Saturday, December 13, 2008

If you do nothing else today, read this.

I was doing me usual hanging out on the internet while waiting for the washer to finish its cycle, and came across this. It reminded me just how crucial compassionate and kind teachers are:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Please consider signing! Obama Appointment for Sec. of Ed.

I admit it, I have a lot of issues with No Child Left Behind, the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In the past 6 years, testing has become the only focus of public education, with student success in learning being reduced to nothing more than a test score. "Proven teaching methods" have become little more than test prep, skill and drill, and a list of strategies that have little to do with how children really learn.

On top of that, the sanctions for failing schools ultimately put public school monies into the hands of private tutoring groups, charter schools, and private school hands. While there is much improvement needed in public education, the solution should not be to end public education.

Today I received two alerts from colleagues about the short list of people Obama is looking at. One of them is Commissioner Joel Klein of NYC and the other is Chicago CEO Arne Duncan. Both have records of being anti-teacher, anti-union, and anti-democratic. While I understand the Department of Education needs a forward-looking steward, I am not sure installing a leader who wants to further undermine public education should be our only choice.

Please consider reading and signing the two petitions below.


The Petition to oppose the appointment of Joel Klein.

We, the undersigned, devoted thousands of hours of volunteer time to the election of Barack Obama as President. As Professional educators we were encouraged by the promise to have an open and respectful dialogue within the educational community about NCLB, its limits, and its failures.

Now, a trial balloon has been advanced in the media for Joel Klein, Chancellor of NYC schools to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education in an Obama Administration. ( It is quite possible that Klein himself promoted the trial balloon.) Trial balloons are trials. They are floated to see how people will react.

This petition is a reaction.

The administration of Joel Klein as Chancellor of Schools in New York City is representative of a particular rigid approach to school change promoted by NCLB which we oppose. Rather than take the advice of educators, Chancellor Klein repeatedly championed and implemented policies that support corporate interests as opposed to children. The NY City Department of Education under Joel Klein has been run like a ruthless dictatorship – with no input from parents or educators. Teachers have not been respected, consulted, nor listened to. And little thought has been devoted to how the policies he has imposed on our schools have been destructive to the children and their futures.

Citizens, educators, and future educators, read the entire petition and sign it at:

And, the second.

Say YES to public education. Say NO to privatization.

Dear supporters of public education,
Many of you have by now heard the rumors of Obama's potential appointees to the position of Secretary of Education. This list includes several people whose records show a history of dismantling democratic public education in the name of private interests. As people committed to public education, this strikes a hard and fast blow in the euphoria that we have felt since Tuesday, November 4th. But it's not too late to make our voices heard once again. Let's build on the sense of representation and democracy we have just experienced to send a clear message to the Obama Administration.

Please visit in order to sign the following statement that voices our concerns about the kind of Education Secretary that we want. Additionally, please FORWARD this message to your friends and colleagues who are also concerned about the future of public education.

Thank you!
The National Network of Teacher Activist Groups

Statement on the selection of the U.S. Secretary of Education

Today, we celebrate Barack Obama?s momentous election as President of the United States. We recognize it as a historic culmination of the centuries-long effort for dignity and justice, human and civil rights, and enfranchisement of the U.S. people, and we pay particular tribute to the African American freedom struggle, which played a decisive role in bringing the first Black man to the presidency.

We look forward, as educators, parents and students, to participating in the opportunities for change afforded by this moment. We are excited about the possibilities for improving educational opportunities for all students. Our vision of educational justice, access, opportunity, and equity includes having a Department of Education whose officials embrace the idea of a quality education as part of the common good. We wish to turn away from a corporate model of education that claims that teaching and learning can only improve by imposing market perspectives and processes onto our public education system. Education should be a fundamental human right, not subject to privatization by firms whose primary concern is a profit motive and the bottom line. We have all witnessed the failures of this free market system in recent months and do not support this model for our public schools.

