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.
One of my high school students has made national news.
Watch T. J.’s interview here, titled “Deaf high school football player excels on the field.”
If I had to describe T. J. in one word, it would be “cool.” He has faced so many obstacles in his life, but he always keeps his cool. If he hits one road block, he turns around and keeps driving until he finds his way. I have complete faith in him that he will succeed in whatever endeavor he encounters because his heart is strong and his drive unending.
T. J. inspires me because he never stops. So many times, I — like many others — feel like the world is against me in my fight for social justice. Then I encounter people whose stories are so inspirational, that I am called back into action. T. J.’s story does just that. If he can overcome countless obstacles, so can I — and so can you.
Here are other stories on T. J.:
Good Stuff Happened Today
There is so much in a name. That’s why, when the prompt for my site tag and URL came up, I froze. I knew I wanted a site where I could document what I was teaching and where I could share my classroom reflections. I wanted a site that would store the lessons I found to be successful and analyses of possible reasons why others failed. But, I also wanted this site to encourage others to teach with their students in mind.
So much of teaching now is political. If money did not rule education before, it surely does now. After No Child Left Behind, it seems like, through standardizing education, we have left everyone behind. The people who run educational institutions are policy makers, Pearson, and McGraw-Hill — not necessarily teachers, administrators and each school’s community. I’m not saying that schools were perfect before NCLB, but I don’t think the current state of our educational system is working.
Therefore, I have chosen to fight for my kids. I’m not going to break laws. I’m not going to ignore policies or standards. However, I believe there is a way to make the standards apply to my classes (not the other way around). My kids come first and if I teach with them in mind, I am doing right by them. To me, this is every teacher’s duty — it’s a duty of social justice. Not only do most teachers perform acts of social justice every day, I believe they should be teaching it in their classes.
So. That’s where the site name came from. Teaching Social Justice is meant to inspire me, my students, and (hopefully) others to step up to the activism calling us. Sometimes it just involves a class, sometimes it is an action within one’s self, and sometimes social justice creeps into every aspect of our lives. That’s where I’m at right now. Education has become so political, I guess it’s my turn.
The Journal of Language and Literacy Education held their first annual conference last February, which also happened to be the first conference I had ever attended. The theme of the conference was “Activist Literacies.” This year, the conference theme is “Literacy for/and Social Justice: Inspire, Engage, Create, Transform,” and I am presenting. This website is actually a tool I plan to use at the conference, where I will discuss how I combined current events with standards-based historical texts to build a relevant curriculum for my classes. I was especially inspired by JoLLE’s special issue after their first conference, which featured articles on the same theme as the conference, many of which written by those who presented. Check it out!
Before embarking on my “journey for social justice,” I read an article by Tina Love (shown above) called “I See Trayvon Martin”: What Teachers Can Learn from the Tragic Death of a Young Black Male. This article acts as the foundation to the lesson plans I have made this year — so much of Love’s (2013) discussion relates directly to my classes. Here are some of my notes/responses to the text itself:
- Love makes known the stereotypes that are deeply rooted in American society, and therefore, in our schools. One misconception of young Black males is their “attitude.” I, too, was very ignorant when I first began teaching, to the Black culture, as I grew up in a mostly white area (Northeast Georgia). However, college quickly opened my eyes to multiculturalism, and teaching in a very diverse school has changed my attitude toward the misconceptions of Black culture altogether.
- According to Love, “Hip Hop swag serves as the perfect example. It is more than just a way of body movement and projections of coolness, it is an epistemological aim to engage others with confidence, likability, charm, cleverness, and resolve. Hip Hop swag is standing one’s ground” (p. 3). What a beautiful way to describe many of my students! While some may see Hip Hop swag as being “cocky,” or “apathetic,” this definition really gets to the heart of the matter: it’s a way of life, a way of being.
- I agree with Love that “Too often, teachers make judgments concerning Black male students having nothing to do with their intellectual ability and everything to do with stereotypes, assumptions, and fear” (p. 3-4). I have fallen victim to this way of thinking in the past, but there are ways to battle normative ideas, and Love discusses a few of these in her article. One of the ways is through education and constantly educating yourself and your students. I am trying to do this through my critical pedagogy project (this website and my lesson plans), and I feel I am learning every bit as much as my students are. I only hope I am battling racial stereotypes and never perpetuating them (J. Whitley, Scholarly Notes, November 12, 2013).
I am currently reading Love’s book, Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Hip Hop Identities and Politics in the New South. While I am not finished with it, yet, I am already inspired by Love’s work with these six middle and high school girls. There is a cool interview about this book on YouTube, and Dr. Love’s discussion begins at 16:00. Here is Dr. Love’s YouTube stream about her work last year at a local elementary school.
As you can see, I have been inspired by Tina Love’s work, and I feel like it would be selfish not to share it.
One of my professors, Stephanie Jones, showed this video to our Powerful Readers course this summer. In my opinion, it speaks to the heart of education. Students, I hear things like “I hate school,” “I’m sooooo bored,” or “UGGGHHHHH” come out of your mouths on a daily basis — and I believe the video explains why. We have lost sight of education and its purpose.
It is my hope that, by sharing this video, more people can respond to it. It is NOT my hope to encourage more students to hate school. In fact, I have the opposite goal in mind. Individualized education can inspire. So, tell me: how do you hate school, but love education, and what can we (teachers) do about it?