Thursday, June 17, 2010


Extended response to ...Whose Blog??? Donna's Blog

Donna, you posed some thought provoking questions and as I pondered I wondered why it was necessary to sacrifice culture for the benefits of assimilation. You ask,
"Can children learn classroom English without losing the closeness of family?" I like to think yes. While perhaps 30 years when Richard was in school, values and theories were different, today it seems that we know better and should do better, by supporting English acquisition without marginalizing the value of a home language or culture. I was struck by how quickly and completely the parents followed the nuns request 'Is it possible for you and your husband to encourage your children to practice their English when they are home?' The nuns purpose in asking Richards parents to speak English at home was probably to encourage the children to practice, get more opportunities to speak in a non threatening arena. I doubt they realized the full force of their words. As educators we have to be ever mindful of the power of our suggestions to families, who are willing to do anything to help their children succeed. We must carefully consider the repercussions of what we say. It is important to convey to families that we value their home language and are not asking them to forsake it. I personally can't imagine a situation where I would encourage a family to give up their home language, however, I know that sometimes in families with children who language delays decisions must be made. There are other ways to encourage children to practice English in the home, and while some of them may require a little extra creativity and effort, both on the part of the school and the part of the family, it seems a small cost compared to losing the closeness of the family. What if Richards family continued to have English nights, perhaps playing games, or watching T.V. (especially nature or science programs, but really anything as long as they are talking about it), take weekend outings in English, etc., but also used their home language for comfort, family, rituals and meals? Could a balance be struck honoring both their private and public selves? Would the incremental delay in learning the "language of public society" be worth it? "...and for how long could I have afforded to delay?" Rodriguez asks. Families, not educators should be the ones to make that decision based on what they feel comfortable with. Sometimes the price of quickly raising test scores is simply too high.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

GLSEN Response


As a parent I have had experience with middle school bullying, and it was difficult to deal with the administration at my daughters school. Recommending this website to the admin at her school would have been a great place to start.
As a teacher of young children, direct discussions about sexuality are pretty much considered inappropriate, however bullying, and name calling (including "you're gay) are definitely a problem in all grade levels at my school and are the precursor to later behaviors. I was intrigued by the No Name Calling Week and its 5 elementary level lesson plans. They had some great ideas for classroom activities and ways to break down the concepts and consequences of name calling and begin a dialogue before problems begin. I forwarded the site to my principal just to see what he thinks. I think the lessons would be more appropriate for the beginning of the school year when teachers are developing a classroom community and lessons could be spaced out over months - that way they would be more easy to fit in and would keep the conversation going over time. They could also be incorporated into a school wide PBIS rewards program for students exhibiting positive behaviors. I found some other resources for teachers and students including tips for teachers on how to intervene when bullying is happening,as well as how to offer found individual follow up and support. It can be found at
I also found a compelling video to encourage classroom discussion at has games involving bullying, rumors and dealing with embarrassing moments in school at Helping children recognize bullying behaviors in themselves and others at an early age is a worthwhile use of precious teaching time, and can help create a safer school experience for all.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Finn writes "Until a powerful coalition is built of working-class parents, teachers in working class schools, and their allies we will not mobilize resources or give teachers the support they need to make such schooling work across the board. It's going to take organization and muscle to afford powerful literacy to all our children. We're talking politics here..." How do we begin building this "powerful coalition?" Are there any successful models to follow outside of Freire? Where is change occurring and how is it happening? While I admire what he was able to do and especially his theories on motivating people to want to learn, I feel like this is a very slow method of change for a situation that feels like a crisis. As we struggle to engage parents at the school level it seems almost unfathomable to believe that people who already feel so disenfranchised and "are so submerged in their daily lives that they have little or no awareness of the possibility for change, much less what they might do to bring about change." will get involved in the political arena. How does one convince a group of working class parents that they can create change? Perhaps the same behaviors that resulted in urban children having less of a "summer knowledge loss" after the election of Obama will help people feel more empowered. I am intrigued by Freire's idea of reaching out to leaders in the community first, creating a culture circle. In my district the Admin. tried to find interested parents from each school to take part in a course on how the school system works with the aim of creating well informed parents who would participate in meetings and committees and represent parents. The idea was they could then help encourage others in the school community to get involved. Unfortunately, results were not great(less than 50% still involved.) Perhaps because the mission was simply to share information on how the system works, and not to help these parents realize how this information could actually help them make the system work for them. I'm sure at no time did the discussion incorporate terms like segregation, inequality or power (heaven forbid!) We will also need to think more about dialogue vs. anti dialogue as we try to engage parents.

People Like Us PBS Response

The PBS website was interesting to play around with. The games were a bit obvious, not too many surprises there - but perhaps that just shows that after many years I am a little more adept at recognizing even some of the more subtle symbols of class - after all we are constantly sizing up others and classifying them one way or another. It was an interesting mix of people interviewed. I had difficulty viewing the films on my laptop but was able to see more on my desktop.

