Monday, July 06, 2015

This Is What a Student-Designed School Looks Like

This newly created high school (school within a school) in Great Barrington, Massachusetts deserves a close read and I also recommend listening to the 14-minute, student-developed video below.

It's called the "Independent Project," which is somewhat misleading because while appropriately focused on students' motivations, passions, and cultivating their talents and developing new ones, it is also very oriented to the collective—important and germane to 21st century work environments, as well as to a humanitarian, critical, democratic, and social justice framework.

While this "experiment" may seem and feel new, radical, and totally organic—especially to the students, faculty, and leadership—it is actually recasting a research-based approach that already exists—most notably, among the New York Performance Standards Consortium (NYPSC) schools. Although they do administer a standardized test beginning in the 11th grade that the students must pass to graduate (i.e., most typically the English Language Arts Regents exam), the NYPSC schools otherwise get an annual waiver from New York's regimen of standardized tests—an affordance that is not available anywhere else in the country, at present, under NCLB.

I am personally familiar with three of these schools and find them to be nurturing, rigorous, intellectually challenging places, and "high stakes" in ways that map on well to the Independent Project discussed herein. In these environments, students are held accountable for their learning and their ideas and they must be publicly defensible. For more information, check out "New York Performance Standards Consortium Fact Sheet" (January 28, 2014). Also check out this earlier, related blog post In Kentucky, Moving Beyond Dependence On Tests.

Far from anything close to "educational anarchy," this school is engaged in serious project-based learning (PBL) that consists of both authentic learning opportunities for youth and authentic assessment which I fully support and again, is research based. Assuming that this school in Massachusetts actually has no connection to NYPSC schools or literature, what is really encouraging and pleasing is that the very model of schooling that these students "independently derived," already exists and with great success. Most positively, this approach suggests what could be a new, valid direction in public school reform.

Incidentally, Texas, State Rep. Mary Gonzalez actually had a bill along these lines (HB 406) in the last legislative session that would have created a pilot program of select high schools in select districts to develop and implement schools like these. Unfortunately, however, the bill did not come out of committee so we'll have to continue pursuing this for the next legislative session in 2017.

In any case, PBL and authentic learning and assessment have served NYPSC high school students quite well, resulting in dramatically better outcomes for all students, despite the greater presence of special needs children than in the general population. To wit, these schools evidence higher attendance, graduation, and college attendance rates than the general school population in New York City.

As a reform measure in what is also called, "inquiry-based learning," it must get coupled with smaller class sizes, individualized instruction, teacher planning time, and professional development opportunities. (There's a lot more to this, but this give you an idea of just how involved a move in this direction is.) In NYPSC schools, it's hard to get lost and fail. It practically creates a system where student failure is mythic. It's not so much whether you graduate, but when. In short, making schools learning friendly, curriculum friendly, teacher friendly, and student friendly holds tremendous promise for all the outcomes that we care about in education.

I can see how this idea could get hijacked by those wanting to eliminate public education (extreme homeschooling?) or who rhetorically misrepresent this as either "lacking in accountability" or as schools no longer needing teachers, justifying less investment in teachers or teaching. Actually, the opposite is true: A whole lot more is expected of teachers; they're just needed differently—more as facilitators, coaches, and guides—together with an enhanced capacity to truly evaluate youth where the latter is not an event—as it is under the current system—but rather an everyday affair. Particularly with the amount of time that it will take to make a shift like this in a way that is valid from a research-based perspective, is actually not a call for less, but rather more teacher work and involvement and as a corollary, greater district investment in teachers' professional development.

There is no reason why our entire state or country could not move in this direction. We have been so ensconced in our high-stakes testing and accountability systems that we have a lot of un-learning and new learning to do. We also know that this will not happen overnight. That's why a pilot study that is time delimited, transparent, with an evaluation, up for state review, and so on is a good first step for Texas. In fact, we should begin right now organizing learning communities on assessment that are inclusive of district leaders, teachers, community members (the key stakeholders of the reform), and our universities where much of this knowledge and memory of inquiry-based education exists.

We need state leaders like Representative Gonzalez in the legislature and in our school districts and communities far and wide to say, "Yes, we want to be accountable...yes, we seek equitable educational outcomes and better schools, but we need to make a fundamental shift in how our students are assessed." These inquiry-based approaches to education are definite signposts to not only a brighter—but also an immensely do-able, future.

-Angela Valenzuela

This Is What a Student-Designed School Looks Like

by Luba Vangelova /July 14, 2014

Independence Project/ image from Charles Tsai's movie
The Independent Project/ image from Charles Tsai’s movie
When Sam Levin was a junior at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Mass., he realized that two things were in short supply at his school: engagement and mastery. He also noticed that he and his peers were learning plenty of information, but not much about how to gather or create their own data. And he noticed that students were unhappy. So he took it upon himself to design a school where students would feel fully engaged, have an opportunity to develop expertise in something, and learn how to learn.
“He came up with a plan where the core areas could still be studied, but in a way where students were more of the driving force,” explains guidance counselor Mike Powell. The administration decided to take a chance on a semester-long pilot project, and The Independent Project debuted in the fall of 2010.
The pilot involved eight students — sophomores, juniors and seniors — chosen on the basis of written applications and interviews. “The idea was that it was for students who could manage their time well, were looking for something more than the traditional program, and had a passion for learning,” says Powell, who served as the group’s primary adviser. Academic performance didn’t matter — the group included straight-A students as well as students who were failing many of their classes. The group was fairly diverse in other ways, too, with the students hailing from a range of blue-collar and white-collar family backgrounds.

Their time, other than daily group meetings, was theirs to manage. “This was pretty unheard of — teens being alone most of the day,” Powell notes.
They explored math, science, social science and literature topics that interested them, choosing one question each week, researching it, and presenting their findings to the group. They also chose books to read, discuss and write about in some form; worked on a semester-long individual project on a subject that excited them (the only requirement was that the project require effort, learning and mastery); and collaborated on a three-week-long group endeavor (they decided to make a video about education and their project). They were responsible for giving a final presentation about their project, which helped to give them a specific goal to work toward.

