I attended a talk last week sponsored by the Washington Teachers Union. The invited speaker was Enid Lee, who was also an editor of Beyond Heroes and Holidays. At some point during the conversation, I was inspired to comment on social media:

A few conservative folks “favorited” this tweet, thinking I had a problem with multiculturalism. That’s not what I meant, and I was encouraged to explain my thinking. Over the years, there’s been some criticism of an inadequate approach to multicultural education. That is, teaching diversity as an additive approach with themed months or weeks, emphasizing individuals, heroes, and special holidays, which is what Enid Lee’s book counters.

Teachers across the country still ascribe to this “soft” approach to multiculturalism. Many of those same teachers feel just fine with this, that it’s totally adequate. That’s where teachers end the conversation about diversity and equality: on or around MLK Day or during Black History Month. As a result of years and years of this very noble, albeit very limited, approach, I don’t think teachers on the whole are viewed as a group of professionals that can be counted on to stand up and speak out. I say on the whole because there are some positive examples in some areas. Teachers, however, have been very complacent over many years and have not been major figures in justice movements.

When I say that teachers have ceded professional ground, I guess I meant that many teaches have comforted themselves with the soft, additive approach to teaching about social justice, and stopped well short of engaging in real action.

Again, as a whole. Can we really count on teachers to stand up for what is right? I don’t think so.

ward7map

 

We have a new desert. Not food deserts this time, but a desert of physical activity.

From the DCist:

The latest desert that District residents must contend doesn’t involve food, but instead exercise. The Active Kids, Healthy Community initiative has created maps that detail the lack of safe spaces for physical activity by ward.

The campaign defines a physical activity desert as “an urban area in which it is difficult to find a safe, affordable place to engage in physical activity.”

Predictably, communities east of the Anacostia River have the fewest options for safe, physical activity. These are the poor black and brown parts of the city. When I first started reading the article, I thought about schools. Why could they not be open to the public?

On that point:

…the current program has “a confusing system that not all the schools are using because they don’t want to go through it and all of the community groups feel like it’s a big burden with a lot of paperwork.” Plus, there’s no uniformity—every school has a different way of operating as part of it, she says.

“Every school has a different way of operating.” I wonder how on earth that could be. Could it be that we have a public system and a public charter system operating simultaneously, the latter of which operating almost like a bunch of individual schools? Thus, we have a confusing mishmash of schedules and rules. If we had a vibrant, common, community school system, then perhaps the confusion could be alleviated.

The vast majority of charter schools are also found in wards east of the River, the same wards with these deserts of physical play space. With so many charter schools opening in these wards each and every year, would it not be prudent and helpful to the communities in which they serve to open their buildings, and their hearts, to students and families so they have a safe, local place in which to convene out of school hours? If they are so concerned about poor black and brown folks, this seems like the right thing to do.

I’ve not done the research, so perhaps there schools that have already opened their doors and have options available. Fantastic. Keep going! I want to reiterate, however: if lack of physical space is a community issue, and charters are proliferating at a faster rate than traditional public schools, then this is an issue that charters must address if they are going to continue moving aggressively into wards east of the River.

 

There is mounting evidence that curriculum and teaching with a social justice focus can benefit students long-term. For instance, from research on a high school social justice course:

Black alumni of the class, many years after graduating, uniformly credited the social-justice course for provoking a process of self-exploration that altered their sense of justice and influenced their self-identity.

Makes total sense to me. Common sense, actually. Yet, emphasis on things like “self-exploration” and “sense of justice” would likely tip off a debate on the goals of education. Education reform adherents explicitly emphasize the role of schooling as preparation for “college and careers,” or workforce participation. Excessive attention to measurable skills will inevitably lead to a de-emphasis of other potential outcomes, namely the soft skills that elude objective measurement.

I feel like a broken record here, do I really have to keep repeating this? Do we have to keep repeating this?

You rob Peter to pay Paul.

I’m not sure senses of justice and equity could be measured, and even if you could narrow them down to a metric, would you not be taking something away from them? Nevertheless, if the hard, measurable skills are necessary, then anyone writing curriculum for the hard stuff should take note. If students are learning to read or practicing reading strategies, for example, then they might as well be reading and reviewing materials that promote or encourage social justice outcomes. Why spend a month or two reading about, I don’t know, generic community “helpers” when you can examine the real and actual makeup of the current community in which students reside? Explore some tough questions about why certain businesses or resources do and don’t exist, and what is or isn’t available elsewhere?

Makes sense to me.

 

I don’t remember when I signed up for an account from something called Teachers-Teachers.com, which is a nationwide job board for educators. I didn’t even fill out the most basic profile information, yet I’m still flooded with messages from mainly private and charter schools looking for teachers. I still keep my subscription going because I’m inundated with emails anyway, and I’m curious.

As someone who has gone through the lengthy and clumsy process of hiring through large school districts, I can appreciate the idea of teachers having the option of being independent contractors. If the traditional school system structure is oppressive for you, then you have the option of gathering up your tools and following where your heart leads you. An interesting match or school culture may lay ahead.

It’s a real sad state of affairs, however, when you look at what’s available. I don’t want to knock individual schools. Getting good teachers must be difficult. A lot of these messages for job offers come from very isolated, rural communities in Utah, Nevada, North Carolina, for example. Some of these areas don’t even exist yet if you search on Google Maps, so the school is essentially opening as houses around it are being built. Satellite pictures from just a few years prior actually show construction vehicles, roadbuilding, and the like, right in the center of what is supposed to be an actual town.

The salaries being offered are abysmal, in the high $20s and maybe $30s a year. No doubt that salaries match cost of living in these areas. Yet, I have very little idea about who would be attracted to this kind of offer, or perhaps what this says about the status of the teaching profession outside of very high profile urban districts where the spotlight is always brightest.