0156: Chairman Mao, the Lunchroom, and #Teacher Talk?
#education #p2 #SOSchat #prison
Note: This is a bit disorganized, but I’m going to publish it. Find what is helpful. Disregard what’s not. Offer construction where you see fit.
A fellow teacher called me Mao Zedong at lunch the other day, and rather harshly too. She expressed a desire to have police crackdown harder on “these criminals” and said we should do the same with our students. She said our students are already criminals with records and all. And, to her credit, many have records and parole officers. To her comment I responded, “Maybe we should crackdown on the people who contribute to the economic conditions that create a framework for such crime.” She wanted to know to whom I was referring, but before I could say she jumped in, “You mean corporations and republicans don’t you! The people who are creating jobs.” There was a pause and then she continued, “This is the land of opportunity. Anyone can succeed if they try hard enough.” Our custodian interrupted, “That’s not true. Maybe for some, but most people are born into a class and stay there.” She bit back, “Education can make it better. It gives opportunities. People just need vouchers to go to good schools.” And the conversation went on for a bit to no avail. I left. She called me a Maoist Socialist who should probably not be teaching because I believe that wealth is unevenly distributed. I equally have some concerns. First, I think we should recognize that there are class divisions in the United States that are very difficult to overcome. There are obvious inequalities that come with these class divisions. Rights and consistent access to those rights are in reality divided in many cases along racial lines. This happens in many institutional settings, including schools and prisons. Prisons are filled with non-white individuals who often commit crimes that would not be necessary if poverty was not such an issue. Many prisoners are in prisons for crimes that do not even compare to the crimes of those with great power and money. A bag of weed vs. making healthcare inaccessible to many people, and then those people die or live with terrible ailments, that sort of thing. So much for the land of opportunity. By recognizing inequality we have an obligation to do something about it. As teachers our power is in our ability to allow, encourage, and facilitate learning that contribute to a toolbox that will make possible any social action deemed necessary by our learners. This toolbox might include any number of critical skills such as, dialogue, social media, discussions that lead to a deeper understanding of their own situations, multi-literacy skills, anything that contributes to them being able to manipulate their environments (e.g.,videoing police brutality). This toolbox can be built from the moment students enter kindergarten simply by allowing learners to know that their world knowledge is just as important as academic knowledge and finding time for rich conversations, good books, safety, and quality play— even if the test is on your back. Finally, I am concerned with racism and classism among my colleagues (I’m sure they have concerns about me, expressed through the Maoist comment). I’m not sure how one could genuinely and authentically teach a student who they believe to be a criminal who needs to be punished. Would that belief not be carried out through teaching methods, discipline, and so forth— it certainly plays out in the number of Office Discipline Referrals. Does the belief that everyone really gets an equal shot affect teaching? Does the refusal to see one’s students as human-beings before seeing them as criminals affect the way teacher and student interact? Certainly.
0149: Questions on Equality in #Education
#race #class #SOSchat #occupyedu
I am becoming aware, brutally aware, that my experiences in public education are not common. There are people who see public education as a mildly problematic institution that generally does a good job of providing children with a basic education. There are others who find public education more than satisfactory. Children are treated in a humane manner and even allowed to thrive. Some of these children are affluent. Some are not. So I stand corrected in some areas. I’m glad that public education is serving some people a “good lunch” of equality and positive experiences. No doubt teachers work hard no matter the situation. But, there is still a stone unturned. My experience of public education as a teacher, a speaker, even a student.
First, I teach, have taught, attended, and am connected with educators who work in schools that primarily serve people of color, that is, anyone other than white. I think I have arrived at a point that requires questions, rather than attempted answers. Hopefully, those answers will arrive soon. So here goes. Are there schools, districts, and systems that ensure non-white students are treated equally to their cross county/city/neighborhood/any other division counterparts who happen to be white? Perhaps there’s a better way to phrase that question. Are children of color who are poor, illegal, ostracized from mainstream society, valued as much by any institution as other children? If so, where? I hope my experiences are very narrow. I hope the experiences of my peers who share my experiences around the country are narrow as well. But, even still, I am not satisfied. If my experiences were limited only to me, and I am totally disillusioned with a system to the point of being blinded to the good it does, then why are the children I teach less important than someone else’s children? Why are the children I have taught less valuable? Why don’t they receive the resources others receive? Why are they considered criminals the moment they are born, or the moment they enter kindergarten? And this view is not necessarily perpetuated by their teachers. I’ve taught alongside many understanding and frustrated teachers. I’ve taught with deeply committed people. I cannot call this an exception or a rule. I have found groups of teachers around this country that equally see this as a problem. But, to say that all teachers or people understand this would, in fact, be a sweeping generalization. That’s a good thing I suppose. And good for those who don’t understand this. But for those of us who do, what can we do? It’s appalling to know that people are still valued over other people. And they are. It is not possible to apply full blame to any single entity, but there certainly are directions in which we could wander. I hate that I am confused on this issue, and I’m not sure the question “why?” would even begin to answer or unravel the problem. Further, the problem neither begins or ends with public education as an institution; it is a problem, the problem of race, class, and equality, that runs throughout many of our American institutions. These problems certainly aren’t new, and I don’t know how to begin solve them except through dialogues that may lead to a new and revolutionary awareness of people who aren’t treated with equality that they should be. And let me rephrase that. Transformational dialogues must be a part of any shift in power. People who are oppressed, and there are people who are deeply oppressed this United States, but begin to function democratically, they must become a part of the change that affects them. For equality, power must shift. By which means, I dare not speculate. Certainly, this is the “real world” and students must learn to function within certain frameworks. But, what if those frameworks are not actually accessible to everyone? Or maybe just less accessible? What are we to do then? Are we to stay the course of public education and offer general courses in bullshit? Or are we to offer some alternative?