Sam Levin, creator of the Independence Project.
Sam Levin, creator of the Independent Project.

As the adviser, Powell checked in with the group every morning; he also offered logistical support and helped the students locate resources. Three other faculty members — a science teacher, a math teacher and a social science teacher — served as an advisory committee, meeting with the students for one period a day to help them in whatever way was needed, such as to talk through some of the more complex ideas presented in a research book. The students also consulted other teachers and outside experts as needed. When members of the community were asked to share their knowledge, “the vast majority of the time, they came running,” Powell says.

The program encountered some bumps. “We struggled with how to do peer-to-peer constructive criticism,” Powell says. “It’s a bit different in a classroom, where there’s a teacher setting boundaries and helping create structure. They found doing that with peers challenging. But that was a big part of the program—they had to be accountable for what they were doing. … They’re teens, so to think that at that age they will always make good choices and manage their time well is not realistic. Even adults aren’t like that.”
It was also difficult for some other faculty members to accept that students were earning credit for such an amorphous undertaking. So the group tried to be transparent and made their final presentations — which ran the gamut from performances to cooking a large meal — open to the public.
At the end of the semester, “everyone was satisfied – the parents, the students, and the school,” Powell says. The project’s “White Paper” notes that parents “were very aware of what was going on in the program because the kids were talking about school at home much more than they ever had in the past.”
“There were so many moments where you could see students being inspired,” Powell says. “And they learned that with that much control comes a great deal of responsibility, to manage time and be accountable.”
The school chose to continue the program, which runs for one semester each year and involves nine to 12 students who receive credit and a pass/fail. “It was really risky, because we didn’t know how colleges would interpret this on a transcript,” Powell says. “But so far we’ve had only an overwhelmingly positive response,” including from highly selective colleges, such as Oxford and Williams, that have accepted graduates.
Nevertheless, not a lot of students apply to participate in the project. “They know it involves more work [than taking regular classes] and that they have to push themselves to do it,” says science teacher Daniel Gray, who served as the group’s primary adviser this year. (He also had prior experience with this type of model—he had studied democratic education and then helped introduce some of those principles to a public middle school.)
Most high school students are neither interested nor ready for such an experience, he says. But he adds: “I think that if they had been given progressively more responsibility over the years, they would be ready. My seventh- and eighth-graders, after a year or two, they got it, and they were more mature than you would expect them to be at that age.”
Although some teachers at Monument Mountain remain skeptical, the majority of them now support the program. Some have even copied elements of it, for example letting English students choose which books to read. It has also spawned “positive” discussions about the most appropriate role for teachers, Powell says.
There have been a number of refinements over the years. One has been to hold the program in the spring, to avoid a sudden and tough transition back to taking regular classes where students can no longer control what they’re learning. And the number of faculty assigned to the project was reduced to three and then (for scheduling reasons) two. Each group has also introduced its own twist — this year the students had even more leeway and no subject-area requirements. The constants have been the weekly research question, the books component, and the individual endeavor, which has ranged from vocational pursuits such as building a kayak, to artistic tasks such as writing a novel, to scientific explorations such as examining how Western and Eastern medicine deal differently with Lyme disease.
Securing assistance from teachers sometimes proved challenging. “It’s something most students aren’t used to doing,” says Logan Malik, a just-graduated senior who organized the program this year. “Instead of a teacher telling you what to do, you’re telling the teacher what you’re learning, what you want information on, and when you want to meet. And then they would have to do some prep.” Nevertheless, “teachers were very willing to help us, even if it was on their own time.” (The students also served as “a first-grade support group for each other,” Gray says.)
Although he’s heading to college to study pre-med, Logan’s individual endeavor this spring was to learn classical guitar. He watched a YouTube tutorial to learn the proper fingering and then practiced about four hours a day. He says he would never have been able to dive into the activity like this if he’d continued with his rigorous course load, and learning it over a summer wouldn’t have been as productive without a group and some structure. The Independent Project work kept him busy, he says, “but the busy-ness was easier to get through, compared to slaving through something you don’t want to be doing and don’t value as much.”
The stress was also less, because the evaluations (other than the final pass/fail) were formative rather than summative — intended not to judge, but to help students improve their work.
It was challenging sometimes to stay on task to meet deadlines that were not enforced by authorities, Malik says, “but we did well overall.” The students tried to be flexible and fair, and to account for the natural ebb and flow in people’s attention and motivation levels, as well as unexpected complications. Extensions were granted to students who asked for more time to research a question. “Once the person was given an extra week, they felt they needed to do more, and they worked hard,” Malik notes. Other times individuals were given a pass to give them a chance to get back on track. In the past, when tensions have arisen or the group’s energy has seemed particularly low, the group has literally taken a hike, while discussing their goals and potential improvements to the program.
Malik enjoyed many of his regular classes and sees this program as a complement rather than a complete replacement for them. “For a lot of subjects, like chemistry, it’s good to be taught by someone, so the structure of the class helps. And in social science, it’s good to be introduced to ideas by someone who understands those ideas really well.” But The Independent Project offers benefits that aren’t available in an adult-led classroom, he adds. “It really establishes an idea of what self-motivation is. There is critiquing, but it all comes back to you. That’s really valuable.”

