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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Non-Conformity or Natural Human Diversity

This week's article by Christopher Kliewer struck a very personal chord with me.

I believe my first moment as a teacher came in 1987, when as a 16 year-old lifeguard at the MacColl field YMCA, I was offered the chance to teach a swim lesson with an outside group from the Spurwink School.  Every Wednesday, for 10 weeks that summer, a group of 10 severe/profound students, and their staff, showed up at the pool, and I got 90 minutes to work with them.  Three of the children were diagnosed autistic, two had Cerebral Palsy, two others had Spina Bifida, and the other three were Down's Syndrome.  Before the first lesson was over, I knew I was in for a very special summer.

A combination of things were in play that first day, the staff that worked with these kids were amazing, I was 16 and knew nothing and was therefore very impressionable, and we all loved the water.  The first thing I learned, was that these were not children with disabilities.  They were children.  The second thing I learned was that the water provided them with an exceptional medium in which to move and communicate.  As straps and harness were removed, and bodies entered the pool, their faces and their voices lit up.  I was blown away by the energy, enthusiasm, and excitement, and before I knew it, our time was up.

Max, My Coaching Idol

This group of students were secluded in their year-round school, but the staff that worked with them did not accept these limitations, one of the gentleman told me they put about 15000 miles on the van each summer, we were just one stop.  As the summer progressed, I integrated families and children from the pool club, and summer campers into our weekly time together, and without having the words for it, witnessed those young people "claim significance through dialogue" and "contribute to society's mosaic."  What they did was change my life, and the lives of the other kids I introduced to them.  The differences they had in their minds and bodies, made no difference to us, because of their spirits.  They were kids, we were kids, and the last three weeks of the summer when we had water polo matches with our integrated group were unforgettable.  We had started alone, in the zero entry, shallow end of the kiddie pool, and finished in the 10 foot well, with an audience of over a hundred, as we celebrated a championship in which everyone won.

I had plenty of interactions with special needs individuals before that summer, but that was the time in my life when I recognized that the special needs were mine, not theirs, and I lost my labels, and thank goodness, have never been the same since.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Multilingual Aria

Teaching in a multi-cultural-lingual-tasking district and community, I am always challenged to find the Aria within.

Aria:  The term 'aria' was frequently used in the 17th and 18th centuries for instrumental music used for dancing or variation, and modeled on vocal music.

The melody that my students create, is often a combination of a variety of language and dialect, past experiences that vary wildly, and learning styles and attention spans that are as individual as the students themselves.

As I read this week's articles, I am struck by just how many pieces we, as teachers, need to conduct and weave together to create a single symphony.

In the Collier article, we are given 7 guidelines for teaching multi-lingual learners.  We discuss the merits of bilingual teaching, single-language teaching, and the blend of the two.  We are asked to consider how "caregivers" are speaking to our students, and reminded not to teach to their deficiencies, but rather their strengths.  We are encouraged not to challenge the validity of their first-language, while empowering their code-switching as a valuable learning technique.  Ultimately we are asked to build balanced literacy based on their first-language, while developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing in academic English simultaneously.

Synthesizing all of the methods, and practices, with the varying student abilities, begins to seem like conducting an orchestra to find one sound.  The question becomes, how to respect the student, and all of their individual and unique characteristics, and maintain a "one sound" that is meaningful and valuable.  Sarah Hudelson offers us insight on page 233, "the goal of reading and writing is to enable students to learn about and interpret the world and reflect upon themselves in relation to people and events around explain, analyze, argue about and act upon the world.  If as ELL teachers, we can start a student down this road, and inspire them to find their place in this literate world, we have done a service we can be proud of, because the focus is where it should be, on the student.

