Monday, March 24, 2014

Our Differences Become Deficits

I hear this at least once a week.

"She tries really hard but just doesn't have family support."
"Our XYZ students struggle because so many come from broken homes."
"There's not much you can do when he doesn't have a father at home."

When I was growing up I had many Uncles and Aunties. This Uncle was my dad's friend and this Auntie was really my mom's cousin and I'm not really sure how we knew that Auntie. Some of them were brothers and sisters of my parents. Some were cousins. Some were my parents' friends who were adults. All of them were family.

In the United States, when we think of family, we think of a father, a mother, and 2.5 kids.

When we look at our students, we see a missing father and think this kid doesn't have a family. We think a house with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents is a sign of poverty. We look down on a mom with eight children and pity her assumed lack of education. We discount the woman who has taken care of all of the neighborhood kids.

Shift your lens for a moment. Imagine we valued an expanded view of family. The old woman who brings over food. The household full of noise and life and love. The neighbor who picks up all of the kids from school. Everyone becomes family. Now who has the deficit? The girl in this household who lacks a father but has the entire community? Or the boy with one sister, two parents, and doesn't know his neighbors?

We assign deficit to our students. There will always be a gap when we allow the ideal to be constructed using dominant norms.

Yes. The systems that imprison and deport the parents of our students need to be dismantled. I agree. But we make the problem worse.

That perceived deficit ends up having real-world consequences. We assume our student is misbehaving because he doesn't have a mother so we ignore it. We never call home because there's no father to call. We accept low scores because his mom has to work and isn't around to help.

We do nothing. We lower our expectations. We don't teach. Our students don't learn. A gap is created. It's not because your student doesn't have a father. It's because we missed the family he does have. To us, it just didn't look like family.

This doesn't stop with just schools and teachers. Invoking Patricia Hill-Collins, we can look at how transfer of wealth, loans, and taxation operate on an ideal of family that is centered on the dominant norm. We can look at our country built around freeways and the conveyances that fit a 2-partner, 2.5-child family so nicely. We can look at who can be a dependent on our health care and can visit us in prisons and hospitals. Even now, folks are becoming less comfortable with deporting a mother but are still fine with deporting the aunt who is the primary wage-earner in the household. Benefits accrue over time for those who fit the dominant norm of family, the system perpetuates itself, and gaps get wider. These systems stretch across our society yet are completely invisible.

We make the mistake of thinking we see deficits when we're really seeing differences. It is our obligation as teachers to de-center ourselves and see the strengths that are already in our students and our communities. Until this happens, we are part of the problem.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Panel on Supporting Students of Color

Rafranz Davis, Max Ray, and Anne Schwartz and I will be speaking at the Global Math Department on Tuesday, March 25 at 6 p.m. PDT.

Here's the link.

It's an open Q&A session so the better the questions the better the panel.

Submit anonymous questions here and we'll try to get to them.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

No. Where are you in our edreform debates?

(sigh. I'm not going to go into the very problematic nature of the post itself. )

Here's what I see when I wade into your edreform debates:
(edit: The link is redirecting strangely. It goes to a story about a building collapse in Shanghai)

You use our faces. You use our pain. You use our history.

You expect our silence.

We can perform but we can't be recognized.

We are not your weapon. We are not your shield. We are not to be talked about without ever being talked with. Why do you only see White men in edreform debates? Maybe you're taking part in the wrong debates.

We are on twitter. We are on television. We are speaking. You're. Just. Not. Listening.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Updates to Get Me Going Again

As you can tell, I tend to forget about this blog. This is my chance to get back in the groove. In the future, I'd like to write about my experiences teaching the NGSS this year so you'll have to remind me.

1. The Fourth Annual Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice is accepting applications until April 1. Gloria Ladson-Billings(!!!!) is keynoting. I went last year and loved it. I applied again. We shall see. Here's the writeup that was sent to me:
2014 Keynote Speakers
Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Dr. Dolores Delgado Bernal, University of Utah
Candice Rose Valenzuela, Castlemont High School; Oakland Unified School District

The Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice is an annual three-day conference to support the growth, success and retention of teachers of color who work in schools serving students of color.  A unique collaboration between the College of Education and Ethnic Studies at San José State University (SJSU), this conference draws teachers from various school districts across the nation to San José, California each summer for racial justice professional development.  Using a Critical Race Theory framework, the Institute is intended as a community building, professional development space for teachersof color to explore the racial climate of their schools, receive training to navigate these realities, and strategize how to create racially transformative classrooms and schools.

The institute seeks applications from teachers of color who:
•  Are committed to racial justice
•  Work at schools serving a significant population of students of color
•  Want to build a like-minded community

 2. I'll be at ASCD in Los Angeles this weekend, March 15-17. I'll be doing the media thing that I did a few years ago so hopefully blogging and tweeting a few sessions.

3. Finally, there's this:

Assuming Cindy can get a job in the area, we'll be packing the cars and the kids and moving out in the summer. I don't know how much anyone cares about the grad school application process so I'll leave it out for now unless requested. I would title it, "How Twitter Got Me into Grad School." I need to thank current Boulder grad students Raymond, Henry, Ken, and Jessica for their support. Also Anne and Grace for application feedback and editing and Dan for general grad school advice.  

