Sunday, October 30, 2011

... with Liberty and Justice for ALL! (Meyer)

In today’s society, there seems to be an ever-increasing amount of bullying amongst the pre-teen and young adult population. The situation is ever so exacerbated through social media websites such as Facebook, where students feel as though they have ultimate power in using hateful words. At schools, teachers are so quick to defuse a situation where students are using derogatory words or racial slurs. However, teachers and other personnel may be apprehensive about intervening in scenarios where hurtful language in the context of gender and sexuality is proclaimed. Elizabeth Meyer, author of Gendered Harassment in Secondary Schools: Understanding Teachers’ (Non) Interventions, delves into a school system to see how often and under what circumstances teachers intervene in situations that promote “name calling, jokes, gestures as well as physical and sexual assaults that are sexist, homophobic, or transphobic in nature.” (2)

Why Don’t Teachers Intervene?

Meyer makes an excellent point in her research; there are a multitude of reasons as to why teachers do not intervene in gender harassment situations. Meyers cites evidence from “not feeling supported by their administrators and believing that oftentimes the discipline meted out for instances of sexual or homophobic harassment was not sufficient” (7) to feeling “great pressure from their administration to cover the required amounts of curricular material and the stresses placed on them by large classes and demanding course loads caused them to ignore certain behaviors.”(8) So, it seems as though many teacher would like a stronger and more supportive administration to help them intervene in these scenarios.

Educators and staff persons also “felt that their teacher education programs did not sufficiently prepare them to address incidents of harassment or bullying.” (9) Not only did these teachers feel inadequate in their preparation, but they also felt they couldn’t pursue additional professional development because “since they were encouraged to do professional development primarily in their area of instruction.” (9) To me, this is a complete disservice to those teachers; this type of training could be another tool for the proverbial teacher toolbox. As Welsch pointed out in his last article, it is kind of useless for a teacher to lecture about everything they know seeing we can look up information so quickly on the internet. As much as I agree content professional development is important, so are social and behavioral techniques as well.

Again, thinking about Welsch, my four year college degree did not prepare me for what I would encounter in the classroom. He mentioned how students need to be asked questions, given hands on scenarios, and real-life problems to figure out. Besides perhaps three undergraduate education courses, sometimes I ask myself, “what skills did my $56,000 education truly get me that I couldn’t have learned in a hands-on training program?” Even student teaching didn’t really prepare me – I started halfway through January (when all the classroom norms and protocols were established). So, wouldn’t intervention strategies these teachers that Meyers was studying be more beneficial than more and more content?

… And Then They Came For Me

I took one special education course in college, but it was my two years at Sargent Rehabilitation Center where I learned skills to aid students with severe and profound special needs. I have spent the past three years working in home-based therapeutic services (HBTS) with a teenager that goes to Meeting Street School. I learned behavior modification skills and interaction techniques that I was not taught in the four walls of a classroom. The special education population is my favorite group of kids to work with; every year I request to teach an inclusion class. So when Meyers mentions that teachers’ “personal experiences with discrimination and marginalization that made them particularly sensitive to these issues in schools” (17), I can'thelp but whole-heartedly agree. In my classroom, students are not allowed to say the word retarded because of my past history working in special education. Every year I always explain to my students why that word is inappropriate, and the use of the word actually does dwindle in my classroom (and when I shoot the kids a dirty look for saying that word, they instantly apologize and change their original statement.)

 I also try as best as possible (although I admit not as often with the word retarded) to intervene with homosexual terms. Maybe I should tell the story of my best friend in high school who went to Hendricken and only came out to a few close friends by his senior year (because he was afraid of what would happen to him at an all-boys schools.) Maybe I should explain to my kids that when he got to college, no one cared whether people were gay, straight, had three kids already, slept through your classes, or were from a different country. Maybe college is a whole different ballgame, but I want my kids to know that those words can hurt. As Meyers explains, “Anti-gay epithets are commonly used as insults in schools.  These may be used with no actual connection to one’s sexual orientation.  As many scholars of masculinity have argued, these terms are often used because they are seen as the worst thing you can call a boy.” (4)

Common Sense? Thanks, Thomas Paine!

