Smagorinsky on writing: Put your money where your mouth is

Rick Diguette wrote an op-ed titled, “Has freshman year in college become grade 12½?” on Sunday. His piece addresses the lackluster writing habits of college freshmen, and suggests that professors are having to teach writing skills students should have learned in high school. What Peter Smagorinsky said in return, though, is an argument everyone needs to hear:

If you want kids to learn how to write, then put your money to work to provide teachers the kinds of conditions that enable the time to plan effective instruction, guide students through the process, and assess their work thoughtfully and considerately.

Otherwise, you may as well add yourself to the list of reasons that kids these days can’t write. (Smagorinsky, 2014)

Throughout the op-ed, Smagorinsky attacks the policies in place that do damage to our classrooms, instead of attacking our teachers. It is worth a read, and needs to be shared. More people need to see arguments like this — ones that defend our teachers and the public school system. 

Guest Post: WTF? 10 Counterproductive Behaviors of Social Justice Educators

I have been struggling with how to do the work so many of us call “social justice.” I understand the why, or I at least think I do. I am on a journey to understand my role in changing the world, which is no doubt a privilege. It has taken me quite a while to get over the fear of doing the work correctly and instead, to begin operating from the heart and continuously challenge my perspective.

As I began to engage this work in a healthier manner, I noticed patterns of bad habits that we educators exhibit while actively being change agents. These habits, in the name of justice and equity, get in the way of making authentic, strategic, and sustaining change. Below are 10 counterproductive behaviors of social justice educators, all explored from the unique intersections of my privileged and oppressed lens.

 

1) Shaming our allies – Instead lets educate

It is important to be careful about how we hold others accountable. At times, we as educators fall into a righteous place, where we live in the moment to be right, but more so to impose the wrath of our rightness. We lose track of educating and become “social justice avengers.” We thrash anyone that makes mistakes or do not acknowledge their privilege, mostly out of ignorance. When we act like such, we instill fear and frustration in our allies, effectively immobilizing them. Before you respond or react, ask yourself what you want the result to be: proving that you are closer to “right,” or developing a stronger, more capable ally?

2) Lead with our oppressed identities – Forget that we have immense privilege too

How is it that we are some of the first people to forget that we are amazingly privileged? Our maleness, middle class, able bodies, Christianity, age, education, etc. oozes from our pores. It is our very being. And colluding is as simple as breathing in the gift of air. Let’s own our stuff – recognize and acknowledge when we have the wind behind us. Be committed to your growth and allow yourself to be challenged on the identities we often leave unexplored.

3) Create competition around being the best at “Social Justice” – Using language as a way to exclude

We all know individuals that lead conversations with big words and no context. After they are done speaking, most people are completely lost, and so is the message. Correct use of rhetoric is important, but we must be careful that it doesn’t become jargon. Additionally, we cannot become upset when we are asked to explain or define a handful of the words used or ideas explored. How often do we use language to exclude? How often is it intentional or unintentional? Does using the right and “smart sounding” language validate our being someway?

4) Leading with emotions, instead of thinking and acting strategically

How often do we sound off? For some of us, we lose our darn minds. There are moments where we can’t quite hold ourselves together; however, that cannot be our response most of the time (see self-healing below). As Arthur Chickering said, we must learn to manage our emotions. If we do not, it serves as more proof that we are not as developed as we would love to think we are. If we are going to do this work, we have to engage strategically with the end in mind. Our response needs to produce the results that we would like to see. Sometimes our response will show up as joy, compromise, understanding, and empathy. Other times, it will show up as frustration, anger, and disappointment. However, every response should have a purpose, which is a fine line between maintaining authenticity. We impede the fight for justice when we act out of thoughtless emotion.

5) Not acknowledging our self-work

We must acknowledge that we are a work in progress; we both challenge the oppressive systems and collude in them simultaneously. At every step, we have to understand that we are not the authority, but facilitators of dynamic conversations. We will often fall short. We are at times engaging from places with tremendous hurt and an abundance of privilege. It makes sense that we have off moments or are flat out missing something because of our privilege. We are not the best at allowing ourselves to be challenged. When we block our self-work, it means that we are no longer growing and we are modeling destructive behavior to others. For example, it is highly problematic to be an expert in gender identity and expression and have no understanding of the intersections of those identities within race and class.

