education-pic

I took Latin in high school. This basically qualifies me to read prescription abbreviations. In retrospect I wish I had studied French or Spanish. I don’t take excessive pride in the fact that I only speak English – I find it limiting and somewhat stifling. In a country as diverse as the U.S., being bilingual is something to treasure rather than discard or reject. And when the push for children to learn English in schools supplants their first language, culture and heritage, we have to ask whether something critical is lost.

Even as states struggle to reach a common definition of what it means to be an English language learner, the proportion of these students continues to rise—and with it, the temperature of debate surrounding the purpose and goals of bilingual education. It remains an unsettled issue that continues to challenge America’s self-image as welcoming and inclusive: The value of linguistic assimilation is pitted against the values of a culturally diverse nation of immigrants, leaving education systems and its students caught in political crosshairs. The divide is exacerbated by financially strapped schools with skyrocketing numbers of English learners—meeting all of the mandates for their education can be expensive—and the national discourse on immigration, which saw the 2016 presidential contender Donald Trump advise his competitor Jeb Bush to “really set the example by speaking English while in the United States.”

Today, schools are still twisting in the wind of politics, with 31 states passing laws naming English the official language over the last two centuries and voters in CaliforniaArizona, and Massachusetts approving ballot measures in recent decades that replace bilingual education with English-only policies. Meanwhile, a growing contingent of educators are promoting the cultivation of bilingualism to support the social and emotional needs of English language learners.

Read more.

Religion2

Linus van Pelt, the philosopher of the Peanuts gang, has a poignant line in the comic strip’s animated Halloween special:

I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

That practice carries over into schools, where discussing religion specifically is often shunned or increasingly the cause of an uproar. A new book, Faith Ed, explores how teaching world religions can soften the divisions between children living and growing up in America, which is a country of many faiths and beliefs. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the author, who offered some insights and observations.

Melinda D. Anderson: “Teach, not preach” was a common refrain as a guiding principle for how schools should introduce the teaching of religion. Talk about the inherent tension between teaching students about religion and the credible fear expressed by parents especially of proselytizing.

Linda K. Wertheimer: Some parents feared that if their children learned about another religion, they might fall out of love with their own faith. Or if a child came from an atheist or agnostic family, maybe he or she might suddenly want to embrace a religion. However, I wouldn’t describe that fear as credible when referring to world-history courses that wrap in instruction about different religions. The courses I observed teach students basic information about three or more religions to help them understand the geography, history, politics, and culture of a country or region of the world. Teachers were not asking students to pray or perform religious rituals.

If anything, schools are in a better place than they were in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was commonplace for teachers to lead children in prayer and recite Bible verses as part of the morning routine. The 1963 court ruling prohibiting teacher-led prayer gradually led to bigger efforts to educate children about many religions. But there is a real fear of proselytizing when it comes to classes about the Bible as literature or history. Parents should be the most concerned about those types of courses. Those classes can be taught objectively, and in fact, I found such an example at Lumberton High School, the target of so much fuss over a teacher’s lessons on Islam.

The biggest fear about world religion courses is how teachers are teaching about Islam and whether they are sugar-coating radical Islam. Some critics have questioned whether teachers are indoctrinating children in Islam. The irony is that most teachers in this country reflect the nation’s demographics. Most of them are white and female, and many of them are Christian. It’s unlikely they would try to convert children to Islam. The key to preventing classes from turning into preaching is training the teachers.

Read more.

unnamed1

High on the euphoria of first-time motherhood, I remember the day I brought my newborn to the office. Colleagues surrounded the stroller 15 years ago wanting to hold my son. After dispensing the obligatory hand sanitizer, I placed him in the arms of an older Black woman I’d known for several years. Pulling back the hood on his onesie bodysuit, a look of satisfaction spread across her face as she proudly proclaimed: “He’s going to be handsome. Look at those ears.”

It’s commonly believed in the Black community that you can tell the final skin tone of a baby by the color of the tips of the ears. Whether it’s medically sound or Black folklore is less important than the need to affirm this practice, generation after generation. I was struck by the significance of that long-forgotten episode this weekend as I sat in a room of adolescent teen girls in Baltimore. Far more perceptive than I was at their age, the young ladies engaged in a rich conversation on self-esteem and the historical underpinnings that lead many of us to reject and disparage the skin we’re in.