Ever hear the phrase “as cruel as school children?” Why are kids to mean to each other? I tell my students (and I truly mean it), I would never want to be a kid today. I was teased enough in middle and my early high school years without the invention of the internet. I can’t imagine what these kids go through on a daily basis. Technology is great in some ways, but in others, it’s not. What if we offered a course to our students on internet safety? Not a one hour in school assembly (where the kids are more focused on which class they are missing), but an actual course that maybe lasts a semester? When I went to the National Writing Project convention March of 2011 with three representatives from the Rhode Island Writing Project, I attended a workshop from called Digital Citizenship. It is a free online curriculum that could be perfect for anyone who teaches advisory (add this one to our Prezi, Maureen!!) or perhaps a similar course. I use the privacy issues when talking about the Fourth Amendment.

Four RIWP representatives in Washington, DC: March 2011

As Meyers focuses on the issues of gender and sexuality, maybe we all need to use our own common sense skills when dealing with these issues in our classrooms. Why isn’t a social justice course mandated for ALL undergraduates in college (really, this could extend to business courses, public relations, and any major that directly deals with people.) I would much rather have taken a course like this in the University of Rhode Island education program than “educational measurements” – a course I learned nothing relative to my career, but I remember it because it was my only B- in college…

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Connect the Dots. La. La. La. La. (Welsh)

Make it Real and Make it Matter
Michael Welsh, author of Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance, could not be more on point with his opening statement of “students – our most important critics – are struggling to find meaning and significance in their education.” (5) Welsh further elaborates by pointing out the fact that “meaning and significance are assured only when our learning fits in with a grand narrative that motivates and guides us.” (6) How many times have you heard in the classroom “why do I need to learn this” or “when will I ever use this in real life”? For whatever reason, it is absolutely important for our students to find a purpose in their education. Students opt to quit school, maybe not because of the difficulty, but perhaps for the inability to see the purpose behind the curriculum taught in the classroom. I know it is rather challenging to justify subject matter on a daily basis. However, it is absolutely imperative that every so often we remind students why they are in school in the first place – to receive an education that will provide them with skills and social opportunities needed for the professional workplace. I went to a history professional development a year ago. One of the speakers was a Brown University professor named Luther Spoehr. His major message was to “make history real and make history matter.”  Every opportunity I get, I always emphasize this phrase in my classroom. Just recently, my class learned about Rhode Island’s major role in the slave trade- we drew a visual for a quote by a middle passage survivor (Odaluah Equiano), read the narrative a young African boy brought to Rhode Island as a servant (Venture Smith), watched a clip from the movie Amistad, and learned about two prominent Rhode Island families (Brown and DeWolf) who made money off the slave trade. This entire unit was structured in a way so that slavery and the slave trade became real to my students, not just a sad story read out of a textbook.

A Vision of Students Today
Before even reading Welsh’s article, I viewed the video “A Vision of Students Today” as part of a media literacy piece in a Northern Rhode Island Collaborative grant I am a part of called “Teaching American History.” Not only are northern Rhode Island history teachers of any age group taught relevant content for our subject matter, but we are also provided with training on how to incorporate more technology and social media into our classrooms. Before we even began our training, our professor from Drexel University told us a story – “If Paul Revere was brought back to life, he would be absolutely petrified. He would see cars, skyscrapers, and people in exotic dress. However, the one place he would feel safe would be a school, because the physical structure has not changed since he was a young boy.” That’s a pretty scary statement if you think about it. So, as part of this grant that dealt in part with media literacy, we were trained in how to use blogs, Glogster (a website where you can create a collage poster of yourself), and EModo (an educational Facebook for teachers to connect with their students). Unfortunately, my school has all these sites blocked (which is something we have to battle with as teachers). For those of you who have not seen the video, it is extremely powerful:

I know I have wasted money on textbooks I’ll never use again. Or never opened in the first place. Then, when I would go return them, I’d get 20 bucks or I was told the school is getting a new edition and mine was outdated. Awesome.