6) Caught in constant surprise that people don’t know what we know – cultivate allies

This issue is something I see all the time, and often participate in: being absolutely blindsided by the amount of knowledge that my peers, students, and even superiors lack in regards to justice and equity. The definition of privilege is unearned, unasked for, and often invisible. If someone is oblivious to injustice, chances are they are blinded by their privilege. We know this, so why are we so surprised and disgusted when it happens? This is the work that we have committed our lives to. We have to develop thicker skins – not to say that we won’t ever be frustrated, shaken up, or even experience immense hurt and pain.  These moments will happen, but this activism is our calling. It is not supposed to be easy. At times, we are supposed to put the cause before ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, self-care is important; however we need to be in rooms and spaces where we are constantly and strategically raising the temperature. Meet students and colleagues where they are and challenge them to be more.

7) Choosing not to challenge family members and elders

This is just a Cody observation, but I noticed that quite a few communities give their elders a pass. We choose not to challenge them or set our expectations of them higher. However, we have absolutely no problem setting colleagues and strangers “straight.” Hypocrite, much? Yes, I understand that our elders may choose not to change, but since when are our conversations about changing minds? We should be about expanding thought and creating new questions, and I think this argument transcends age and authority. This work is hard and emotionally draining; however, we must be vigilant in all areas.

8) Marginalizing the courage it takes to allow your reality to be dismantled

Have you experienced that moment where everything that you thought you knew was ripped out of your hands? Scratch that – not hands, but your heart and soul? Everything that you hold true being constantly challenged and put on display? The way you viewed your family unit? When you discover your mother’s truth was just that: her truth? When your question transitions from who am I, to why am I? We are charged with dismantling the life experiences of many, knocking down the walls of resistance and ignorance, but additionally, moving with care and intentionality. Let’s never forget what we are asking people to do.

9) Refusing to hold multiple truths

How are we creating dynamic change if we do not allow ourselves to fully think through the pros and cons of ideas? How often are we truly weighing the greater good? I love film; watching and analyzing movies is certainly one of my favorite hobbies. Actors amaze me. Their gift can be mystically transformative, but I can hold multiple truths. Whoopi Goldberg is great in Ghost, and deserved an Oscar for her acting; however, if you broke down her character, you would see that it is a glorified Mammy caricature. Julia Roberts is absolutely charming in Pretty Woman, but is also led and dominated by the gender role that is “man.” Teach for America provides an experience where the privileged have an opportunity to engage oppressed communities. Many of these students will be policy makers and fall into influential positions. However, it also promotes the idea of the white savior (oops). We have to be able to engage multiple truths in order to move forward strategically. 

10) Challenging others to heal by “erasing their pain”

Stop! Please phrase this action differently. At times, we say this phrase to others as if they should forget their pain and move on. I’m certain that this is not our intent; however, on many occasions, it is the impact. We are effectively marginalizing their experiences. What I think we really want to encourage is exploring that pain – understanding the origins and the emotions in the now, and then figure out how to manage the pain and use it strategically for fuel to both continue the work, and grow in perspective.

 

This list is not exhaustive of behaviors, or meant to be a list that everyone agrees with. My hope is that it starts a much-needed conversation between educators. I think we have a lot of room to grow, and can do a better job of holding each other accountable. As social justice educators, we have all agreed to continue, to critique, and explore the problematic ways in which we show up into spaces. This post is to help start that conversation, and perhaps explore self-work practices. 

“If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”

― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

Cody Charles currently serves as an Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Kansas. During his time at KU, he has led diversity and social justice trainings for much of the campus community, including student athletes, student executive boards, staff, faculty, and high school students. Cody was recognized by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) as the Outstanding New Professional in Residence Life in 2008. One of his life goals is to travel the country lecturing on topics of social justice and leadership. You can connect with Cody on Twitter: @_codykeith_ or at consultcody.com.

