at their teachers for getting so involved. And I work in an urban-ring district, so it's not like the students at my school are from afflent areas. It’s an amazing community feeling that I hope exists at other high schools.

Members of the History/ English Department at NPHS; I'm bottom left! :)

In conclusion…
I thought about some of the questions from the Teaching Tolerance assignment we completed last week. In particular, I thought about the very first questions dealing with race and being color blind as a teacher. This article proved that, even if teachers are “blind” to color and race, apparently government official and educational legislators seem to completely recognize race as an issue. Throwing around the word “diversity” in a school despite it being 99.6% African-American (5) is a problem. Not providing proper funding or adequate Maslow needs to inner-city school students is a problem. Race seems to be a prevalent divide in our school systems, and Koloz really hit the inequality issue home with this article.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Is Silence Really Golden? Not According to Delpit...

Perspective, Perspective, Perspective
Every year, when I pass out my syllabus, I always draw attention to the first rule of my classroom. The rule I point out focuses on the idea that history is all about perspective. I like to reiterate this fact with my ever-so-appropriate example of the Civil War. I explain to my students that, as Rhode Islanders, they learn about a (for the most part) Northern perspective of the war. However, I also explain that if they were sitting in a classroom in Georgia or Alabama, they would be learning about different heroes and different battle names for the exact same war because the story would be told from a Southern perspective. In fact, the Civil War itself has over 20 different names such as “The Brother’s War” and “The War to Suppress Northern Aggression.” Are either of these perspectives wrong? No, because it’s told through a specific point of view with detailed examples to back up that view. However, it is interesting to see what has been deemed as important in our classroom as far as curriculum goes. Delpit, similarly to Johnson, discusses this concept of “power.” An interesting example that Delpit brings up is this idea of “the power of publishers of textbooks and of the developers of curriculum to determine the view of the world presented.” (24). Think about it- how do we know about history? Well, it’s what has been written down. And who wrote things down? The well-educated. And who, throughout history, have typically been the well-educated? White males. So, it makes sense why we learn history from a white male perspective. I’m not saying whether it’s right or wrong, I’m just saying that’s why history is taught in this sense. Want to talk about perspective? The state of Texas has a huge determination factor of what curriculum is put in textbooks. Why? Because they are one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, and it makes sense for a publishing company to please their buyers as best as possible. What would be an example of how that power over curriculum is demonstrated? Well, despite the large Hispanic population that resides in Texas, the push for more Hispanic role models in textbooks was consistently shot down. No wonder why people of color seem to dislike history; it’s all about dead white people. If you are interested in other ways Texas controls curriculum, here’s an article from the NY Times: Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change

A Plea from a Parent
Lisa Delpit, in her article entitled The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy on Educating Other People's Children, discusses how when she has traveled to other places, she is usually informed about “appropriate dress, interaction styles, embedded meanings, and taboo words or actions.” (26) This probably made her feel more comfortable in situations that could be deemed as uncomfortable if she was not informed otherwise. But what if we were to walk into a situation, such as school or work, where we weren't told the societal rules but instead were just expected to figure it out? I thought of a letter I had to read my sophomore year of college entitled An Indian Father's Plea. This article is written by Robert Lake in defense of his son Wind-Wolf, who is a Native American going to a white school. He explains to the teacher that she could learn from his child, instead of just labeling him a slow-learner simply because he does not know white methods of learning. Wind-Wolf has been to various ceremonial dances and has learned about nature at a young age. He was not taught “traditionally” (in the white European sense), but his father argues that the other children can learn from his son as well if the teacher could just demonstrate a level of respect for his son. Maybe we, as teachers, can learn to pull from our students’ strengths to provide a proper education.

Demonstrating Diversity
                Delpit brings up an excellent point that “the world will be diminished if cultural diversity is ever obliterated.” (39) I mean, isn’t it cultural diversity that makes America so interesting? We live in a country where over 315 languages are spoken. Our history is built upon the idea that various groups of people have and will continue to come in and out of America. In some countries, that American dream is still alive and well (despite what the reality may be). Actually, what I truly enjoy is hearing about the blending of cultures. They say America has some very attractive people because of the different ethnicities that are found in an individual. I am amazed when people are bi-lingual. When I was becoming ESL endorsed, I met a woman from Senegal who spoke Walif (the native language), French (the language of school), and English (she used to watch Melrose’s Place in French subtitles but knew they were American actors.) I think it’s cool when traditional is blended with non-traditional. I mean, as teachers, don’t we all have different presentation styles? Don’t we look to see what other teachers are doing and combine different techniques? Isn’t that a kind of cultural diversity? I mean, I know it’s not exactly what Delpit is talking about, but it’s that constant blending of ideas that provides a new and fresh outlook. Without change, innovation, or appreciation for differences, life can get pretty stale and dull. I mean, sometimes people blend things I would never think could go together, but it works. Need a modern day example of this phenomenon? Check out this video clip from Britain’s Got Talent where the two performers combine Bhangra dance (from Punjab) and Michael Jackson (it’s really neat!):

Let’s Wrap This Up…
Much like Johnson, Delpit tends to focus on this issue of power, whether it is in our classrooms or in greater society. She mentions how, because people “act as if power does not exist”, then life will “ensure that the power status quo remains the same.” (39) To me, this is reminiscent of Johnson’s ideas of how people need to acknowledge that privilege exists in order to become active in changing societal norms and notions. Besides, isn’t it the ones with power who get to tell the story?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Don't Mean to Go on a Rant Here... (Allan Johnson Article)