Diane and Jim’s Socratic seminar last class really sheds light on Welsh’s idea of “the only answer to the best questions is another good question.” (5) Socrates really challenged his students to become better thinkers, not by supplying them with the answers, but probing and asking continuous questions to enable his students to gain critical thinking skills. Sometimes it’s hard as the “expert” in the classroom to not jump in with our knowledge, but I guess this is why most lessons begin with essential questions (again, like Diane and Jim’s presentation last week). I think Socrates would have been pleased!

Connect the Dots
Hopefully, as educators, we can continue to connect the dots and fill in the holes for our students to make sense of their education. Students, especially at the middle and high school level, struggle to find meaning in their classes. It is our job to help our students “recognize their own importance in helping shape the future of this increasingly global, interconnected society.” (7)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Keepin' It Rizz-eels (Tha Carter)

“When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong”
As soon as I heard the title of Carter’s Keeping it Real, the first thought that came to my mind was a skit from Dave Chapelle’s comedy show. This segment is called “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong.” In this particular sketch, Chappelle plays a black man named Vernon who works for a well-to-do company. The skit begins with a back story on how Vernon graduated valedictorian of his class, won scholarships to college, and beat out a cycle of drug addiction that plagued his family for years. However, an interaction with a white co-worker presents itself with a confrontation that allows Vernon to lose his composure in an office meeting….. (It’s only two minutes)

Typically, what makes comedy funny is the underlying truths behind the joke. The reason why this sketch makes people laugh is because there are certain codes of behavior that are put in place in our society, and this skit acknowledges those actions.

Acting White + Thinking White = Success in Society
I couldn’t help but think of the students in Carter’s article that feel as though they have to “act white” in order to get ahead in life. What does it mean to act white? Well, acting white carries along the “stigma” of listening to authority, being compliant, doing well in school, so therefore, there will be a job opportunity awaiting those who listen to mainstream society. Maintaining the status quo – engaging in white cultural preferences – is what will ultimately reward individuals in the end. In fact, Carter encounters a young group of people who “normalized the cultural experiences of White youth and adults, unconsciously equating behaviors that they associated with Whites with normality.” (59) Is white behavior really considered normal? Carter describes these types of individuals as “cultural straddlers” who “balanced their cultural practices, displaying knowledge and facility with ‘white’ styles and with the styles they shared with their peers.” (64) It is interesting that young adults like Adrienne felt that, in order to get ahead in life, presentation was a key to success. Adrienne seems distressed when she spoke of how people called her “white girl cause of the way [she] talks.” (58) She further expresses concern when she makes the valid point of “how you can distinguish between a Black person and a White person talking because of the way they talk. They’re just talking. A Black person has to speak stupid in order for you to know they’re Black?” (58) I find this point to be particularly striking, especially when it comes to comedy. Have you ever heard a black man make fun of a white guy? The black comedian will straighten up their posture and talk properly. Is that supposed to be an insult? Whereas, if a white comedian makes fun a black man, it’s always “yo, yo, yo” this and “what’s up” that.

Kozol and Carter have Commonalities (like that for alliteration?!)
Language seems to play a pretty powerful role in life. The way a person speaks demonstrates their knowledge. For example, I knew Gerri August must be an extremely intelligent person because she has an extensive vocabulary. A person’s speech could be what determines what job s/he receives or what college s/he goes to. Look at the story of Lawrence. Although described as “quiet, studious, and respectful” he “has brought to his elite, predominately white graduate school a style of baggy jeans and oversized sweatshirts, popular among urban Black youth, as well as a tough or ‘hard’ demeanor that includes limited eye contact with his professors.” (65-66) Educated college professors seemed to judge Lawrence, not on his obvious academic ability, but his style of dress and attitude. What about the fact that “statistics show, on average, at least half of Asian and White students in a particular school were likely to be in the high tracked classes, while Black, Latino, and Native American students were more likely to be in the general tracks.” (73) I believe this is definitely the de-facto segregation that Kozol referenced in his article Still Separate, Still Unequal. We have schools that place students of certain ethnicities in higher classes (probably because of their cultural attributes such as style of dress and behavior). Carter even goes as far to compare segregated classrooms with segregates neighborhoods. He makes the bold statement that “college prepatory, honors, and advanced placement classes have become known as classes for Asian and White kids. As just as adults choose neighborhoods because of their demographic and social compositions, students often select courses based on who is likely to be enrolled in them.” (53) White students may not choose “those classes” that contain ethnic minorities due to their perceived nature of African-American or Latino student stereotype of not taking school seriously.

