Another mistake; another funeral pyre: When will we stop killing our Black boys?

There are so many things that happen in real life that already happened in books. I suppose ‘history repeats itself.’ However, it seems like we’d learn from our mistakes. Some do, sure, but we — the human race — make the same mistakes over and over, turning a blind eye to injustice. My mind wanders to Ray Bradbury’s famous quote: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Somewhere, people are not reading; or, if they are, they are not paying attention. This has to stop.

Of course, Bradbury was referencing Fahrenheit 451 (above). I love the last few pages of this book, as it draws attention to humanity’s Achilles heel: we can’t help but make the same mistakes repeatedly. Although, maybe we can learn from them:

There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. (p. 163)

I was hoping the death of Trayvon Martin would be our last funeral pyre. I was hoping we’d learn from his tragic murder. I was hoping his death would open our eyes to the racial injustice that still exists in our “free world.” However, we’ve built yet another funeral pyre in the death of Michael Brown. We have to stop killing our Black boys. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The death of Michael Brown does not just affect him or his family, it affects all of us [indirectly] — it affects our world, and we should not stand for such injustice. I am not arguing for everyone to raid stores or hold violent protests, but we must do something

Stephanie Jones wrote an essay arguing that these deaths are stories that must be told — in our classrooms: “Every single story matters. Teachers, let’s not get caught up in what is common. Let’s talk about what is relevant. Let’s talk about how these things get started and how they keep going.” Maybe the problem isn’t that people aren’t learning from mistakes; maybe they’re not learning. I’d love to open a dialogue about how they/we can. I’m not talking about White saviors, but about social justice education. How can we make these stories so common that they cannot be repeated?

Further Reading

Brittany Cooper’s In defense of Black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

Corrine McConnaughy’s Trayvon Martin and the Burden of Being a Black Male

Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack

 

Note: This post feels unfinished because it is. I don’t have answers, only questions.

 

 

 

Guest Post: Ginger Lehmann on Technology In Schools

“Technology” is one of the buzzwords suggested as a key to making quality education accessible for all students in America. Being passionate about creating an exciting and challenging learning environment for my students, I’ve tried to embrace the new innovations that have come my way. I recently had the opportunity to attend ISTE 2014 (The International Society for Technology in Education annual conference), and I was excited to find ways that technology can enhance the academic experience for me and my students. The conference was overwhelming. From the enormous Expo hall with over 500 exhibits to the many people walking around wearing Google glass, I was in tech heaven. Surely the tools to break educational barriers could be found here, right? However, at the end of the weekend, I found myself reflecting on what I had seen from a very different perspective.

As I sat down for the opening keynote, I was surprised to find that it would be delivered by the actress, Ashley Judd; however, I was ready to be inspired by new ways to use technology in order to open the doors of education to all students. Well, Ms. Judd did not have any compelling “21st Century” approaches to learning to share. Instead, she spoke at length about her traumatic childhood, one that included sexual abuse and neglect, and how school provided the only consistency for many years. She shared from her heart about the teachers that “saved her life” by paying attention and noticing that she was facing unique challenges inside and outside the classroom. It was a touching speech, but I was still looking for the next great computer program or digital device that would transform my classroom. I missed the point.

I spent the next three days attending sessions during which knowledgeable educators shared tips and tricks for incorporating technology into instruction: how to turn your classroom into a “Makerspace;” 30 new ways to use Google; how digital literacy can close the achievement gap; tech tools for collecting and managing data. It was all very informative and interesting. I took many notes and wrote down countless websites, but something was missing. No matter how hard I tried, I did not feel the excitement I expected to feel; the passion just wasn’t there.

There were two distinct moments when I felt the stirring I was looking for, and they were unexpected. The first was when I saw a group of students presenting to adults about cool ways they are using technology in their classroom. Honestly, I can’t even remember what they were demonstrating, but the excitement in this diverse group of faces is what I remember. I loved seeing kids being part of the discussion. The cool tools and devices were just machines and computer programs until they got into the hands of kids. Then, they became like magic wands opening up whole new worlds of knowledge.