Note: a version of this piece first appeared on Thought Catalog here

TSJ in EdConteXts: International Network of Educators

I am pleased to share that Teaching Social Justice was mentioned in EdConteXts, with a special nod to two posts: Living in a Patriarchal Society and our first guest post, Marianne Snow on Duncan Tonatiuh’s Separate Is Never Equal. Check out Bali’s (2014) post here: Context Matters — views from around the world.

Our TSJ community is growing, and I could not be happier. Here is a preview into what’s coming later this week:

  • TSJ’s second guest post is by Cody Charles, and will be available tomorrow afternoon.
  • A counterargument to one of TSJ’s recent discussions about Weird Al Yankovic’s “Word Crimes” will appear later this week.

TSJ is still looking for contributors. If you are interested in writing for Teaching Social Justice, email your idea to teachsocialjustice@gmail.com.

 

RE-BLOGGED “GUEST POST: Denny Taylor, Garn Press”

Take a look at this piece by notable scholar, Denny Taylor.

radical eyes for equity

GUEST POST: Denny Taylor, Garn Press

 Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am writing to urgently request your help. If you find the political circumstance and the research base for the four propositions that I have outlined in this letter are compelling, and you support the course of action suggested here please send this letter to friends and colleagues. Use your websites, Facebook, and any other means to get the message out. Given that I rarely enter the public sphere my friends will know that the situation of which I write is pressing. Time is of the essence, I fear.

Some of you will have read books I have written based on forty years of longitudinal research in family, community, and schools settings with children, families, and teachers who live and work in challenging social and physical environments. Except for my doctoral dissertation, all my research has taken place in sites…

View original post 1,480 more words

Weird Al Gets Critical with New Parodies

Sometimes a person in power does something surprising; instead of making us cringe, weep, or shake our heads, s/he uses that power for good. Weird Al Yankovic surprises us regularly. 

Sure, his parodies are meant to make us laugh, but often they do much more. Take, for instance, “Word Crimes:”

Weird Al’s interpretation of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is informational, educational, humorous, and, well, not sexist. I loved “Word Crimes” so much that I included it on my syllabus for Teaching Writing in Secondary Schools this fall, as I think Yankovic took a problematic song (“Blurred Lines”) and turned it into something good

After all, isn’t that part of what teaching social justice is: taking something prejudiced and transforming it? Or, using something biased against itself to raise awareness for the cause? By reconstructing Thicke’s sexist track into an educational tool, Yankovic removed some of its harmful power, recreating it into something positive. 

Another one of Weird Al’s newest projects, “Foil” parodies Lorde’s “Royals:”

While the beginning of the video is light-hearted and funny, it takes an odd, serious spin toward the middle, which is the part I appreciate most. People — especially young people — are heavily influenced by their musical icons. It is dangerous for them to believe something just because their favorite musician says so.

“Foil” forces us to think about conversations regarding conspiracy theories critically. By making fun of the illuminati, Yankovic removes some of its commercial power, allowing us to see it for what it is: a fictitious money maker

Weird Al Yankovic is set to release eight songs in eight days — five of which have already made their appearance. I appreciate his craft and hope others will join him in not taking things too seriously. 

Guest Post: Marianne Snow on Duncan Tonatiuh’s Separate Is Never Equal

I received my copy of Duncan Tonatiuh’s new picture book, Separate Is Never Equal, the other day.

 

This book presents the true story of Sylvia Mendez, a Latina elementary school student, whose family and neighbors successfully challenged Anglo/Mexican segregation in California schools in the 1940s.

Sylvia Mendez (center) and artifacts of Anglo/Mexican segregation and integration.

Back then, many districts forced dark-skinned Mexican-American students to attend dilapidated, underfunded schools, while white and lighter-skinned Mexican-American children enjoyed well-kept buildings, new books, and better educational opportunities. (One might argue that many students of color face the same inequities today, but that’s a different subject.) Fortunately, the families’ lawsuit against the district was successful, and the schools were integrated.

(For more information about the historical background of the book, see this PBS video.)

