Archive for the ‘Political’ Category
The MBA/MA Huddle skipped through three continents in ninety minutes. How? Keep reading.
The idea of global citizenship is the foundation for bringing more international and comparative education opportunities to the MBA/MA in Educational Leadership program. In defining this unique type of citizenship, attendees at the first discussion on February 14th were presented with a tangible pathway to secure it; a new course set to begin spring 2014.
True to the dedication Mills has to their students, we were given a direct line to voice our opinions, and leadership answered—on the first ring. The Huddle hosted a discussion with Dean Deborah Merrill-Sands of the Graduate School of Business and Dean Kathy Schultz of the School of Education. The deans shared their international history in their fields, and ping-ponged plans for future coursework.
Dean Schultz described how her partnership with the International Rescue Committee led her to teacher education initiatives in Southeast Asia and curriculum development in Lebanon. Collaboration with the existing culture was paramount to the group’s learning and development. Dean Merrill-Sands spoke to the importance of the “deep dive”; practical and principled immersion in another culture to help understand your own. As an agricultural scientist in Mayan villages to countries in West Africa, Merrill-Sands emphasized leading by inquiry and participatory action.
Both narratives echoed a complete reframing of how each work in the world today. The new international course will encourage the same transformative critique on how we work in relation to others.
International and comparative education encompasses a wide variety of points in education and humanities, but especially in business. It is neither limited to studying abroad, nor confined to exchange, but is synonymous with one of our favorite phrases at Mills, “multiple perspectives”. Participation in international discourse enhances soft and hard skills promoted in any career field. For MBA/MA students, many of these educational entities are looking for astute financiers and program managers to strategically advance their global mission.
The proposed course will include anthropological insight, case studies on key issues (foreign and domestic), and perhaps a trip for field experience, which garnered the audience’s applause. This course, matched with others currently offered by the GSB, like Multinational Business Strategies and International Finance, may eventually become a concentration in International Education or Relations.
During the huddle, we started with a definition. “A person entitled to the rights and privileges of a free man, loyal to the state or nation to which he was born.” A citizen.
In recent exposure to Michael Foucault’s ruminations on power, I fell upon his description of a “free man” or, the state in which one is free. Freedom, he says, is a “field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several reactions…may be realized.” Foucault sees freedom and power in mutual existence, that where possibilities abound, action does too. Now think of where you live, of where you have lived, and where you would like to live. Did you consider yourself a citizen of your home address, or of a city in the Bay Area of California? Did you consider yourself an entitled free (wo)man who had a field of possibilities to behave in a way that was loyal to herself, as well as her larger zip code? Did you consider yourself a tool in a box of Pandora proportions, where the way the mundane choices you make in life directly affect your next door neighbor?
Today, we find that we are increasingly interconnected and must address different realities in the world around us. We are free women and men engaged in power relations that require us to talk, think, and act with multiple, global perspectives in mind. To build bridges and fill gaps across national borders, creating a more culturally-competent, socially just, and economically equitable world. To be global citizens, a seemingly cursory term, that has true meaning to students here at Mills who plan to take that meaning around the world and back. Join our class in the spring 2014 and stay tuned for more updates on our efforts!
Are you a global citizen? Tell us more about your citizenship here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1MJtKoQcGZbqo5QRDsu2ChrjJL8HSUbQwlmWLdCx8i9I/viewform?pli=1
The MBA/MA Huddle is a graduate group that offers a platform for action-oriented exploration of the intersection of business management and education, with a focus on innovation and reform.
On Poverty and Systemic Collapse: Challenges to Education Research in an Era of Infrastructure Rebuilding | Gregory K. Tanaka
In this essay I argue the economic inequities of today carve out a very large social condition that is orders of magnitude greater than can be conveyed by the term “poverty.” This condition derives from a massive theft of public wealth and abandonment of the principles of representative democracy.
There is a silver lining: on encountering “systemic collapse” (a breakdown of society’s largest social institutions), we as education researchers are presented with a challenge for which we are uniquely well suited. We do applied work and as such, are predisposed to building something new. But will we be ready to make contributions that match the human need in an “Era of Democratic Renewal?”
Most Americans have become poorer and not as a result of a four-year cyclical downturn. This is systemic. From 1972 to 2012, U.S. hourly earnings adjusted for inflation dropped from $20/hr to just $8/hr (Nielson, Bullion Bulls Canada, 2/7/11). While social welfare benefits made up 10% of all salaries and wages in 1960, today it is 35% (Economic Collapse, 4/16/12). Where in the 1970s the top 1% earned just 8% of all income, this year they earned 21% (Id). In 1950, household debt as a percentage of disposable income was 30% but by 2011 rose to 120% of personal income (Tanaka Capital Management, August, 2011). By 2011, 100 million out of 242 million working age Americans were not working (Seabridge Gold Annual Report, 2011). Today, one-fourth of all children in the U.S. are enrolled in the food stamp program (Economic Collapse, 4/16/12). And since being established in 1913, the Federal Reserve (representing the largest U.S. banks) has destroyed 96% of the dollar value of U.S. family savings by printing money (Economic Collapse, 2/9/12).
Meanwhile, the 1% has truly become “the elites” by boldly stealing from middle and working class Americans. During the 2007-2010 financial crisis, $27 trillion in bailout money was given to U.S. banks that was “off-budget,” meaning it was not derived from taxes but rather taken from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid accounts paid into by taxpayers over a 40-year period (Catherine Austin Fitts, 9/4/12). In 2009-2010, 93% of all new U.S. income went to the top 1% (U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, 6/29/12). A simple solution is available but Congress won’t act: a return to the tax rates of the 1950s-1970s would result in a 50% tax on the top 96-99% and 75% tax on the top 1%. This alone would cover ¾ of the current U.S budget shortfall.