Students who have gone through the program ask more questions and have a greater awareness of how to answer them; construct their questions more carefully; became more thoughtful in the way they consider ideas and evaluate sources; and became better at managing their time.
The “White Paper” also notes that the project instills a “sense of ownership of their education has stayed with the students long after the program ended. Although some students have continued to struggle academically, feedback from parents has suggested that they are pursuing more interests outside of school than they were before The Independent Project.”
It continues: “That is not to say no one will fail; any program or system will contain failure. In fact, in the pilot of the Independent Project one student struggled to complete the work, and did not receive full credit for the program … The goal, then, is to not make The Independent Project so that no one fails, but to make it so fewer people fail than in the current system, and to make success in The Independent Project carry more intellectual meaning than success often does in the current system.”
The program doesn’t require a lot of additional resources, and other public schools have visited Monument Valley to find out how to replicate it. (A professional filmmaker has also produced a video about it.) Powell says it requires administrators who are open to focusing education on students, rather than teachers or a curriculum. But he offers a caution: “Because the focus is on the student, that’s where you need to start. This came from a student and was pushed by him, through all the red tape. A program like this probably won’t be terribly successful if it’s teacher-driven. If a group of adults want to replicate this, … I would have conversations with the students about it, and see how they respond and where they take it. If students are interested in the concept, it will guide itself.”
Meet some of the students in this video created by Charles Tsai.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Research Brief: An Interview with Robin DiAngelo about ‘White Fragility’

"White fragility." Good concept. -Angela

For this week’s research brief, we’re highlighting the work of Robin DiAngelo. She was recently interviewed by Sam Adler-Bell, a journalist and policy associate at the Century Foundation, a NY-based think tank.
Research in the Dictionary
Last year, a white male Princeton undergraduate was asked by a classmate to “check his privilege.” Offended by this suggestion, he shot off a 1,300-word essay to the Tory, a right-wing campus newspaper.In it, he wrote about his grandfather who fled the Nazis to Siberia, his grandmother who survived a concentration camp in Germany, about the humble wicker basket business they started in America. He railed against his classmates for “diminishing everything [he’d] accomplished, all the hard work [he’d] done.”
His missive was reprinted by Time. He was interviewed by the New York Times and appeared on Fox News. He became a darling of white conservatives across the country.
What he did not do, at any point, was consider whether being white and male might have given him—if not his ancestors—some advantage in achieving incredible success in America. He did not, in other words, check his privilege.
To Robin DiAngelo, professor of multicutural education at Westfield State University and author of What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy, Tal Fortgang’s essay —indignant, defensive, beside-the-point, somehow both self-pitying and self-aggrandizing—followed a familiar script. As an anti-racist educator for more than two decades, DiAngelo has heard versions of it recited hundreds of times by white men and women in her workshops.
She’s heard it so many times, in fact, that she came up with a term for it: “white fragility,” which she defined in a 2011 journal article as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”
When the Black Lives Matter movement marched in the streets, holding up traffic, disrupting commerce, and refusing to allow “normal life” to resume—insofar as normalcy means a system that permits police and vigilantes to murder black men and women with impunity—white people found themselves in tense conversations online, with friends and in the media about privilege, white supremacy and racism. You could say white fragility was at an all-time high.
I spoke with DiAngelo about how to deal with all the fragile white people, and why it’s worth doing so.
Sam Adler-Bell: How did you come to write about “white fragility”?
Robin DiAngelo: To be honest, I wanted to take it on because it’s a frustrating dynamic that I encounter a lot. I don’t have a lot of patience for it. And I wanted to put a mirror to it.
I do atypical work for a white person, which is that I lead primarily white audiences in discussions on race every day, in workshops all over the country. That has allowed me to observe very predictable patterns. And one of those patterns is this inability to tolerate any kind of challenge to our racial reality. We shut down or lash out or in whatever way possible block any reflection from taking place.
Of course, it functions as means of resistance, but I think it’s also useful to think about it as fragility, as inability to handle the stress of conversations about race and racism
Sometimes it’s strategic, a very intentional push back and rebuttal. But a lot of the time, the person simply cannot function. They regress into an emotional state that prevents anybody from moving forward.
SAB: Carla Murphy recently referenced “white fragility” in an article for Colorlines, and I’ve seen it referenced on Twitter and Facebook a lot lately. It seems like it’s having a moment. Why do you think that is?
RD: I think we get tired of certain terms. What I do used to be called “diversity training,” then “cultural competency” and now, “anti-racism.” These terms are really useful for periods of time, but then they get coopted, and people build all this baggage around them, and you have to come up with new terms or else people won’t engage.
And I think “white privilege” has reached that point. It rocked my world when I first really got it, when I came across Peggy McIntosh. It’s a really powerful start for people. But unfortunately it’s been played so much now that it turns people off.
SAB: What causes white fragility to set in?
RD: For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing.”
In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people.
The good/bad binary is also what leads to the very unhelpful phenomenon of un-friending on Facebook.
SAB: Right, because the instinct is to un-friend, to dissociate from those bad white people, so that I’m not implicated in their badness.
RD: When I’m doing a workshop with white people, I’ll often say, “If we don’t work with each other, if we give in to that pull to separate, who have we left to deal with the white person that we’ve given up on and won’t address?