The Rodriguez article took me into an entirely different kind of Aria, a sad, sad, operatic tragedy, where the loss of "home" is replaced by a spot in a new existence.  This provides different opportunities for the student, but at what cost?  We are introduced to our young hero of the song, as he finds himself dazed, diffident, and afraid, at the prospect of his parochial classroom forcing him into silence and dismay.  As the calming assurance that I belong in public has finally taken hold (36) Ricardo has finally morphed into Rich-heard.  But is this a Pyrric victory, coming at the loss of "my father, who in Spanish was quickly effusive, but has now retired into silence?"(paraphrased 37)  The inevitable slide into this new reality is the result of the family, giving up their private individuality, for a public identity, because "HOW CAN YOU QUESTION THE CHURCH'S AUTHORITY?" (35)
This second article had me channeling Delpit, and my own ideas about who gets to decide what success means.  If our hero and his family have assimilated to the point of "losing their home" have we simply silenced an important dialogue rather than respecting the individual?  Perhaps if we had been more respectful and inclusive this tragedy could have turned out comedy instead.

Happiness is your truth.

Reflection on Facilitating Digital Kids

Facilitating in SED 561was, for me, an experience we refer to in the Central Falls School District as a "learning stretch."  That term is bandied about among the faculty and leadership to describe putting someone in an uncomfortable position, in order to help them grow intellectually or professionally. Needless to say, as the date for Tina and I to present "Digital Kids" to our cohort drew near, my level of trepidation correspondingly increased.  Dr. Bogad and Tina, my co-teacher, were tremendously helpful in prepping some of the nerves out before class began, but Tuesday night and Wednesday day still felt an awful lot like the night before coaching my first High School game ten years ago.  I am very comfortable in the leadership roles I have chosen, but stepping into a new situation always comes with some anxiety, I am thankful that I have such an exceptional group in SED 561 to allow me to grow in new ways.

The authors we had read prior to 10/29 provided us with a map of effective, inclusive, equitable teaching practices, and the topic was interesting and important.  The challenge is, with so much information and resources available, how to keep the discussion and presentation of materials focused and purposeful.  Tina and I struggled throughout our planning with just how much material to bring in, in support of our article (then of course I made copies of the wrong article).  In our discussions, we both had links and connections we thought were valuable, and "takeaways" which we have used in our teaching, that we thought would be interesting.  I really liked the idea of making people uncomfortable with the idea of checking in and "being in the same space, but separate" and felt like the group was generally uncomfortable with the change to our check-in.  Tina's choice of opening video was powerful, and her Tweet took us into conversations that segued perfectly into the class discussion.  I felt like the flow of the class (timing, materials, transitions) went very well, although it always feels like there is so much pressure to fit a few more things in.  I sometimes struggle with allowing everyone the opportunity for equal time, and not dominating conversations in my classroom, but I have been working on this, and facilitating this class really helped me focus on actively listening, to be able to respond to each other, rather than try to make a point.  It definitely helps that we have such an insightful and responsive cohort.  

As Tina mentioned in relation to the Todd Rose talk, we are not asking if you want technology in your classroom, it's already here.  I was thinking about the rain, and inequality, and the idea of being a digital immigrant trying to operate in an classroom filled with natives.  My takeaway from the week, therefor is to learn the native language, stay relevant, and introduce the natives to each other more often, so that they can play in either world, and feel right at home, and so can I.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Safe Spaces

So this week's reading, was actually two readings for me. I had never read about or heard of the events of Stonewall, and when I got to the reflection points on page 89, I decided to do so. While I normally tend to avoid Wikipedia for primary source references, I think the detail in which Stonewall is discussed at least gave me a base of knowledge I did not have prior to tonight.

Stonewall Riots Wikipedia

I was specifically enlightened by the words of Dudley Clendenin and Adam Nagourney, who wrote wrote this about homosexuals prior to the time of the Stonewall Riots:

"a secret legion of people, known of but discounted, ignored, laughed at or despised. And like the holders of a secret, they had an advantage which was a disadvantage, too, and which was true of no other minority group in the United States. They were invisible. Unlike African Americans, women, Native Americans, Jews, the Irish, Italians, Asians, Hispanics, or any other cultural group which struggled for respect and equal rights, homosexuals had no physical or cultural markings, no language or dialect which could identify them to each other, or to anyone else... But that night, for the first time, the usual acquiescence turned into violent resistance... From that night the lives of millions of gay men and lesbians, and the attitude toward them of the larger culture in which they lived, began to change rapidly. People began to appear in public as homosexuals, demanding respect."

