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.
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.