Toward these ends, we urge President-elect Obama and his transition team to choose a Secretary of Education who is committed to the full development of human beings who are prepared to actively participate in civil society. We strongly encourage the selection of someone dedicated to equity and the education of all children with a proven track record in these areas, such as Linda Darling-Hammond, a key member of Mr. Obama?s education team. We want a person who is a professional, experienced, and knowledgeable educator, not a corporate executive such as New York City?s Education Chancellor Joel Klein or Chicago CEO Arne Duncan, who have demonstrated their vision of privatized, corporatized, and anti-democratic schools.

Over the last 20 years in the U.S., education is becoming the business of education, and we emphatically reject that model. We call upon the President-elect to choose someone who will embrace the ideas of civic involvement and public participation. We look forward to collaborating with that person, as well as with students, parents, and the broader public, in developing a truly meaningful and just education for all students in the U.S.

Endorse this statement by visiting

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Annotated Bibliography entry

Ginsberg, R. and Lyche, L. F. (2008). The culture of fear and the politics of education. Educational Policy, 22(1), 10-27.

Research on crises, whether real or created, displays their impact on framing the policy agenda, and critical events research shows that they, rather than actual performance, dramatically affect the evaluation of institutions such as public education. (Ginsberg and Lyche, 2008, p.14).

Ginsberg and Lyche’s work examines the public’s concerns regarding public education and how the culture of fear has permeated the media’s representation of teachers, tests, schools, and math/science. They also not the rise of conservative thinking tanks as being used as a viable source of information, even as the news papers themselves fail to acknowledge the political ideologies of their sources. Thus, the problems and solutions are presented in very specific terms that reflect the perspective of those surveyed. They note

“Television and radio commentators, think tanks and foundations, presidential candidates, and other politicians decry the failure of our schools and spew a variety of remedies. Although their claims and antidotes mostly lack theoretical support or credible research, widespread agreement on this matter is simply assumed or passed over” (Ginsberg and Lyche, 2008, p. 11).

Ginsberg and Lyche’s study of the media and the culture of fear surrounding public education is particularly useful in the development of the current research project because it illustrates how the media aids in the support of particular points of view, even in the absence of significant research support. The article also lends support to using the NYT online as a data source, and it will help me to frame the conversation about negativity in the press.

Other interesting quotes:

The political reality is clear: Education is high on the public agenda and is not insulated from the public’s view or the politician’s glare” (Ginsberg and Lyche, 2008, p. 12).


There is no single defining event, but rather a constant promotion of a culture of fear regarding the failure of education at both pre-K-12 and higher education levels, involving speculative conclusions drawn about the sorry state of affairs in education and their scary potential outcomes, which seemingly has become the dominant means for projecting issues on to the educational policy agenda. Whether these conclusions are accurate is almost irrelevant. Getting particular beliefs established and alternative policy ideas promoted through fear are the main objectives. (Ginsberg and Lyche, 2008, p.14).

My Inquiry Project Introduction/general stuff (no lit review)

I spent the rest of last week tweaking the idea for this project and reading. Below you will find a DRAFT of what I have completed so far. Clearly, it is still very rough, and I will be working on it more this weekend. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, etc.

And for those of you interested in following the paper about the urban students and identity construction, you can find it here.


Making the Front Page: NCLB and urban education in the press

Since its inception in Texas, the education plan that ultimately became known as the No Child Left Behind Act (PL XX-XXX) has made news headlines. As the nation turns the page on the Bush Administration and elects a new President, questions about the future of No Child Left Behind abound as the candidates present their vision of public education in troubled economic times. Even so, one has to wonder, what impression the public has of the current state of NCLB and public education, particularly as it relates to urban schools, their teachers, and students. Perhaps, more important, and the focus of this article, is the role major media outlets have played in framing NCLB and urban education.

As a source of information, traditional major media outlets, like local and regional newspapers, are under more pressure to compete with emerging forms of digital news, while facing criticisms of partisan bias (XXX; XXX). This is significant; even so, an exploration of how a traditional news outlet, like the New York Times, frames issues related to NCLB and urban education provides useful information to policy makers and educators alike as they strive to understand what shapes the public’s point of view.