The net result is that the U.S. is stuck with $150 trillion in debt and unfunded liabilities, leaving U.S. taxpayers with more debt per capita than citizens of Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Spain (Economic Collapse, 7/14/12). Worse, the global overhang from debt, derivatives and contingent and unfunded liabilities and pension accounts is now a whopping $1.5 quadrillion (Greyerz, King World News, 7/20/12). With global GDP at $50 trillion, the financial “overhang” is systemic and irredeemable.
Is this the end of democracy as we knew it? All three branches have certainly failed the American people. It was Congress that reduced the elites’ income tax from 75% to just 15% (for long-term capital gains). The White House authored NAFTA (exporting millions of manufacturing jobs offshore), launched two oil wars and gave trillions to bankers. Most appalling, it was the U.S. Supreme Court that sanctioned in Citizens United the ability of the super rich to “buy” U.S. elections, thus bringing to an end the “representative” characteristic of representative democracy.
To restore democracy, a massive project of social change is now needed that can model the contours of a democracy that is participatory and might include the following kinds of ideas. (I invite others to offer ideas of their own.)
- Exempting full-time preK-12 public school teachers from having to pay federal income taxes;
- Paying off the U.S. bonds with low yield (and later, cheaper) dollars, followed by a re-linking of the dollar to gold at $300/ounce, absolving U.S. citizens of all debt (Iceland model), letting banks restart as utilities, seizing illegal accounts held for Americans in the Cayman Islands, etc, and closing down the Federal Reserve;
- Paying for this renewal by deploying already available technology that can produce far cheaper, clean energy—e.g. artificial photosynthesis, splitting water molecules to create ethanol, and passing cars over electromagnetic rods in roads (like charging an electric toothbrush);
- A second Constitutional Convention that is, this time, “by, for and of the people,” redefines a “person” as a human being, includes term limits, and enacts a participatory democracy; and
- The creation of independent think tanks that are in the public interest and can conceptualize, operationalize and evaluate initiatives like those above.
To renew this country, and its democracy, education researchers will need to do several things differently. We will need to broaden our work from a tendency to perform narrowly at the “mid-range level” of change in organizations, schools or programs—to a concerted effort to combine three registers in one analysis (“macro” systemic change in the largest social institutions, “micro” reformulations of the self, and “mid-range” change in organizations).
We will also need to shift from “assessment overdeterminism” to an emphasis on infrastructure rebuilding. This will mean more large scale, longitudinal, participatory projects; theorizing the connection, if any, between performing social change and development of the self; replacing NCLB/RTTT with policies that teach critical thinking, creativity, science, history, the arts, and coming into being by helping others also to come into being; new epistemologies that unite a diverse country; and change in reward systems to prize the above.
The question, then, is whether we as researchers in the public interest will be caught in a propitious moment worshiping old research epistemologies and methodological registers—or be willing instead to alter the reach and aim of our work to match the magnitude of the task before us.
This paper was presented by Greg Tanaka at the American Educational Research Association Conference, September, 2012.
And so we begin again. In many ways the start of this new academic year is very much like every other year—the same excitements and the same hesitations. But there are two key differences that stand out for me—one personal, one public. What I just realized the other day is that I am embarking on my 40th year as an educator! Certainly not something I imagined would ever happen when I entered my third grade classroom in East Los Angeles for the first time in the fall of 1972—and certainly not so quickly—in some ways it is forever ago, of course, but in others only yesterday!
I also cannot help but think about the fact that this is an election year—an election year that seems very significant to me in many ways, but then, aren’t they all? The combination of these two circumstances has given me pause to contemplate, even more than usual, what matters most in this work that I/we are doing? How should I spend what must surely be one of the final years of my life’s work, especially given the times in which I am doing it? What should my focus be?
I wish I had something more grandiose to offer up, something more innovative, cutting edge, technological, specific. But I am afraid that after all this time—all this practical, theoretical, empirical work—all that I have experienced and read and heard in and out of the educational domain, I am more convinced than ever that the answers, the solutions are much more basic. I truly believe that the only things that can save us and our planet are human connections—connections that embrace, nurture, and embolden the inner spirits, joy, creativity, courage, care, and multiple intelligences of every child and adult with whom we make contact, and certainly with those whom we presume, at whatever level and in whatever context, to educate.
One of the reasons I am so committed to this right now is that in the forty years I have been teaching, I believe that we have gotten further and further away from this, which is especially tragic at the elementary level. An over-emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing via agendas/laws like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have caused us to rigidify, dehumanize, and narrow the elementary curriculum. Children are being forced to learn to read and compute at earlier and earlier ages, often at the expense of everything else, and in more and more mechanical ways.
As a result, my personal aims for this year and the remainder of my career are to emphasize, even more than I have been, creativity, care, critical thinking, curiosity, initiative—the joy of learning. As children learn and develop the knowledge and skills they must have, they can and should do so through hands-on/minds-on curricula that is engaging, enriching, and responsive to the learning strengths and needs of the particular children with whom we are working. We have to observe and listen carefully to what they are actually doing, saying, and understanding, and then respond appropriately, over and over again. And we have to let them know every day and in every way that they are wondrous, brilliant, and beautiful—our one true hope.
