Thursday, August 28, 2008

What about childhood?

I have been perusing through Emile: Or on Education (1762) by Jean Jacques Rousseau, believed to be one of the first books to outline child-centered educations. He says:
We know nothing of childhood; and with our mistaken notions the further we advance the further we go astray. The wisest writers devote themselves to what a man ought to know, without asking what a child is capable of learning. They are always looking for the man in the child, without considering what he is before he becomes a man.
When we define education with a focus on outcomes, industry, and workforce, we forget about educating the whole child and rather than attempting to make children adults. What about entering into their world and learning with them?

I recently watched Autism: The Musical. Tricia Regan, founder of The Miracle Project, talked about the trouble she had "controlling" her (mostly non-verbal) son's behavior. She, with the influence of other artists, realized the power in trying to enter his world, rather than drawing him out of it. If he was jumping and screaming, why not do that with him? If he was running around the room, why not do that too?

I was also reminded of the power of the figurative voice. Tricia's son was non-verbal, often having outbursts of uncontrollable behavior. It was amazing to see when he was finally put in front of a speech machine and said something to the effect of: "Mom, I want to put you on the spot. I wish you would listen more."

It reminded me of this previous post on critical pedagogy and special needs populations. The "voice" is so important, but also must be broadly defined and cannot be limited by the ability to talk or write.

The Storytelling Project's Antiracism Curriculum

Discuss race and racism with your high school students through the arts with The Storytelling Project Curriculum. (It's free.) The Storytelling Project was developed at Barnard and in NYC schools and includes over 30 lessons appropriate for high school students that include arts-based storytelling activities to discuss racism. Students study various stories of racism from dominant ones to concealed ones to their own. 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

NYC Opportunity: Support Queer Students

Free! Here's the info:

Beyond Tolerance 2.0

"Building Alliances with Community Organizations to Support Queer Students and Teachers"

Saturday, September 20, 2008
12:00 PM to 3:30 PM
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender
Community Center
208 W. 13th Street
New York, NY 10011

NYQueer is a working group of the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE) focused on gender and sexuality as they relate to school communities. The daily pressures of teaching students at any level (K-12) are such that teachers often feel as if they do not have the time, the support, or access to the resources they need for addressing gender and sexuality in the classroom. More specifically, they are unsure how to challenge heteronormative assumptions and combat homophobia and transphobia.

Recognizing the wealth of resources that both individuals and organizations in NYC have to offer in this area, NYQueer has teamed up with The Ali Forney Center, GLSEN, LIVE OUT LOUD, Hetrick Martin Institute, Connect 2 Protect, Bronx Community Pride Center, and the YES Program to create a workshop that brings together teachers and community based organizations working to support Queer youth.

This event will give teachers an amazing opportunity to learn about the many resources and services NYC community organizations have to offer our youth. Come learn how to better support our queer youth and create safer schools for queer students and teachers.

*This is a free event. Please RSVP.*

For more information or to RSVP write to: or visit

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some Questions on Education, Business, and Power

I don't think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future. --Wilma Mankiller, first woman elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation

(Thanks, Education for Liberation and NYCore for including this quote in your Plan Book.)

"Ford Motor Company would not have survived the competition had it not been for an emphasis on results. We must view education the same way," the U.S. Secretary of Education declared in 2003.
That's a pretty scary statement.

Who runs our schools? The biggest names:
Is a business mentality the solution to our troubled education system? Should hedge fund managers be running charter schools? What happens when we place test results as the bottom line? 

Little Emperors: Chinese Culture and Education

Psychology Today's piece, Plight of the Little Emperors, focuses on the pressure that students in China are facing today.
The situation for urban young people in today's China, from preschoolers on up, is this: Your entire future hinges on one test, the national college entrance exam—China's magnified version of the SAT. The Chinese call it gao kao, or "tall test," because it looms so large. If students do well, they win spots at China's top universities and an easy route to a middle-class lifestyle. If not, they must confront the kind of tough, blue-collar lives their parents faced. With such high stakes, families dedicate themselves to their child's test prep virtually from infancy. "Many people come home to have dinner and then study until bed," says Liu. "You have to do it to go to the best university and get a good job. You must do this to live."
I haven't been posting lately, mostly because I've been busy teaching at a Chinese summer enrichment program in Brooklyn. It's been an interesting experience. The kids are great. But the program has allowed me to understand a little bit more about Chinese culture--particularly some Chinese notions of education. I marvel at the respect and dedication that the students and families place on education. 