Code Switching
I learned about the concept of code switching when I was becoming ESL endorsed at Rhode Island College. Code switching is what English language learners do – moving from one language to another in the same sentence OR choosing a language that is appropriate for contextual settings. Sometimes people call this Spanglish (with our Latino population). However, when a young girl named Loretta “admitted she spoke both ‘black’ and ‘white’” (60), I had never thought about black vernacular as an entire separate language from standard English. (Although, some schools actually offer “Ebonics” as a language course: Ebonics Taught as 'Home Speech' in Georgia School)

Wrap It Up, B
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Carter’s take on Black America. Students of minority background really seemed to feel a true divide between whites and non-whites in the school system. Some students recognized that white students are typically offered better classes and therefore will typically succeed in the real world. Bettina Shanks blamed “her poor school performance to parent-child conflicts” (62) while Rayshina attributed her lack of motivation in school on bad teachers. She emphasizes teachers who need to “inspire students”, “teach them in creative ways”, and “not bog themselves down in ineffective pedagogy and repetitious facts and classroom exercises.” (72) I mean, as teachers, we can’t everything. Even Carter acknowledges that teachers are “underpaid civil servants expected to produce literate populations” who are “asked to serve as entertainers, child psychologists, surrogate parents, and confidants.” (71) However, it is our job to aid those who truly want help and promote a place of positivity – where all students can learn no matter what the skin color may be.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

You Have Your Own Brain (August)

I must say, out of all the texts we have read thus far, Gerri August’s Making Room for One Another was a text that I struggled deeply with. This wasn’t a struggle on a moral or political level, but strictly on an intellectual level; there were parts that I literally did not understand because of the highly sophisticated vocabulary. So, I apologize if my blog completely missed the mark of the excerpts we were asked to read, but I am going to try my best to make sense of the assignment. Please correct me if anyone had a different interpretation because I do not want to misrepresent the author’s ideas.

The Progressive Era
From what I gathered in the various anecdotes throughout this article, the ZK seems to be a very liberal and progressive school. (Side question- Is the Horton School in Rhode Island? I tried googling it, but couldn’t find anything. The reason I ask is because there is a reference to Pawtucket when Cody has Zeke recant the story of the doggie adoption.) I like the whole ideas of celebrating diversity in the classroom (and not in the generic “hey-let’s-throw-up-a-picture-of-kids-with-different-skin-tones-in-a-clasroom” diversity. Because, is that really and truly diversity? Check out: Viewbook Diversity v. Real Diversity)

Zeke really seems to try and foster a classroom of respect and appreciation for differences at a very early age (I mean, to read a book like “Who’s in a Family?” to kindergarteners seems like it could have it’s fair share of controversy, especially depending on what state people live in). Maybe he is taking his logic from Delpit, in the sense that the more explicit an educator is, the better student results would be. In other words, if Zeke explicitly educates children on the vast differences among one another, maybe those children will not be apt to bully or exclude others in the future based on those differences.
August used the word “otherized” (10) to describe children who are left out of the dominant culture circle. She explains that children can become otherized due to “the sexual orientation of his parents, his language, his color, or his clothing”, which can result in “disorienting powerlessness.” (10) I think the last thing we want, as educators, is for our youth to feel powerless. What if the youth of the Egyptian Revolution 2011 felt they were powerless? Would Egypt be changing the way it is today? Or what if Deamonte, the young boy who helped all those babies while emergency personnel rescued others, thought that because he was just a kid he couldn’t make a difference or act “like a hero?” Youth need have some sense of power, and the process of otherization alienates instead of empowers.