The idea of prior movements for equality prior to June 1969, was mainly (with a few exceptions), for homosexuals to assimilate and fit in, and the confluence of events in Greenwich Village seemed to mark a distinct moment of change, where people felt empowered and were able to stand up for themselves proudly, I was reminded of our first reading with Alan Johnson, and how we need to have the conversation, pay attention, and make noise about inequities.

I found this short film which asks:

What if gay was the norm, and straight made you the minority?

The comments were telling, and challenge the cultural norms which pervade society

I suppose my parochial education, contributed to the lack of awareness of the riots of Stonewall, as the Roman Catholic church is notoriously 50 years behind cultural change, but as the Safe Spaces article points out, it is the subtle ways, rather than the obvious discrimination, which often most reinforces our day to day norms. The ways family is described, or omissions in their description, the prevalence of heterosexual preferences in society's structure that cause those who are not included to feel purposefully excluded in the wake.

I liked the idea of John Kellermeier introducing enough inclusive materials so that the discussion of LBGT references became commonplace. In order for equity to exist, topics of those without privilege must become common rather than "token" or forced.

There are many approaches to increase the idea of equity for LGBT individuals discussed in the article. Curriculum inclusion, and teachable moments, clearly are important, as is the removal of the stigmatism that anything related to homosexual is deviant or abnormal. Teaching students the power of language as "Patrick" did with "Derek" is an approach that is straightforward and clear, and addresses the issue in a way that neither ignores it or places undue discipline on it.

I feel as if the LGBT community has made important gains in equity over the last 5-10 years, while I don't think there are more or less individuals who are LGBT, there are certainly more who are openly and proudly affirmative of who they are. However much improvement we have seen though, the silent curriculum, and the culture of power still combine to create an environment of inequity among all our students. This is probably seen in no larger way, than in bullying in schools.

On page 97, the article states that in the face of bullying among students directed toward homosexuals, teachers, parents and leaders often scold, snicker, or join in. The article also correctly points out that to ignore these types of bullying implicitly implies consent. I would propose that all of these approaches are harmful. Obviously snickering or joining in, would suggest gross misconduct on the part of a teacher, but scolding and ignoring speak to the subtly ways in which we can sometimes reinforce stereotypes and maintain the status quo. While lawmakers have made it popular to "take a zero tolerance policy" on bullying in schools, in reality, it exists prominently in the school culture everywhere. A major part of this is the use of the word gay to describe something in negative. As stated, reprimanding students for this will not solve the problem, it will push it further into the subculture, instead we need to be teaching our young people to look at and respect each other as individuals, and to realize that each of us with all of our characteristics, talents, and differences, contribute to a greater whole when we all have a common place from which to operate. We can accomplish this with open conversation, attentive empathy, and inclusive behavior. If we could do that, schools wouldn't be the only safe spaces.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

weather check-in

So today I feel that there are many weather systems roiling inside me today.

I am partly sunny because it was a nice day, which always lifts my mood, and I am at SED 561, which always makes me feel sunny.

I am also partly cloudy, because it has been an awfully long day, I was in school to meet with someone early, taught straight through to 245, then had a faculty meeting until 345, then fought mineral spring traffic to get here for class, only to have to fight it again to make a fundraiser meeting at St. Ray's in Pawtucket after class.

There are also storms forecasted for me, because a number of my students are going through difficult life situations, and I want to help, but know that there is only so much I can do.

Finally, when Al Roker predicted snow on Sunday, I thought "Why not?"  So I'll claim snow in my check in, and attribute that to feeling old in yoga today.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Discipline Games

Patrick Finn describes a teacher preparation class roll playing exercise, where he has the students (all teachers) play a student, teacher, and jury.  They have dialogue regarding the negotiation of student desires, and teacher responses, and after a pre-set amount of time, the jury rules on the item at hand.  I found this to be an interesting exercise, and I loved the idea of dialogue vs. anti-dialogue, but I opened with this description, because I thought the title "The Discipline Games" would make an apt title for the article selection. 

Finn opens in chapter one, discussing various considered titles for his book, and while we did not have access to the entire book, the selection we read could have been titled "The Discipline Games" because of the in-depth study and description of the set-up and inequality found in schools and how that inequality funnels students into their roles in life following.  The set-up of schools, and the idea that it could be intentional (conspiracy GASP!) by those with privilege, evokes powerful connections to that other title so popular in today's classrooms and society "The Hunger Games."  So in honor, I will be peppering my blog today with movie references for those of you who love the cinema.