CUSP: The Center for Urban Schools and Partnerships
We invite you to attend the first event in our year-long speaker series:
Preparing Educators and Youth in a World of Economic Injustice
Quality Public School Education as a Constitutional Right
In conversation with Ruth Cossey, Mills College
September 20th, 2012
Lokey Graduate School of Business, Room 101
5000 MacArthur Blvd
Oakland, CA 94613
Join us for an afternoon of dialogue with civil rights organizer Dr. Bob Moses. Dr. Moses was a leader with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Mississippi Voter Registration Project and Mississippi Freedom Summer in the 1960s. As a MacArthur Foundation Fellow he went on to found the nationally-renowned Algebra Project. Most recently, Dr. Moses has been leading the call for an amendment to the US Constitution for Quality Public School Education as a Constitutional Right. We hope you will join us in conversation with Dr. Moses about his life-long leadership and activism for racial, social and educational justice for all.
This event is co-sponsored by Mills’ Office of the Provost, Department of Ethnic Studies, Diversity and Social Justice Resource Center, and Black Women’s Collective, as well as the National Equity Project and the Office of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
Given Bill Gates’s fiscal role in supporting matters educational, I was happy to read his NYTimes OP-ED piece opposing the publication of individual performance assessments of teachers. Gates claims he is not against teacher evaluation per se, but, he writes, “publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning.” I agree. At the same time I wonder if Gates is overly optimistic with his assumption that the purpose of teacher evaluation—conceived as it is with this “value added” scoring and then publishing methodology—is actually designed to improve teaching and student learning. As implemented, the connection is not clear.
Designed as a means to promote teacher learning and build practice rather than judge teachers and rank them, the Mills Teacher Scholars (MTS) provides support for teachers to explore areas of their teaching that they want to improve, and then support for making the changes that will help them better meet their students’ learning needs. Teachers identify an area of the school curriculum where students struggle. They frame a question about their students’ learning about which they want to gain understanding. They pursue this question by systematically collecting examples of student work over time, and collaboratively analyzing that work with colleagues who help them make sense of what the students do and do not know as well as what they can and can not yet do. Teacher learning about student learning is at the heart of the Mills Teacher Scholars work. Only with a deep understanding of student learning—one that goes beyond reading a standardized test score—can teachers alter their practice in ways that open up new and targeted opportunities for their students to achieve academic success.
Aija, one of seven Mills Teacher Scholars at New Highland Academy in Oakland, provides an example. Aija is a fifth grade teacher and a four-year teacher scholar. Last year she focused her MTS work on her students’ reading comprehension after identifying their low scores on the state standardized test. She learned that she needed to make her students’ thinking both more visible to them and to her. In response she developed a new methodology for teaching students what it meant to “think while you read.” The method allowed her to witness her students’ reading successes and challenges and alter her instruction accordingly. After experiencing excellent student learning outcomes and presenting her research findings at a school-wide forum, several of Aija’s colleagues decided to try that methodology in their reading instruction as well.
Developing a robust multi-faceted approach to evaluating teachers is clearly needed as we work to eliminate the achievement gap and reach better academic outcomes in our nation’s public schools. Publicizing teachers’ evaluation scores strikes me completely counter productive to that goal. Not only is it disrespectful of the teachers, it misrepresents the incredibly complex work they do. I fear the outcome will be to shut teachers down rather than open them to change.
If we are aiming for better student outcomes, a more urgent need in our nation’s public schools than evaluating and ranking teachers is a system-wide teacher-directed opportunity for professional development. Let’s move away from ranking teachers and instead support them to develop their practice. My suggestion is we begin by drawing on the expertise and professionalism of teachers by soliciting their ideas about areas of needed growth. They are “on the ground” doing the work and therefore best situated to understand their professional learning needs. We have learned in our work with the Mills Teacher Scholars that turning to teachers as a place to start brings about authentic engagement in reforming practice. I have seen evidence that this approach can lead to the student outcomes we desire.
This post also appeared on the Mills Teacher Scholars blog
The rapid rise and fall of Cathie Black as Chancellor of the New York City Schools last year offers a case study in the current debates over the skills, knowledge, and experience that are needed to run schools and school systems in the United States. Black’s appointment by New York City Mayor Bloomberg was heralded by the business community who focused on her managerial skills and business acumen honed as a senior executive in the publishing business, even as many educators and parents expressed concerns over her lack of traditional credentials. Her swift departure just three months later underscores the difficulties presented by her lack of knowledge of the intricacies of the world of public education.
The challenges facing public education have led a large segment of the public and political leadership in the country to look outside of education to the business sector for innovative leaders. Today, the language of business and the paradigm of competitive markets are firmly entrenched in the field of education–from the articulation of controversial policies such as vouchers and charter schools to the focus on outcomes in the form of high stakes testing as the centerpiece of a debate on educational effectiveness. In these economic times of scarcity and complexity, it is only rational that the public has looked to the business community for expertise in setting strategy, building new organizational structures, managing budgets and allocating resources among competing needs, and communicating among diverse stakeholders.
On the other hand, running a school system is not the same as running a for-profit business. School and district leaders need complex understandings of child and adolescent development, knowledge of how people learn, teaching practices, curriculum and assessment, as well as local, state, and federal educational policies. School leaders interact with families and communities on a wide range of nuanced issues. They are faced with important curricular decisions related to the newly adopted Common Core Standards, pedagogical issues related to teaching the increasing numbers of English Language Learners in the US schools, and decisions about how much to emphasize standardized testing as a proxy for understanding student learning. This suggests the need to have a deep understanding of teaching, learning, and curriculum that goes beyond their own experiences in K12 schools.
