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.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Finding the Light in their Eyes: Ideas

PBS shares its Innovation Awards winners. One teacher's ELL kindergarteners publish digital stories that can be shared with relatives abroad and the wider world. Another connects the arts and poetry with her upper elementary students. In the midwest, elementary art students created the Young Sloppy Brush. There are many stories worth checking out. It's so much more fun and enriching to read these stories as opposed to those that feature which teachers raise test scores and which don't. While test scores can offer one window into teacher and student learning, it's certainly a small picture. Rather than forcing teacher test score data to be made public, what about encouraging teachers to publicly share what's happening in their classroom - what projects their students are doing and how they find the light in their students' eyes?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cuddly reading buddies and more

  • Reading to dogs can help kids boost their reading skills. (Good Morning America)
  • Wealthier special education parents are more likely to ask the DOE to pay for their child's private schooling. (WSJ)
  • My opinion on this article? Don't leave arts education up to principals! (Observer)
  • Texas Special Ed students are twice as likely to be suspended. (Texas Tribune)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tom Sawyer, Diagnoses, and More

  • Kids on the younger side of their grade are diagnosed with ADHD more often. (USA Today)
  • Where would Tom Sawyer be in today's school system? ADHD? Oppositional Defiance Disorder? Conduct Disorder? Emotional Disturbance? (WashingtonPost)
  • Surfing can be therapeutic for kids with autism. (LI Herald)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chancellor Gilbert

The Failure to Desegregate

Susan Eaton and Steven Rivkin ask: Is Desegregation Dead? in their article in Education Next.

Hard to believe we still have separate and unequal schools. Schools with a high percentage of students of color often have a high percentage of low-income students. When the needs of many of these families and students are not met outside of school, the problems become a part of the school. In a school where almost all students and families face these same challenges, the burden is much heavier. I've certainly seen this first hand. It becomes a never-ending and impossible triage.

Eaton makes two important points:
1. Diverse schools committed to equal opportunity hold vast, often untapped potential, but it is up to teachers, parents, administrators, and other sectors of society to harness it. When diverse schools institute rigid academic tracking that places students of color in low-level classes or employ harsh discipline policies that exclude students rather than providing support, they are not truly integrated. The success of today’s diversity movement hinges on our ability to move diverse schools closer to true integration.

Increasing linguistic and cultural diversity enriches our society. A modern integration movement must incorporate immigrant students and English language learners. The sharp segregation of these groups from mainstream opportunity limits their chances for social mobility and encourages prejudice against them.

2. Educators have long testified and research has long demonstrated that schools with large shares of economically disadvantaged children become overwhelmed with challenges that interfere with education. Racially segregated high-poverty schools tend to be overrun with social problems, have a hard time finding and retaining good teachers, are associated with high dropout rates, and are less effective than diverse schools at intervening in problems outside of school that undermine learning. In a longitudinal study of dropout rates, researcher Argun Saatcioglu concluded, “desegregated schools likely played a more effective role in counterbalancing student-level nonschool problems than did segregated ones.” Generally, racially and economically diverse schools have been far more successful than segregated ones in improving achievement, graduating students of color, and sending kids to college. There are some successful high-poverty schools, certainly, but hardly enough to make “separate but equal” our education policy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oh Arizona...

Via Truthout:
For the next few months, the world will be focusing on Arizona's SB 1070 - the state's new racial profiling law - as it works its way through the appeals process. However, in this insane asylum known as Arizona, where conservatives have concocted one reactionary scheme after another, another law in particular stands out for its embrace of Dark Ages-era censorship - the 2010 anti-ethnic studies HB 2281 - a law that seeks to codify the "triumph" of Western Civilization with its emphasis on Greco-Roman culture.

Unless it is blocked, HB 2281 - which creates an inquisitorial mechanism that will determine which books and curricula are acceptable in the state - will go into effect on January 1, 2011. Books such as "Occupied America" by Rodolfo Acuña and "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire, have already been singled out as being un-American and preaching the violent overthrow of the US government.