In "The Book of Eli" Denzel Washington's character carries a bible through the apocalyptic world, where very few can read, and those who can hold all the power.  The main antagonist, is on a mission to collect and/or destroy all books, especially the bible, because it is the most dangerous of all books.  When he finally gets it from Washington's character, it is useless, because it is in Braille, which renders the villain functionally illiterate.  Eli continues on the a society of pacifists, and proceeds to recite, word for word the entire contents of the King James Bible, which he has memorized.  Finn opens by telling us of the power of literacy, and access to books, and continues throughout his book to describe "literacy with attitude."

We go on to read Finn discuss how students in working and middle class schools are taught to follow directions, get the right answer, and exhibit acceptable levels of resistance, mixed in with some hope for opportunity.  This type of learning is directed toward a future of wage labor, or service labor, such as teaching, law enforcement, nursing, and "accountantry(my word)."  There were two phrases that stuck most with me in this section, the first, concerning working class students and a science experiment was:  "what did we find" of course this came after the teacher performed the experiment in front of the students who were expected to sit quietly at their desks and observe.  The second was "There was more excited patriotism around holidays here than in any other school." when referring to middle class students.  This screams to the "caste system" of our society.  While hourly wage workers and working class people have little reason to look forward to the holidays, and those who are affluent don't need to have their holidays and gift-giving dictated to them, the middle class "managers" grind ploddingly forward, waiting for a chance for a little extra moment of what appears to be joy, in the form of a three day weekend.  What more appropriate image than a Disney classic:

The ants pick the food, the grasshoppers eat the food, and nobody gets squished.  These ants don't even know enough to know that they are oppressed, or to question their lot in life, until one renegade ant screws up and has no choice but to force change.  I think Finn and Friere might have moonlighted on Disney's writing team for this one.

The last idea I wanted to touch on was the idea of students from working class schools being hosted by those in affluent schools, and the differences between the food, and the classes, and the hallway expectations, and the rules, etc.  I have often rebelled against the popular idea that if you took a student from a poor community, and dropped them in an affluent one, they would prosper, or that if you took a teacher from an affluent community and dropped them in a struggling urban school, they would fail.  I'm just not sure the issue is that simple, but I do understand how he felt that he had let the urban students down by reinforcing the image they already have of sub-ordinance. Here's two last hollywood pics that deal with that idea:

Can't wait for class this week!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

From the Three R's to the Three C's

First a video from this week's Saturday Night Live, just for fun, but which talks about the rain:

Now on to the discussion of the Ira Shore article.  

It seems as if we are discussion the movement/revolution in education from pedagogical "readin' ritin', rithmatic" and the role of teacher as lecturer, to a newer model of teacher as "problem poser" and the idea of students as creative, critical, and curious.

What teacher would not like to describe their students with these words?  What teacher actually describes all their students with these words, check out the 2nd video, by Sir Ken Robinson, who discusses exactly the model of schools we have been accused of in the Shore article:

The first time I ever saw this, I was ready for the revolution.  It helped that, the same year, I was moved from a middle school reading classroom, to a high school multiple pathways program.  I was in fact asked to energize, motivate, and engage a group of students, for whom the educational process had become "endullment"(my favorite term from this article).  I chose project-based learning as my format for ELA class, and we read Into the Wild by John Krakauer.  My first year in the program was spent in students self-discover, and despite a few hiccups, was quite successful.  To my surprise, many students found that school was engaging, and worthwhile, and that learning at their own pace, and being asked to figure out what topics meant to them, and then being asked to apply this knowledge in a practical way, inspired them to want to pursue new knowledge.  

In many ways, this style brought me back to my 2nd grade classroom, where Sr. Beatrice, rolled out the Scholastic Reading Leveled System.  Which to this day remains my favorite unit in any school experience (except of course for SED 561).  In this unit, there was a box with 50 or so colored levels. Students would all begin at level 1, then proceed through as quickly as they could test out.  Our teacher allowed us to choose our readings, and supported us all individually.  I flourished, as did many other students in class, but it was the expert facilitation of our beloved Sr. Beatrice that allowed this to happen.  