This article will illustrate how the NYT has framed NCLB and urban education in its front-page news. Using the NYT archives, I will illustrate how the NYT has constructed a view of NCLB and urban education in terms of how it frames urban teachers, students, and schools. INSERT FINAL SECTION ABOUT PAPER AFTER DATA ANALYSIS

The data set: The data discussed in this article are part of a data set from a larger research study examining the political discourse surrounding No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s landmark education legislation. The larger study examines speeches and press releases from the Federal Department of Education (ED) and media outlet sources like the NYT, Time, Newsweek, and other outlets frequently read by the public. While other aspects of the study have focused on the discourse of equality and social justice in the speeches of the Secretaries of Education (see, for instance, Goldstein and Beutel, 2008), the political construction of teachers as soldiers of democracy AND enemies of the state (see for instance, Goldstein and Beutel, in review; Goldstein, in review), this article will focus on the role one media outlet, the New York Times, has played in shaping public perception.

The NYT archives were search using a key word search of “urban education and No Child Left Behind,” with a date limitation of January 1, 2001 to November 4, 2008. XXX articles were identified. Of those XXX articles, XX were front-page features. These xx articles serve as the data set for analysis.

Critical Media Studies and Discourse Analysis

The research questions:
1. What are the key issues that the NYT identifies in regard to NCLB and urban education?
2. Who are the stakeholders most frequently identified?
3. Who are the “experts” most frequently utilized by the authors and editors of the NYT?
4. What does the discourse reveal as the primary problems surrounding NCLB and urban education?
5. What solutions does the discourse reveal?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My inquiry project

As a teacher, I believe in modeling whatever I can for my students. As we move into the inquiry project phase, it is only fair that I share with you a project that I am working on. In fact, I will be completing a project along with you, with the hopes of having a paper ready to go for submission to a journal at the end of the course. And, if any of you are interested in publishing or writing with me, let me know. I get a lot out of writing with students.

All that said, let me share with you what I will be exploring.

I am very interested in No Child Left Behind, as you all know. Much of my recent work has focused on how the Department of Education frames NCLB. In particular, I have focused on the political discourse surrounding teachers and issues of democracy, equality and social justice. I have also started branching out into how media outlets frame teachers, teaching, and the role of unions. Part of this is because I am fascinated by the political process of winning the hearts and minds of the public. Another part of it is my ongoing effort to understand why people think what they do about public education in general, and urban education in particular. It's not that I don't want to contribute to our understanding of how to prepare better teachers; it's just that I think that understanding what people outside of education think is also really important. After all, they have a stake and say in this, too.

In following the New York Times, I am often boggled by what the paper focuses on as the "real" story. I get the idea that "if it bleeds, it sells." But, following that practice all the time, I think, paints a very inaccurate picture of what teachers and students do every day. It's all about test scores, violence, bad teachers, and unruly students. Or so I feel. So, I have decided it's time to really dig into the news (the NYT) and really explore what it presents, in order to consider its influence on the public.

So, that's where I am at. I have already sent out a very rough piece to some colleagues, and I will be posting that, hopefully tomorrow after I get some feedback. Then, in the spirit of modeling, I will be sharing that with you.

Till then, my intrepid urban educators...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

For those of you who think racism is a thing of the past...

Watch this. And this. And no, this is not some old guy who is expressing his own sad and sick point of view. There are many others around him who are laughing and encouraging him.

I'd like to say that I am shocked, but sad to say, I'm not.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Brought to you by Dr. Mad Scientist's Wife

I love reading about how people panic the moment they have to... gasp... work in the city and park a little ways from their car. It kills me.

This post is brought to you by the wife of our own Dr. Mad Scientist. There is soooo much going on in this post that I don't know where to start. That said, I haven't met her, but I like her.

Take a look at it, and think about some of the issues the post is facing head on. It's not just about sexism folks... it's about the intersection of race and gender, and how messed up things can really get when people let irrational fears run their lives. This is a great rant about all things... well, dumb.

That's all. I'm done.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I really need to remember to start including labels (aka tags) to my blog posts. Maybe that way I'd get some more traffic than my oh-so-dedicated students.