The second experience happened on the last day in the Expo hall. I was visiting random booths when I heard a commotion at the other end of the hall. I followed the sound of drumbeats (yes, drumbeats) and kids cheering, only to find Ron Clark and a group of students from Ron Clark Academy demonstrating a lesson while a large group of teachers watched. Sure, they were using some innovative technology, but that wasn’t what drew the attention and applause of the educators around them. It was the enthusiastic relationship between teacher and students, and it drew me in, too.

As I walked away from that wonderful lesson, I pondered what had been missing from the conference for me, and I realized that it was what I had just witnessed — students, the very thing that must be at the heart of everything we do as educators. Technology is cool, and we should embrace the opportunity to enhance our instructional practice, but if we are not careful to keep our focus on the hearts and minds of kids, those technology tools will become just another distraction from the real needs of our students. I think maybe Ashley Judd’s message was more appropriate than I realized. We — teachers — have to build relationships with our students; we have to know what is really going on with them before any computer program is going to be effective.

 

Ginger Lehmann teaches American Literature and Writers’ Workshop at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia, where she serves on the School Improvement Leadership Team and the Technology Committee. She formerly participated in the Red Clay Writing Project Summer Institute (a local chapter of the National Writing Project), and now serves on the RCWP Leadership Board. Ginger serves as an adviser to the Clarke Central Poetry Club, and teacher for the Red Clay Writing Camp. She is the 2014 recipient of the Walter Allen award for excellence in teaching from the Foundation for Excellence in Education organization in Athens.

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…

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Living in a patriarchal society: Not “another feminist rant”

Patriarchy” is a touchy subject. It comes up at dinner and its speaker becomes the enemy. It is posted on Facebook, and the poster becomes the attacker. If it’s linked on Reddit, it gets downvoted into oblivion. People scare away from discussing patriarchy because it leads to conversational war — social suicide — — negative Nancy’s, Debbie downers, and the like.

On one hand, we [Westerners] live in a patriarchal society (Note: the purpose of this post is not to argue that we live in a patriarchal society, as I think that is a fact and not “up for argument.” However, if you do, please post below and I’ll write a response). On the other hand, America has progressed since the 1950s. However, just as other -isms persist, evidence of sexism proves we are not living in equal times.

According to a University of Miami study, one’s high school GPA affects his or her income — and women, despite GPA, make significantly less money than men. Here is the chart:

Image

Before anyone gets too worked up, this study was conducted by Michael T. French for Eastern Economic Journal. It was not a study searching for patriarchal data or to back up a feminist ideal. As the chart demonstrates, “the data indicate that overall high school GPA is significantly higher among women, but men have significantly higher annual earnings.” Many other interesting findings arose from this study. For instance, “it demonstrates that African-American men and women attain higher educational levels than white students with the same high school GPA and background characteristics.”

Like any study, not all the details are posted. I do not know which jobs or incomes are compared to one another. Despite this fact, though, the study is yet another piece of the puzzle pointing to our patriarchal system. It explains why I am excited at the prospect of our first female president (we don’t get excited about the fact that a president is a man…unless he is of color). It helps explain why I get excited when a female CEO is named (again: no one ever talks about the gender of a CEO if he is a man). The markings, even, of our language demonstrate patriarchal ideologies.

Please, do everyone a favor (especially yourself), and watch the following video, if you haven’t already. It is a Tedx Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled “We Should All Be Feminists.” She is a brilliant speaker who puts into eloquent words everything else I’d want to say in this post. The video is funny, informative, and interesting — I promise.

A professor of mine once said her favorite definition of feminism was this: “men and women are of equal worth.” I loved that, as it is all, as a feminist, that I could ask for.

 

From the field: Creativity

Too many classrooms offer too few opportunities for imagination, innovation, engagement, and stimulation. Even if students and teachers don’t drop out physically, they frequently stay in school only to get the credentials or salary, and not the intellectual enrichment.