The problem with Cathie Black was not that she came from business; it was her lack of knowledge of and sensibility around educational issues. The ideal skill set for an educational leader is one that combines knowledge, experience and skills in education and business. However, examples of people who have experience in both the business and education sectors are all too rare. For this reason, at Mills College we have designed of a new joint degree that draws on the wisdom and strengths of both the School of Education and the Graduate School of Business. We welcomed our first cohort of eight new students this year. Our goal is to prepare leaders with the kind of multi-faceted experience and knowledge that will lead to creative and successful solutions to the challenges that face public schools today. Future school leaders and educational consultants who pursue this degree will have the opportunity to learn the hard skills of business through courses in finance, strategy, organizational management and marketing, and the critical knowledge of educational leadership and practice in courses that address the ethical and moral dimensions of school leadership as well as instructional design, learning and human development. We look forward to learning alongside the students in this new program and with them re-imaging the educational landscape.
We do not need to make a stark choice between either CEOs coming from the corporate world or educational leaders who have risen through the ranks beginning as classroom teachers. Rather we need people who are conversant and knowledgeable about both worlds, and who are willing and able to address the current educational challenges we face in all their complexity.
On Monday morning, classroom teachers were confronted by a set of competing priorities. On one hand, most are immersed in testing and test preparation. Teachers and schools are focused on preparing students to do well in a high stakes and uncertain process. At the same time, the world was humming with the discussion about one of the most important events in recent years: the killing of Osama Bin Laden. How do teachers decide what to teach in this context? Can teachers truly avoid incorporating such a historic event in their teaching in the face of testing and curricular demands? Current events constitute a background curriculum, the experiences from which teachers must draw to make content relevant and interesting for students. They are also a part of the content of students’ daily lives. As caring teachers, we are responsible for our students’ healthy socio-emotional development. Students need us to help them process and understand what often are confusing, scary, or upsetting adult actions or events. Even from a practical perspective, students will likely be distracted by the images and stories prompted by President Obama’s late-night announcement, the celebrating crowds outside the White House and Ground Zero, and the myriad pundits jockeying for attention. In order to think about these decisions and strategies, we turned to our colleagues at the Mills College School of Education gather some initial reflections on how to respond to this historical moment. We invite you to add your own reflections or classroom experiences.
Priya Shimpi – Yesterday, as the wait for the press conference went from curiosity, to fear, to speculation, to the announcement of Bin Laden’s death, we found ourselves as a family, interrupting bedtime in order to attend to the details of the historic event, as they were made available. My 2 1/2-year-old son sat on my lap and watched our president make his brief speech confirming the earlier news reports. While we were watching, he asked, “Why is Barack Obama on TV?” I replied, “He is on TV because something important happened.” My son did not ask any further questions, but as a parent and Early Childhood professional, I wonder what I would have said if he had pressed for more information. How much do you talk to very young children about war and the celebration of the killing of a man whose actions led to thousands of civilian deaths? How much is a young child capable of understanding, and what would such a young child do with this information? For other children who have been more directly impacted by the events of 9/11 or who have older siblings, the weight of the event will be revealed by the emotional and behavioral changes in conversation and social cues—and toddlers will pick up on these differences. My choice was to honestly, yet broadly, approach the topic, but to be mindful that for a toddler, words like “war” are incredibly abstract; he (thankfully) has not had the opportunity to link this word to a concrete referent in the world. I am more relieved than happy to wait for the time when such a learning opportunity will arise.
Betty Lin – Today, young children—ages 0 through 9—do not have the same context as adults about Osama Bin Laden. Even though the images of 9-11 are fresh in my mind as if it occurred only yesterday, it happened 10 years ago. As early childhood educators, we must keep context in mind when the topic of Osama comes up amongst the young children in our care. Take the stance of wondering with the children. What have you heard about Osama? What have you noticed about the adults’ reactions when they talk about him? Help children frame their observations into questions. They may not understand the magnitude of this event, but they also don’t need the trauma from it. What they can relate to is what’s concrete in their lives. Ultimately, the question of defining good and bad comes up. I prefer to discuss the values of good and bad around human compassion and the ability to empathize. Why would someone NOT want to engage in acts of kindness? I have had many forms of this same question asked. My most recent answer is such: Because no one has shown him how to be kind. My message to the young children is that it is important for all of us to be kind and to show our friends how to engage in acts of kindness.
Anna Richert – It feels to me a bit surreal to know Osama Bin Laden was found, caught, and killed. A ten-year search is a long time—and as Dave Donahue and I were saying while walking across campus earlier today—even longer for the high school students our students teach. For them, ten years is a big chunk of their lives. Most probably don’t remember much about life before this search began. I wonder what they are thinking now. Were I teaching them, I’d ask. Though surreal, it’s also a relief to know that this chapter of our “war against terror” is over. At the same time, while the war on terror is a step further towards resolution, I feel a bit terrorized by the response of “my fellow Americans” dancing in the street, waving the American flag and shouting with joy. Buried not so deep in me are my recollections of Bin Laden’s followers dancing in the streets when the twin towers and all in them fell to the ground. Granted the circumstances are profoundly different, but our response tempers my hope that as a nation we can bring about real change that moves towards compassion and peace. Osama’s capture and death warrant carefully planned discussion time in school. If not there, where will our students have the opportunity to make sense of the world in which they live?