SAB: A person of color.
RD: Exactly. And white fragility also comes from a deep sense of entitlement. Think about it like this: from the time I opened my eyes, I have been told that as a white person, I am superior to people of color. There’s never been a space in which I have not been receiving that message. From what hospital I was allowed to be born in, to how my mother was treated by the staff, to who owned the hospital, to who cleaned the rooms and took out the garbage. We are born into a racial hierarchy, and every interaction with media and culture confirms it—our sense that, at a fundamental level, we are superior.
And, the thing is, it feels good. Even though it contradicts our most basic principles and values. So we know it, but we can never admit it. It creates this kind of dangerous internal stew that gets enacted externally in our interactions with people of color, and is crazy-making for people of color. We have set the world up to preserve that internal sense of superiority and also resist challenges to it. All while denying that anything is going on and insisting that race is meaningless to us.
SAB: Something that amazes me is the sophistication of some white people’s defensive maneuvers. I have a black friend who was accused of “online harassment” by a white friend after he called her out in a harsh way. What do you see going on there?
RD: First of all, whites often confuse comfort with safety. We say we don’t feel safe, when what we mean is that we don’t feel comfortable. Secondly, no white person looks at a person of color through objective eyes. There’s been a lot of research in this area. Cross-racially, we do not see with objective eyes. Now you add that he’s a black man. It’s not a fluke that she picked the word “harassed.” In doing that, she’s reinforcing a really classic, racist paradigm: White women and black men. White women’s frailty and black men’s aggressiveness and danger.
But even if she is feeling that, which she very well may be, we should be suspicious of our feelings in these interactions. There’s no such thing as pure feeling. You have a feeling because you’ve filtered the experience through a particular lens. The feeling is the outcome. It probably feels natural, but of course it’s shaped by what you believe.
SAB: There’s also the issue of “tone-policing” here, right?
RD: Yes. One of the things I try to work with white people on is letting go of our criteria about how people of color give us feedback. We have to build our stamina to just be humble and bear witness to the pain we’ve caused.
In my workshops, one of the things I like to ask white people is, “What are the rules for how people of color should give us feedback about our racism? What are the rules, where did you get them, and whom do they serve?” Usually those questions alone make the point.
It’s like if you’re standing on my head and I say, “Get off my head,” and you respond, “Well, you need to tell me nicely.” I’d be like, “No. Fuck you. Get off my fucking head.”
In the course of my work, I’ve had many people of color give me feedback in ways that might be perceived as intense or emotional or angry. And on one level, it’s personal—I did do that thing that triggered the response, but at the same time it isn’t onlypersonal. I represent a lifetime of people that have hurt them in the same way that I just did.
And, honestly, the fact that they are willing to show me demonstrates, on some level, that they trust me.
SAB: What do you mean?
RD: If people of color went around showing the pain they feel in every moment that they feel it, they could be killed. It is dangerous. They cannot always share their outrage about the injustice of racism. White people can’t tolerate it. And we punish it severely—from job loss, to violence, to murder.
For them to take that risk and show us, that is a moment of trust. I say, bring it on, thank you.
When I’m doing a workshop, I’ll often ask the people of color in the room, somewhat facetiously, “How often have you given white people feedback about our inevitable and often unconscious racist patterns and had that go well for you?” And they laugh.
Because it just doesn’t go well. And so one time I asked, “What would your daily life be like if you could just simply give us feedback, have us receive it graciously, reflect on it and work to change the behavior? What would your life be like?”
And this one man of color looked at me and said, “It would be revolutionary.”
SAB: I notice as we’ve been talking that you almost always use the word “we” when describing white people’s tendencies. Can you tell me why you do that?
RD: Well, for one, I’m white (and you’re white). And even as committed as I am, I’m not outside of anything that I’m talking about here. If I went around saying white people this and white people that, it would be a distancing move. I don’t want to reinforce the idea that there are some whites who are done, and others that still need work. There’s no being finished.
Plus, in my work, I’m usually addressing white audiences, and the “we” diminishes defensiveness somewhat. It makes them more comfortable. They see that I’m not just pointing fingers outward.
SAB: Do you ever worry about re-centering whiteness?
RD: Well, yes. I continually struggle with that reality. By standing up there as an authority on whiteness, I’m necessarily reinforcing my authority as a white person. It goes with the territory. For example, you’re interviewing me now, on whiteness, and people of color have been saying these things for a very long time.
On the one hand, I know that in many ways, white people can hear me in a way that they can’t hear people of color. They listen. So by god, I’m going to use my voice to challenge racism. The only alternative I can see is to not speak up and challenge racism. And that is not acceptable to me.
It’s sort of a master’s tools dilemma.
SAB: Yes, and racism is something that everyone thinks they’re an authority on.
RD: That drives me crazy. I’ll run into someone I haven’t seen in 20 years in the grocery store, and they’ll say, “Hi! What’ve you been doing?”
And I say, “I got my Ph.D.”
And they say, “Oh wow, what in?”
“Race relations and white racial identity.”
And they’ll go “Oh, well you know. People just need to—”
As if they’re going to give me the one-sentence answer to arguably the most challenging social dynamic of our time. Like, hey, why did I knock myself out for 20 years studying, researching, and challenging this within myself and others? I should have just come to you! And the answer is so simple! I’ve never heard that one before!
Imagine if I was an astronomer. Everybody has a basic understanding of the sky, but they would not debate an astronomer on astronomy. The arrogance of white people faced with questions of race is unbelievable.
~ Sam Adler-Bell is a journalist and policy associate at the Century Foundation, a NY-based think tank. Follow him on Twitter: @SamAdlerBell. This interview was originally published March 12, 2015 on Alternet.