I believe the art of teaching, is the student focused-student centered support of learning, with citizenship, empowerment, and participation at the core.  This article hits me right where I live, and leaves me with the question: How do we make this the norm rather than the exception?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Civil Disobedience BY CHRISTY STEVENS

The title of this article could just as easily have been "creating community with your students" or "the way teacher's really get compensated ."

Christy Stevens article touches on many of the points we have discussed in class, while at the same time, bridging our discussion towards that of socio-economic inequities, and the challenges of teaching students with emotional, learning, or behavior disorders.

Teaching in an alternative setting, and working with students who remind me of those mentioned in the article, made this article personal for me.  In my practice, I have found students who are working class, and especially those with additional academic challenges, can get overwhelmed with the idea of fairness.  To read this article and see how they responded when faced with a substitute who broke the norms they had created within the group, really hit home.  I empathize with how let down they must have felt, and am inspired by the way they rallied to protect one another.

The most heartening paragraph was when the teacher was so supported by her administrator.  I am sure all the hard work felt justified at that moment, not to mention the feeling of having tangible evidence that some of the lesson you work so hard to advance, have taken hold.  These are the moments we teach for.  Despite the fact that her students had to go through a difficult day, what they were able to accomplish as a team, and how much closer they must have ended up as a result of the eventual outcome seems a pretty fair trade to me.

here's the link:

civil disobedience

Monday, September 22, 2014

Colorblindness, Color Insight, and Oppositional Consciousness. How Trayvon Martin and MIchael Brown play into the short game and the long game.

Ok, so the Ferguson Curriculum is mind blowing, so much information, so many different directions to go with it, and conversations that spiral deeper and deeper into important societal issues, that it becomes easy to lose your way, and get sucked into the vortex and never find which way is up.

I am going to try to make sense of what I read in two ways.   First, by addressing the Armstrong and Wildman article and the idea of colorblindness vs color insight, then by looking at the idea of oppositional consciousness in relation to Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin.

The Armstrong and Wildman article contests that the idea of colorblindness as political policy came about and grew in popularity only when it helped the cause of those in power already.  In effect white people denying race problems because they chose to look at the world without color as a factor.  In effect pronouncing "racism is not my problem because I am someone without race."  One of the problems with this philosophy is that it ignores the privileges afforded by simply being white, and places the focus only on those who are not white and the lack of privileges afforded them.  The flaw turns a blind eye toward inequality, in favor of lack of segregation.  White people have race.  This fact cannot be disregarded, when we as Armstrong and Wildman suggest, acknowledge this fact, and can discuss what having race means, then we can also discuss what it means to be of a different race, and place the focus on the "me" instead of the box checked on the application.  When we can discuss openly the broad inequalities that come with race privileges, then we can begin to build bridges toward true equality.

I chose the Mansbridge and Morris article "Oppositional Consciousness - The Subjective Roots of Social Protest" because the idea of revolution and change appeal to me on a base level.

In this article, the authors/editors suggest the idea of change is brought about by the feeling of wanting change being coupled with a catalyst that is capable of organizing the masses under a common idea, and forcing society to change.  Like others, this article clearly points out that the ruling norms and ideas of a society are tightly shared with its ruling class. Ascendent classes may have the power to change the predominant power or ideology, but that power is always present.  Whenever it is asserted, there is conflict, and our primal human response is either that of shame or anger.

In the cases of Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown (which I have chosen not because they are the only examples, but because they are recent, well-known, and share common messages) I believe there are clear indications, of examples of the type of thinking that indicate the flaws of colorblindness, and oppositional consciousness.  Check out the video:

Hand's up, don't shoot!

While the speaker Phillip Agnew, from the Dream Defenders, explains to us all that (sic)"from the time you are born, this action speaks to the idea that I give up, I want to live" we are keyed in to a mentality, that I believe exemplifies the type of thinking that we need to discuss.  We have a white network anchor, asking the black man to explain the message of hands up.  Agnew explains, the problem is not in his explanation, but in the underlying message that black children are brought up to know this, and that they are all told explicitly from a young age how to handle interactions with police.  Is this the same conversation happening routinely with white families?  Why, if this "hands up"motion is universal, does Agnew need to explain it?

