Friday, June 27, 2008

Artsbridge: The Art of Imagination, Dialogue and Conflict Resolution for Israeli and Palestinian Youth

Boston Globe article features Artsbridge camp founder Debbie Nathan. Artsbridge provides dialogue training and art therapy to students caught up in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. You can view a video about the program at its website.

Students in the Artsbridge program will collaborate on sculptural artwork. 
Each student will be given the opportunity to place his or her contribution into a circle. If they want to touch another participant's work, they must ask permission. Where the kids choose to place their objects, say the organizers of Artsbridge, will reveal a lot about their perceived relationship to the group and their expectations for the program.
Art can be a powerful tool for dialogue and imagining new possibities. Maxine Greene says, "For me, the child is a veritable image of becoming, of possibility, poised to reach towards what is not yet, towards a growing that cannot be predetermined or prescribed. I see her and I fill the space with others like her, risking, straining, wanting to find out, to ask their own questions, to experience a world that is shared." Community created art work mimics this becoming and possibility, and opens up a shared space for questions, risks, and possibilities.
Though Nathan lived in Israel from 1976 to 1979, on a recent trip to interview candidates for the program she was struck by the depth of despair on both sides of the conflict.

"If you woke up tomorrow and the world was perfect," she asked every youth who applied for the program, "what would it look like?"

None of the children could begin to answer, she said this month at a daylong retreat for the Artsbridge board members at Nathan's house in Swampscott. She is haunted by the shocked looks that came over the students' faces when she asked whether they could imagine peace in their lifetime.

"They hadn't even thought about it," she said.

When she asked the prospective campers what they would ask for if they were granted three wishes, she recalled, almost all of them wished for health for their families and peace for their communities. She couldn't help but wonder how American students would respond.

"These kids' stories are so powerful to me," she said.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Coalition Advocates on Capitol Hill for Culturally Based Teaching

From Diverse Issues in Higher Education:
Teachers must be sensitive and inclusive to all students’ cultural backgrounds, educators and advocacy organizations said during a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

The briefing, “Culturally Based Teaching: A Model for Student Success, ” provided educators and student advocates with the opportunity to share their views and provide federal policymakers with first-hand accounts on how using a culturally based education model will empower students and help close the achievement gap.
Dr. Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert, president of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), comments:
“These approaches include recognizing and utilizing native languages as a first or second language that can incorporate traditional cultural characteristics and involve teaching strategies that are harmonious with the native culture knowledge and contemporary ways of knowing and learning.”
(This comes at a time when Oregon's Secretary of State Office has released that an initiative limiting non-English language teaching in schools will appear on the ballot in November.)

The Coalition also suggests preparing more culturally teachers and recruiting and hiring more minority teachers that come from students' own communities.

Bottom line:
Dr. Luis A. Vázquez, associate graduate school dean at New Mexico State University, said that students will be more likely to excel academically if they can relate to what is being taught.
Vázquez used his parents as an example. One only made it to the fourth grade and the other to the seventh grade. He added that the lack of cultural identity in his family members’ school curriculum was generational.
“Nothing in the textbooks looked like them, nothing related to them,” Vázquez said, adding that students today do not need to feel like “they are guests in somebody else’s house” while in school.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Raising the "Achievement Gap:" In Perspective

Real World Educators for Active Learning has an important post about what it means to really improve public education: "Dialogues for the Rich (& Poor). In the quest to close the achievement gap, it's important to take a step back and look at what we've defined "achievement" as. What are students learning? What are we really aiming for when we seek to close the gap in test scores? Will education really be "equal" then?