‘Punched in the Gut’: Uncovering the Horrors of Boarding Schools

NAA INV 06828200. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
American Indian girls in school uniforms exercising inside gymnasium in 1879 at Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
“No one has ever asked me before,” the elder explained.
“She was answering my question about why she had never told anyone about the abuse she suffered at Indian boarding school,” recalls Denise Lajimodiere, professor of Education at North Dakota State University in Fargo.
Lajimodiere, who also serves as president of the Boarding School Healing Coalition, found that the other survivors she interviewed told her the same thing. “Most of them had never even told their families,’ she says of interviewees who often whispered when sharing details of the sexual abuse they experienced at the schools.
Lajimodiere, a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe, is working on a book containing ten of the most powerful survivor stories she’s collected over the past few years. “I don’t want the book to be academic; I want it to be their voices telling their stories.”
Her journey into the world of boarding schools and the unresolved trauma associated with them began as a means to reconcile with her father, who attended Chemawa boarding school in Oregon. “I wanted to figure out my Dad’s violence and find a way to forgive him,” she says.
(Boarding School Healing Coalition)
(Boarding School Healing Coalition)
After seeing an advertisement that the Boarding School Healing Project, an organization that predated the Coalition, wanted researchers, she applied and began interviewing survivors in North Dakota. “I went all over the state, conducting the interviews in keeping with traditional ways as much as I could. Afterwards, I’d go outside and sit in my car and cry.”
Lajimodiere says her research about responses to unresolved trauma and hearing the stories of survivors helped her understand her parents, their harshness and lack of affection. (Her mother attended boarding school in Wahpeton.) “They weren’t parented, they were just beaten.
“When I read that unresolved grieving is mourning that has not been completed, with the ensuing depressions being absorbed by children from birth onward, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Years ago I had come across the term ‘adult child of an alcoholic,’ and was shocked to realize that it defined me. Once again, upon hearing the terms and seeing the definitions of generational trauma and unresolved grieving, I thought, “My god that is me; it is my family, my brother, my sister, aunts, uncles, grandparents,” she wrote in the essay “A Healing Journey,” published in the Wicazo Sa Review.
Lajimodiere recalls an incident with her father after she began researching the boarding school experience. “One day, about a year before he died, I brought the documentary In the White Man’s Image for my father to watch. The video spoke of the government’s attempt to stamp out American Indian culture, language, tradition, stories, and ceremonies. It reviewed the background of Captain Richard Pratt and detailed his educational experiment designed to transform the Indian into the white man’s image. Pratt’s first school, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was profiled, and the second school, in Chemawa, near Salem, Oregon, where my father was sent, was mentioned. The video documented the use of whistles, bells, bugles, and military-style punishment and daily regiment, the building of guard houses on school campuses, kids dying of homesickness, disease, and poor nutrition. The narrator said that boarding schools left a legacy of confused and lonely children.
Captain Richard Pratt designed boarding schools to transform the Indian into the white man’s image. His first was Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. (Boarding School Healing Coalition)
Captain Richard Pratt designed boarding schools to transform the Indian into the white man’s image. His first was Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. (Boarding School Healing Coalition)
“Following the video, and after a long silence, with head in hands, he said softly, ‘So that’s what the goddamn hell they were trying to do to us.’ The power and impact of his words slammed into me and I sat trembling, fighting back tears, unable to say a word, unable to comfort him. He had never learned, throughout his entire life, about the government’s assimilation policy, why he was stolen, why his hair was shaved off, why he was beaten for speaking Cree, why he had Christianity forced on him. This was his soul wound,” she wrote in “A Healing Journey.”
She learned that her father nearly died from a beating at Chemawa and that her mother was routinely locked in a closet during her boarding school days.
Learning about her parents experiences and hearing their stories has helped her and her family. “I had to forgive my parents after I understood what happened to them.”
Classes at Chemewa began with 18 students—14 boys and 4 girls—all from the Puyallup Reservation. (Oregon State Library)
Classes at Chemewa began with 18 students—14 boys and 4 girls—all from the Puyallup Reservation. (Oregon State Library)
She hopes her work will lead others to understanding, forgiveness and ultimately healing. “Before reconciling with the U.S government, we need to reconcile among ourselves first,” she says, adding that Native peoples need to create their own means to address internalized racism and the impact of historical trauma. “No one can do it for us; we have to do it for ourselves.”
She argues that the government has a legal and moral obligation to support those efforts. “My hope is to see monies flood in from the U.S. government in support of healing that is specific to historical trauma especially relating to boarding schools. We need counselors who are trained in the history of boarding schools, the losses or heritage, land and family.”
She hopes to see a time when survivors and their families can have access to a safe place in which to tell their stories. “Documenting survivors stories helps create connective tissue between what happened to them and what is happening in Indian country today. Allowing them to tell their stories also provides a platform to demonstrate the courage and resilience of Native peoples.”
Lajimodiere continues her work with the Coalition, which includes documenting survivor stories, but often finds it emotionally exhausting. “I have to take mini-breaks and care for my own psyche,” she says.
For instance, she recently received her mother’s records from Wahpeton but has not yet been able to open the envelope. “I know I will when I am ready,” she says.
This project is made possible by support from The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism and Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California; the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism.

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/06/29/punched-gut-uncovering-horrors-boarding-schools-160867

Far From Mexico, Students Try Saving Aztec Language

This is a really good episode from "All Things Considered" on NPR (transcript below) on why efforts to preserve and indeed, "save" the Nahuatl language are very important.  Not unlike the many other indigenous language groups in Mexico, Nahuatl has historically been oppressed yet has survived through the centuries. But language death, or conversely, survival, persists as a collective concern.  

I myself am getting acquainted with Nahuatl terms.  My observation is that Nahuatl has a lot of words that have lots of syllables—a higher  average number in comparison to either the English or Spanish language.  Its a different breathing pattern from either the English or Spanish languages, as well.  It takes practice but after awhile, the words roll off the tongue—and you not only feel accomplished, but it also feels rewarding to know that an ancient tongue is invoked.

All languages and dialects are worth "saving"—and teaching.  A very good point is made in the discussion below that the numbers of speakers and political power do not necessarily go hand in hand.  As long as Nahuatl is demeaned AND the Nahuatl community—the descendants of the Aztecs—buys into the stereotypical portraits made of them, Nahuatl is put at risk.  Of course these speakers are hardly a monolith.  As communities, they are differentially able to withstand the forces of (oftentimes forced) assimilation.

What is sad to consider is that for far too many, assimilating into a Mexican national identity that is itself complicated with respect to mestizaje, hardly improves their quality of life as monolingual Spanish speakers.  In my own work, I call this "subtractive cultural assimilation," or simply, "subtractive schooling."  The focus of my work though is on U.S.-Mexican youth in the U.S. where a parallel dynamic plays out but with the subtraction or erasure of the Spanish language instead.

Ultimately, "saving" and "salvation" are not technical tasks. but are accomplished instead through self empowerment and not buying into the myths of the dominant group regarding one's sense of worth, as well as our communities' cultural wealth about which Tara Yosso and others write.

One of the best things our federal government could do is really fund and get behind not just bilingual, but also multilingual, education.  This is so within our reach.