The Flourishing Blossoms Society For Girls, Inc., a mentoring program addressing the holistic needs of its participants, is the brainchild and product of the energy of Valencia Clay. Clay, a graduate of Morgan State University, started her teaching career at a Freedom School in Baltimore where she cultivated a passion for teaching social justice. For Clay the Blossoms give her life purpose and meaning. Moving back home to New York City this summer couldn’t break the bond – she travels to Baltimore monthly to continue running the program.

Seated on a brightly colored rug in the Southwest Baltimore Charter School library, a tight-knit group of 8th-grade girls chatted excitedly with Clay on Saturday morning. On the agenda: exploring the concept of self-hatred. It was intriguing to watch each girl slowly come to recognize and accept how self-hatred operates and the subtle yet profound, insistent influences that permeate American culture allowing prejudice like colorism to take root.

Reading from the biography of Assata Shakur, Clay shared a passage from Shakur’s childhood involving a young man named Joe. Joe, with an unrequited crush, was cruelly rejected by Shakur on the basis that he was “too Black and ugly” in the estimation of her peers. The moment deeply changed Shakur – her consciousness as well as her perception of self and others. Writing about the scars of internalized racism, she reveals:

For weeks, maybe months, afterward, i was haunted by what happened that day, by the snakes that had crawled out of my mouth. The sneering hatred on his face every time i saw him after that made me know there was nothing i could do but change myself. Not for him, but for me. And i did change. After that i never said ”Black” and “ugly” in the same sentence and never thought it. Of course, i couldn’t undo all the years of self hatred and brainwashing in that short time, but it was a beginning. And although i still cared too much about what other people thought about me, i always tried hard after that to stand on my own two feet, to stand by what i felt and thought and not just be a robot. I didn’t always succeed, but I always tried like hell.

In unison the Blossoms were appalled that Shakur could be so mean to Joe, who had been so nice to her. But Clay deftly brought the topic back to them: “Have you ever had a moment when you projected your self-hatred onto someone else and didn’t know it? Have you ever seen it?”

The spark of realization was instantly apparent in all of their faces. Boys in class who tease each other for being “Black as…” but they’re just as dark-skinned as their targets. A sister who labels others girls as being “so ‘hood” but they’re from the same community. Now understanding how self-hatred presents itself, Clay transitioned into its roots with the documentary “Dark Girls,” a 2012 film examining the origins of colorism, its lineage dating back to slavery and colonialism, and how early it materializes – showing a contemporary version of the black doll experiment from the 1940s.

Skillfully integrating her own family history Clay was able to elicit spontaneous awareness in the group of Black girls about their experiences with skin tone and hair and how self-hatred manifests. In a safe space created through genuine care and trust, the one white girl in the group even shared how she always wanted the texture of Black hair. The weight of her statement resonated throughout the room. Over the course of a few hours – teaching, punctuating, clarifying, affirming, reinforcing – Clay guided the girls to see the damaging and destructive effects of colorism. She closed the day inviting them to explore through poems, itemized lists, and storytelling how they’d grown from what they learned that day.

For me, more aptly described as well-developed foliage than a Blossom, so many memories came flooding back: the times I was silent when I shouldn’t have been, the times I made assumptions I shouldn’t have, the times I subconsciously viewed proximity to whiteness as the measure of a Black woman’s beauty or status.

Maybe I wasn’t the audience, but it left me thinking and reconsidering. Thank you Ms. Clay.

IMG_3831 (1)

columbusprotest-AP_Elaine_Thompson

Few famous figures in American history are as divisive as Christopher Columbus. Many find the Italian voyager’s reputation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. A growing number of cities and states – Alaska just joined the roster – are shunning a day named for the explorer in favor of “Indigenous Peoples Day.” And schools, which reflect society’s broad cultural and political values, must find ways to navigate this new terrain.

So I looked at the annual pushback to this holiday – and went in search of how teachers talk about Columbus in an authentic way in the classroom.

