The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
Ruby Bridges attends school in New Orleans.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tidbits: More Stuff In the News & On the Air

Tim Wise, author of White Like Me discusses his latest book, Colorblind, on the June 28, 2010 Tavis Smiley program.

I caught the final two minutes of their conversation when they considered whether President Obama was politically unable to address issues seen as favoring minorities. Smiley mentioned that there are some people who consider the President's health care reform bill to be reparation paid to blacks. (THAT one floored me.)

That's when Wise said it is therefore imperative for white people like him to speak out against racism and for equality at every opportunity. He can respond to hate, nonsense, bias, lies - all of it - without being painted as having 'a Black agenda' or a secretive scheme. The link above leads to audio from the June 28 Smiley program as well as links to Wise's official site.

Also recently heard on NPR was Gary Rivlin discussing his book, Broke USA From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business. It was a fascinating discussion about pawnshops, rent to own retailers and the $40-billion-a-year payday cash advance industry. He points out how the working poor are the only ones using these services and are charged interest rates that are illegal in every other business.

Again, food for thought.

Happy reading, happy summer!! OK, so much of this reading won't be 'happy'.... Peace.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Making Room for One Another – Quotations

This was challenging reading in that it compelled me to learn new vocabulary and concepts, specifically monologicality and dialogicality. (<--That link to Wikipedia helped.) August’s work was eye opening from page one where she sets the scene for her research. Although I heard the phrase before, this was my first detailed introduction to circle time. August describes it as a bridge between home and school offering kids the chance to share - or not - about themselves and their families.

“Children whose discourse patterns match those of the dominant culture, for example, seem to enjoy longer turns and more meaningful interaction with the teacher. And as members of a dominant social structure, children from nuclear family constellations, who see themselves reflected in the explicit and implicit curriculum, add their particular chapters to the written and verbal chronicle of family with little or no fear of social penalty. Their stories are greeted with verbal and nonverbal expressions of understanding and appreciation from their classmates and teacher. Questions from their audience encourage them to expand on their accounts.”

Of course this implies that the opposite is true for children like Cody whose worlds do not reflect dominant culture curriculum. August states, “Differences that make a difference (the particulars vary according to social contest) can lead to otherizing and even exclusion”.
On the surface these circles along with who shares and what and how they share appear innocent. However it scratches the surface of the bigger issue August raises: “discourse has material consequences” because it is this type of social interaction that fuels academic achievement and intellectual development. (I think I will add some version of circle time to my next adult education class.)

Next, on page 167, regarding designed dialogicality, August writes, “The point has been made that all teachers are political agents (Shor, 1992). The political nature of pedagogical philosophy and practice, although always real, is not always apparent.” Here August distills the argument by telling us that the lessons we choose either support and defend dominant causes and interests or they challenge them. Accepting the notion that as an instructor I am a political agent, what do my choice (when I have choice, although Finn would say I always have choice) of curriculum and resources say to the learners? Are my selections dialogical by design as much of Zeke’s were?

Finally, the chapter on dynamic dialogicality offered real-time examples of opportunities for Zeke and his students to create and support a democratic agenda. Specifically the exchange labeled, “Do You Speak Chinese?” presented such a teachable moment after Shiloh impersonated a Chinese speaker. During the group exchange an unnamed child told the others that making fun of a different language could hurt someone’s feelings. Zeke confirms that it is not okay to hurt feelings. He goes beyond the obvious by illuminating the bigger issue: it is not okay to make fun of any language or any difference.

Therefore this final quote, from page 153 of chapter five, informs the reader of what Zeke was attempting to impart to his students. August acknowledges Zeke’s choice to focus five and six year-olds on the heart of the matter. She crystallizes this for me saying,

“The ethical principle that underlies such reasoning is inadequate, equivalent to that which forgives the telling of racist jokes when a person of color is not present. Such expressions of dominant ideology, regardless of whether offense is taken, widen the paths of least resistance (Johnson, 2006). This is the stuff of which privilege is made. It is also the stuff of which oppression, privilege’s necessary counterpart, is made.”