The idea of the long and short game unfolding here is also interesting to me.  Subordinate groups are often taught intrinsically and explicitly to rebel in small ways toward groups in power/privilege.  This is woven into the fabric of their consciousness, as Mansbridge and Morris point out "in crisscrossing routes with frequent collisions and cross-fertilization."  So individuals grow up learning to be suspicious of those in power, and find small ways to rebel.  This is what I refer to as the "long game" the idea of opposition.  When there are galvanizing incidents, such as the cases of Martin and Brown, leaders use the opportunity and timing to organize groups of like-minded individuals, and push change, banking on the notoriety of riots and outrage to educate, inform, heighten awareness, through slogans, protest, etc.

This is what I refer to as the "short game."  The seeds of unrest have been planted and fertilized all along, and when opportunity presents, you capitalize on it, and drive change.  The civic leaders in the cases of Martin and Brown understand the timing and cultural significance of major events, and rightly use these occurrences to further a movement.  Individuals decide, perhaps based on shock, or just new information, to back a movement, and at a base level, change can happen.  The role of the media in this process cannot be disregarded, nor can the role of popular perception.

I am left with the questions.  If the ruling group in society is replaced with a different group, and the ideas that rule are changed, how do we ensure that the new rules are better?  If the goals of change are to provide a structure of equity, can there ever be a ruling group?  Are we better served with fewer but better laws to address inequity or does everything need to be spelled out?

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Silenced Dialogue

"In this country, students will be judged on their product regardless of the process they utilized to achieve It." - Lisa Delpit

This, might possibly, be the best sentence I have read in the last 20 years in reference to education in America.  For far too long, the trend in our society has been to mollycoddle, to nurse, and cater to our students.  The current group of learners has matured in an age where everyone gets a trophy, where your personal choices and actions are valued equally right or wrong, where if you get a grade you don't like, have mommy and daddy go yell at your teacher and change it, and where discipline is mostly served with a timeout chair and a blanky.

While reading this article, I felt consistently reminded of my experiences as a basketball coach.  On the court, I am always giving purposeful, connected feedback (positive and negative) to my players.  Behaviors have consequences in practice, i.e.- if you don’t hustle after a loose ball, we, as a team line up and run, if you make a free throw, you can save your team from the same sprint.  My players respect me because I have earned the right to tell them when they make a mistake.  My expertise is in an area where they are desperate to show growth and their own ability, and we are always judged by the final product.  On the practice floor, we work to gain proficiency, and our games are a public, quantifiable way to measure that.  I have to constantly prove my ability in order to keep the team working forward, and they each have to constantly prove their commitment to justify playing time. 

This is not so different from what Delpit is saying about how teachers need to prove their ability in the classroom to earn the respect of working-class or African-American students.  I would suggest that this approach benefits ALL students.  Knowing what is expected and valued in a society benefits ALL its members, not just the ones seen as having obstacles.

When we create and maintain a "culture of power" that is based on middle-upper class, racially biased ideals, we are doing a disservice to everyone.  Some of the best practices described in this article apply to all students.  I am currently in the process of becoming certified in the SIOP model (Sheltered Instructional Observation Protocol), which is intended to address the challenges of English Language Learners.  Its best practices are recommended for all students, not just ELL's, here is a link: SIOP info

We respect our students as experts in their own lives when we allow them multiple opportunities to apply language in informal and formal settings, and teach them the rules and the differences.  I have found some of the best results as a teacher come when we help a student figure out what needs improvement in their academics, either through conferencing or with a class assignment that has connected value.  Stand-alone practice is seen as busywork.  In summary, I think Delpit’s article suggest we expect all our teachers to earn the respect of their students, while at the same time, allowing them to earn the same respect, the process should be constant.  If we expected this kind of behavior from all teachers, it would be beneficial to all students without costing any students.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Privilege, Power, and Difference - Johnson

After reading Alan Johnson's article Privilege, Power, and Difference, I am struck primarily at how "out of date" his claims and anecdotal evidence seems to me.  Life is about perception, and therefore different for each individual.  My evaluation of the article, is that the perceptions and experiences Mr. Johnson has been through personally and professionally have shaped his outlook and claims in a way that is fundamentally different than the experiences and perceptions that have shaped my outlook.