And on a completely unrelated note, my bike is dead. Won't start. A buddy says it's the battery. That's all it had better be. It's too young to start having to spend time in the shop.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Thinking about the Pedagogy of Poverty

One of my favorite articles is by Martin Haberman, an expert in urban education. The piece, The Pedagogy of Poverty versus Good Teaching, truly changed how I think about the teaching and learning process. It didn't do it right away, but as I began to gain a deeper understanding of teaching, learning, and urban education, I realized that the pedagogy of poverty was not simply about those living in poverty or schools operating in poverty. It was more about viewing teaching and learning from an impoverished perspective.

Ok, that's great. But what does that mean? Think about this: If pedagogy concerns the teaching and learning relationships that exist in formal and informal educational settings, then that relationship must be a rich and vital one if students are to truly find learning meaningful and powerful.

Meaning and power, however, do not necessarily come from doing the same thing day after day, month after month, without change. Nor do meaningful and powerful learning experiences generally evolve from thoughtlessness. True, some of the most amazing teachable moments are more serendipity than anything else. But, how can a teacher and students create a space for this when all they do is read, take notes, take quizzes, grade quizzes, fill out worksheets, etc., etc., etc. Where's the life?

Of course when I use this reading now, many students point out that students outside of urban centers experience the same learning experiences and that's true. But think about how much more destructive a pedagogy of poverty that exists in schools is when the environment outside of school mirrors the same dull, hopeless, and meaningless daily activities. I think that's the difference.

More thinking on this later.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The rhetoric of the "broken home"

Last night I went to dinner with friends and almost lost my cool. In all honesty, I did lose my cool but a kinder, saner friend quietly calmed me down so I didn't say something that I couldn't take back. Here's the basic gist of the story.

As we were sitting around the dinner table, somehow we got onto the conversation of charter schools, public education, urban schools, and the conflicts that exist regarding how to reform schools. One of the women at the table started talking about "all the problems that kids from broken homes" have. She noted that it's sad that schools have to deal with all of their emotional issues and that they can't really focus on teaching. She continued on about how that was the biggest problem, and if "we could just fix the kids from the broken homes" everything would be fine.

The subtext here about broken homes is that they are single parent homes probably as a result of divorce or single motherhood. The home is broken, and therefore the kid is broken. There are a couple things that upset me about this. First and foremost is the assumption that homes aren't broken if the parents are married and living together. In some cases, those families are in as much crisis as the ones that the woman I mention above chooses to blame for the problems in education. There can be substance abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse, really unhappy spouses... As a child of one of those broken homes, I can honestly say (and my mother agrees with me) that my father moving out was one of the best things for all of us. It was hard, but believe me, given the home environment was as rough as it was before he left, his departure lifted a very dark cloud.

Secondly, broken homes are homes where mothers are doing it on their own. They act as mother, father, caregiver, and breadwinner. The fact that a woman can keep it all together should be lauded, not labeled to imply it is her fault that her kids have problems. Even more annoying to me about this rhetoric is that people how use the term broken home never use the phrase in conjunction with families in which a parent is absent due to illness, combat service, or death. It's just the single moms who can't keep their men. In fact, one of my best friends is a single parent. HE had been raising his son on his own since the young man was 3. The mom basically abandoned the son, and has had little contact in 15 years. People laud my friend. He is held up as a paragon of parenting. Not to make light of my friend's accomplishments, but can you see the double standard here?

What is really at issue here is a moral judgment that is all-too-often placed on single mothers and their kids. And these moral judgments are made by people who have no idea what a broken home really is, or if they live in one, they are blind to the realities of their own situation. My one friend reminded me of that when he said to me, "Just because there are two parents doesn't mean it's not broken." And he was speaking from his own experience.

I guess what it comes down to is that old idea of walking a mile in another person's shoes. While I think all children should live in homes where there are a number of adults who sharing the in the enormous task of raising them, I know that is rare in today's society. It wasn't much more than 50 years ago, but the evolution of the nuclear family after World War II really changed things. We need to remember that looks can be deceiving.