Finally, whether or not all or any of the children understood the bigger issue is unknown to the reader. Zeke pointed out the difference and planted the seed in their minds. He made the most of an opportunity by challenging a student’s and her classmates’ assumptions about difference and what is funny on a deeper level than many adults dare to consider.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Aria – Questions

In Aria Richard Rodriguez tells us that if he had been educated in a bilingual environment he would have delayed “having to learn the language of public society.” This would likely have delayed the development of his public identity. He sees proponents of bilingual education as scornful of “the value and necessity of assimilation” into public society by learning English and unaware that there are “two ways a person is individualized.”

As a practitioner and student in the field of teaching English as a second language I have come to appreciate that bilingual education has a role in the classroom. Experts in second language acquisition, including RIC’s own Dr. Nancy Cloud, have advocated for bilingual English/Spanish kindergarten in Central Falls and in similar locales. Research has shown that for pre-literate learners making sense of their native language helps to anchor overall literacy development which also helps them learn English. This seems to contradict the author’s experiences.
Therefore, I ask the following questions:

· What do Rodriguez’s experiences say about providing bilingual education in public schools?
· Is there a place for limited bilingual education, perhaps at certain skill levels for newcomers or pre-K and kindergarteners?

Also, although Rodriguez admits that English language learners suffer a “diminished sense of private individuality by becoming assimilated into public society, such assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality.” The author told us that his English came at a cost and that cost at least in part was a diminished closeness in his family. That leads me to ask:

· Can children learn classroom English without losing the closeness of family?
· Is the child’s assimilation worth the silence at home?
· Should family cohesiveness, closeness and communication be a concern for educators?

Finally, Richard Rodriguez is one person with one opinion based on his unique life experiences. Yet that opinion and those experiences resonate with our prior reading about the realities of the US educational system. Rodriguez reminds me that English is the language of inclusion, assimilation and opportunity. It is the public language and the language of the classroom. He reminds me that a strictly bilingual education may limit a child’s assimilation which will likely limit his life choices. Therefore, he forces me to look at the topic of bilingual education in a new light.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

GLSEN website – Hyperlinks

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network Website

The GLSEN website has extensive information for diverse audiences: students, parents, educators and the community. I learned a lot about LGBT students and incidences of higher absenteeism and dropout rates due to harassment, discrimination and bullying. Because this website has so much information I focused on two links (on left of home page) to recent legislative developments.

The first, the Student Non-Discrimination Act is a federal law proposed by Senator Al Franken. It should help to ensure that all students are valued in schools free of harassment and discrimination. The article states that nearly 87% of LGBT students experience harassment at school due to sexual orientation and over 60% do not feel safe at school. It makes the point that “harassment clearly affects students’ ability to learn. A third of LGBT students missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe, five times higher than a national sample of all students.”

The second item is from Illinois where their House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that protects kids from bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Illinois is the ninth state to pass an enumerated (spelled out) anti-bullying law that includes a list of characteristics most often targeted by bullies. Research shows that this is more effective than a general anti-bullying law. GLSEN reports that 75% of students at schools without enumerated anti-bullying policies heard homophobic remarks “often or very often” compared to 54% of those kids at schools with enumerated policies. It’s not perfection but it is a step in the right direction.

What struck me, in addition to what I learned about enumerated policy versus general anti-bullying policy (and what ‘enumerated’ meant), was that these legal changes most likely started at a grassroots level, working from the bottom up. The rabble was roused and they found champions for the cause in both Al Franken and members of the Illinois House. Both laws appear to be examples of the usually powerless gaining some bit of power.

Finally, here are some relate links beginning with local resources:

According to the GLSEN site they have no RI affiliate. However the following site references GLSEN and appears to have numerous resources for students and educators: …It includes “School Shouldn't Hurt: Lifting the Burden from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth” a comprehensive report by the RI Task Force on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth from March of 1996. Fourteen years later the content still seems necessary. Also worth checking out is “Creating Safe Schools.” appears to be a hub for local and national resources and news specific to bullying.