Rick Ayers – I find myself at a bit of a loss and, as usual, caught up in an uncomfortable observation of the national culture, at least as reported in the media. We can agree that Osama Bin Laden was a horrible, dangerous, unspeakable man. But I would want my students to think of some other things as well. First, the idea of Al Qaeda as a coherent, unitary, functioning organization with Bin Laden at the head has been put forward by some US government sources but this has always been in doubt. Second, that the number of people eager to carry out suicide attacks has proliferated since the US incursions. But most importantly, I would want to chip away at the sports metaphor that seems to control our thinking about world politics. The celebrations of his death were like Super Bowl victory parties. Some students outside the white house had big “We’re #1” foam hands. Many of my students have been raised in a world of superheroes, video games, sports—all projects that simplify life into bad guys and good guys. I would perhaps try to use something from Joel Westheimer’s “Pledging Allegiance – The politics of patriotism in America’s schools,” such as Debbie Meier’s piece, “On Patriotism and the Yankees – Lessons Learned from being a Fan.” (See also for example: Cheering a Monster’s Death Is Not the Same as Patriotism)
Vicki Van Steenberg – With the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the topic of terrorism and “combating” it are headlines everywhere. I think about the efforts to protect and provide security this last decade in the United States. The lenses of Intelligence and an Afghani father in California come to mind—the tension for both parties seems related to the circumstances of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden that created and continue to put question marks around individuals’ movements and actions.
A CNN producer, Chuck Afflerbach, brought an actual court transcript to a play-reading group I am in, a court case he was covering at the time. This case involved the interrogation of a father and son from Lodi who had immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan. The young Hamid Hayat, an American citizen, had traveled to Afghanistan to visit relatives. He was detained upon returning to the U.S., on an FBI tip that he had studied at a terrorist camp while away. After 20 straight hours of interrogation in separate rooms, the father Umer Hayat and son Hamid Hayat were saying anything to sleep it seemed, the father misunderstanding English and attempting to protect his son by going to jail himself, instead of his youthful son. The statements of the two men contradicted each other. The FBI questions were tricky ones, especially for English language learners.
Umer were arrested in 2005 and put on trial in 2006. There is a lengthy article available on Wikipedia. What I liked about the transcript/play is that it allowed the readers to draw their own conclusion. Either they were innocent dupes who were entrapped by the FBI, or they were sneaky characters exposed by the investigative skill of the FBI.
Both men were jailed and their guilt was not so clear. If anyone would like the transcript as a play to be used in a classroom, to see through different lenses on the topic of terrorism, Chuck can be contacted for this script at his e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ruth Cossey – Our teaching and our learning are impacted by many events and emotional experiences that take place outside of our classrooms. For you or your students, acts of violence may spark such classroom intrusion. You may be aware of your students’ experiences – a local, national or international “incident” blasted by the media, or you may learn of the emotional disruption only after a student discloses it to you. Know that violent events often evoke values related to justice, fairness, religion, or national and personal identity. We have a responsibility to support our students’ moral development and listen carefully to them as they sort out their feelings; however, we need to take care not to allow our own sense of outrage, of sorrow, of despair or jubilation overwhelm student views during in-school discussions. Instead we need to find places and colleagues where we are free to process the impact of the world on our wellbeing as teachers and fellow travelers on this planet. In the case of recent events surrounding 9-11, I have seen our students at Mills pushed to silent retreat or rage as classmates expressed strong values in professor sanctioned discussions.
Kathy Schultz – I learned about the death of Osama Bin Laden Sunday evening from my daughter who texted me: “Are you watching the news on T.V?” My immediate reaction was to write back to ask whether something new was happening in Syria. My son is living in Damascus and studying Arabic. What was foremost on my mind, and the lens through which I heard this news, was my own child’s safety at that moment. We all understand events like this one through our own lived experiences and beliefs, whether we had a loved one who died on 9/11, a relative harassed after 9/11 because of her Arab heritage, or a son living in the Middle East during a time of uprisings and change. As teachers, leaders, parents and citizens, we bring these experiences and ways of understanding the world into our classrooms, homes, and communities. Our students and the young people in our lives also bring their own perspectives and daily experiences. As teachers, our most important response is to listen carefully to our students. Listen to what they say and also to their silences. Create time and space for response that is individual and communal. Find opportunities for young people to articulate questions and reflections through words and also through other media such as art and music. We live in times filled with complexity and as teachers, mentors and parents we can find ways to hold onto that complexity rather than seeking the simple solutions of praise or condemnation. We can work to insure that we recognize and point to what is being said and what is omitted from the public discourse and the conversations in our own classrooms.
Tomás Galguera – I’ve been thinking about the relative meaning we as humans attach to lives and deaths, the significance and apparent justification behind each act, and how we deal with the aftermath as we go on living. I suppose that few people on this planet don’t know who Osama Bin Laden is. I also guess that everyone can form an opinion about his death, from the detached, calculated analysis of pundits who imagine likely discussions between President Obama and advisors about the practicality of not capturing Bin Laden alive, to the raw sadness of relatives and Al Qaeda members who mourn his loss. I have no doubt that even young students might have something to say about the news of his death, which is likely to be shaped by their developing sense of justice and morality. Ultimately, this one man’s death, a murder, justified homicide, war casualty, martyrdom, or killing is a significant event, a milestone set in the collective memory like the World Trade Center Towers’ collapse, the Challenger disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or even Obama’s election. These are events that punctuate our experiences and, eventually, history. They soon are codified as “official” and worth learning; academic content. Quite likely, new history textbooks are being revised to include Osama Bin Laden’s death in them. Of course social sciences teachers are discussing and will discuss with students not only his death but also its historical significance.