We need to remind ourselves of that every day.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Summer (almost) in the city

There was this song when I was a kid called Summer in the City that has been running through my head all day long. It's a more or less happy tune, talking about how hot it is during the day, but that if one waits till nighttime there's a lot of fun to be had. The song to which I am referring is by Loving Spoonful. You can still hear it on the oldies station once in a while.

Today was HOT. Even for a woman like me who loves the heat, it was almost too hot for me. But when I think about the implications of the heat wave in which we are in the middle of, there are some real concerns and issues that we need to address when it comes to urban communities. Even before the latest increase in gas and electricity costs, families in urban and impoverished communities suffer in weather extremes a lot more than those who don't. First, we have to remember that dwellings in cities are older. In some cases, they are a lot older. That means that central air is virtually non-existent. Add to that the fact that many of these buildings are not up to code on their wiring, and you have a recipe for disaster in a heat wave. The power goes out, and any one who has air conditioning (and that's not as many as you would think) gets to boil right along side those who don't. With the power out, the elevators don't work. Cooling centers, local supermarkets, libraries, movie theaters... all the places that people go to escape the heat are not viable options.

Other than 75,000 souls who suffered for a few hours today, we did pretty well in the area in terms of power outage. Even so, there is more to consider about the impact of the heat. For people who have serious health issues, the heat we experienced today can be a killer. 97 degree heat (or more) that we had today aggravates asthma, emphysema, heart issues, and a whole host of other health related issues. Couple that with no insurance (which means no primary care doctor who knows your history), and emergency rooms, many of which have been closed in urban centers, cannot handle the overflow. The heat also contributes to capturing smog and ozone, which makes it even harder to breathe. And let's not forget how asphalt and concrete absorbs heat.

Schools, too, suffer with this heat. Newark Public Schools, like many other districts, made the decision to close schools because of the excessive heat. You can read the Newark letter to parents and schools here. I applaud all the districts in the state who made this decision. At the same time, it also gives me pause because I have to wonder about the conditions under which students will be OUTSIDE of school. Will they able to find cool places?

My point in raising this issue is that the heat is one more thing that teachers need to think about as they prepare for teaching and learning. The classroom environment, whether too cold or too hot, will have an impact on student learning. And the last time I checked, humanity can't control the weather. They can really screw with it, but they don't control it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

When good schools fail...

I admit it. It's been a long, but very good three days. I have a lot to think about given all that we've seen in the last few days. First and foremost, I really need to grapple with the idea that good schools can and do fail. I've written about it on Edubabbler. Please take a look. I'm too tired to do all the reposting/crossposting stuff that I should do.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Educating the Whole Child… Not a new idea, but an idea we ought to remember every day

I’m going back to school, to school. I’m going back to school.

For those of you who can identify the LL Cool J song, kudos! I’m sitting here at our first school site, and am struck by a number of things. First of all, it’s the same classroom I took my classes in when I was in elementary school. OK, so it’s not that same school, but it’s got that feel. The 12 inch asbestos tiles on the floor, the chalkboard with the lines on it, the student art work, and the old built-in closets with the paper on the front… it reminds my of my own elementary school. The difference is that my elementary school has been renovated. And there were a lot more books.

The drive into School A (I am calling it that to respect their privacy) was pretty standard for rush hour traffic. I rode in with a colleague and we had the chance to talk about what we saw. We passed a number of other schools, including a few where some of my former students teach. And when we got to the school itself, I was reminded about how strong many of our assumptions can be about urban schools. The school is in a residential neighborhood, on tree-lined streets with some beautiful old houses and gardens. No burnt-out buildings, no stray dogs, no rats, just people going about their day. One older man was out gardening and watering his lawn. He was talking to his neighbor, just like they do in my neighborhood.