Regarding Freire in PK-12 education, if there is a third world in our backyards, what means does the third world have to access a first world? If there are parallel societies* in the US that function alongside mainstream society, but mostly separate, how is that gap to be bridged? Forcefully? Through dialogue? Mutual transformation? Who knows. I think that should suffice for now, from my vantage. I’m not sure how to go about answering these questions, just as I am unsure about answering them, but they need answering. I can’t foresee answers coming easily.
Please offer corrections to my assumptions and misperceptions.
*Parallel society- those groups and subgroups who live within a society who are not represented by the lawmaking body, but subject to its imposed illegalities and punishments; an underculture. What is to come of these groups of people?
0144: #Classroom Management in Contexts of Affluence and #Poverty
#education #SOSchat #k12chat
Classroom management styles vary from teacher to teacher, school to school, and often from socio-economic class to class. Before delving a little more into that, I think we make a grave mistake if we try to segment “classroom management” from “learning” or how the class is run. In a perfect world they all work in concert to create a lovely teaching-learning environment where everyone is engaged and on-task. This is the reality for some, but, I dare say, this is not the norm. In schools where students are less affluent, meaning more free/reduced lunch, higher poverty rates, lower quality of life, less upper/middle class, classroom management functions more as a measure or set of measured imposed upon a class. These schools, and I will stick to ‘these schools’ because that is my experience, often function under a highly top-down and behaviorist approach to management of students and teachers. I’ve had the privilege to visit more affluent schools either as an observer, professional developer, or speaker, and have noted a much different environment. Freedoms are more plentiful, it seems. Things as simple as a lunch period where students are free to sit where they like, a break, recess, etc. These are things that all students should take for granted, but cannot. I acknowledge that this could have all been a charade, and in no way normal, but there certainly was a different feeling.
Behavioral and teaching styles range from the highly constructivist to the behaviorist end of the continuum. The desired outcome usually determines the method of delivery. For instance, a school struggling to meet standards, that is, they are in trouble, will often resort to a very rigid and behaviorist structure. Skill and drill. It just so happens schools that are in trouble tend to be low income schools. To continue, skill and drill is boring and not very engaging. There is little time to chase rabbits and nurture curiosity, in turn, bored, understimulated children become behavior problems (this is not the only cause for behavior problems, of course). And, this does not include just a small handful, say that 5% that actually are in need of authentic behavioral interventions; rather, the majority of the population becomes unruly. Multiply that by 10-12 years of constant understimulation, boredom, external behavioral measures that are often punitive, and you have a recipe for absolute dependence on an external force to dictate learning. In these cases the banking model of learning, a top down, teacher controlled model, becomes the only option. Curiosity has been killed. Independent learning lay barely breathing to the side.
At the other end of the spectrum, is the very loose and free constructivist model that allows for free exploration of one’s environment. These classrooms aren’t very intervention heavy as students often enter these educational environments with there needs already met. They enter school with exquisite vocabularies and myriad experiences. They’re not leaving one stressful environment and entering another. In such environments there is little perceived need for “harsh” external measures because, to be frank, the kids are already under control, as dictated by pre-existing social norms. Plus, parents wouldn’t stand for such measures in a school like this. Not to say that parents in other schools enjoy having their children treated like they are in a test/prison prep program.
Schools that are struggling come with all sorts of subtle propaganda that is cleverly woven into the general consciousness of administration, teachers, parents, and students. Motivational meetings, assemblies, newspaper reports, parent contracts, zero tolerance, fear mongering, the general idea that “we have to work together to get our school out of trouble”, and so forth all run together into the message that the school and all its constituents are in a crisis. And, everything is justifiable during a crisis. This may not be the overt intent, and it probably isn’t deliberate, but this mentality allows for practices that are less than helpful to our students, teachers, communities, etc.