Dr. Rios says:
Are people really concerned with fixing the public system? Who does this system currently serve? And finally, if historically the only consistent determining variable for student outcomes has been socio-economic status of the child – then we need to ask: How are wealthy kids being educated in this country and in whose best interest? Perhaps the problem is not about how much different students are learning and that Black students are learning less than White students; the problem is possibly what all students are learning and that all students are learning in ways that perpetuate oppressive ideologies (Kumashiro, 2008). Raising the “achievement gap” in the current education system is counterproductive if what is being taught is biased to begin with and the current system does not invite us to investigate into the nature of ideologies being taught to students who are considered “successful.”
She continues:
What are we teaching about life, sustainability and living together? What are our priorities and what do we value as a society? Can you promise our youth that if they “do all the right things” that they will be guaranteed a piece of the pie? Does working harder and for more hours increase your wage? Does your salary equate intelligence or your position in a company? Who is calling the shots in this country and what did they score on their SAT’s? When will the poor be able to stop dancing for money and when will the rich open their door – not for charity, but for humanity?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mississippi High School Holds a New Kind of Prom

Charleston High School held its first interracial prom in April. Previously, the school's proms were privately and separately organized for blacks and whites. One black student was even kicked out after trying to attend the white prom.

The event was filmed for an upcoming documentary called Prom Night in Mississippi. A photographer commented:
She [the photographer] describes one encounter in an African-American beauty parlor, in which an elderly woman who'd been part of the civil rights movement stopped in to see what the hubbub was about. The woman ended up giving an impromptu testimony about the history these young people were about to make. "It was almost like it didn't occur to a lot of the kids, until the day of the prom, how important what was going on really was," Farquharson reports.
Says one student:
"It was just magnificent," Buckley says. "That night, when we stepped in that door, everybody just had a good time. We proved ourselves wrong. We proved the community wrong, because they didn't think that it was going to happen."

NPR on Teacher Peer Review Systems

NPR reports on Toledo's peer review system for teachers. It's spread to 70 school districts in Ohio, Connecticut, and California.
Every year for the past 27 years, a panel of Toledo administrators and teachers has met behind closed doors to discuss teachers who've been deemed "incompetent."

Under peer review, a team of master teachers called "consultants" meticulously monitors and evaluates teachers in several areas: how they prepare, plan and present lessons, how well they know the material they teach, how they engage and discipline students — even a teacher's punctuality and dress are scrutinized.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Support Culturally Empowered Education

Updates on Karen Salazar, the LA Teacher fired for her Afro-Centric Teaching.

What We Can't Measure With Tests

Diane Ravitch at Bridging Differences has a meaningful post about humane education:
The clock will not be turned back. No matter how frequently or how beautifully you describe the joys of childhood, those who are making education policy will not be deterred or persuaded. Their agenda is competitiveness. They are in the throes of data-driven decision-making, which has become a sort of mantra that takes the place of actual thinking. How can you measure the joys of childhood? How can you measure wonder and awe? Go where the numbers tell you to go, they say; but what if the numbers are measuring trivial things? Do what the numbers tell you to do, they say; but people—not numbers—devise policy alternatives.

What I am suggesting is that your longing for a more humane approach to educating children has a huge constituency among teachers, but none among policymakers. What I am suggesting is that we should talk not about a past that has been lost, perhaps irretrievably, but how to change and mitigate the policies that are now destroying joy, wonder, and any hope of a better education.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bush's DOE: A Pressure Cooker

Former Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Susan Neuman, describes Bush's DOE as a "pressure cooker" in this NYT article.
Susan Neuman, a professor of education at the University Michigan who served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education during George W. Bush's first term, was and still is a fervent believer in the goals of NCLB. And she says the President and then Secretary of Education Rod Paige were too. But there were others in the department, according to Neuman, who saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda — a way to expose the failure of public education and "blow it up a bit," she says. "There were a number of people pushing hard for market forces and privatization."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

J.K. Rowling's Commencement Speech on the Power of the Imagination

Why it's so important to open up the imagination in schools, discuss, learn, and understand other cultures, eloquently put forth in J.K. Rowling's commencement speech at Harvard. You can view the full video at the site.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.
When we fire teachers for being too Afro-centric in their teaching, when we attempt to pass laws that limit or ban multiculturalism in schools, when we attack schools like the Khalil Gibran International Academy, when we are scared to confront world realities in our classroom, we are choosing to live in these narrow spaces. 

But when we value the varied experiences of our students, when we study the horrors that can happen in our world, when we go beyond tolerance to challenge our heteronormative assumptions within our schools and classrooms, we choose to engage in the challenging, scary, risky, and wonderful spaces that fully employ our imaginative capabilities, ask us to change our assumptions, and push educators and students to grow together.

