Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Real Life- Schools in Pictures

I just discovered Through Your Lens: School Facilities across America. Adequate facilities are such a huge part of making welcoming, safe, and comfortable teaching and learning spaces.

School buildings must be part of nation's conversation about education. Quality education requires quality spaces, something that millions of students lack.
We know that millions of children, especially those living in low-wealth school districts, spend their school days in poor quality, unhealthy, and overcrowded buildings that cause health problems and limit educational opportunities. All students and teachers have the right to adequate, appropriate learning conditions that will allow them to strive for and achieve the goals being set for them. No single level of government can accomplish this alone. We must create a new federal, state, and local partnership to ensure that each and every single community has sufficient resources to provide high-quality school buildings to their students.

And Slate is hosting an awesome space for dialogue and contest about reinventing education. spaces.

Monday, October 4, 2010

settling in

It was a Bittersweet Back to School for me. See my latest post on GothamSchools. I'll be exploring the differences between working in Brownsville, Brooklyn and Park Slope as I blog for them over the next few months.
As the last two weeks of summer went by, I met with old and new teaching colleagues. I reminisced over dinner with a teacher who taught across the hall from me at the school I left last year. I laughed over lunch with a nurturing and seasoned paraprofessional from that school. And I sent back-to-school packages to students from last year’s class, piecing together some books, erasers, and pencils. What did I realize? It’s difficult to move on. Especially as a new teacher.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shifting administrative focus to teaching & learning

I thought this piece on Starting an Ed School was to the point. Rather than constantly reinventing structure and the things we do at school (ex. scheduling, grouping, incentives, etc.). Why not take the decent structures we have in place, get used to them, and take time and energy focusing on teaching and learning. Yeah?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bye bye Rhee?

Voters say goodbye to DC's Fenty, & likely, Michelle Rhee. (The Atlantic.)
There is pushback against the movement to treat public institutions and the precious people in them like factories. And when the impacted public is treated as an obstacle and not a partner to urban reform, it gives the whole effort colonial and paternalistic smell.

Cool Sites!

A few great websites I just discovered:

The Brain & Attention

Teachers at Risk has an interesting post on neurodevelopment and student behavior.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thank you, Pedro Noguera

Noguera's article in the Daily News, "Accept it: Poverty hurts learning: Schools matter, but they're not all that matters," pushes policy makers to face the truth. While schools are important, life and conditions beyond schools matter too. When policy makers argue that schools are enough, they validate the notion that some people deserve to live in impoverished, ugly, and unjust conditions.
There has been a fierce, ongoing debate among educational leaders about how to teach poor children: One side has argued that we must address the wide variety of social issues (like poor health and nutrition, mobility, inadequate preparation for school, etc.) that tend to be associated with poverty. The other side has argued that schools serving poor children must focus on education alone and stop making excuses.

For more than 20 years, I've been associated with the first camp - and I remain baffled about why we are still debating such an obvious point. We've long known that family income combined with parental education is the strongest predictor of how well a student will do on most standardized tests. There is abundant evidence that in schools in the poorest communities, achievement is considerably lower than in schools with more socioeconomic diversity.

Too Cute: Baby Baboons

I had to post this because it's just so cute. My classroom visited the Prospect Park Zoo last year and had a great time watching the baboons. The adults are so wise looking! The Zoo has a couple new babies.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Other America

A couple months ago, I read Valerie Polakow's Lives on the Edge: Single Mothers and Their Children in the Other America. It was eye opening to see the stigmatization of the mothers that carries into the classroom, and the way that many of the children are treated by their teachers. Polakow refers to one of the students she follows as "scarred before he has a chance to be otherwise.” She chronicles the overwhelming problems faced by these single mothers--obstacle after obstacle.

Recognizing the construction of disabilities is one way in which we can empathize with students. When we fail to consider the web of societal and environmental factors that contribute to the many interactions within the classroom walls, we risk labeling students as in need of fixing. Instead, we must continually consider the societal and environmental factors that are in great need of an enormous fix. Polakow argues, “confronting the silence, naming the classroom world with different forms of talk, shifting our ways of seeing, opening up spaces for possibility can shift the tenuous ground on which young children of poverty stand. It is the question of existential value that confronts the silence.”

When we fail to examine the bigger picture and confront the silence, we blindly accept the status quo and oppressive reality of our school system and society at large—a system that further marginalizes the marginalized, humiliates the most vulnerable, and segregates those who are poor or different from those in power. To place full responsibility and blame on a five-, seven-, or sixteen-year-old child and label him or her as deviant or deficient is to give up hope that the larger world can change. It will short-change students for many years and many classrooms to come.

Housing is a human right. I'm hoping to find out how to get involved with Picture the Homeless in NYC which is led by within the homeless community. They're beginning to take action to claim vacant city spaces.
Our Housing Not Warehousing campaign sees homelessness against the backdrop of this massive warehousing of otherwise habitable vacant spaces. We have been pushing city legislation that would require the city to conduct an annual census of all vacant buildings and lots, so that this information is always readily available to the public.