I believe we all, at some point, have taken for granted the social and cultural contexts of our school systems. We tend to teach from our own cultural perspective, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and specific gender. People engage in this behavior because, naturally, these characteristics are inescapable. Sometimes we do not even realize the privilege, or lack thereof, that is inherit within these aforementioned attributes. This is why I feel as though the article Privilege, Power, and Difference by Allan G. Johnson provides a solid foundation as to what this graduate course seems to be all about- understanding, accepting, and acknowledging the differences among each and every one of us. Johnson, within this article, argues about “the existence of privilege and the lopsided distribution of power that keeps it going.” (pg. 15) In a sense, he is reiterating the fact that if we do not acknowledge this existence of privilege, then humans will only exacerbate the problems that occur when power is unevenly distributed. He provides numerous examples throughout this reading that cite evidence of a “lopsided distribution of power.” The one-sidedness that Johnson refers to, he believes, tends to favor a society that “attaches privilege to being white and male and heterosexual” (pg. 10)
An example Johnson gave supporting this white-male privilege is located on page 30 of the article, which states “whites don’t find themselves slotted into occupations identified with their race.” After reading this statement, I immediately thought of a commercial that aired on the Lifetime Network in support of a segment known as “real women.” This segment contained a brief interview with Christy Haubegger, the creator of Latina Magazine. In the commercial, she recalls a story of inequality about a time she was gathering ice in an expensive hotel to take back into her room. An older couple spotted her and asked if she planned on bringing ice back to all the rooms. This older couple, whether intentional or not, used their power and privilege to assume that because Christy was Latina, there was no possible way she could afford a room in the hotel and therefore must be a maid. (For more on Christy, here is an LA Times article on her backstory: Latina Young Founder Takes Aims at Women Just Like Her ) This personal account of Christy’s life truly provides a real-world example of how people make assumptions based solely on the way a person looks. Also, it emphasizes the fact that despite how hard we, as people, may work to better ourselves, “it doesn’t matter who we really are. What matters is who other people think we are.” (pg. 35)
              Being the product of an all-girls high school, I have had teachers who pushed us, as young women, to become more than the gender stereotypes that followed women for centuries. We were told to explore fields in math and science, as well as pursue athletics and politics. Johnson mentions in this article that he found “men dominate virtually every major organization and institution, from corporations to government to organized sports and religion” (pg. 3), which is probably why my high school promoted the idea of women in these male controlled areas. As a baseball fan (I’m still attempting to learn as much as I can), I have tried to find ways in which career women participate in this sport. Watching FOX or MLB Network, I’ve noticed the broadcasters are all male, which is permissible seeing the vast majority of sports announcers have played the game themselves, so I’ll let that slide. 

Braves Game- 2010
The Yankees radio network is hosted by John Sterling and co-hosted by Suzyn Waldman. Sterling calls the game as it is in progress while Waldman is the color commentator (she is the third women in MLB history to have that position). Typically, when I find women in sports, they are used as the eye-candy reporter who seems to get just enough camera time to mumble something about whatever game they are covering and flash a pretty smile (cut to 2002 Miss California runner-up Heidi Watney from NESN or Erin Andrews, ESPN announcer voted by Playboy as “America’s Sexiest  Sportscaster” in 2007 and 2008). When I went to a
Heidi Watney
Braves game in Georgia, there were girls in booty shorts and Braves jerseys that merely had the job of greeting you as you 
Erin Andrews
came in, dancing on top of the dugout, and helping the mascot throw baseballs into the crowd. Like Johnson points out in his article, “men don’t have to deal with an endless and exhausting stream of attention drawn to their gender (for example, to how sexually attractive they are.)” (pg. 31)

Johnson, overall, successfully points out how we need to be more aware of this idea on privilege. The less we acknowledge it, the greater that power divide will become. Johnson provided numerous bulleted points that specifically cite in what ways whites and people of color, heterosexuals and homosexuals, and males and females are perceived in certain situations. I believe this powerful conversation will be brought to the forefront of this graduate class, centering around the theme of social and cultural awareness in not only our classrooms, but in our everyday lives.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Day Frenzy- All About Me!

Hello! My name is Christina Louth, but no one calls me that. So, just call me Tina. I am a third year teacher at North Providence High School in (guess where?!) North Providence, RI! I teach history (a subject which gets a totally bad rep for being "boring", "dull", and "all about dead white people"), but I try to encourage my students to gain a different perspective and give history a try (it's really not boring at all!!). This year, I am teaching freshman Western Civilization (a class we refer to as teaching from Plato to NATO in 180 days) as well as sophomore American History/ Civics I (a course that begins with native people of the Americas and ends with immigration of the 1900s).  I decided to enroll in the ASTL program after taking the Literature Institute through the Rhode Island Writing Project. Also, three of my colleagues who have completed this program highly recommended these courses for its practicality in the classroom. In my spare time, I thoroughly enjoy scrapbooking, photography, sleeping, and watching marathons of terrible reality tv.  I also love to travel, and my goal is to go to all 30 MLB stadiums (I've been to 12 so far!)