Book To Check Out: Slavery by Another Name

Matthew Yglesias at The Atlantic recommends Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas Blackmon. At the book's website you can find more information about Blackmon, an exerpt from the book, and an interactive map and media.
...what's really striking about the subject is that despite how central the story of racial conflict is to the story of America, and despite how well-known certain key episodes in that history are, the shocking story that Blackmon has to tell here is virtually unknown.
I assume that this kind of thing forms part of the basis of black-white gaps in perception in the United States. The white version of American history certainly admits to the existence of racial oppression, but it's a very optimistic "up from slavery" story where the key figures are the heroes and the key episodes are the ones in which the good guys lost. But for fifty-five or sixty years following the collapse of the Confederacy, the cause of racial equality suffered nothing but setbacks. African-Americans are no doubt largely ignorant of these obscure episodes in a formal sense, but since it's literally part of their family background the history of backsliding and abandonment is going to color the black community's perception of progress made thus far.
It's one thing to recognize that America once tolerated great injustices and then put a stop to them. It's another thing entirely to recognize that the injustices came back and the whole period in which they did so has been expurgated from our official narrative.
The history that we don't seem to teach about in schools. From
In 2000, the National Association of Black Journalists recognized Blackmon’s stories revealing the secret role of J.P. Morgan & Co. during the 1960s in funneling funds between a wealthy northern white supremacist and segregationists fighting the Civil Rights Movement in the South. A year later, he revealed in the Journal how U.S. Steel Corp. relied on forced black laborers in Alabama coal mines in the early 20th century, an article which led to his first book, Slavery By Another Name, which broadly examines how a form of neoslavery thrived in the U.S. long after legal abolition.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Saying No To Deficit Theory, Culture of Poverty

Paul Gorsky, founder of EdChange, is highlighted in the Parsons Sun
"The achievement gap is not as much an achievement gap as an opportunity gap. ... By calling it an achievement gap it puts full responsibility on our most disenfranchised, and I think that is problematic."
Culture of poverty, first coined by Oscar Lewis and based on ethnographic studies of a few small Mexican communities, is the idea that poor people share all the same beliefs, values and behaviors -- such as frequent violence. He extrapolated his findings to suggest a universal culture of poverty.

While his theory was popular, his work inspired a massive amount of research, all of which came to one predominant conclusion -- there is no culture of poverty.
Within that concept, Gorski said educators approach students based on their deficits rather than their strengths.

The deficit theory argues that poor people are poor because of deficiencies based on stereotypes.

"There are two aspects to this I see playing out in education in implicit ways: It draws on stereotypes that are false ... and it ignores system conditions that give some people access and opportunities that others are denied."

To believe the poor are poor because of their own shortcomings ignores the impact of rising costs of health care, gasoline, housing, utilities and food.

"These costs affect everyone, but they most greatly affect the poor," Gorski said. "You have to ignore all the structural conditions and pretend they don't exist and you must ignore every influence that might be contributing to keeping the cycle of poverty in place."
The message:
To change, Gorski said teachers must understand how race, gender, disabilities and other factors interrelate and accept there is inequity and oppression and understand them as systemic and not individual acts.
More on Gorski:

LA Teacher's Teaching Was "Too Afro-Centric"

LA Public School teacher Karen Salazar's contract was not renewed because her teaching was too Afro-centric:
As a second year teacher, Ms. Karen Salazar has had a dynamic impact on the Jordan High School campus by connecting readings to the real lives and struggles that students go through. Her English Class has become a favorite among students on campus, where they regularly read and analyzed books and selected readings from people of color to whom the students can relate. Students, who typically skip some of their classes, show up religiously in Salazar’s English class. administrator criticized her for having students read The Autobiography of Malcolm X : As Told to Alex Haley, a Los Angeles Unified School District-approved text. When she objected to this criticism, she was told that her teachings where too “Afro-centric.” She was then told that the school would not renew her teaching contract for the upcoming school year.
A student says:
“The school knows that Ms. Salazar is a very passionate and good teacher, and yet they want to fire her. It is not fair because there are many other teachers who don’t teach anything, and they never get fired.”
Another says, "she teaches us how to be strong and how to not let nobody oppress us." Youth from the school have planned to protest. Here's a video of their meeting:

Are we afraid that students will actually learn to think critically?