After I read the book, I knew I had to share it with Araceli (pseudonym), an 11-year-old Latina aspiring civil rights lawyer. Having lived for years in a neighborhood affected by poverty and racial tension, Araceli has vowed to commit her life to social justice. Instead of just ignoring the problems that surround her, she wants to make a difference now and as an adult. So, I wasn’t surprised when she devoured Separate Is Never Equal.

This incident illustrates the importance of sharing a wide variety of justice-themed children’s literature with kids. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about the self to prototype matching theory (Setterlund & Niedenthal, 1993), which basically, in the context of social justice activism, means that a person:

  1. Imagines what a “typical” (or prototype) social justice activist looks and acts like,
  2. Compares him/herself to that prototype, and
  3. Decides whether he/she can be like that prototype.

One of Separate Is Never Equal’s great strengths is its introduction of a young, Latina, activist prototype – something that we don’t see very often in children’s literature. Most justice-themed books that I know of have focused on male civil rights leaders – Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, John Lewis, César Chávez – and, of course, these books are vastly important; however, children need to see even more diversity in justice-themed literature so that they can have role models who share their cultural and experiential backgrounds. All children, regardless of their age, gender, or cultural/ethnic background, need to know that they can stand up for social justice.

This collage is beautiful.  Let’s add to it! (via naacp-oh.org)

This collage is beautiful. Let’s add to it!

Another feature of this book that I greatly appreciate is its focus on Anglo/Mexican segregation and civil rights, a facet of U.S. history that is often ignored. I grew up in Texas and never once remember hearing about these dark days in the Southwest. Instead, we only learned about Dr. King and African-American Civil Rights, and while kids obviously should continue learning about that movement, they also need to know about other struggles for social justice.

So, if you’re a teacher or parent, I urge you to carefully select children’s literature, like Separate Is Never Equal, that provides the kids in your life with social justice role models from various backgrounds.  You never know who you’ll inspire!

References

Setterlund, M. B., & Niedenthal, P. M. (1993). “Who am I? Why am I here?” Self-esteem, self-

clarity, and prototype matching. Personality and Social Psychology, 65(4), 769-780.

Tonatiuh, D. (2014). Separate is never equal. New York, NY: Abrams.

 

Marianne Snow, a former early childhood teacher, is currently working on her PhD in literacy education. Her research interests include Latin@, Latin American, and nonfiction children’s literature. In her spare time, she blogs at Getting Critical with Children’s Literature about books, critical literacy, multicultural education, and social justice issues.

Teaching Social Justice UPGRADE (a message from the moderator)

importantI normally wouldn’t do this — insert myself into TSJ, [briefly] making it seem more like a personal blog instead of a professional one — however, I have a message for my audience, and I want it coming from me and not some absent, faraway being: Teaching Social Justice is getting an upgrade.

When I started this blog, I did so with the intention of helping others as well as myself stay on top of appropriate teaching materials and practices for a social justice-minded classroom. I wanted to include posts relevant to those in education as well as those interested in social justice issues. However, as blogs often do, TSJ took on a mind of its own, branching out into social and political issues relevant not only to our classrooms, but also to much more.

Because of TSJ’s content diversity, I have an incredibly diverse audience. You all have astounded me and I am very thankful for your encouragement over the last nine months. Your comments, tweets, emails, and/or suggestions have been incredibly helpful. This humble blog has already blown up far past my expectations. Therefore, I have decided to upgrade it in order to keep up with all of you. Not only will I be working on a new layout for the site (this will take a while to complete), but I have even better news.

Over the last two (or so) months, I have been working with teachers and researchers in the fields of young adult education, content literacy, children’s literature, and much more in order to schedule my first set of TSJ contributors. I am so excited to share this news with you, as we have some incredible voices joining our team. The first contributing post will appear tomorrow, so get ready — Teaching Social Justice is getting an upgrade.

Thank you,

Jennifer J. Whitley
Teaching Social Justice
teachsocialjustice@gmail.com
@socialjusticeED (Twitter)

NOTE: If you would like to appear as a contributor, please contact me. The more people we have speaking out about social justice issues, the better.

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