But there is also a local dimension to how students process violent deaths, one that unfortunately is all too familiar to them: murders that take place around us often, but in much greater anonymity. The current homicide count in Oakland is 34, with the last two killings taking place on April 25, near Jack London Square. Despite the tragic loss these deaths represent, the murders barely registered in the collective consciousness. And yet these deaths will be a reference point for Oakland students, perhaps as they participate in a discussion of Bin Laden’s death in some classroom.
This year’s murder rate for Oakland is higher than last year’s, a statistic that trivializes the loss of lives and their impact on those left behind and that dulls the rest of us into acceptance. Strangely, a single killing, thousands of miles away is more present in my mind than two others nearby. I wonder what knowing about humans killing other humans prompts in children’s minds.
Edna Mitchell – I find myself feeling a bit as I did when the Challenger exploded with Krista McCaulliff aboard, being touted as the teacher in space with children tuned in watching with lesson pages in hand as the space craft exploded. What a terrible and unnecessary tragedy to which to expose children.
And, now what to say about another terrible thing… a government sanctioned search and murder. It is complicated, of course, by his complete commitment to the destruction of the US and those complicit with US and Western governments. He was by all assessments our enemy…. we should be celebrating. But to teach children and students to celebrate a politically sanctioned murder seems to contradict other values about the sanctity of life that we hold dear. Is this justice as our President proclaimed?
Having lived and worked in Afghanistan for a significant portion of time since 9/ll I have some personal basis for weighing reactions to this event as will be felt by Afghans, Pakistanis, and Muslims in countries who may have been shocked and sympathetic when 9/11 occurred ten years ago, but whose views about American power and American intentions have taken a sour turn in recent years.
Bin Laden will emerge a hero in death, a martyr for Islam. He will be revered in history by many who teach children.
For teachers, our responsibility in handling controversial issues (and I do think this is controversial) in the classroom is to maintain the role of the reflective adult. Teachers need to keep their personal opinions out of the discussion, but can encourage expression of divergent views without approving or disapproving; with acceptance and questions or comments that enable students to consider alternative viewpoints and their implications if broadly applied. Teachers should attempt to understand what the students comprehend—what do they know, believe, understand about the reason for the President’s speech. The topic now is, and in the future will be, one that inspires debate and that has the likelihood of being divisive within a class. What needs to be kept in mind is that this American action need not be embraced as “RIGHT” in order to show one’s patriotism. Right and wrong are not black and white in this instance. The complexity of it is what is most challenging and attractive as a discussion topic. But, care must be taken. Attitudes and beliefs are at stake. Even teachers may be judged by comments made with good intentions.
The world is not safer with Osama Bin Laden buried at sea. Students at some levels may be able to understand that this is not the wild West with the Sheriff at High Noon as much as we would like to join in the celebration of the climax and the success of the right side. This political drama has ramifications that can divide the world into “us” and “them” and can even divide US as Americans. Let the debate continue, but find ways to help students, and adults, listen to and respect the views of others while also trying to understand what lies behind and is shaping those views.
Afghans are wondering, “Does this mean the Americans can now go home since they have found their target?” I predict the answer to that will be, “No….” for a variety of complex reasons but few that will have the best interests of the Afghans truly in the center.
Off my chest but still in my heart!
The current public discussion about education reveals our fundamental lack of trust in teachers and our inability to describe “good” teaching. There are several consequences to these gaps. First, as we have seen in recent battles over teachers’ pay and benefits, teachers are frequently portrayed as either demons (i.e., incompetent, overpaid, and lazy) or saints (i.e., beyond reproach or critique.) The truth lies somewhere in between these labels. Of course, as in every profession, there are incompetent teachers who simply clock in. But there are also countless talented and committed teachers whose work with children is breathtaking. And then there are the many teachers whose teaching falls somewhere in between. The problem is that when this complex reality is painted in a uniformly bad light, the default response is to stop trusting teachers altogether.
Teaching was once one of the most trusted professions; along with doctors, we trusted teachers. With the recent focus on curricula that teach via with scripts that teachers are mandated to read, snapping their fingers at the appropriate places, we have all but eliminated our trust in teachers’ professional judgment. In this context, meaningful teaching is too often replaced by teaching for the tests and deep learning by training in efficient selection of multiple-choice responses.
But there are other stances to take toward teachers. In the summer of 2005, after the South Asian tsunami, I traveled to Aceh, Indonesia with a group of teacher educators to work with the new teachers who were hired as a result of this large scale disaster and to improve teaching across the district. This work continued over four summers. More recently, we continued this project, called “Listening Schools,” with teachers working with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The foundation of our work to improve teaching was trust.
We began with respect for the knowledge teachers brought to their work – knowledge of their students, their classrooms, their schools, and their content. Although we provided new materials and pedagogical methods, our emphasis was not on demonstrating how to teach, but rather on giving teachers tools for sharing their knowledge with each other. We learned that teachers trusted us when we introduced new approaches and knowledge because we began by conveying our respect for their knowledge rather than critiquing their practices. Similarly, good teaching begins by acknowledging the knowledge children bring to the classroom, using their understanding of the world around them as a starting point for learning. Likewise, we began our work with teachers with the assumption that they had a foundational knowledge of their local context and that our work was to teach them new ways to work with and learn from each other, so as to expand that knowledge.