Funny that we don't see too many teachers being fired because their teaching is to "white-centric." 



A press conference was held at Jordan High on June 11. Some highlights:

LA Times: School rallies around dismissed Watts teacher deemed too 'Afro-centric.'
About 60 students rallied Wednesday at the Watts campus, while a colleague of the fired teacher said he and 15 other instructors planned to resign or transfer to other schools to protest the dismissal of Karen Salazar, a second-year English teacher.
"You embody what it means to be a warrior-scholar, a freedom-fighting intellectual," she told students through a bullhorn in one video. "You are part of the long legacy, the strong history, of fighting back."

In another instance, Salazar rips the Los Angeles Unified School District, saying, "This school system for too long has been not only denying them human rights, basic human rights, but doing it on purpose in order to keep them subservient, to subjugate them in society."
Association of Raza Educators video and call for community support:

89.3 KPCC Radio Coverage

What you can do:

Send a letter or make a phone call in support of Salazar and her teaching.
"Ray" Cortines, Senior Deputy Superintendent (213) 241-0800
Richard Vladovic, Dist. 7 Board Rep. (213) 241-6385

Stephen Strachan , Principal (MAIN OFFICE) (323) 568-4100

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

NY Times Says Goodbye to Its Education Column

Sam Freedman's final article.
The greatest gifts this assignment gave me were a passport to watch the magic of the classroom and the opportunity to join in a public discussion. Again and again, I saw how a school can contain the whole world.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Steady Resegregation of Seattle Schools

The Seattle Times reports that Seattle's schools, like those of other cities, have slowly and steadily resegregated over the past 20 years. And now, given last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting the use of race to assign students to school districts, the board is even more limited on what they can do to solve the problem.
Leschi Elementary, about evenly divided between white and minority students in 1980, has a nearly all-minority population once again. The same is true for Brighton Elementary, Dunlap Elementary, Van Asselt Elementary — and all but two of the 26 schools that, the year before busing started, were considered racially imbalanced. Today, a total of 30 schools — close to a third of the district's buildings — have nonwhite populations that far exceed the district's average of 58 percent. In 20 of them, nonwhite enrollment is 90 percent or more.
"We like to think of ourselves as these enlightened, liberal folks," says School Board member Harium Martin-Morris. "But the fact is our schools aren't the way that people really think they are."

Student Loan Discrimination

While banks continue to offer loans to students at "top" colleges and universities, some, like Citibank, have shut out students at community colleges and less competitive higher education institutions. Read the full NY Times piece.
Citibank has been among the most aggressive in paring the list of colleges it serves. JPMorgan Chase, PNC and SunTrust say they have not dropped whole categories, but are cutting colleges as well. Some less-selective four-year colleges, like Eastern Oregon University and William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif., say they have been summarily dropped by some lenders.

The practice suggests that if the credit crisis and the ensuing turmoil in the student loanbusiness persist, some of the nation’s neediest students will be hurt the most. The difficulty borrowing may deter them from attending school or prompt them to take a semester off. When they get student loans, they will wind up with less attractive terms and may run a greater risk of default if they have to switch lenders in the middle of their college years.

Tuition and loan amounts can be quite small at community colleges. But these institutions, which are a stepping stone to other educational programs or to better jobs, often draw students from the lower rungs of the economic ladder. More than 6.2 million of the nation’s 14.8 million undergraduates — over 40 percent — attend community colleges. According to the most recent data from the College Board, about a third of their graduates took out loans, a majority of them federally guaranteed.

“If we put too many hurdles in their way to get a loan, they’ll take a third job or use a credit card,” said Jacqueline K. Bradley, assistant dean for financial aid at Mendocino College in California. “That almost guarantees that they won’t be as successful in their college career.”
Jay Mathews has more on community college issues and a report from Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University: Covering America, Covering Community Colleges.