What is striking about this visit is not just the pride the teachers have. It’s the pride of the students. We were greeted at the door by a number of young people, all of whom were dressed in blazers. Sitting here now, it’s also very interesting to see what the school focuses on. Their focus is on “educating the whole child.” This in and of itself, is not anything new for me. Most of my own teacher training has referred to the idea that you need to see the whol child in order to teach the whole child. There’s a great Educational Leadership special volume from May 2007 that devotes the entire issue to the ideas of educating the whole child. For those of you with the special MSU access, you can go here. For the rest of you, you get to see the sales pitch from EL here.

One of my favorite bloggers, Teacherken, talks about the importance of teaching to the whole child and references the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), which is the publisher of Educational Leadership. However, he also talks about another publication of ASCD, entitled The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action. It’s a short read, about 36 pages, and I think worth our while. You can read it here (it’s a PDF), and also look at Teacherken’s blog here. As a matter of fact, all of the Education Policy Blog is pretty interesting.

Back to topic at hand. What does it mean to educate the whole child? Who defines what makes up the whole child? What becomes the most important part? It was clear to me during both school visits that the teachers in both schools not only saw the whole child (or adolescent) in every one of their students, they also valued the young person for who she or he was, what she or he brought to the table, and never gave up hope that that child could and would be successful. That’s incredibly powerful in my mind.

What made it particularly interesting to me is how those teachers balanced difference. Many of the teachers were from the community or had a number of years of experience within the community. But that didn’t mean that they shared the experiences of their students. In truth, there are certain things about which they cannot relate. Let’s face it. If you’ve never been homeless, you can’t say that you know what it’s like. But that doesn’t mean that you can be understanding, kind, and fair.

You can also see the community as an ally and a resource, not as an obstacle. One of my good friends and colleagues, Terrie Epstein, does research on how black and white students internalize and come to understand dominant historical narratives. She found, for the most part, that black students tended to rely upon the historical narratives they learned in their home communities rather than those they learned in school. In contrast, white students frequently mirrored the narratives supported by the school. What is going on here? Well, too often, the historical narrative, particularly that in of US History marginalizes the black community because it not only ignores the lived experiences of blacks; it too frequently portrays them as helpless victims or deviants who need to be saved from themselves. So, young black men and women often turn to the more activist narratives of their home communities that counter the hegemonic discourses that exist in many urban classrooms. To toot my own horn, I’ve written about it here. And, in some cases, the communities themselves have a richer narrative in terms of corroborating evidence than the local school texts provide. You can read more of Epstein’s work here and here.

The point is that we need to see our students for who we are and not make them into something they are not yet ready to be. And when we have little in common with our students, we cannot expect them walk in the classroom and intuitively know what they rules of our game are going to be. Instead, as teachers, particularly urban teachers, need to adjust to who our students are. This is not to say that we lower our expectations, or do not demand their best. Rather, we start with where they are, who they are, and go from there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Observing with new eyes

The hardest thing to do whenever you enter a new environment is to leave your assumptions at the door. I have to do it at the beginning of every semester with each class I teach. I have expectations regarding certain behaviors and interactions, and yet, I have to remember that students bring their own expectations and assumptions as well. The only way I can encourage them to have an open mind is for me to have an open mind myself.

A case in point is the class in urban education I teach once a year. It is a combined undergraduate and graduate class. The undergraduates are part of the Urban Teaching Academy, a program that recruits and prepares people to become urban teachers. They are in the class because they want to (for the most part) be there. The graduate students are a bit more tricky. Many of them are there because they have to fulfill a multicultural requirement for their programs. Some of them are interested in becoming urban teachers; others are there because they have to be. I have to set aside my assumptions, particularly for those who are there to meet an external requirement. And, I have to figure out a way to make the course meaningful to them.

It becomes tricky, then to balance out the needs of those committed to urban education with those of the students who are more ambivalent. I want to empower all my students, but the reality is that I sometimes teach too much to those who are ambivalent about urban education, and it pains me to admit that.

The truth is, learning how teach is hard. Learning how to be an effective teacher is harder, and learning how to be an effective urban teacher is really, really hard. That's partially because it's hard to come face-to-face with what we have been told about urban education. It's also because many of us have been raised to deeply believe in the American dream that if people simply work hard enough, they can be successful. Combine that with the myth of equality, and we run the risk of falling into a vortex that quickly leads to burnout.

