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.

dr. p.l. (paul) thomas

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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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!

What are we teaching them? A discussion on standardized testing

As a high school American Literature teacher, this is the time of year I dread — this is End of Course Test (EOCT) season.

I am not worried about my students’ test scores. I am not worried about the material we covered or what my students learned. I am, though, worried about what this season does to them — what it teaches them to value. After all, we did so much more in our classes than what is covered in this 101-page document, a document that claims ownership of our (specifically: Georgia’s) public school curriculum.

Because I believe we are in a state of crisis — in dire need of education reform — I keep up with news on Common Core State Standards, standardized testing, and educational “policy.” Today, I came across an article titled “Mandatory Common Core tests in New York just happen to be full of corporate brand names.” After a moment of speechlessness, I began this blog post by asking myself: what are we teaching them?

What are we teaching students when:

  • 20% of their class grade is based on one multiple-choice test?
  • teachers are encouraged to teach to the test?
  • these tests are given weeks before the end of the course?
  • EOCTs are written using racially-biased, gender-biased, and class-biased language?
  • EOCTs insert brand names into their questions?

There are countless questions racing through my mind, and I cannot ask any one without being accused of being “just another angry teacher who doesn’t want accountability.” I, in fact, encourage accountability and collaboration between educators; however, in my model, standardization does not accountability make. There are better ways to assess students and teachers (portfolios, observations, reflection journals, self-evaluative rubrics, etc.).

To me, the dialogue surrounding standardized education is a type of newspeak. I feel like Winston Smith, understanding the truth behind the buzzwords, but I do not know how to bring that truth to everyone. All I know is: this time of year, I lose some of my teacher soul when I have to utilize precious class time to reiterate the structure of blank verse, to discuss commonly misspelled words, or to encourage students to memorize the steps in the writing process according to our state-mandated EOCT Study Guide.

We are fast-approaching a breaking point in education. I don’t want to be there — and I especially don’t want my students to be there — when education loses its humanity altogether.

Related:

Brand names in NY standardized tests vex parents — more information on the above article

Education Evolution — an cool video calling for a change in “today’s classroom”

“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.