If you're in San Jose for the ITCCRJ conference or LA for the ASCD conference say hello. I'm moderately friendly and have good hygiene. 

If you're in the Boulder Valley School District (or in a reasonable commuting distance) and need or know someone who needs a kindergarten or first-grade teacher, I would be eternally grateful. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Between Silence and Silencing

Quick. Who is the foremost voice on the lives of the working poor?
Did you say Barbara Ehrenreich? I did. Truthfully, I couldn't come up with any other names.

This is a problem.

I appreciate the work of Barbara Ehrenreich.  I do. Nobody has done more to bring the experiences of the working poor into the public discourse.

This is also a problem.

It is a problem that the voice for the working poor is not a voice of the working poor.

To say nothing allows our status quo to continue. By staying silent, the powerful maintain and benefit from the legacies of inequality.  

But it is easy to pass from silence into silencing. Privilege amplifies voice. When those in power speak, it drowns out the voices of the marginalized.

We read Dr. Ehrenreich. We listen to Macklemore. We stop Kony. We celebrate V-Day. 

The space between silence and silencing is difficult to navigate.  It can't be done without intention. It is the smallest transition from speaking with to speaking for.

Dr. Ehrenreich should be writing books. Macklemore is entitled to make any music he wants.

However, along with acknowledging the role of our own privilege in making our voice heard, we need to use that privilege as a megaphone for the voices of the marginalized. Dr. Ehrenreich is in a position where she could publish an anthology written by the working poor. She could publicize or financially support Poor Magazine and the Poor News Network. It wouldn't take any effort for Macklemore to acknowledge other rappers that have confronted LGBT issues in hip-hop.

I recently watched the film Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity and it includes a scence where Dr. Joy DeGruy tells about a trip to the grocery store with her sister-in-law. The clip is on youtube.

I like this scene as an illustration of using privilege to amplify Dr. Joy DeGruy's voice. It is obvious that silence would have been the wrong tactic. Without the power of a privileged voice, it is quite likely the checker would have gotten more and more defensive. Her manager may have taken the checker's side. We see this all the time in school when a student may complain about a teacher and we close ranks around the teacher. Even if the situation was resolved, the checker may have gone home talking about the "angry Black woman" at the store.

On the other hand, the sister-in-law could have taken over. She could have re-centered the conversation around herself and away from Dr. DeGruy. She could have made the incident about her own favorite issue rather than the specific treatment of the checker towards Dr. DeGruy. The sister-in-law didn't attempt to put words in Dr. DeGruy's mouth or explicate the feelings of Dr. DeGruy. Her sister-in-law simply backed up Dr. DeGruy's statements and used her power to make sure Dr. DeGruy was heard.

It is a thin line. Sometimes I am too silent. Sometimes I'm too loud. When I'm silent it's because I don't notice or because I'm afraid to be noticed.

When I'm too loud it's because my own internalized hierarchies take over.

In many areas of my life I have power. I am a cis male. I am straight. I speak fluent English. I am educated and have never had to worry about when I will eat next.

The hardest thing to do isn't to turn up the volume so much that others are forced to listen. It is easy for me to be heard. The hardest thing to do is step aside and let others be heard in the space that I've been occupying.

1: I use "working poor" because that's the term used on Dr. Ehrenreich's website.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Supporting Teachers of Color

This is cross-posted at Educating Grace.

First, this post was co-written with Grace and heavily influenced by a post by Dr. Isis and one by Feminist Griote.

Second, we're writing about race in this post. To echo Feminist Griote, we're not trying to play Oppression Olympics. We're not here to argue who has it worse. We understand that different oppressions intersect and reinforce each other. However, we're using race as a center and, specifically, race in the United States.

Third, when we talk about racism, we don't usually mean, "Someone called me a name." What we're talking about is the broader internalized, structural, and institutional racism that permeates our schools like the smell of the cafeteria. And like that smell, it is its omnipresence that normalizes it. In most of the United States, we are less likely to be talking about overt racism as we are color-blind racism. Thus while it is important for all of us to address our own individual biases, it is our participation in a system of racist oppression that ultimately does the most damage.

The following are some Do's and Don’ts for supporting teachers of color.

1. Don't ask us to justify ourselves. To put a twist on the popular Hari Kondabolu quote, asking a teacher of color for evidence of racism is like asking a drowning person for evidence of water. Start with the assumption that racism exists.

Do acknowledge our experiences. We are not looking for approval and we are not looking for acceptance. What we do want is for you realize that we live in different realities. We have very different lived experiences and part of your acknowledgment is knowing that you can never really understand.

2. Don't expect us to educate you. We appreciate you asking. We really do. There are two things. First is from point 1. It often feels like we're not educating but rather defending. Two, it just gets tiring. It is like that kid in class who asks the most basic questions day in and day out and saying, "Look on the board" gets old.