Far From Mexico, Students Try Saving Aztec Language

The descendant of the ancient Aztec language is one of many endangered indigenous languages. Although there may still be a million speakers of Nahuatl, it is not being transmitted to a new generation. But there is an attempt to revive Nahuatl in New York City, and students eager to connect to their heritage are taking classes.
And finally this hour, a portrait of Mexican-Americans in New York connecting with their Aztec heritage. NPR's Margot Adler has this story about their efforts to learn an endangered language.
MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Listen to this phrase.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language) speech with flowers.
ADLER: Speech with flowers. That's the word for poetry in Nahuatl and it's very hard for non-native speakers to pronounce these words correctly. Nahuatl descends from ancient Aztec.
DANIEL KAUFMAN: Of course, it's not identical to the language that was spoken by the Aztecs, just like our English is not Shakespearian English. But it's the direct descendent of that language.
ADLER: That's Daniel Kaufman, a linguist and the founder of the Endangered Language Alliance. There are many Nahuatl words, he says, that we might find familiar.
KAUFMAN: Chocolate, tomato, coyote, all those words are Nahuatl words.
ADLER: Kaufman says there are many indigenous languages spoken in New York City, but the speakers are often invisible minorities within minorities. The Alliance deals with more than 20 languages and a number are indigenous to Mexico. About a million people speak Nahuatl. It's the indigenous language in the Americas with the second largest number of native speakers.
KAUFMAN: So you would think that a language that large, how could it be endangered? But in fact, the number of speakers is much less important than how the language is being transmitted and so you can have languages even with a million speakers, but if the children aren't learning it, it could be gone in two, three generations.
ADLER: So when Irwin Sanchez contacted the Endangered Language Alliance and said he wanted to teach his language, Kaufman was interested. He went to Mano A Mano, an organization founded to celebrate Mexican culture, and it offered classroom space. Executive director Juan Carlos Aguirre said it was simple.
JUAN CARLOS AGUIRRE: A world with one language, two languages, is a very boring world.
ADLER: When I arrived at class, there are about seven students, including Samantha McLane and Victor Pajarito.
SAMANTHA MCLANE: I am from Mexico, so I suddenly felt that it was kind of ironic that I didn't know anything about our own ethnic languages. I'm very curious. This is my first class. I really want to like it.
VICTOR PAJARITO: My great grandparents, they spoke it, but then after a while, they just stopped speaking it because there was no one else to speak to.
ADLER: Nahuatl is a very metaphorical, poetic language and most speakers only know it as an oral language. Irwin Sanchez often teaches by reading poetry and having students read it back.
IRWIN SANCHEZ: (Speaking foreign language)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking foreign language)
ADLER: Teaching is not Irwin Sanchez's livelihood. He works in a Mexican restaurant in Queens. He says he is the last person in his family who speaks Nahautl.
SANCHEZ: Everybody speak when I was five years old. All my parents, you know, uncles, everybody speak in the house.
ADLER: But now, no one.
SANCHEZ: My brothers, they don't speak a lot. And my sister, she has five kids, so (Laughing) she's busy.
ADLER: He also tried to find people in the community, but it wasn't easy. Daniel Kaufman says that's not surprising.
KAUFMAN: People are shy to speak it in public. Many people report that, you know, even their fellow Mexicans will laugh at them if they hear them speak it on the street. And so there's a lot of stigma, old stigma that goes back to Spanish colonialism and just, you know, modern rural versus urban stigma.
SANCHEZ: A lot of discrimination in Mexico if you speak your own language. If you go to the cities, you know, they don't pay attention to you 'cause the way you speak.
ADLER: There was once an Aztec literature, but it was decimated by the Spanish, says Kaufman.
KAUFMAN: They burned everything they could get their hands on. There are a few codices that were left over, of course, but modern speakers have no idea how to read those glyphs.
ADLER: In fact, few people know how to write the language in the Latin alphabet. Teaching a modern alphabet is beginning to happen in some schools in Mexico, but the attempt to revive Nahuatl remains an uphill battle. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Why students need more Black and Latino teachers: an exclusive excerpt from José Vilson’s “This is Not a Test”

On the importance of race, language and culture by renowned educator and blogger, José Luis Vilson. 

Also, here is his recent piece titled, The Professional Educator: The Need for More Teachers of Color [PDF] that just cam out in American Educator an AFT publication.  

He addresses in both pieces the larger question of equity and the importance of youth having same-race teachers in schools.


José Luis Vilson headshot
José Luis Vilson teaches math at I.S. 52 in Washington Heights and blogs at thejosevilson.com. He is the author of "This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education.”