Finally, there’s The Southern Poverty Law Center and the link “New Teaching Tolerance Film to Address Anti-Gay Bullying in Schools”. The story featuring bullied teen Jamie Nabozny is moving and educational.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

People Like Us - the English professor

Did anyone else watch the video of the English professor from Pennsylvania University? Did he say that people who went to a small "Podunk" (yes, his word) college and not Yale were "zombies?"

Of course he did say that didn't he? Guess I was trying to give the man the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Finn: Literacy with an Attitude

Connections to Other Readings: Finn, Kozol and Delpit

The Finn reading was an ideal follow up to the Kozol article. In the preface Finn addresses the idea that in the US we see illiteracy as the source of social problems that will become liabilities for “the rest of us.” The belief, as common as it is misguided, is that “if we could raise their level of literacy they would join the haves” leaving the ranks of the have-nots with the have-nots eventually disappearing.

Accompanying that notion is the myth that “our schools offer literacy equally to all comers, but somehow the have-nots refuse to take us up on our offer. They’re not smart enough or they’re lazy or simply perverse”. Finn does not believe this, of course, and goes on to explain that in the US we have created two kinds of education: empowering education and domesticating education. As Finn stated, “When rich children get empowering education nothing changes. But when working-class children get empowering education you get literacy with an attitude.” Unfortunately the kids who need empowering education are not getting it.

Additionally, Kozol provided us with many examples of the two-tier education of the haves and have-nots, of the “expensive” and “cheap” children. He documents the experiences of the latter whose schools, materials, educational resources and the very systems and curriculum by which they are educated are different from the rich and even from the middle class. These schools are subpar in funding, content and personnel and would not be tolerated by those with power, money or a voice. He tells us that the education provided children who are poor and those of color are meant to direct them toward work that is routine in nature requiring little critical thinking and certainly no post-secondary education. Inner-city kids are being groomed for “careers” as cashiers. Students in this world are not educated to learn but to follow directions as the future worker bees of America.

Also, Finn discusses Jean Anyon’s findings about fifth grade classes she observed 20 years ago. These findings have been repeatedly supported by more recent research according to Finn. Anyon reveals multiple tiers of education and divides the schools she observed in terms of economics. The schools she visited were as follows: working class, middle class, affluent professional and executive elite. Salaries of parents whose children are in the executive elite schools are in the top 1% in the nation and for the affluent professional, the top 10%. Middle class incomes were above the US average but well below the top 10%. The working class parents were skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled blue collar workers. The unemployed made up 15% of this group. Parents (and future generations) of those in the top two types of schools are the decision makers and power brokers of our world. The middle class is made up of social workers, accountants and middle managers.

Furthermore, Finn confirms what Kozol found 30 plus years ago and continues to find today. Inner city kids are in the ‘ghetto track’ to paraphrase the student named Fortino who said to Mireya in Kozol’s article, “You’re ghetto, so we send you to the factory.” Finn too found that when he taught he was “schooling these children not to take charge of their lives but to take orders” with classroom control, not learning, being his priority.

Specifically, Finn informs us that Anyon found that in the working-class schools knowledge was presented as “fragmented facts isolated from wider bodies of meaning and from the lives and experiences of the students. Work was following steps in a procedure.” This item made me think of Delpit who was concerned that kids were not getting the big picture or ‘the why’ of their tasks as well as the recognition that process was emphasized over product.

In addition Anyon went on to describe the working-class schools as requiring “little decision making or choice” needed to complete tasks. “Teachers rarely explained why work was being assigned or how it was connected to other assignments. Work was often evaluated in terms of whether the steps were followed rather than whether it was right or wrong.”

This is the complete opposite experience of learners in the affluent professional school and especially for those in the executive elite school. Anyon gave an example of a girl in a working-class school saying that she had a better way to achieve a task being presented but not explained by the teacher. That teacher shot that girl down (an exchange that would get a teacher in the elite and affluent schools fired!) and told her to conform to her methods as all others would be wrong. This would never happen in the top tier schools. Kids (really do) rule in those schools! There teachers want children to “think for themselves and to make sense of their own experience.”