To name a few “harsh” practices I’ve encountered in these schools:
excessive corporal punishment, training students to respond to clickers (yes, dog clickers), removal of recess, removal of anything “fun”, i.e., music, art, and P.E., and making them rewards rather than activities factored into a regular day. I could go on. The point I am trying to make, and probably should have made with greater brevity, is that anything that looks, smells, or sounds like training is not the best practice in management or teaching. Students have a right to free will, critical consciousness, open discourse, and so forth.
If we simply train those in poverty, and nurture the wealthy, what do we have other than some revisiting of feudal society with a healthy touch of Huxleyan eugenics?
I submit styles of management and teaching affect the learner far beyond the content being taught.
0139: “Liberty and Justice for Some?” she asked.
#education #TrayvonMartin #SOSchat #RaceintheUS
A 7th grader asked me: “Why do we have to say the Pledge of Allegiance everyday?”
“Why do you ask?” I said.
“I don’t know what it means really. I don’t think anybody does. And, the part I kind of understand doesn’t really seem true for everyone.”
“Which part is that?”
“You know ‘Liberty and Justice for all’, it should be ‘Liberty and Justice for most’, or even ‘Liberty and Justice for some’. Trayvon Martin doesn’t have justice. And he doesn’t have any liberty anymore.”
“My friend got shot by a cop in front of my house a few years ago. He just had a bag of chips and it was dark. He didn’t have justice either.” another student added.
“So what should we do about it?” I said.
“We should protest or do something. Show solidarity. Or I could write a book. Or we could call Congress again like we did for SOPA. We should make people think.”
The discussion went on for a while longer. Then we had to discuss prefixes for the fast approaching test.
A student remarked, “It seems kind of dumb talking about prefixes after talking about liberty and justice and people’s lives and rights.”
“I agree,” I said, “We’ll get through the grammar quickly.” We did, and we returned to our conversation. Myles wanted to sing a protest song and wear his hoodie. We sang. I wish this was the focus of our schools. Grammar matters, but only if it helps communicate big ideas, or small ones. We had an important class session. Humanity took the cake today, not the test.
0096: How to Teach the Test: A Guide for Radical Teachers
#education #occupyedu #revolution #school
Public education has been reduced to the narrow teaching of a narrow curriculum by teachers who fear constantly for their jobs. Educators have been or are being rendered powerless by egregious reforms that harm students and teachers. Testing as the goal of education is criminal. It is brainwashing through the systematic dumbing down of an entire generation. The constant test prep and dehumanization leaves untold destruction that we have not even begun to uncover. Our hands are tied. So what can be done? In short, rebel. Tell the truth. Teach the test. Teach about the people who helped make testing a reality. Share the reasons for testing. Share with your students how testing is a tool of class division and community disruption. Tell them how testing has and is destroying people’s ability to think freely. Tell them how test scores are used to close schools and banish committed and caring teaching from public education. Tell them how testing has created a crisis which has opened a market, school privatization, that seeks capital gains. Tell them how the textbook industry starves their brains and provides incomplete curriculum to undertrained teachers in order to sell more remediation. Then teach them the subject matter you’re paid to teach. But, help them learn. Help them learn to learn. Teach them, rather help them learn that they are powerful and have much to add to culture. Instill in them the power to create. Nurture their curiosity. If you teach algebra, teach algebra, not the bastardized Glencoe McGraw-Hill fully aligned version. Teach for the joy of teaching. Help learners learn to crave understanding. Teach the Test as the monster it is. Motivate the students to learn beyond the test, thus crushing it’s power as a tool of class separation and subversion. It’s a beast with which we must reckon daily as teachers, but it’s a beast that we must and shall defeat.
0092: School Lunch Conspiracy?
#education #nutrition #poverty
At the risk of sounding alarmist, several students at my school have passed out just after lunch or
breakfast. The paramedics have had to be called each time. Conspiracy? Who knows, but it sure is strange. This morning one of my students became dizzy. It’s choir so I thought he had locked his knees and just needed to sit down. He wasn’t looking any better so I had a student walk him to the office. He staggered that way. He was dazed. Maybe he had taken something on the way to school? I went to talk to the paramedics after I found someone to watch my class. They couldn’t take him to the hospital, because he wasn’t in immediate danger and there was no parent to be found, but I digress. I got back to class, the custodian was watching it. He told me that this had been happening all week, and just after meals. Then he said, “You know, I think it has something to do with what these kids are eating. The government said we gotta give ‘em healthy food, and they’re in there serving sweet tea and all sorts of sugary things. All these kids have is sweets and hot chips.” I nodded. We discussed the quality of food at different schools and in different places for a minute, both remarking how the wealthier schools have a little better quality food with a little more focus on good nutrition. Additionally, the wealthier kids eat outside of school on a regular basis. Our kids get two meals a day at school and whatever snacks they can get their hands on when they aren’t here. Sure, they have health where they’re “taught” to make healthy choices, but those aren’t reinforced by the cafeteria. We have chili and sticky bun day for God’s sake! The sticky buns taste great, but healthy? Get out of here. The foods not good. Lots of fatty meat. Processed meat, starches and sugars. But, they do serve wheat rolls. There’s also fruit, but its in syrup. Ranch dressing is served with everything. Salad is an option, but they only make ten per lunch period which serves about 200. This spread of food had been the norm at each school I’ve taught. Filling and fattening foods with sugary foods or chips for sale by the cafeteria. Free lunch is restricted, but the kids can buy junk food—ice cream, candy, chips, etc.