Before college, I only had one Black male teacher. His name was Mr. Wingate and he taught Computer Applications in twelfth grade. He didn’t teach me anything profound, since Microsoft products don’t lend themselves to intellectual depth or deep revelations, but he made an impression.
If I’ve done the math correctly, out of the fifty or so teachers I’ve had in my lifetime, only two or three of them were men of Black or Latino descent. For someone who was born and raised in New York City, that’s staggering.
You’re allowed to wonder why that’s so important. After all, teachers of all races, backgrounds, sexes, and ages have proven effective educators of urban youth.
I love that so many white people care about the plight of Black and Latino students that they’re open to working in the neighborhoods they’re in. Many of my white teachers were excellent. I get that there needs to be a diversity of experiences; our students have to survive in the same world as everyone else. A small part of me also thinks: Who better to teach urban youth the tools needed to survive in a predominantly white country than…white people?
But I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t disturbed by the lack of representation of Black or Latino males as teachers. Some work as principals, school aides, and staff, and others are third-party vendors, education lawyers, and professors in institutions of higher education. Effective (and ineffective) teachers often leave the classroom in favor of these occupations; while plenty of men do great work in administration, too many men use it as a means of staying in education without grounding themselves in the educational practice of the classroom.
Because more than 80 percent of the nation’s teachers are women, our society also views teaching as “women’s work”—a category that often leads to demeaning and obtuse ways of dismissing teachers’ contributions. This dynamic compounds the already existing problem of society talking down to educators in our schools.
cover imageToo many people don’t see the need to pay teachers well (one of the many issues at play in current contract negotiations) or to ensure they have proper working conditions because they see us as caretakers, not professionals. Where male-dominated professions like computer science or medicine get respect, the teaching profession still has to combat patriarchy.
The fact that so many people view teaching as a second-class profession speaks volumes about our society’s values. Plenty of men talk favorably about teachers, but when asked if they’d ever be teachers themselves, they respond, “I don’t have the patience,” and “You guys don’t get paid enough.”
In our society, money means stature, whether we value the person who holds the position or not. It’s not just coming from this generation, either. My mom, whom I love dearly, on occasion wonders aloud why, with all the stress and duress I endure as a teacher, I would put up with this mess when I could make 150 percent more as a computer programmer.
There are those who have left the profession because it’s really easy to get jaded about the school system and the human experience. I don’t know any fellow Black or Latino male (or female) teachers who think that every student in their school is getting properly served by this school system.
Some conclude that the system is hopeless. Others say, “We’ll continue to fight.” The latter are crucial. When our students see more Black or Latino sports figures populating a multimillion-dollar court or field and yet only one Black or Latino teacher in their whole grade, or two or three in their whole school, then they’re probably less inspired to take teaching seriously.
History helps explain the lack of male Black or Latino teachers, too. It was Mississippi-based teacher and National Board of Professional Teaching Standards board member Renee Moore who first told me the extraordinary story of how Black teachers in the South (especially males) were systematically dismissed or ostracized from their positions after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in anticipation of integrated public schools. Shortly thereafter, school boards removed Black educators in droves and replaced them with brand-new, mostly white teachers.
Nowadays, people rarely point out the racial undertones of replacing staff who achieved their positions via “traditional” routes with teachers who have completed a prestigious alternative certification program that mainly solicits people from the most exclusive colleges and the upper echelons of their college classes.
In 2011, I had the privilege of speaking at an event held by Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Teachers, an organization founded by Dr. Bettye Perkins to encourage more teachers of color to enter the profession.
I told the group that in my first month of teaching, I had this crazy idea that I would transform my students’ lives and that they would change for me the way Jaime Escalante’s did in Stand and Deliver. They didn’t. But that first class was probably my favorite, and the one from which I learned the most.
One time, we did a lesson on percentages. I wrote my lesson using the technical aspects of finding percentages. As I began to teach it and see the bored look on my students’ faces, I had an idea. I wrote the word “percent” out and asked my kids, “Does anyone recognize a word in here?”
I said, “Oh good! Now, has anyone ever heard of the word somewhere else, even in Spanish?”
Kids jumped out of their seats, they were so excited to answer.                                                  
A few kids shouted, “Ooh! Ooh! Centavo!”
“So what does centavo mean?”
“A penny!”
“And how many pennies do you need to get a dollar again?” “A hundred!”  
“So when we say percent we mean we’re comparing one thing out of a possible hundred.”
That piece of my lesson took about ten minutes more than I planned for, I explained. But it also made a huge difference. Teachers who can relate to their students on a cultural level can reach their students in important ways.
I’m not saying people from other cultures can’t help us, but every student of color could use a role model. If their role model just happens to be the teacher in front of them, that’s perfect.
We have high expectations for the children sitting in front of us because we were once them. We can tell the difference between a kid not knowing how to add fractions and not knowing how to say the word “fraction,” because many of us were once English language learners.
We don’t take “Yo, what up, teacher?” or “Hey, miss!” to be a sign of illiteracy, but a sign that they want to connect with us as human beings. Our importance as teachers of color stems from this dire need for kids of all races and backgrounds to see people of color as multidimensional and intelligent, different in culture but the same in capability and humanity.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Children’s Budget 2015 brings bad news: fewer investments in kids

In reviewing the Urban Institute’s data, Anna Bernasek of Newsweek notes that if this trend continues, “the federal government soon will be spending more on interest payments on the debt than on children.”
Rather than being feared, America’s new diversity – poised to reinvigorate the country at a time when other developed nations are facing advanced aging and population loss – can be celebrated.

He hits it on the nail.  Our nation's new diversity is not only feared, but there is also nothing to fear and everything to gain from reversing this trend and investing not just in our so-called "future," but also our "present."

Children’s Budget 2015 brings bad news: fewer investments in kids

Child Abuse & Neglect Child Rights Childcare Children of Immigrants Early Childhood Education Federal Budget Health Housing & Homelessness Nutrition Poverty & Family Economics Safety Tax Policy
The federal government makes more than 200 distinct investments in children. These include traditional children’s initiatives like education and child abuse and neglect prevention. They also include other investments that improve the lives of kids, like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps).
Every year, First Focus publishes a Children’s Budget offering a detailed guide to federal spending on children and an invaluable resource for those seeking to improve the lives of America’s youth.
This year’s Children’s Budget 2015 brings more bad and unfortunate news for children. The share of federal spending dedicated to our nation’s children has now fallen to just 7.89 percent, which is down from a high of 8.50 percent in 2010. Consequently, the federal share of discretionary spending dedicated to children has dropped by 7.2 percent over the last five years.

In addition, on an inflation-adjusted basis, federal discretionary spending on children has dropped by 11.6 percent between 2010 and 2015. Discretionary funded dedicated to children’s health, education, child welfare, training, safety, and nutrition are all down even without adjusting for inflation.
In reviewing the Urban Institute’s data, Anna Bernasek of Newsweek notes that if this trend continues, “the federal government soon will be spending more on interest payments on the debt than on children.”
Few would think these facts reflect the values and priorities of the American people. That is reflected in the fact that, by a 69-25 percent margin, a Battleground Poll in May by the Tarrance Group and Lake Research finds that Americans do not believe the next generation will be better off economically than the current generation. As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post notes, “The numbers from the Battleground Poll echo other data that has come out over the past few years that suggests a deep pessimism within the electorate about what sort of country they are leaving their children.”
We are failing to make the investments in children they need to fulfill their promise. As the Kids’ Share report concludes:

Without adequately funded education, nutrition, housing, early education and care, and other basic supports, the foundation of children’s well-being is at risk. When children grow up without adequate supports, they are less able to support themselves and to contribute to economic growth as adults. . . . A continuous decline in federal support for children over the next decade bodes poorly for their future or the future of the nation.

