Tag Archives: Rethinking Our Classrooms

Public School Integration, 21st Century Style

30 Sep

Although parts of it make me cringe (“I feel like at this age, they don’t really see color,”) this is a fascinating little article from NPR about white, upper-class parents in Birmingham, Alabama, sending their children to public schools, which are 95% black, and 90% free- and reduced-lunch.

New Wave Of School Integration In Birmingham, Ala.

Although the article focuses mainly on the gentrification and racial issues, there are a few points that relate directly to things we’ve talked about in class. For one, the above quote about how kids “don’t see color.” Adults seem to have this strange idea that children are color blind. They see color, but many of them just haven’t lived enough to know they are supposed to care about it. It is we (adults, society, history) who put meaning behind the color of a person’s skin.

The article also mentions the difference between teaching styles of inner-city school vs. the methods “favored by many middle-class parents.” To me, this is NPR’s way of noting the difference between black teachers and white teachers. There is a difference. There is nothing wrong with noting that this difference exists. Reading Vivian Paley’s White Teacher, and Lisa Delpit’s review of the book in Rethinking Our Classrooms, I find it interesting to note that we talk a lot about white teachers working with black students, but not the opposite. Lisa Delpit notes that “When teachers are teaching children who are different from themselves, they must call upon parents in a collaborative fashion if they are to learn who their students really are.” (Rethinking Our Classrooms, Vol 1, p 160) This goes both ways. I hope that the teachers at this school in Birmingham are comfortable collaborating with the parents of their new students. Only then will these students truly receive the full power of a multicultural education, as discussed in the article.

Becoming a kind teacher

22 May

On Friday night, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Finding Kind, a documentary about aggression in girls.

We’ve been talking about bullying in class, and I thought the film would add an interesting element to what we’ve discussed, especially in the Middle School Learners course.

But I didn’t expect it to affect me so personally. I had literally blocked out a lot of the bad experiences I had in school, with girls being nice one minute and mean the next. I can think of three separate instances in which I suddenly without any friends because the girls I considered to be my “best friends” had suddenly decided they no longer wanted to be friends. I’m sure I was just as mean to other girls. Exclusion, gossip, name-calling, even physical bullying happen to girls, and it extends into adulthood. Our popular culture enforces it. Magazines scream at us about what female celebrity is fat, which actress is cheating on her husband, and who wore the ugliest dress to the Oscars. Reality TV focuses on women trying to outdo other women, and usually include at least one session of hair pulling/screaming/name calling (slut, whore, bitch, etch…) Our society has made it normal and expected to be a Mean Girl.

In her “Bill of RIghts for Girls” in Rethinking Our Classrooms, Volume 2, Mary Blalock says, out of 2600 girls surveyed, 60% of the elementary aged girls said they were happy with themselves, but only 29% of the high school girls surveyed agreed. What happens to young women between elementary and high school to cause such a shift in how we see ourselves? Why are we so mean to each other, when we should be helping each other out?

The book Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman, is an exploration of why teen girls act the way they do, and how parents can help them survive their teen years. As you may know, the book was the basis of the movie Mean Girls. If you haven’t seen this movie, please do. Not only is it hilarious (as it should be, since it was penned by the one and only Tina Fey), it is also a pretty spot-on depiction of “girl world” in high school.

Ms. Wiseman talks about the movie and the book:

She has since re-written the book, including information on how “girl world politics” affect younger girls, and how technology is affecting girl-on-girl bullying. Cyberbullying is becoming more and more of an issue in schools, and no one seems to know how to deal with it.

So, bullying exists. Girl-on-girl bullying is a big problem that doesn’t get as much attention, because it’s usually not physical. However, it can cause lasting harm. What can we, as educators, do about it?

After the screening of Finding Kind, the audience had the opportunity to fill out “Kindness Pledges” in which we could pledge to spread kindness. The audience was about 95% female, with girls as young as 8 or 9. A few women and girls stood up to read their pledges, just as girls and women do in the film, and in the Finding Kind workshops that happen all over the country.

Here’s my kindness pledge:

I pledge to model kindess in my daily life. I pledge to show my students that kindness is always the best policy. I pledge to stop judging other women before getting to know them, and to stop using derogatory words like bitch, slut, and whore. I pledge to be kind to my students, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and even to strangers, because everyone deserves kindness.

 

Here’s a final clip from Mean Girls, because Tina Fey just says it so well:

(plus, hilarious.)

 

Becoming an anti-prejudice teacher

5 Apr

First post. First day of the third week of the quarter. I’m sitting here on the couch, reading about Race and Respect Among Young Children (Tenorio, Rethinking Our Classrooms Vol 1), and wishing I had this book as a resource during the past few years I worked at the elementary level. I worked with students of all different colors and backgrounds – honestly, most of the kids I worked with were so used to the diversity that I rarely saw an issue, but when one arose, I never quite knew how to react. Also, now I’m wondering if there were issues there that I simply didn’t see, believing children to be “colorblind.”

Two of the most memorable moments involving race and children in my memory were not, as Tenorio describes, a lighter-skinned student making a negative comment about a darker-skinned classmate.

The first event served as a reminder that students, even young ones, are acutely aware of skin color, whether or not they have any negative or positive connotation. A first-grade teacher announcing to her class that a new student would be starting the next day. A student (a native Spanish speaker, with light-brown skin himself) immediately asked “Is he brown?” In my understanding of the event, the student was excited at the prospect of having another “brown” classmate to play with, and possibly speak the same language with.

The second event reinforced the idea that children come to school with an idea of race, and the knowledge that bias exists. During a difficult conversation with his teacher, and African-American student informed her “You’re white! I’m black! I don’t have to listen to you!” This idea is brought up again in the Delpit reading (Rethinking Our Schools VOlume 1, page 159), where the author mentions Paley’s encounter with a students telling here “I don’t have to listen to no white lady,” and in the Howard reading (page 120), where the author states “it is not uncommon for students of color to have deep-seated mistrust or suspicion of teachers who come from racially privileged groups.” Students do not come to school with blank slates. Between family, society, and popular culture (including the estimated 5,000 hours of TV that a child has watched by age 5!), they have an idea of how they think world works. Whether or not we enforce those ideas, or help mold and change them, is up to us as educators.

I think that many of Tenorio’s ideas about teaching and dealing with racial prejudice in the classroom can be applied to any sort of prejudice. She mentions briefly that one year she had students using the word “fag” as a put-down. I believe that educators have a duty to make a school a safe place for all students, and we need to focus on not just racism but also sexism, homophobia, bigotry, and all other forms of hate. Our classrooms should be full of love, learning, and respect.

**

I found some more resources online about anti-prejudice in schools and communities. Here are some cool links to check out:

http://www.adl.org/prejudice/prejudice_pledge.html

http://www.antiprejudice.org/apc-content.aspx?page=about%20us

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