Sunday, September 29, 2013

The term Zero Tolerance was invented during the Reagan administration inferring that there was a Zero Tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol for schools. The Clinton administration then included a Zero Tolerance policy for guns and weapon as well. Although well meaning, there has been a clear lack of common sense with both interpreting and enforcing these policies. All too frequently, police have arrested students for things in school that they would not outside of school. In addition to this, the policies have become too subjective, now including other behaviors that years ago would have been settled in the principal's office.

Evidence that has been collected over the past twenty years confirms the following:
- Only 3% of suspensions or expulsions were for the possession of drugs, alcohol or firearms.
-The vast majority of students who are suspended or expelled are black and special education students.
-Police officers are involved in school disciplinary issues that should be the responsibilities of the administrators.
-Students that have been suspended or expelled are three times as likely to become involved in the juvenile court system.

Thankfully, communities are fighting back. School districts are implementing a strategy called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). PBIS encourages and rewards positive behavior. It has replaced many of the punitive Zero Tolerance policies.

My school has been training in PBIS. This is the third year that we have incorporated this strategy into many aspects of our school climate. It is working; attendance is up, suspensions are down as well as many other behaviors like fighting and vandalism.

When I read this article, I thought about a boy that I had in class about 15 years ago. His mother was in and out of jail and he went back and forth between living with his father and his grandmother. He was 15 years old in the 8th grade. He was always in trouble. Nearly every day, he was late for school and so he would get detention. He wouldn't stay for detention and then get suspended. As a result, he was failing 8th grade for the second time. I asked him one day why he was always late. He told me that if he wanted to stay with his father, he had to give his father money each week for room and board. He had gotten a job working after school until 11:00 each night. Then he would walk home, getting home even later. He had a hard time waking up every morning, so he was chronically late. My classroom has a back door. I told him to come to the back door in the morning and I would let him in and he could make up work in homeroom. If he stayed after school each day, he could do his homework with me. He agreed. He stopped coming in late which led to no detentions or suspensions. He caught up on his work and passed all of his classes.

If schools implicated every Zero Tolerance policy, it is likely this boy would have ended up in jail. This boy, came to school every day despite many things being stacked against him. I haven't seen him in a few years, but the last time I saw him, he was married with two kids working a job in construction.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Deconstructiong Privilege: Teaching and Learning as Allies in the Classroom

      In this chapter authors Margalynne Armstrong and Stephanie Wildman write about the differences between colorblindness and color insight. They suggest that color blindness does not encourage the discussion of equality. Armstrong and Wildman also provide exercises to promote both self awareness and dialogue.

Colorblindness vs. Color Insight 

 I agreed with the ideas of both Johnson and Delpit in the previous articles however,  I felt convicted both personally and professionally after reading this article. I think that I am guilty of colorblindness. When I read the quote, "Whites often aspire to colorblindness believing that color blindness promotes equality" I saw myself. I am not a racist, but of the mindset that by not noticing race I was treating everyone equally. I had the best of intentions. Color insight is really what I should inspire to obtain. Color insight promotes equality because there is more freedom to embrace who we are as individuals.It opens up dialogue and new ideas. Colorblindness implies that we are all the same, which is not true.I do agree with the authors when they state that now that we have a black president, society perceives this to be the end of our dialogue concerning racism. We have a long way to go. One of the most glaring examples is the extreme inequality in our schools today
  The exercises provided in the article were good. I have an advisory period three times a week and I am going to use the grandmother exercise in the classroom. I think that if my students were of high school age I might use the others.
I was inspired by this speech by Lisa Delpit. She urges teachers to know our students. She says "If  I don't know you I can't teach you." All the common core standards and best practices in the world will just be a black hole if we don't know who are students are.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom
By Lisa Delpit

Lisa Delpit writes about the communication block that exists within our educational system.  There is a disconnect between the white liberal educators and people of color.  Delpit writes about what she calls “The culture of Power”.   The five aspects of power are as follows:

1.  Issues of power are enacred in classrooms.
2.  There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a “culture of power.”
3.  The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have the power.
4.  If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier.
5.Those with power are frequently least aware of-or least willing to acknowledge-its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence.

Even when black people, or others who are outside the culture of power, try to explain their point of view the white educators are not hearing them.  The result is that those who are outside the culture of power stop communicating.  Delpit states that this is hard for most liberal educators to acknowledge.  However, success will only be achieved if this is accomplished. 

Author Vivian Gussin Paley writes in her book White Teacher “The further away the teacher is from the child’s cultural or temperamental background, the more likely it is that the wrong questions will be asked.  The child instinctively knows the questions are inappropriate but soon figures out that he must be the one who is inappropriate.  Thus he begins the energy consuming task of trying to cover up his differences.” (Paley, 9)

There are points of view in the article I found both interesting and consistent within my classroom. 

“To deny students their own expert knowledge is to disempower them.”

Erin Gruwell teaches at an urban high school in Long Beach, California.  In her book Freedom Writer Diaries, she gives her students journals to write about their own experiences. The students congruently read The Diaries of Anne Frank and Night by Elie Wiesel. 

Gruwell successfully provided them an outlet for the students to express their angst.  They were experts in their own writing.  As a result her students learned about the hardships that other young adults have had in world. 

“Actual writing for real audiences and real purposes is a vital element in helping students to understand that they have a voice in their own learning.”

The Philly Youth Poetry Movement (using the power of the spoken word) is accomplishing this by creating a safe place for kids to be themselves; a space to find the value of their own voice.  They are enforcing twenty-first century skills; why am I learning this? and Why is this important?

 “Many people of color expect authority to be earned by personal efforts and exhibited by personal characteristics.  In other words the authoritative teacher person gets to be a teacher because she is authoritative.”

I have found this to be true in my classroom.  In my student’s world, authority is earned like Erin Gruwell.  I too have students who come to school with ankle bracelets on; students who have been to the training school more than once.  Some have parents who are in prison.  Other are homeless or have been at some point.  In my experience these kids, for the most part, like boundaries and structure.  They feel secure and happy in my classroom.  I have high expectations for all of them.  The majority of them try to achieve my expectations.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Privilege, Power, and DIfference By Allan G. Johnson

Allan Johnson acknowledges that there is still a great deal of injustice in our society when it comes to race, ethnicity, social class, gender, and sexual orientation. He eloquently states that we as a society are part of the problem and because we refuse to acknowledge this, “We are both individually and collectively stuck in a kind of paralysis that perpetuates the trouble and its human consequences.” (VII) His primary goal for writing the book was to get people to think about difference and privilege and become part of the solution for change.
                Rodney King asked the question “Why can’t we all just get along?”(1) Even now having a black president we as a society are still not accepting of one anothers differences. Why is it still so incredibly hard for us to treat each other with kindness and respect?
                Johnson states that some groups are in privileges at the expense of others. This sets people against one another. The quality of life is in such contrast between these two groups. I agree with Johnson that we need to have conversations to solve this. We cannot be evolved human beings without compassion and justice for all. Johnson also speaks out about what privilege is like in everyday life concerning race, gender, sexual orientation, and social class. He calls this conferred dominance; giving one group power over another. For example human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson speaks out about how wealth affects outcomes. The impoverished have a much higher rate of incarceration than the middle class and wealthy combined. Over 60% of poor black men in Baltimore are either in jail, on parole, or on probation. Also the U.S is the only country who has life in prison without parole for children.
This is unacceptable. Personally I believe that the opposite of poverty is not wealth but justice. We as a society will be judged not by our great innovative technology or our power economy but by how we treat each other as fellow human beings.