The Housing campaign is working to transform the use of vacant spaces through a range of tactics -- including direct action occupations and renovations, public education, and participatory research. Our goal is to facilitate the creation of safe, secure and TRULY AFFORDABLE housing for the lowest income residents of the city, through innovative community and housing development models.

The Housing campaign is concerned with the warehousing of all vacant property, regardless of ownership. The campaign is organizing to move owners of vacant property, public or private, to turn those properties over to a Land Trust, and permanently-affordable Mutual Housing Associations created out of them. The publicly-subsidized, privately-owned financial services firm JPMorgan Chase is one of our targets. We are also one of the founding participants of the national Take Back the Land initiative, because we are clear that challenging property rights is not a fight that we can win without civil disobedience and other forms of direct action.

You can share vacant buildings in NYC's five boroughs that you know of by texting the address to 917.412.3064 or send it via Twitter using #housingnotwarehousing or @pthny.

They post a weekly reading on their site that is discussed at their Homeless Organizing Academy. Here's one:

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
Finish the poem here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How'd I Miss This? Maxine Green Tribute

Journal of Educational Controversy has an issue devoted to Maxine Greene.


"My vision, in launching this Foundation, is to generate inquiry, imagination, and the creation of art works by diverse people. It has to do so with a sense of the deficiencies in our world and a desire to repair, wherever possible. Justice, equality, freedom - these are as important to us as the arts, and we believe they can infuse each other, perhaps making some difference at a troubled time."
Maxine Greene, Foundation for Social Imagination, the Arts and Education

An understanding of the role of public schools in sustaining the life of a democracy requires more than the occasional class in civic education. It requires the development of social imagination. Maxine Greene reminds us of the important role that the arts - visual art, music, performance art and literature - can play in such an education. We invite authors to explore the many dimensions of a vision for such an education within schools and colleges, or alternatively, outside these institutions. We also invite authors to contribute to a special section on Maxine Greene's lifetime work and writings on art, social imagination and education.
So much great reading to do. I began reading Chris Higgins' Working with Youth: In Search of the Natality of the Teacher.

With respect to sympathetic curiosity, unbiased responsiveness, and openness of mind, we may say that the adult should be growing in childlikeness.
- John Dewey (1916, p. 50)

A teacher in search of his/her own freedom may be the only kind of teacher who can arouse young persons to go in search of their own.
- Maxine Greene (1988, p. 14)


In teacher education, what one says about teaching is probably less important than how one addresses teachers. One of the things that make Maxine Greene's work singular and singularly important is her mode of address as a teacher educator. In her classes and her writings alike, she never forgets that she is speaking to teachers, and that in doing so she is speaking to human beings. This is not to say that others address teachers in an inhuman way. It is simply to point out that Greene reaches out to teachers, again and again, as fellow inhabitants of a set of typically human existential predicaments. Nor is this to suggest that she ignores the teacher qua teacher. To the contrary, she views teaching as a uniquely rich and important project, and personal projects are central to the ethical, existential terrain she is interested in.

From Teacher as Stranger (1973) to the latest posting on The Maxine Greene Foundation website (, Greene has been working to make visible the person in the role of teacher, and even “to make that person visible to himself” (1973, p. 271). Time and again, she has urged teachers to take an “interest in thinking about what it means to choose to be a teacher” (Greene, 1987, p. 181). She has offered us tireless and eloquent reminders that teaching is a transaction between selves in process, persons in need of meaningful projects and freedoms worth taking (see, e.g., Greene, 1986, pp. 76-79). She reminds us that the individual teacher, like any individual, needs some sort of studio space—some opportunity for retreat, reflection, and recreation—if she is to cultivate herself through her work (1973, p. 290). She reminds us that teachers also must fear the isolation that vitiates genuine action, which requires the catalysis and witnessing of others. And she reminds us that we are beginners, beings capable of breaking with the taken for granted, the routine and the mechanical (see, e.g., Greene, 1978, pp. 26-27; 1979). Greene's path-breaking work on these questions is the inspiration for the essay that follows. I explore the existential meanings, risks, and rewards of teaching through a close reading of two writers with whom she has frequently been in dialogue: Rainer Maria Rilke and Hannah Arendt.

Teaching and Natality: Recovery of an Untimely Question

Why teach? What draws us to this daunting practice and what sustains us there in the face of its inevitable difficulties? What sort of love does this labor express? Why might the practice of teaching be worth putting at the center of one's life?

One of the most stirring answers ever given to such questions appears in the last paragraph of Hannah Arendt's (1977) essay, “The Crisis of Education”:

Education is the point at which we decide if we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, not to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world. (p. 196)

Cool Site

I just came across The Voice via the Teachers College Record. Videos share tidbits of scholarly research. Here's one with Bree Picower discussing her paper from TC Record called “Resisting Compliance: Learning to Teach for Social Justice in a Neo-Liberal Environment.”