To begin with, Johnson claims (in 2001) to have been working in the field of sociology and teaching courses with a female African-American colleague for over 30 years.  He goes on to describe his white, middle/upper-class, heterosexual, male perspective, yet denies to include his generation, and the prevailing majority of thought that belonged to it.  Johnson backs up his claims throughout the article with arguments that seemingly are incontrovertible, such as "just because you don't feel privileged, does not mean that you aren't," while using phrases such as "people of color" and "lesbians and gay me cannot casually reveal their sexual orientation without putting themselves at risk."  While I can suffer that this might have been the reality from his perception during the generation when he matured, it is simply not true in my experience.  As a 42 year-old white, heterosexual, middle-class male, the overwhelming majority of the people I have known (male/female/transgendered, straight/gay/bisexual/transvestite, black/asian/white/hispanic) would be outraged at the suggestion that a person was more or less valued because of their place on the wheel, rather than their character.  On the contrary, someone who implied such would be considered ignorant, and disregarded.

I am not suggesting that society has reached the same level of enlightenment.  Salaries and average household incomes are not equal across differences.  Representation in government and high-paying powerful positions do not reflect the population.  Interest rates have been proven to suggest preferential treatment, as have arrests/convictions/sentencing.  Johnson points to these inequalities and states that it is the result of privilege, I would contend that it is rather, a contingency of ignorance among the aging group of people who currently make such decisions, and that we are on the precipice of the changing of the guards.  Johnson would point out that my "denial of the problem is a serious barrier to change" and I would argue that I do not deny that there is a problem, but that it is largely generational, and therefore as the current generation of those who perpetuate the privilege continues to age, a newer generation, who generally value character and performance over stereotypes and tradition will affect continued and proper change.  My response to Johnson, is that the conversations and shift of paradox has already happened, and passed him by.  The world is a different place than it was in the 1970's when he was afraid to talk to a black woman about race, and in 2001 when homosexuals were afraid to let it be known what their orientation was, and that I feel privileged to have come up in a society that says you are a person first, that your character and accomplishments speak much louder than your skin color, gender or orientation, and that differences are not something to be tolerated, but celebrated, because that is what makes individuals interesting.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My First Blog


That is the emotion I am feeling most strongly right now.

My first blog.  Ever.

And I need to post it live on demand.

I feel like I should write something prophetic.  This is after all the very first step on a journey that will end up...who knows where?  And as Lee Iacocca so famously said:

The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.

Perhaps we begin with an introduction.

My name is Brian Crookes, I teach English/Language Arts at Central Falls High School, and have taught in either the middle or high school for the last 13 years.  I came to be sitting here today because I accepted an invitation, went on a tour, and gave an interview.

The Central Falls School Department has a working collaboration with Rhode Island College, and through that collaboration, I met Dr. Janet Johnson. She was observing my test-yoga classroom, and had the pleasure of watching me fall out of the tree position over and over again in front of my students.  After many Wednesday mornings, I finally managed to hold the pose for more than 3 seconds, and praying immediately on the aura of success I was basking in, she invited me to a conversation with her team here at the school.  I got to meet Dr August, and Dr. Bogad, and lots of other wonderful people who were having meaningful conversations about teaching and learning.

Shortly thereafter, I had the pleasure of touring the General Dynamics-Electric Boat facility in Quonset with Dr. Horowicz, and spending the day together, thinking about our students, was exciting and intriguing, and she mentioned the ASTL program to me.

At the end of the school year, Dr. Johnson asked if she could interview me regarding the Mindfulness and Yoga program which piloted at the HS with my class.  After talking for over an hour, we parted ways, and wished each other a great summer.  I went home inspired with the idea that some people "just get it" and talking to people like Dr. Johnson, who clearly does, is enlightening.

That same day, Dr. August emailed me, inviting me to meet with her about the possibility of joining the ASTL program for the fall.

Needless to say, I was intrigued, I am the curious type, I want to know how and why and what happens?  So here I am.

When I am not teaching, spending time with my Bride or children, or coaching, I like to cook, and golf.

Thank you and good night now!

Brian Crookes