These assertions paint a bleak picture for our children if we as advocates don’t do something. While we saw increased spending as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the 2011 Budget Control Act introduced sequestration that involved serious cuts to important domestic programs. The fiscal year 2016 discretionary spending levels, because of a lack of relief from sequestration, are the lowest in a decade. Federal investments in our children and our future are going in the wrong direction.

Simply, we are failing to invest in our children. And some of the problem is related to demographics and is intergenerational.  According to Steve Murdock, former U.S. Census Bureau Director in the Bush administration, and his co-authors Michael Cline and Mary Zey, in our publication Big Ideas: The Children of the Southwest:

What is also evident is that the children of today will not be successful without substantial assistance from an older population that now and in the future is likely to possess superior economic resources. . . .
The major question raised . . . is: Will the United States’ adult population (through elections, taxes and other factors) support the youth who are racially and culturally different from themselves and their children or will they perpetuate a dual class education and economic structure which has dominated many areas in the United States, including many areas in the Southwest?

How that question is answered will be critical to our nation’s future. William Frey, author of Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America writes:

. . . a growing diverse, globally connected minority population will be absolutely necessary to infuse the aging American labor force with vitality and to sustain populations in many parts of the country that are facing population declines. Rather than being feared, America’s new diversity – poised to reinvigorate the country at a time when other developed nations are facing advanced aging and population loss – can be celebrated.

In 12 U.S. states (Hawaii, New Mexico, California, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, New Jersey, Mississippi, and New York), the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that minority children under the age of 10 are in the majority. And, enrollment in our nation’s public schools has also become majority minority, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“Yet, as Frey explains, “this youth-driven diversity surge is also creating a ‘cultural generation gap’ between the diverse youth population and the growing, older, still predominately white population.”
Frey points to states where the difference between the percentage of seniors and children who are white as places where there may be greater tension between the generations and competition for resources allocated to children and the elderly, and where children may be significant losers.
Murdock, Cline, and Zey share this concern and point to research by James Poterba that found “in communities with large proportions of elderly residents there were significantly lower per-capita educational spending, especially when the children were of a different race from that of their elders.”
According to Frey, among the states, Arizona leads the way with a “cultural generation gap” of 41 percent (83 percent of seniors and 42 percent of children were white). So, how is Arizona doing by its children?
The Arizona Daily Sun has documented how budget cuts to child protective services in Arizona caused child welfare caseloads to soar and reports of child abuse to be ignored, how cuts to public education resulted in per-public spending during the recession to decline by 24 percent, and how reductions in state funding to higher education were $300 million below pre-recession levels.
In addition, Arizona is the only state in the country to no longer provide health insurance coverage to children under the Children’s Health Insurance Program when it let the program expire at the close of 2013. It now has the second highest uninsured rate for children in the country.
Arizona is a state that enacted some of the some most stringent anti-immigration legislation in the country, SB170, and banned schools from offering courses such as Mexican-American studies, which federal courts have partially overturned.
As Murdock, Cline, and Zey said:
The future of areas such as the Southwest, and of the Nation as a whole, may be markedly affected by the extent to which its older populations are willing to step forward to support its increasingly diverse youth.
What is clearly evident is that the future of the Southwest and the United States as a whole is increasingly tied to the future of its minority populations. . . . Whether the nation prospers or struggles to maintain its current standard of living and whether it can compete internationally will depend on how well the diverse children such as those in the Southwest do. Ultimately, how well these children do will be how well America will do.
To ensure a strong future America, we must overcome the forces and ignorance and prejudice that are cutting – rather than investing – in education and our nation’s children. New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter adds:
If the next generation is going to be handed the bill for our budget deficits, we might as well make the investments needed to help it bear the burden. So far, we seem on track to bequeath our children a double whammy: a mountain of debt and substantial program cuts that will undermine their ability to shoulder it when their time comes.
Ronald Brownstein has also written extensively about this generational political challenge. According to Brownstein:
The nation faces the risk of sustained political tension between its racially diverse, Democratic-leaning youth population and its predominantly white, Republican-trending senior population — what I’ve called the Brown and the Gray. Although it’s rarely discussed now, both groups share an interest in equipping the young to obtain middle-class jobs that will generate the tax base to support a decent safety net for the old.
Since kids do not vote, we need an informed electorate that will translate its long-standing support for children into votes. This requires that advocates for children, including parents, grandparents, educators, etc., work together to build a grassroots movement to educate the public and demand from policymakers that they put forth a real policy agenda – and not just lip service – that would improve child well-being and then hold those policymakers accountable for real results.
Imagine how different things for children might be if politicians were the ones to lose their jobs for failing to improve education, reduce child poverty, etc. What is needed is a focus on the needs of children before it is too late.
Former Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently agrees that the new 114th Congress should make children a focus of its agenda. He writes:
As the new Congress convenes, I hope the president and members from both parties will keep one number in mind: 8,053,000. That is an estimate of the number of new Americans expected to be born between now and the end of this Congress and President Obama’s second term two years from now. . . . The future of those 8,053,000 little boys and girls deserve to have the two years of this Congress focused on them and not the next election.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “…50.4 percent of our nation’s population younger than age 1 were minorities as of July 1, 2011.”  We need to value each and every one of those children.
I remember understanding this for the first time so clearly when New York Governor Mario Cuomo said in a speech before the Democratic National Convention in 1992 about the plight facing children a generation ago:
They are not my children, perhaps. Perhaps they are not your children, either. But, they are our children. We should love them.
But even if could choose not to love them, we would still need them to be sound and productive. Because they are the nation’s future.
Now is the time for us to work together to educate policymakers at the federal and local level about the harmful path we are on. We must raise our voices in support of those who will put our children and our families first. It is imperative that we, as a country, move down a path that puts children at the forefront of policy decisions.
Download you copy of Children’s Budget 2015.

Download @First_Focus Children’s Budget 2015 on 200+ fed investments in kids: http://bit.ly/1N3ESQK #InvestInKids