I got to be right on the internet!

There was an article recently about the decline of a small Pennsylvania town and I decided to respond to this person’s comment:
        There have been a few comments about America being the problem or cause of the “Shamokins” of the world. I grew up in Pottsville, similar situation. I worked hard and took out loans to pay for college and moved to an area that is more in line with my values which seem to have slipped away from where I grew up. I now live in a vibrant, growing, culturally diverse, educated, progressive community with a strong economy. Yes it’s a shame that Pottsville or Shamokin have declined and are not the same booming coal havens of yesteryear but times change, places change, and not everything is “fixable.” What is beautiful about America is there are just as many thriving communities as those that have declined and we are all free and blessed to have the opportunity to pursue our dreams and not be “stuck” in places we don’t want to live. You don’t have to be wealthy to be successful and happy, you just have to be resourceful, willing to take risk and go after your dreams. Of course if you’d rather take the easy road and are ok with living in a depressed, stagnant world…well you are probably now living in the home I grew up in.

With this:
Well, there’s a problem there. Many people ARE stuck living where they live. Look at most major cities in America and you see that they are segregated by income, and thus (in this country) by race. The idea of meritocracy, or “work hard and you’ll do well” is only partially true. Some of us start way behind others from the get-go.  Many history books, for example, tell us that segregation and the oppression of black people ended in the 1960′s.  It didn’t.  It’s only gotten worse, even if it’s no longer against the law. Those privileged enough to choose where they live can live in a progressive economically strong town, likely a suburb of a major city.  But others cannot leave because the tools they have are not the tools required to succeed in our current school system, which favors writing, speaking, and presenting yourself in a particular way, and learning a particular history. What is there for those in the margins? America as a land may be beautiful, but those living within it often forget the massive cultural oppression that it’s built on. We are still hurting from the effects of the slave trade, Native American displacement, and the conquest of Mexican territories, even if we don’t want to admit it.

Yeah!!!!!!!!!!!  🙂


Donald Sterling and Chicago Housing Discrimination

“We hear all this stuff that goes on in Chicago and all these people who die, who lose their lives.  All that stuff that’s happening in Chicago is a byproduct of housing discrimination. Housing discrimination is the biggest reason that we can point to historically for why we’ve got all these dead kids in Chicago fighting for turf, fighting for real estate with poor accommodations and facilities and everything that you’re supposed to have in a city, poor education, all of this because the tax dollars and everything else decided to move away. When we start looking at all these people in these lists who are dying as an economic byproduct of the people like Donald Sterling and you now have a problem because, oh my God, he said something that intimated that he doesn’t respect his players? I’m calling you out as a fraud.”  -Huffington Post

Joey’s Questions for Jenna and The Boys

1.  Consider this quote from A Letter to my Nephew:  “if the word “integration” means anything, this is what it means, that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it, for this is your home, my friend. Do not be driven from it. Great men have done great things here and will again and we can make America what America must become.”  What do you see today, in acts conscious or unconscious, that could be defined as people “fleeing from reality” in education?

2.  “Some people are smart in the elite-college way, some are smart in other ways, and some aren’t smart at all.”  Even if we acknowledge various definitions of intelligence, this article in American Scholar brings up the notion that some people may not fit into any category of intelligence.  If a person is emotionally, creatively, and intellectually ‘dumb,’ what value do they possess that others, especially the highly intelligent or perceptive, might lack?  Can we be said to perversely worship all forms of intelligence like we do money, looks, and power?

3.  What is something that you hope to do as a future educator that would require courage, as opposed to merely intellect?

Battling the Silence

Today I was at the lecture by Chris Emdin, who started out as an inner-city high school teacher in NYC and is now a professor at the Columbia Teacher’s College.  He told us about a group of policy makers who wanted to close the achievement gap in their city’s historically segregated schooling systems by giving iPads to the students of the struggling schools.  The idea was that more screen time at school and at home would translate to higher test scores.

I use the words “historically segregated” and “struggling” intentionally.  The students in question in these schools were black.  But of course no one was going to talk about that.  At least not directly.  After all, the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter in this country.  This was a poverty issue, not a race issue.  And iPads were the answer.

Not surprisingly, at least to Dr. Emdin, the iPads didn’t work.  The policymakers were puzzled.  Ultimately, they decided that these black students (now the color of their skin was important) weren’t putting in the effort to make good use of this technology.  You can only do so much for these kids after all, they said.

Dr. Emdin invited us to think more about what black students were seeing on these iPads.  The answer:  the same, unchanged message that was in the textbooks.  One promoting white histories, white values, white culture. One of our classmates “Larssont” posted an article about how, as late as the 1970′s, the government encouraged housing segregation in cities and shamelessly denied to black unions the wealth needed to move out into the suburbs like whites. (Read about it here:  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/03/26/26rothstein_ep.h33.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW)  As the author points out, there is hardly a sentence in most modern history textbooks about this kind of post-MLK segregation.  Other things are missing from our schools’ version of history too.  Black scientists for example.  Who even today, asked Chris, can name one other black scientist besides George Washington Carver?  Or how about one of the many prominent black scientists who are currently active?  Not to be found, in print or on iPads.  As they say, the winners write history, and the role of blacks is small and contained.  It comes up where it’s supposed to come up.