As I have read newspapers and on-line commentary in recent weeks, I have been struck by the lack of trust in teachers at this moment in our history. One article suggested that we place webcams – like nanny cams – in classrooms to watch teachers more closely. Along with other public sector employees, teachers have become a convenient target of taxpayer rage, our demons. As with their congressional representatives, people trust their own children’s teachers, and save their ire for teachers in general. Where did this mistrust come from?
Trust is closely connected to respect and integrity. Trusting one another requires that we place ourselves in a vulnerable position and take risks, knowing that others will support us. Trust is also connected to careful listening and paying enough attention to another to know how and when to respond. That’s also what characterizes strong teaching.
In Aceh and Lebanon, we learned to build trust with the teachers before we began our work together. We talked explicitly about the importance of trust, of their trusting one another, themselves, and our work together. Most of all we listened to them and asked them to listen to each other. We trusted the teachers to know how translate their experiences and the teaching practices we introduced into their own contexts. Beginning with this respect, with deep listening and trust, we worked across cultural and linguistic boundaries to forge new ways to work together and new processes for collaboration.
The results were striking. Teachers were willing to take new risks to try different ways of teaching, opening themselves up to learn from one another. They also engaged in difficult conversations about the challenges they faced in their classrooms. These interactions and discussions are rare in today’s classrooms where teachers often close their doors to their supervisors and colleagues, out of fear that if they admit to any worries or weaknesses, they will lose their job, rather than get help in solving problems.
This distrust is paralyzing. Our challenge is to change the discourse about teachers, replacing distrust with trust, allowing us to understand the complexity of teaching and learning. Only then will we see deep engaged teaching and successful learning in our country’s classrooms.
So my nephew Malik, a fabulous renaissance man who has taught sixth grade math, science, and Spanish as well as coaching basketball and baseball for the last six years, was given a pink slip. Again. It’s a March ritual around here. School districts are dealing with slashed budgets and are not certain of enrollment. In response they send out a flurry of layoff notices. I’m pretty sure Malik will be hired back. He’s got some time in, he’s a beloved teacher, and he is extremely successful teaching students in his working class and low-resourced middle school.
But the whole thing is infuriating. I texted him to say I hoped he was doing OK. He texted back, telling me that he would never advise a friend to go into this profession. I was so sad to think about this response, the kind of feeling that so many teachers get at this time of year.
I tried to send him back some words of encouragement. I’m a teacher educator, after all, and it’s my calling to encourage people to become teachers and help them to be successful. I wrote him something about the fact that the pink slip is an insult, only that, but he would certainly still have a job. But as I thought about it, I realized this is one insult piled on top of the many others that are being offered to teachers. While there is a small problem of some bad and ineffective teachers hanging on to their jobs, as there is with bad, ineffective, lazy lawyers, doctors, nurses, architects, bankers, cops, financial analysts, cooks, firefighters and farmers, there is a huge bleeding gash in the system — the 40 percent of new teachers, mostly excellent teachers, who quit in the first three years. They are discouraged, demoralized, scorned, and ridiculed by the media, politicians, and bosses. I want you all to hang in there. So here is my attempt to pull together my thoughts. It is my “letter to a young teacher.”
We are, sadly, living in the year of hating teachers. Whether it’s Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rewarding the super-rich while complaining about the high compensation of teachers or Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan applauding the mass firing of teachers and endorsing the teacher-bashing rhetoric of the right, we’re having it hard these days. After decades of “devolution” of federal funding and escalating military budgets, state governments are de-funding education. Policy wonks fantasize about making schools in the US that look like those in Singapore — with compliant students who study desperately to make the grade — and the President talks about education designed to compete with China and India — as if that were the purpose of education in a democracy. The national discussion of education, driven by right wing media and think tanks, suggests that teacher education, teachers, teacher unions, and just about everything else about schools is worth trashing. Professor William Watkins may be right — these people may really have in mind closing down public education altogether.
On the teacher profession side we find plenty of despair. Teaching, like the other caring professions, has been regarded as women’s work and therefore worthy of less respect and pay. And now teachers are being forced more and more into mindless scripted curricula, which amount to low-intelligence test-prep exercises. Teacher education programs are cutting back their offerings and fewer people, particularly with math and science degrees, are willing to go into teaching. Getting that March pink slip is just another turn in the barrage of insults teachers suffer.
As I was thinking about this, and how to respond to you, something dawned on me. I think we pretty much should stop waiting for respect. It’s not going to come, not for a long, long time. We know we are creative, growing professionals who are engaged in one of the world’s most demanding jobs and we know we should be honored for our work with children and adolescents. But perhaps we should simply stop thinking along the lines of that framework of professionals who should be respected.
Here are a few other ways we might frame our job:
First, the miracles. We teachers fight for success in the classroom every day and many days we fail — like health professionals, it’s part of the job and we try to learn from the losses. But sometimes we work our magic and it comes out right. That’s when you want to leap up and give a fellow teacher or a student a high five. Yes, we get both emotions, 20 times a day. We have the honor of being with these students more than any other adults — laughing and crying, seeing transformations before our eyes. And we usually find ourselves in a wonderful community of teachers — intense, funny, brilliant, and deeply ethical colleagues who help us through.