I am no nutritionist. I like food that tastes good. I even indulge in the occasional gastrointestinal sin, but I have access to good, fresh, and healthy food. It seems that we, the United States, are feeding an impoverished population junk that keeps them full, but undernourished. We’re keeping them occupied, and distracted. Is this some sort of eugenic mechanism? I don’t know, but I feel uneasy. Something’s not right.
0028: Bullshit. Why don’t my kids get what the white kids get?
I’ve taught in predominately black schools. I attended a predominately black high school. As a teacher, I’ve had the privilege to take my black students to events that are reserved mainly for white schools, thus white kids. My students have always been good competitors and even thrive in this foreign environment whether the events were academic or artistic. I’m always shocked back into a brutal reality of on-going segregation and inequality when I am transported from my usual school environment that functions more closely to a prison than a place of learning. Being that the schools where I’ve taught have been in the south, in black communities, they have been poor. Every interviewer with whom I’ve interviewed has been more concerned with my classroom management skills, and shows great concern about my ability to “handle these kids”. I’ve taught in places where order was never expected because the kids were “those kids” or “criminals”. It’s easy to adapt to that setting, or to become numb to it. But, when I stand in a room full of thriving white children and watch my few black children thrive in the framework of the upper middle class white child I have to stop. The difference is not in behavior. It’s in perception. The schools where I have taught and teach are punitive by nature. The children, mostly black, are treated as if they have great potential— to be harsh criminals. They’re expected to misbehave. The schools and classes are concerned with the children staying in line and sitting quietly. They are not trusted. The white kids on the other hand are treated like future leaders. They engage in problem solving activities and hands-on learning. They are trusted with technology, and are allowed to thrive. The teachers I’ve worked with have been eager to help our students thrive, but the system won’t allow for it. We, at the poorer schools, are constantly falling behind where testing is concerned. And, it starts early. Kindergarten quickly becomes a place to prepare for the first grade test. Recess is eliminated. Experiential learning activities are eliminated. This continues all the way through school for my students. They start out in a deficit situation that follows them all the way to graduation, or when they drop out from absolute boredom. They drill and kill where the kids across the tracks discuss and collaborate. My kids sit in schools that look like prisons, run down prisons at that. The across the track kids sit in schools with nice grounds, and colorful classrooms and hallways. They’re being groomed for success. My students are being groomed for prison and welfare. It’s wrong.
My students looked confused this morning when they were shocked back into their prison reality. The field trip was nice, but it was only a field trip. It was only a dream, and that is bullshit.
0020: Time to Talk Race, Class, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in Middle School
Time has to be made for relevant discussion in classrooms. We’re all fast away making sure curriculum is being learned in a timely manner, and it’s easy to forget to involve the students. Sometimes it’s frowned upon. Students have issues that need to be heard, and they’re not all pretty. But, they need help dealing with emotions, fears, and so forth. They need help putting words to what they’re experiencing, and that help comes from someone listening.
I had the chance to engage a class in good conversation this morning. I’ve heard quite a few of my students (and many others) outside of class calling each other “gay” or “fag” along with a slew of other terms. This has been an issue in every school I’ve taught. It was when I was in school and quite possibly will continue to be until people stop to talk about it. The discussion got to go beyond “don’t say that” and turned into a discussion lead mostly by the students about homophobia and the cultural acceptability of people who identify as gay in their community. I’ve always been impressed by students’ willingness to engage in these conversations an voice their opinions. Furthermore, their ability to examine themselves honestly during these discussions in amazing. I find myself drawn in and pensive during these, as they always move me into self-examination. The conversation continued into matters of race and class when a student expressed a desire to be white. A few students got mildly hostile at first, but when prompted to listen to her understood better what she meant . We discussed the importance of finding peace with who you are regardless of race, class, gender, or sexual orientation.
This discussion will be ongoing, and many things weren’t remedied, but we entered into the dialogue. We walked away from the discussion today a with a little more self-awareness and a better understanding of each other. I relish these moments as a teacher as the most important part of the job.