Class can transcend both race and gender as a predictor of success, and out of the three is the only one that people can really change. A white woman will always be a white woman but she can change her social standing, although it is becoming harder to do, especially at the highest levels. No wonder we are Class jumping is still part of the great American Dream.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


The author Jonathon Kozol argues that America's urban schools are still tragically segregated. A system has been created where it seems that "separate but equal" is the accepted norm. Many Americans who live outside urban areas have no real understanding of the extreme poverty or exactly how segregated these schools are, believing that the desegregation policies of thirty years ago are still in place. Kozol toured inner city schools across America that had strong commitments to diversity on paper but had student bodies devoid of white children. These schools were often overcrowded and run down, filled with overwhelmed administrators who were required to implement highly regimented curricula based on theories of production or behaviorism. Some even referred to students as "managers." The use of these curricula are often considered an appropriate choice for educating a "diverse" population but are rarely used in more affluent communities. Mr. Kozol argues that these curricula are "desperation strategies that come out of the acceptance of inequity." And even with the implementation of programs that even "inexperienced" teachers can use successfully, still in the most urban settings, where these programs are used, less than half of ninth graders graduate in four years. Things do not appear to be working.

Kozol speaks to children who at as early as eight years old already understand that the rest of the world is treated differently - has better things than they do. They wish for clean classrooms and a playground, better materials and nice bathrooms. Because of their place in society, their childhood experiences seem to be of less value to us as a society. By high school, students are acutely aware of the inequalities in their education. With limited course choices and daily assaults on their dignity, they feel that they are being groomed to be the factory workers of tomorrow. "You're ghetto -so you sew" a student named Fontino cynically repeated. Kozol states that while it is reasonable for public education policies to reflect economic labor demands to some extent, we cannot allow it too much influence. We have a moral obligation to treat these children with dignity and must do more to to see that change occurs in our urban communities.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

IAT Response

I took the race test first and showed little or no preference - not surprising given my family and scored slight bias on the gender test. My family was visiting over the weekend and they all took the test. My husband also showed little or no preference on race and moderate bias on gender and my sister and brother- in law showed slight bias on race and gender. Nobody was very surprised although I think my family was a little nervous to take the test in front of my husband - what if they showed lots of bias - how embarrassing! Anyway we were all rather relieved and feeling rather smug about the whole thing when the question of bringing it to my daughter's attention was raised. Then things got a little tougher. My family has enjoyed a relatively quiet life here in RI, and we don't often encounter (or at least register) explicit or implicit racism and my daughter is a normal teenager- completely oblivious to anything that dosen't directly affect her or her i-pod. Do I really need to call her attention to the subtle nuances of bias that this test can reveal? Will the knowledge be helpful to her as she navigates high school? I didn't think so byt my sister did. After some spirited debate my husband and I agreed not to show her the test unless it came up in a discussion.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I was struck by these quotes:

"Those with power are frequently least aware of -or least willing to acknowledge -its existence. Those without the power are often most aware of its existence."
Teachers in urban districts need to be aware of the perceptions and feelings about power for parents and students. Parents often feel uncomfortable challenging teachers and administrators where middle class families are comfortable expecting and even demanding services or accommodations for their children. We need to work to empower parents to feel comfortable engaging in the school community

"Cbild-centered, whole language, and process approaches are needed in order to allow a democratic state of free autonomous, empowered adults , and because research has shown that children learn best through these methods."

Yikes. Whole language is dead in urban classrooms. Our children just do not come to school with enough background knowledge (real world and linguistic) to be successful. My students may hear as many as 8000 less words a day than students from higher income brackets and many are English language learners. They need more direct instruction, especially in vocabulary and writing. I have worked for the last two years with a Direct Instruction literacy program similar to what was referenced in the text and have found that more children are making adequite progress. It is not fun to teach but it did make accommodations for both slower and faser paced learners, keeping each child challenged. I am not saying that it is the answer either, but there are many valuable parts of the DI program. While a process approach can be valuable in some content areas (math and science for example) it has not been successful in Providence. We need work harder to keep our minds open to all types of programs and remember that many of our urban children really don't have the luxury of a process approach to all learning and be willing to keep trying until we find ideas that work.

" Teachers are in an ideal position to play this role, to attempt to get all of the issues on the table in order to initiate true dialogue. This can only be done, however, by seeking out those whose perspectives may differ most, by learning to give their words complete attention, by understanding one's own power, even if that power stems merely from being in the majority, by being unafraid to raise questions about discrimination and voicelessness with people of color and to listen, no, to hear what they say." These may be some of the most difficult discussions to take place in a school community but until we can find a way to begin we will continue to struggle to trust each other and waste valuable time to misunderstandings. It takes courage on all sides to even begin.