Today, over 500 years after he sailed the ocean blue, Columbus is equally derided and praised. Starting with Berkeley, California, in 1992, cities started renaming the second Monday in October “Indigenous People’s Day” to shift focus from the conqueror to the conquered. Since August, eight cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including several in just the last week. This follows both Minneapolis and Seattle, which adopted the new name in 2014, with a bevy of Native American groups and progressive activists applauding the changes.

The picture grows even more complicated when you factor in teachers and schools, which often rely on textbooks, materials, and lesson plans inundated with Anglo-American, mono-cultural viewpoints. In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen, a history professor, reviews the common misstatements and misrepresentations in the retelling of American history—from the first Thanksgiving and reconstruction to the mythology surrounding Columbus. The result is “a whitewashed version of history,” Shannon Speed, the director of Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed last year. “Omission of the truth is, in fact, a form of lying. I would offer that the purpose of teaching history in schools is to create critical thinkers capable of meaningful participation in a democratic society.”

Read more.

(Photo: Elaine Thompson / AP)

A Black Boy Growing Up in Baltimore [The Atlantic]

Written on 8 October 2015, 08:15am under As Seen In

Tagged with: , , ,

FullSizeRender

The first of six trials in the Freddie Gray case is set to begin late next month. With all of the analysis, one voice is mostly absent: Baltimore youth.

What is it like to grow up in Baltimore? I wanted to present a youth perspective on the April uprising … show how well teachers and schools help kids manage their trauma and stress … and give readers a glimpse at all of the above through the eyes of a Baltimore teen. A student’s perspective, via a “Day in the Life” profile. 

Meet Scott Thompson II.

In many ways, Scott is a black youth who both lives apart from and among the conditions that have come to define West Baltimore. “If I make it as a big actor, people will know where I came from and will know I’m a black boy from Baltimore,” he said on a recent Saturday afternoon traveling around the city. “I know what’s wrong with my city, but it’s still [mine]. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

For Scott, poetry was a way to grapple with the trauma he endured—a tool that some educators and schools now use to help children heal from exposure to violence. Looking back on that period of life, Scott recalls school—particularly the support he got from his peers and favorite teacher at Southwest Baltimore Charter—being his lifeline.  To transition students from middle to high school, Southwest Baltimore Charter School organizes students into gender-exclusive teams—“crews”—of about a dozen students each who meet daily in grades 6-8. The crew model fosters strong, consistent relationships between students. The closeness of the all-male group gave Scott the security to grieve and surrender to his sadness. “We are honestly like brothers. I always felt safe in my crew room. I knew I could talk about anything, or if I was having a bad day… I could always connect with them.”

Read more.

[Photo: Scott Thompson II (far left) and 8th-Grade Crew on School Trip]

r-OCCUPY-UC-BERKELEY-large570

Full-scale police departments are operating on college and university campuses. Empowered to patrol jurisdictions beyond school grounds – and armed with guns, Tasers and in some cases, military-grade equipment – campus police are blurring the lines between campus safety and local law enforcement. And similar to the growth of police in K-12 settings, campus police are generating concerns and complaints.

According to a recent Justice Department report on 2011-12 data, what’s been described as the most comprehensive survey of its kind, the vast majority of public colleges and universities—92 percent—have sworn and armed campus officers. Unsurprisingly, they’re much less prevalent at private colleges: Slightly over a third (38 percent) of them are equipped with their own law enforcement. Since the 2004-05 school year, the percentage of both public and private colleges nationwide using armed officers increased from 68 percent 75 percent.

Yet as the numbers of armed campus police have swelled, presumably in part as an effort to satisfy the Clery Act requirements, the Justice Department data reveals a string of contradictions. The report demonstrates that crime and the presence of law enforcement on campus have an inverse relationship: Increases to the numbers of officers on campuses are paralleled by declining rates of reported crimes at the schools. Yet even despite apparent reduction in crime, the numbers of campus officers have continued to expand—as have their responsibilities. Officers have increasingly gained the ability to arrest and patrol outside jurisdictions, and the growth to law-enforcement hires has outpaced that of student enrollment.

Read more.

(Photo: YouTube Screenshot / Occupy U.C. Berkeley Protesters Face Violent Confrontation With Campus Police)