Overall, the concept of work itself was defined differently within each school. Kids in the uppermost tier are educated to lead others, to take control and actually practice their sense of authority in the class. They are allowed to take the reins and seem to be the bosses of the teachers who see themselves in a lower class than the kids they teach. They are being groomed to take over the world! The next tier of affluent children were “learning to create products and art… learning to find rewards in work itself and to negotiate from a powerful position with those (the executive elite) who make the final decision on how real capital is allocated.” They too expect and are offered power in our society.

The two tiers that make up the majority, the working and middle class children, are both learning to follow orders. The working class learned to do mechanical low-paying work, taking the ‘ghetto track’ in school, as it is too often the only one offered. Middle class kids did not fare much better but are seen as able to learn how to do the “mental work that keeps society producing and running.” If they cooperate within the power structure they would have “rewards that well-paid middle class work makes possible outside the workplace” implying that satisfaction or fulfillment is not found in work.

In closing, I cannot help but get the sense that the inner-city and less affluent kids in our country are being punished. Kids in Kozol’s article believe that they are being hidden, as if they and the issues they face just in their schools (forget about the rest of their lives for the sake of argument) do not exist. I do not know if they are being punished because they are reminders of what some of us came from, even generations ago, or perhaps what we may go to with the next stock market downturn or job loss. I can only guess that somehow they remind us or cause us to think of something about us that we do not wish to see. Whatever “it” is, it needs to be acknowledged and named in order to be changed.

As Finn wrote, “the status quo is the status quo because people who have the power to make changes are comfortable with the way things are. It takes energy to make changes, and the energy must come from the people who will benefit from the change.” To some extent I agree. Then again, I agree with Delpit who stated that change does not come from the bottom up, not from the powerless. To me it seems that change must come from those with power, with pressure from below because to some extent, they must allow change to happen. In spite of the opposing philosophies the goal is the same: empower the masses through meaningful education and literacy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Kozol – Extended Comments based on Mike’s post

I responded with a comment to Mike’s post prior to deciding to make it the jumping off point of my own post. Specifically it was his reference to the second of three quotes, the one regarding the lack of spontaneous emotion in children or teacher during a classroom observation that inspired me. As Kozol indicates, our nation teaches inner city kids differently than those in middle class suburbs. They are taught and expected to acquiesce and conform to the power structure. The lack of spontaneity in emotion and thought cannot lead to genuine learning. Mike’s reference to the Pink Floyd video for “Another Brick in The Wall Part 2” was quite fitting. It too illustrates the plight of inner city classes Kozol describes as stifling creativity at every turn.

As Mike mentioned, another part of the Floyd video features students marching down a hallway into a tunnel where they emerge faceless and sitting at desks. The article describes curriculum that actually has a “Rubric For Filing” with 32 areas for grading. What is the purpose of grading kids in marching and filing? Where in life do those skills matter? When are those skills useful? Properly getting into single file lines or marching with the “right amount” of space between bodies are skills that only seem to be useful when following someone else’s orders in a regimented job, or in the military, or in prison. Are these the choices we are creating for millions of our children?

As in the video kids in today’s inner city public schools are being trained to follow orders and to even be robots as one educator proudly admitted. They are not learning how to learn or how to solve problems or how to truly think critically, independently and analytically. Kozol was right to call those claims “lip service” as these too are buzz words of the corporate world of lean manufacturing and efficiency. If these kids were really encouraged to “think critically” the administrators would be out of work. The kids would not be getting such a poor education. They’d revolt, as in the video, if they were truly allowed to think the thoughts, ask the questions and demand honest answers.

The regimented industry-based systems, some in place since 1995 in inner-city schools, are just more ways to say “no” to a kid’s dream. Limiting their exposure to AP classes, supportive resources, experienced teachers, relevant career education and real choices ensures (all a.k.a. a lousy system that is not working) that a kid will not pursure a dream or even allow him or herself to have one. As a nation we have stolen the curiosity and imaginations of millions of children. All those things that go into daring to dream are robbed from these kids at an early age.

In summary, today’s inner city children are having their dreams systematically crushed by the same bureaucracy that is training them to be those silent faceless workers. These are the workers who sacrifice their desires to develop the dreams and fortunes of those with influence and power. They defer their dreams so that a stranger can have his.