Learning from my students about their culture and journeying with them in my drama class has been a positive experience. But the administration's views of education have been troubling to me. My drama class of 5th and 6th grade boys devised a theatrical piece about a ten-year old immigrant boy, titled Lee's Adventure: China to America. We worked hard with the goal of eventually performing it for students and families on the last day. In the end, it was cut from the final "awards ceremony" because it wasn't viewed as projecting a "quality" or "professional" image--even though the administrator had never stepped into our classroom to view it. Not even once.

So, it didn't surprise as much me when I read this piece on the little girl cut from singing the Chinese national anthem at the Olympics. She had the perfect voice--but didn't portray the right "image." 

In the end, we didn't get to perform Lee's Adventure or even videotape it as we'd hoped. When I sat down with the boys to reflect on our drama class experience, I was surprised. I wanted to give them a chance to be angry at me or at the school. While they were disappointed not to perform, one student said, "You know, it doesn't really matter if we have people watching our play. We know we did a great job for ourselves. I kinda think that's what's important." The other students agreed. That made it worth it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Planning to Change the World - One Day at a Time

Education for Liberation Network and The New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCore) have published Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Educators. The 2008-2009 Plan Book aims to help teachers incorporate social justice into classroom activities. (And is useful for those of us who use paper, rather than blackberries to keep track of our schedules! Of course, I don't know any teachers who have blackberries...)

What's useful:
The book offers a number of quotes related to social change & education. A couple of my favorites (although they are all inspiring):
  • Prejudice is like a hair across your cheek. You can't see it, you can't find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feeling of it is irritating. --Marian Anderson, opera singer
  • No government has the right to tell its citizens whom to love. The only queer people are ones that don't love anybody. --Rita Mae Brown, author and activist for gay rights
  • I don't think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future. --Wilma Mankiller, first woman elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
There are conversation/journal questions throughout, to be used to spark discussion with students. For example, "Would you stand up for someone else's rights? Have you ever witnessed someone else's rights being violated? What did you do or what might you do next time?" They aren't daily or even weekly, so I wish there were more. 

I also like the ideas and titles for social justice recognitions to give to students. (I won't give them away here though...)

The calendar includes a number of significant dates--the best part is that these dates are paired with teaching resources in the back of the book. For example, March 9, 2009 will be the 50th anniversary of A Raisin in the Sun's Broadway debut--the first Broadway play written by a black woman. The book includes a link to a unit plan on the play that includes 18 lessons and resources materials. These dates and lesson plans/resources are an exciting part of the book.

A few pages of the book outline the work and successes of teachers for social justice. Also useful, but I'd like to see more.

Things that would make great additions to this book:
  • Elementary/Secondary Editions (differentiated)
  • More questions for conversations (daily or weekly)
  • Additional examples of the work of educators
  • An online version of the calendar
  • A website to track user's success or implementation of discussions or lesson plans
The bottom line:
A useful buy. The lesson plans, dates, quotes, and discussion questions are excellent resources to add to a social justice educator's toolkit. Why buy a planner at Office Max or Target when you can get Planning to Change the World for the same price?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

"Half a Chance" - Black Males and Public Education

Check out Given Half A Chance: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males. Here's an excerpt from the Executive Summary:
The 2008 edition, Given Half a Chance: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, details the drastic range of outcomes for Black males, especially the tragic results in many of the nation’s biggest cities. Given Half a Chance also deliberately highlights the resource disparities that exist in schools attended by Black males and their White, non-Hispanic counterparts. The 2008 Schott report documents that states and most districts with large Black enrollments educate their White, non-Hispanic children, but do not similarly educate the majority of their Black male students. Key examples:
  • More than half of Black males did not receive diplomas with their cohort in 2005/2006.
  • The state of New York has 3 of the 10 districts with the lowest graduation rates for Black males.
  • The one million Black male students enrolled in the New York, Florida, and Georgia public schools are twice as likely not to graduate with their class as to do so.
  • Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina, and Wisconsin graduated fewer Black males with their peer group than the national average.
  • Illinois and Wisconsin have nearly 40-point gaps between how effectively they educate their Black and White non-Hispanic male students.
These trends, and others cited in Given Half a Chance, are evidence of a school-age population that is substantively denied an opportunity to learn, and of a nation at risk.