I remember when I first went into teaching. I had been a restaurant cook for 10 years and I knew the slog of production: bring in raw materials, work on them, push product out the door, charge money, get a little pay. Mostly it was hard, physical work. I remember how amazed I was when I first started teaching: I could get paid for reading, writing, talking, and listening? What a delight. And it was the most intellectually and ethically challenging job I could imagine — on the level of course content (we are always scavenging, studying, borrowing, innovating, learning more) and even more on the human interaction dimension (constantly studying the kids, doing close observation, trying to figure out how to be successful at inspiring, encouraging and challenging them). We get joy, real joy and satisfaction, from our students. Yes, that’s the secret delight of this profession, working with inspiring colleagues, knowing these kids and being with them through the small and large changes in their lives, knowing their families and the heroic struggles of the communities they come from. We have the coolest job ever — we are privileged to be working with young people every day.
Secondly, as that T-shirt says, “Be an activist, be a teacher.” We might head off to work with more joy and positive feeling if we think of ourselves as organizers. Teaching, after all, is not only community service, it is a project of social change. We don’t go to work to blithely reproduce the inequities that exist in our society. We want students to learn, not just the ropes of the game and the gatekeepers, but their own power, their own capacity. We want them to have the creativity and imagination to know that another world is possible; we want them to have the skills to make it so. If you were organizing Mississippi sharecroppers in the ’60s or Flint auto workers in the ’30s, you would not be waiting for someone in power to say you’re great. You would expect to be insulted and vilified. But you do the work because you know it’s right. We teachers do this job because we are change agents. A lot of people jaw about social change and activism but teachers do the work every day. Like an organizer, you are fighting for broader goals, ones tied to the doors you open for this student, the progress you make on that project.
We go back to work again and again for those goals, not for the ones defined by those who are selling off the public domain and the promise of equality, justice and the common future, the policy wonks who seem to be in charge today. My hero and heroine teachers are not the savior types you see in the movies. They are people like Septima Clark teaching in rural South Carolina, Paulo Freire organizing in the mountains of Brazil, Father Lorenzo Milani transforming peasant kids in Tuscany, Sylvia Ashton-Warner empowering Maori children in New Zealand, and so many others. They got no respect. They changed the world. Like organizers, we learn the hard lessons of social change — it never comes when we are patronizing and hand out charity; it only succeeds when we respect the people we teach and act in solidarity with them. And, like organizers, we are energized by the knowledge that we just might win together, by the knowledge that we do win small victories every day.
Thirdly… there is no thirdly. Just those two. The joy of working with kids. The commitment to organizing and social justice. The pay is bad but, really, not that bad. One can have a decent, if modest, living doing this. And we may be scorned by idiots but we are revered by parents, communities, and students. All in all, not such a bad gig. Of course I’m pretty sure you’re going to stick with it, Malik. And I hope you encourage other friends to join our ranks. We need them!
This post was also published on March 17, 2011 in the Education section of the Huffington Post.
In his State of the Union Address, President Obama referred to our “Sputnik moment” and called on Americans to “out-educate” the rest of the world. On the one hand, I have no idea what it means to “out-educate.” Fatter homework packets than those in China? More school days than in Finland? Sadly, the furlough days in California’s public schools to balance the budget make me think we’re not out-educating anyone on that front. Higher math test scores for U.S. students than Singaporean students? I suspect this last possibility gets closer to the truth of “out-educating.”
So while on the one hand, the concept of “out-educating” makes no sense, on the other hand, I can imagine exactly what it means – more math testing, more teaching to the test, more unmotivated students, consequently lower test scores, punishments for teachers and schools, and ultimately more math testing as the cycle continues in a downward spiral. This is all quite different from the curriculum, such as Advanced Placement courses, that grew out of our original Sputnik-prompted school reform. Like the reform efforts of the 1950s and 1960s following the Soviet satellite’s launch, our current efforts, whether designed well or poorly, will no doubt focus on quantitative disciplines.
If this is a Sputnik moment, however, it also strikes me as an “Egypt moment” and a “Tucson moment,” a time when we ignore education for democracy and human rights at our own peril. As important as learning math and biology or any other subject for which there are tests and international comparisons, preparing for democratic life has been a cornerstone of U.S. education. I take heart from the examples of two graduates from the Mills teacher credential program, who have managed to find ways to make sure their students are prepared for life as citizens in this country and the world.
Ines Trinh teaches a fifth grade class in San Lorenzo. In honor of the first Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties in California, she taught her students about the removal and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and how Korematsu challenged this abuse of civil and human rights. Though unsuccessful at the time, he eventually won exoneration in 1983. Ultimately, the U.S. Government apologized and paid reparations to the internees. Trinh’s lesson provided students with an important history lesson, an understanding of Constitutional rights, and a model of citizenship that emphasizes standing up for justice.
Annie Hatch teaches tenth grade English at Life Academy in Oakland. Her students read Elie Wiesel’s Night, an account of life in the Nazi concentration camps, a book which raises fundamental questions about God, life’s purpose, and the nature of humanity. Having learned that students do their best writing when they are communicating to authentic audiences, Hatch asked her students to write to Wiesel. They made connections between Weisel’s experiences and their own, Weisel’s times and intolerance, xenophobia, and scapegoating today. They asked questions about faith, justice, and home. Hatch sent the letters to the author who replied to the class. In the conclusion to his reply, Weisel told students that what they learn today will guide them in the future. What they learned was to see life as more than a competition based on who “does school” best.
The lessons in Trinh’s and Hatch’s classrooms are not part of “out-educating” any nation in the “Sputnik moment” sense. They are a reminder, though, of one important purpose of our schools. When we educate for citizenship, human rights, and democracy, we do so not in competition, but as model to other nations as well as a reminder to ourselves of the kind of society in which we want to live.