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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