Monologicality vs. Dialogicality
Zeke seems to welcome in an intellectual discourse with his six year olds that some teachers at the middle or high school level may not even begin to discuss. However, Zeke seems to pick up on the innate curiosity of young children in the classroom. Therefore, the “dialogicality” of his classroom makes sense. To me, dialogicality has multiple layers of meaning. It could simply refer to the ability of a child to engage in a dual conversation with either classmates or an adult. However, this concept could go a step deeper in the sense that the word “logical” pops out at the reader. Not only is the child trying to engage in a discussion where there are various sides, but the child is trying to make sense of the conversation. August describes this concept as the ability to push “voices out from the normative socio-political center, promoting diversity among utterances.” (7-8) Dialogicality is an academic jump from monologicality. Monologicality, to me, seems like a one-voiced conversation in which there is no room for intellectual discourse amongst those who are listening. I hope that there are not many teachers out there who solely promote monologicality, because it seems as though this rationale of thinking does not really allow knowledge growth; it does not provide for those critical thinking skills that students need to be competitive in the 21st century.

Kids Say the Darndest Things
The story entitled “Yes is Winning”, in which Trinity keeps track of how many children are excited about the exhibition, provides insight into the power of the dominant culture. Whether intentional or not, August was absolutely right her interpretation that, Trinity “enjoyed the security that is associated with majority status. Her social safety offered a platform for her verbal campaign to launch a competition, one that she was sure to win.” (137) So much so in our daily lives, we are comfortable with talking about scenarios in which we know there is a vast dominance of agreement. Myself in particular, I hate getting into discussions where I know I will be adamantly disagreeing with someone because I hate confrontation. But it’s interesting, because in my classroom, I actually like it when the kids don’t agree with each other because I want to see what arguments my students can create and how they provide evidence for their case (because history is all about perspective!) As Zeke put it to Cody, “You have your own brain.” (138)

I like it that each person has their own brain.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Teachers Are Not Kryptonite!

Then they came for me, and there was no one left....
As a history teacher, I always try to tie in current news and/or specific historical events in relation to Rhode Island throughout my curriculum. Therefore, it is no surprise that in Stan Karp’s December 2010 presentation entitled Who’s Bashing Teachers and Public Schools, and What Can We Do About It?, my attention was initially drawn to his section referencing Central Falls:

A good example of how federal education policy has gone off the rails is last February. when the President and his Education Sec. Duncan hailed the firing of an entire staff of a high school in Central Falls, RI because it had low test scores. They said it was a “courageous” act that was “right for kids.” A model of “accountability” that the Administration wants to repeat in the thousands of schools over the next few years. (4)

Walking into the Teacher Rally- February 2010
Now, the Central Fall teachers rally occurred in February 2010- my first year as a public school teacher. I decided to go to the rally after receiving a notice in my school mailbox describing how teachers should be in support of one another. North Providence provided two school buses to transport us to and from the rally, due to the fact that there would simply not be enough room for private transportation. As I was gazing out the window of the bus, I noticed a small child running around with his small child friends in the streets of Central Falls. The young boy tripped and fell, scraping his knees. His small friends, about five total, circled around him to console and wipe away his tears. The first thought that popped into my head was, “Where are these children’s parents? Why are they playing in the streets? They can’t be any older than seven or eight and it’s 5:00pm in the middle of winter!” Upon arrival at Jenks Park, I noticed the hundreds of teachers, speakers, and news staff present. There were students who eloquently (and not so eloquently) provided testimony that their teachers pushed to help students succeed. The President, as Karp explained, forget to mention that “parents, students, and alumni loudly protested the plans to fire the whole staff.”(4)  Overall, it was a pretty powerful protest, and I am glad I attended. I have since been to one more rally (to support Providence teachers last year), and I intend on going to more. This is a brief 23 second clip of those who came to support teachers in Central Falls:

