Nelson Mandela: A Leader in Social Justice

One person can change the world.

I feel that I cannot write an entire post on the life of Nelson Mandela — to do so would not be enough. That, and I am not enlightened to his entire life’s work. I have no words for the impact this man had on the world. He is the embodiment of the fight for social justice, and therefore deserves a tribute in a blog for social justice. I am thankful for his continued impact on our history, and feel that the best way to honor him is to post some encouragement for us, as aspiring activists, in hopes that we follow suit.

With that said, his life was controversial. I understand that. However, no one can deny the positive impact he had on our world.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.

Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.

The Benefits of Annotation: Students Interacting with Texts

One of the hardest things I struggle with as a teacher is preparing students for standardized tests — it is both a pedagogical and a moral struggle. On one hand, I disagree with standardization; how can humans be standardized? On the other, I understand a form of accountability is needed in schools. There is an entire blog entry I could write on standardized tests, but this one is about how to help students improve their reading skills, which, in turn, will help them receive higher scores on said tests.

Based on the data I have collected from my own classes, the hardest standard for students to master involves textual analysis:

ELACC11-12RL1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

I believe this standard is so difficult because it requires abstract thought. Not only do students have to read and understand a text, they must also be able to critique it, make justifications based on its content and analyze underlying meanings. It is not enough to merely read texts and answer questions, students need to read actively and interact with texts as they read.

In order to encourage interactive reading, my collaborators and I facilitate textual annotation. Even as I read for my graduate courses, I understand the text better if I keep running notes on its content — including writing on the pages themselves. If it helps me, surely it will help my students. Of course, just telling students to annotate does nothing. When I first started doing this, I merely received texts back covered in highlighter marks. Instead, I like to begin with prompts for annotations inserted into the texts we provide.

For instance, we read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream speech. This was one of the first texts we annotated this year, so I tried to guide their annotations by providing them within the text (click to get a MS Word attachment): MLKDreamSpeech+Annotation. As you can see, the questions call students to think critically about the text as they read, as well as respond to it as they read. It is my opinion that this action allows them to understand the text on a more critical level, as well as recall significant events from the text more readily than had they read it only.

As far as what we did with the text, we used it (as well as The Declaration of Independence) as the groundwork for our social justice unit (more lessons from that unit to come). Instead of reading the text as a class, we watched it:

I found the process of listening, watching, and annotating this text helped students create a strong foundation for the unit, allowing them to grasp the difficult standard more easily on their own, once annotations were no longer provided.

…food for thought!


Ukrainian Rioters’ Fight for Social Justice

Big things are happening in Ukraine right now — things that mirror the stories we read in our favorite dystopian novels. It is easy to read books like 1984 or The Hunger Games and think that kind of oppression could never take place, but when I opened The New York Times this morning, my ignorance was stripped away (again), as I am reminded that oppressive governments exist, even today. Here are a few news reels discussing the riots in Ukraine:

General Overview:

Recent Update:

As I watch updates streaming from multiple news stations, I am reminded of what heroism looks like. It is not always jumping out of a building to save a child or throwing oneself in front of a bullet. Sometimes it is standing up for justice, even when the odds are not in your favor. These riots started November 22, the same day the second installment of The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, premiered in theatres. Though a mere coincidence, I cannot help but find connections between the two events.

Here are two images from Catching Fire (possible spoilers ahead, but nothing you wouldn’t get from a movie trailer):

In both of these images (taken from the film, Catching Fire), one can see the tension rising in the districts. These people, oppressed by a corrupt government, found hope in Katniss Everdeen’s bravery. This story, though, is fiction — yet, these images look very similar to what is happening in Ukraine:

Though a stretch, it is becoming clear — at least, to me — that the nightmares found in dystopian literature are not always fictional. However, people are strong when they want to be, and these rioters demonstrate their strength in fighting for social justice, giving us inspiration to fight against oppression in our own towns.

For more information on these riots:

Ukrainians call for Yanukovych to resign in protests sparked by EU u-turn

Ukrainians back in street to support EU accord

Video of police brutality in Kiev fuels rage

Thousands demand resignation of Ukraine leader

The Problem with Zero Tolerance

Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.

After reading the above quote in Lizette Alvarez’s New York Times article, Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance, something awakened inside me: I am not alone. With educational reform dedicated to its strict aims, it seems like everyone is on the zero tolerance train. Alas, right on the front webpage of The New York Times, I see that others, too, are baffled by this idea.

I have often wondered: if we want students to change their “bad habits,” why kick them out, possibly even for their first (and only — after all this is zero tolerance we’re talking about) offense? How can someone change if they are merely kicked to the curb without any support? Instead, I like the ideas expressed in Alvarez’s article: “Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are now doing the opposite: choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior.” There’s an idea: let’s help these kids, instead of throw them back on the very streets that enabled the behavior that got them in trouble in the first place.

The more we do for these kids — and these, especially — the better our educational system will be. Who knows — maybe we can start closing some prisons in order to open more schools, instead of the other way around.