The above quote can be found in a beautifully-written article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution by University of Georgia professors Bob Fecho and Stephanie R. Jones. I wish I had time to write a full response to it, but I wanted to make sure it at least got shared. Enjoy!

“Kids” doing big things…

“Kids” doing big things…

A while back, I received the following email from Zak Kolar, a high school senior, asking me to post his website on my blog. Although it took some time, I am living up to my promise — check it out; he is doing some great things for a person so young. Here is his message:

Dear Ms. Whitley,

My name is Zak Kolar and I am a senior in high school. Over the past few months, I have been working on a website called “How many is that?”: http://www.howmanyisthat.org. The purpose of the site is to take large numbers associated with social justice issues and compare them with local information to put them into perspective. For example, there are 66 million girls in the world who do not have access to education. Athens, GA has a population of 116,084. 66 million people would be about 569 Athenses. The goal of How many is that? is to make it easier to see how these human rights violations have affected people as individuals, and not just faceless statistics, ultimately inspiring action to prevent them from happening in the future. I think that How many is that? is a good educational resource because it can be used to get people’s attention about human rights issues when they realize the magnitude of these tragedies. I was hoping that you would consider posting a link to “How many is that?” on your “For students” or “For teachers” pages. Also, I have many social and historical issues presented on my site (e.g. bullying, domestic violence, genocide), so if there are any issues that you would like me to publish on my website, please let me know and I would be happy to add them.

Thank you!

Zak

Wow. I am definitely inspired.

Wife of teacher to Obama: ‘please stop this runaway reform now’

Wife of teacher to Obama: ‘please stop this runaway reform now’

In this Washington Post open letter to President Obama, the wife of a Georgia public schoolteacher describes the state of emergency students and teachers are currently facing. It is beautifully composed and deserves a read.

On Death, On Drugs

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death surprised many, but hit hard with me. Although his (or any celebrity’s) life is not worth more than any other one, Hoffman’s craft brought joy and entertainment to millions of people over the course of his short time on earth. What is most devastating to me, though, is how he died. According to the New York Times, he was found dead from an apparent drug overdose, needle still stuck in his arm, with a bag of alleged heroin close by. How could one of the nation’s most talented men, well-respected in his industry, succumb to such a drug?

According to the CDC, “Drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2010. Among people 25 to 64 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes.” While my immediate reaction to that fact is astonishment, I am reminded of the problems within my own circle — problems that always lead back to drugs. Where does the initial need or want of drugs come from? Why do some people look to drugs for comfort while others don’t? How can people come from similar backgrounds but have such different choices when it comes to substance abuse?

I remember hearing about family and family friends who went to jail, lost their children, overdosed — you name it — because of their drug use. These stories frightened me; I didn’t need D.A.R.E., these real-life, close-to-home stories were enough to send me running. Yet, I know so many people who grew up with the same stories, the same “bad influences,” and went the opposite way. I teach students who I see making similar decisions and I try my best to do what I can, offer any intervention through news articles, stories, poems, anything that will grab their attention, but sometimes my efforts seem meaningless — why?

On a slightly-related note: I have been reading about the school-to-prison pipeline. One of the coolest things I’ve encountered regarding it is The Real Cost of Prisons Comix, which outlines the “-isms” involved in “the drug war.” Although it doesn’t matter what race, gender, class or sexuality you are for drugs to become an issue, there seems to be a disjointed relationship between marginalized youths and drug use. All of this to say: I don’t know about “THE drug war,” but there is a war going on — it’s affecting prominent peoples, like Hoffman, and most importantly, it’s affecting our youth. The only thing I know to do is write, read, and think about it — this is step one.

Recommended:

An Actor Whose Unhappiness Brought Joy

Hoffman and the Terrible Heroin Deaths in the Shadows

Government Offers New Recommendations to Combat ‘School-to-Prison’ Pipeline

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!