So, I found Karp to be absolutely right that the media solely focused on dropout rate and test scores. No one seemed to mention that “the school was the only high school in the poorest city in the state.” (4) This statement is even more profound to Rhode Islanders today due to the fact that Central Falls just recently declared bankruptcy. Besides Central Falls and its financial issues, look at the demographics of the city. As Karp stated, “65% of the students were English Language Learners” (4) which can also explain the gap in state testing scores. There is a great debate amongst professionals that these so-called “standardized tests” are created with a cultural bias. Think about it. If you live in Manhattan and there is a story that involves life on a farm, more than likely that child will have no frame of reference for the comprehension questions that follow. What if a six year old from Miami had to answer questions relating to the feelings in a blizzard, even though that child had never seen snow? (Let’s put it this way- my junior year of college, a transfer student from California told me the only thing he brought for the New England winter was a windbreaker! Here’s an interesting article from USA Today that focuses on how states try to tailor their tests to be culturally sensitive: Standardized Tests Take on Shades of Gray

Now Everyone's an Expert...
I also enjoyed how Karp presented the “now familiar buzzwords” like “charter schools, merit pay, and test-based accountability” (3) to express how every single person (except apparently teachers) are now an expert on public education. It’s kind of like how my students think that because they are awesome at the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops that they’ll make excellent military personnel. It’s absolutely frustrating hearing from the common public that teachers are overpaid babysitters who only work five days a week for six hours in a day (technically four if you include prep and duty) and enjoy the luxury of holidays and a summer vacation. What the public doesn’t understand is all the take home work (both mental and physical) that is a part of teaching. As I try to explain to my corporate friends, your job stays at your job. I take home papers, call parents, prepare lessons, research topics, and buy supplies for my in class activities. I use the book about ten times in a school year, which means the vast majority of my lessons are coming from supplementary resources. So, for those people who think teachers read the newspaper while the kids work out of a textbook are completely misinformed.

I found Karp’s presentation to be frustrating. I agreed with a lot of his points, which is probably why I was so agitated by everything. I hate the idea that the general public seems to believe that “public education is failing because of bad teachers and their unions and that charter schools are the solution.” (3) Are there bad public schools? Absolutely. Are there bad teachers? Of course. But I really enjoyed how Karp referred to the charter schools featured in the documentary as “highly selective, privately subsidized schools that have very little relevance for the public school system.” (10) He even further demonstrates his point by stating “it’s like looking for models of public housing by studying luxury condo developments.” (10) Obviously, when a school is able to hand pick students through a lottery system, require that parents have a committed involvement with their children, and class sizes average about 18 students per class, there is a very high chance that school would be successful. Something that I learned from Karp was that “only 17% of charter schools had better test scores than comparable public schools and more than twice as many did worse” (10) and “as many as one in four charter school teachers leave every year, about double the turnover rate in traditional public schools.” (11)

Another piece that also frustrated me was how Karp points out that people like Bill Gates are going around the country “proposing that schools save money by increasing class sizes, ending the practice of paying teachers for advanced degrees, closing and consolidating schools, and replacing live teachers with online computer programs.” (7) Hmmm… now, why on earth would a person like Bill Gates want to promote computer programs as educators?? Geeze… I bet it has nothing to do with personal gain and self-interest to benefit Microsoft Corporation…. It MUST be because this is what’s best for our children….

I Don't Mean to Be a Debbie Downer...

I apologize for my blog to sound so cynical and negative. Here is what you have to understand. I am in my third year teaching. I have NEVER seen the positive affection towards teachers. I am not able to reminisce with older colleagues who talk about teaching “back in the day” and how this used to be a respected profession. Thank goodness my administration and co-workers are supportive of each other because all I have witnessed is the general public bashing, berating, and blaming teachers for every problem in today’s society. Thank goodness for comic relief, right? Comedian Jon Stewart provides an amazing news segment called “Crisis in Dairyland” that focuses on teaching in America and how the general public is ignorant about life as a teacher. It’s definitely worth the watch!

I also wanted to look around the website for something positive about teachers. On the main page, I stumbled across this NY Times article: In Honor of Teachers which actually circulated through my school’s e-mail system. In summary, the author Charles Blow provides a personal account of how people should be “forever indebted” to the hard work and effort teachers provide. He discusses how he lived in tough areas with not a lot of family support and suffered from depression. However, it was his fourth-grade teacher named Mrs. Thomas who inspired and nurtured him to become the person he is today. This article is an example of what we need more of. We need more people to promote education, not vilify it. Sorry Waiting for Superman, but teachers are not Lex Luther. Teachers are not kryptonite.