Dr. Emdin himself is personally invested in bringing hip-hop into the science curriculum by hosting inter-scholastic rap battles on science topics. Even for teachers who are as white as rice (my term, not his; and the statistical fact is that most teachers are)…especially for these teachers, he talked about how a respectable figure from “the hood” (his term now) could serve as a cultural broker between academics and their lived life.

For instance, one day Chris saw that his students weren’t getting the concept of how a marble ball will roll forever across a frictionless surface until it hits another ball, at which point that ball will begin to roll forever.  The kids’ faces were blank.  The community member in residence, however, was able to explain to the kids, in language that I cannot begin to imitate, even in print:  “You know when you’re riding the blue line and it stops all of a sudden but you keep going?  It’s like if that were to happen forever.” Suddenly heads were nodding.  Whether we’re comfortable to admit it or not, skin color is important in many places.  It’s a culture, it’s a language, and I personally know I’m far from fluent.

Coming back to these science rap battles, Chris notes how he has seen a community member lend Walter White some credence in teaching students how to use science terminology in Hip-Hop rhymes; at the same time, the community member is learning about science, which many adults from “the hood” learned only to hate in school.  All the while, the co-teachers are instilling in these teenagers a personal and cultural pride in science and the power of a curious mind at work.  “Harriet Tubman,” Chris tells us, “was a brilliant scientist.  She used her understanding of astronomy to guide her fellow slaves toward the free states.”  Can you imagine the power in teaching kids that science is part of their collective story too?  If you are curious about Dr. Emdin’s work, here is an article about him in the New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/nyregion/columbia-professor-and-gza-aim-to-help-teach-science-through-hip-hop.html?_r=0

Engaging students in this way, as opposed to merely tossing around money, requires people to breaking the long-held silence between our inner-city schools and the communities of which they are a part.  Unfortunately, it seems that few educators today are truly willing to do this.  David Foster Wallace, a favorite author of mine, once said “The truth will set you free.  But not until it’s finished with you.”  True change requires sacrifice and stepping into new territory with an open minds.  Humans as a species, however, can be pretty bad at change.

No doubt, many teachers are under pressure from their administrators to only teach certain things in certain ways; we know that our obsession with standardization in this day and age is only getting worse.  Others, meanwhile, may genuinely think that more screens and money will solve the problem of racial inequity in our schools.  But I fear that there is a bigger culprit that nobody wants to admit or even discuss:  Cowardice.  Being too afraid to change the status quo even when it’s possible.  Even when you know you absolutely should.

Personally, I really hope that I am not/do not become a coward.  This is my greatest fear as an aspiring teacher.  If I’m teaching at a 99% white school, then so be it.  That’s my comfort zone, what I grew up with.  But if I’m at a school where I have to grapple with cultures greatly different from my own, I hope that I will have the courage to say what isn’t being said and to challenge my students do the same.  The fear of being silent when I know deep down that I should speak, in all seriousness, keeps me up at night.

I don’t think that these two gents Simon and Garfunkel spent much time in “the hood,” but I do know that their song The Sound of Silence understands the terrible power of silence and how it divides us as people.  Teaching sure is scary, man.


Joey’s Discussion Questions for Abe, Kian, and Jenna

1.  On occasion, I talk with Professor Jackson, whose course on Diverse Learners I took last semester.  I am currently helping him to publicize the results of a grant that aimed to support and guide leaders of “universal design” (mentioned at the end of our Hehir article), leaders who can more easily straddle the worlds of special and general education.  Do you feel that future educators should be taught in both of these “languages”?

2.  What are some “real world” ways that a general education teacher can make their curriculum more accessible?  Many things are possible in theory…but what in your opinion HAS worked or WOULD work,?

3.  Let’s draw connections between the “stumbling” man with vision in Country of the Blind and Jared in Disabled Capital.  Where do you see passages that emphasis the same feeling of exclusion from the larger culture.  Might the “stumbling” man’s mental journey from frustration to violence and/or submission speak for similar patterns of feeling that we see in other racialized groups?  ”Thug” life, perhaps?

Dirty Girls

Two sisters, 13 years old, living on the fringes of high school in 1996. Originally a documentary filmed by a student at the school, it was later edited and made public. They make their own zine, “Sour Grrrl” which is dedicated to fighting for women’s rights. Most other students see them as “The Dirty Girls.”

“I find it personally offensive that they’re fighting for women because I’m a woman and, you know, they’re not.”