Do educate yourself. We want you to be part of the conversation, but we need to get past the introductions. None of us will ever know everything. Education will be a constant. Do some basic googling. Read bell hooks. Some Omi and Winant. Learn about privilege and cultural wealth and stereotype threat. Start noticing the daily microaggressions and racial battle fatigue that we experience. Learn to check yourself anytime you want to mention the achievement gap or use exceptionals and majoritarian storytelling or the myth of hope. Once you get the basics down, we'll be happy to sit and have a conversation. This goes double for anything related to our specific race or ethnicity. Don't, for example, turn to us during Chinese New Year and ask what year it is. Seriously. Google. And please stop asking us where we're from. One of the main tenets of White privilege is that you don't have to think about racism or race. As an ally, it is your duty to start.

3. Don't make it about you. If there's one thing that's going to cause teachers of color to throw up their hands and walk away, it's re-centering the conversation. It is not time to talk about your own experiences with racism. Or how your grandmother said shocking things. Or how your own experience as an INSERT HERE makes you qualified to understand what we go through every day. We know that you're probably trying to connect our experiences with your own. But the consequence of this is often derailing the conversation and re-centering it on yourself. It can also feel defensive and lead us back to needing to justify ourselves.

Do seek out uncomfortable spaces. We need allies. Your voice is important but while racism is an issue for all of us, our experiences are uniquely our own. Challenge yourself by sharing in our discomfort. Until you've felt a sliver of our daily pain, we can't know that you aren't paying us lip service and then retreating to the blissful ignorance of color-blindness once our backs are turned. Only by sharing in our discomfort can we be sure that you are invested in creating a more just and equitable world.

4. Don't co-opt. Provide support, but we don't need you to solve our problems. We need you to solve your problems. You do you. We might have something we want to try. Let us try it. But don't jump in and offer "help" and suggestions. If you've reached point 2 and you've educated yourself, you know that your lived experiences in this world are completely different from ours. We will take the steps we think we need to take. At times, we may ask for some help, in which case, come in and then step back again.

Do the work on your end and we'll work ours. Racism needs to be fought from the side of the empowered and the side of the oppressed. Interrogate your privilege and then make every day a battle to fight it. Be prepared to be an ally, especially when you enter a space without any teachers of color. Call it out when you see it and help educate others in the White community. Closely examine the racial dynamics at play in your school. Whenever any systems in school re-create our social hierarchies, begin with the the assumption of racism and work from there

5. Don't enter our safe space. There are times when we just need a place to talk to each other. At the Institute, Jason reported actually feeling a physical change in his well-being. Sometimes we need that. We need to not worry about being judged because every one of us has held our tongues because we don't want to be the Angry Minority.

Do see yourself as having an important role. There are times when we need a safe place but if we're going to fight racism it will take all of us. There will be more times than not when we are working together. We may often be traveling different paths, but we are both heading towards the same destination.

6. Don't assume we have allies because there are other teachers of color on campus. So many teachers we talk to speak of feeling isolated even at schools with a high concentration of teachers of color. Conversations about race are difficult within communities of color as well and we aren't all in the same place when it comes to critical consciousness.

Do help create a safe environment. A campus racial climate survey might be a good way to get things rolling. Gather some data about participation (PTA, AP, remediation, extracurriculars) and talk about the results. Simply letting others know that you notice racism is a start. Being able to start a conversation about racism without worrying about being accused of being racist is part of your privilege. Use it for something positive.

Please continue this conversation in the comments. Which one of these most resonated with you? What will you do next? What have you seen other allies do that you’ve found supportive?

If you would like to comment anonymously, email Jason (jybuell - gmail) and he will add the comment himself.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Community versus Conformity

This week I spent three days at the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice (FB page). I'm still trying to process everything and decide what I can share.

The first session I attended was taught by the amazing Artnelson Concordia at Balboa High School in San Francisco. One of the things I learned about was his use of the unity clap and isang bagsak.

The UFW originated when the mostly Latin@ NFWA merged with the mostly Filipin@ AWOC. Meetings would start with unity clap to help bridge the language differences. Artnelson begins each of his classes with the unity clap.

Slides used with Artnelson's permission:

Isang bagsak literally means "one down." Someone shouts isang bagsak and everyone claps once simultaneously. Dalawang bagsak gets two claps. This started with the non-violent revolution in the Philippines to overthrow the Marcos regime and the idea is that if one falls, all of us fall.

Now compare Art's class to this Teaching Channel video on attention getters. If you click through the video is embedded, otherwise here's a direct link.

Listen to the words Nick Romagnolo uses. He talks about catching kids to see who is listening and of "programming" them.

If I walked into Art's class and the Nick's class these two practices would look identical. In both cases students are clapping and the end result is student attention. Despite that, these two practices could not be more different.

Related: In Skills Practice, Christopher Danielson contrasted two videos of math teaching. A lot of the defense of the EDI video were comments about how the strategies themselves were good. My question is not about the strategies themselves but the intention of those strategies. Are they intended to honor the thinking of students? To create community? Or are they intended to ensure duplication?