Talking about Empathy

Eric Weltman's piece, Empathy and Our Nation's Future, on Truthout cites out a possible decline in the empathy of college students today. He points out what empathy means in public policy practice:
Policies to foster residential integration include effective enforcement of fair housing and lending laws and providing more housing vouchers to low-income families that break up concentrated poverty and enable greater mobility. The use of inclusionary zoning should be broadened, requiring new developments to contain low- and moderate-income units. In education, we should create additional magnet schools for students across district lines and increase programs allowing urban students to attend suburban schools. And, perhaps most significantly, urban and suburban municipalities and school districts should be merged, breaking down barriers to sharing resources, broadening access to opportunity and helping students navigate our changing nation.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Recommended Reading: Random Family

A friend passed along Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx to me. I can't believe I hadn't read it until now. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, along with the individuals and families she follows, share a shocking, real, gritty, eye-opening, and thorough story. I want to read more of LeBlanc's work.

USA Today: 'Random Family': Intentionally Shocking
Random Family, Leblanc's first book, is a seminal work of journalism, a brand of deep reporting rarely attempted anymore. It's written like a documentary, and LeBlanc makes no judgments about the lives she presents. Political spin, statistical analyses, blame and solutions are absent.
Instead, the author lets Coco, Jessica and assorted characters use their own voices to tell their stories. The reader is a witness. Nothing is glamorized or sanitized, not the rats, roaches, bad parenting or faulty reasoning.
NPR: Random Family

NY Times: In the Other Country
Most often when the lives of the urban poor are chronicled, it's within the confines of a few familiar genres: policy reports, sociological studies, newspaper stories about the impact of welfare reform or drug laws. It is rare to read about those lives as, for instance, family sagas, in which character and temperament and circumstance all jostle for our attention, and detail accretes into textured portraits of individuals. So it is partly, but only partly, the novelty of Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's approach to the subject -- she spent 10 years hanging out with one hard-pressed, loosely defined family in the Bronx while she tracked its fate -- that makes this such an extraordinary book.

Planning Pyramid

I'll be co-teaching a first-grade inclusion class next year. As I was researching techniques, I came across the Planning Pyramid Unit by Schumm, Vaughri & Harris, 1997. It is an interesting way of capturing what all students should know and enrichment and extension concepts during a unit.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Finding the Light in their Eyes

Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk, in the previous post, reminded me of Sonia Nieto's introduction from her book "The light in their eyes: Creating multicultural learning communities."

She says:
In thinking about why learning needs to be more centrally connected with multicultural education, an image came to me: the light in students' eyes when they become excited about learning. There is nothing quite as dazzling as this sight. Once we have seen the look of discovery and learning in students' eyes, we can no longer maintain that some young people--because of their social class, race, ethnicity, gender, native language, or other difference--are simply unmotivated, ignorant, or undeserving. The light in their eyes is eloquent testimony to their capacity and hence their right to learn.
When we subject many populations of "at risk" students to skill and drill curricula, test prep, low-level thinking skills, and scripted curricula, we don't have a chance to see this light in students' eyes. We take this away from the very beginning. We fail them from the start. I have felt like I have to sneak in the activities that give students a chance to love learning. A creative curriculum often must be enacted behind the closed classroom door. It's assumed that it's not what struggling or "at-risk" students need.

I agree with SpEdChange's post about the current Obama reforms and Race to the Top:
The winners of the "innovation" grant program: Teach for America - which provides untrained teachers for America's most vulnerable minority students while pumping up the resumes of rich kids; KIPP Schools - today's recreation of the US "Indian School" program for the "retraining" of minority children; and Success for All - a scripted reading program devoted to teaching reading as a skill, not a life function; all have a few things in common, from campaign contributions to rich folks behind them, but especially, that they are all emblematic of the Obama Administration's belief "that African-American and Latino kids are ineducable."

If Obama thought differently he would not be pouring education funds into reductionist programs that no middle class or wealthy parent would accept for their child. If Obama thought differently he would be pouring funding into...dreaming about how to give all of our kids all that they need.
His request?
All of our children, even if they are poor, are black, are latino, are "disabled," even if they have "disinterested" or incompetent parents, deserve our very best. So please, let's stop "racing" - and let's stop dividing - and let's start creating opportunity.

College does NOT begin in Kindergarten

Thank you Ken Robinson.

He also says, "a three year old is not half a six-year-old. "Do we want our education system to be "fast food" or "customized dining?"

I came across this talk late. It's from May, but definitely worth watching if you haven't yet seen it.

He closes with this poem by William Butler Yeats:

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Special Ed Discrimination Lawsuit in New Orleans

Although the New Orleans district has been upheld as an innovative space for education since Katrina, special education students are not receiving the differentiated, high quality instruction that they deserve. The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed suit.