When you start out with more, it's easier to accumulate more. It was easier for me to be academically successful because my parents were college-educated professionals who understood the system. When they were unhappy, they knew how to work the channels to effect the changes they wanted to. My parents also have graduate degrees. My mom was a social worker. My dad is an attorney. They know the law, and they know how to make it work for them. Combine that with the fact that they were economically solvent, were able to own their own house, pay for extra curriculars, and I had a sweet setup as a kid. My father could help me with math and science (until I got to geometry and then it was a different story), and my mom was great at writing. I had the help at home, and my parents pushed me (sometimes too much, but that's a story for a different day).

When I started teaching in Rochester, everyone who knew me was concerned because it was the "inner city." And that meant drugs, gangs, absentee parents, and bad schools. The reality is that we find those same things in the suburbs. So what made it different? The fact that it was all there: drugs, poverty, gangs, absentee parents (for many reasons beyond their control) and more... immigration, homelessness, single parents, parents working three or four jobs, no health care, underqualified and undercertified teachers, the bureaucracy of large urban districts, not enough funds. One, two or three of these challenges in a community can be offset by other positives. Pile it all on the schools and there's a lot that schools become responsible for that make the work of teaching really hard. Pedro Noguera talks about this in his book City Schools and the American Dream (2003: Teachers College Press). He also points out another stark reality: if the American public really cared about the fate of urban kids, who tend to be poor, minority, and immigrant, then urban education would not be an issue. I agree with him on this point. The US has a history of showing how it can rise up to meet an urgent need. If the nation had a will, great changes could occur.

But therein lies another assumption: that with collective will, the nation could magically make hundreds of years of legalized exclusion, from the happenings that make the American Dream possible. The truth is, when banks don't service economically depressed areas, it's that much harder to get a loan. Without being able to build credit, families can't buy their own houses. Schools that have been expected to equalize society cannot do so on their own. Lawrence Cremin drove this home in Popular Education and its Discontents (1990: Harper & Row). Schools not only help to create society, they also reflect society in all its strengths and weaknesses. To assume they can change the world independent of the world is too high an expectation to place on teachers and their students.

It took me a long time to give up the assumption that schools can do it alone. After all, I firmly believe in the potential of public education. I have built my career on realizing the possibilities of urban public education. If I give that up, I might as well stop being me.

So what do I do? How do I temper my assumptions and expectations with the harsh realities that face us as urban educators? Well, that's the subject of a different post.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Comment, dammit!

I just took a quick perusal through some of the blogs tonight, and they are pretty fantastic. I also noticed there were some comments from colleagues here and there. And now, oh brilliant colleagues-in-training, read some more and comment some more. Take a look at what others are saying. Let's build that collaborative community we talked about today in class.

Off to finish things for the night.

By the way, I never did have my corona on the back porch. I am, however, the happy new holder of a motorcycle learner's permit. Almost one more checked off on the bucket list (still a long way off from the hog). he he he... roads look out!


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Media representations of teachers

I was in high school when The Breakfast Club came out. I remember watching Dead Poet's Society and slouching down in the seat because I didn't want anybody to see me crying. And I also remember the first time I saw Lean on Me. It wasn't until I started teaching at the college level that I really began to consider how popular films shape people's views of teaching and learning, sometimes more-so than their own experiences in school.

Whenever I teach the foundations class I teach, I make sure that we talk about some of the movies out there and how they portray teachers and students. I try to remind students over and over again, that that what they see in the movies are caricatures, even when they are still vaguely based on reality. And still, students are more likely to say that Ditto from the movie Teachers is more the reality than the character Nick Nolte played (n.b. I can't remember the name-- how funny is that?).

As an urban educator, I am always concerned at how the thing that I am most passionat about is portrayed to outsiders. I am the first person to say that there are some horrible teachers working in urban schools. There are some pretty bad ones in other places as well (I know, I had a few of them). The difference is that bad teachers combined with other less-than-optimal circumstances up the chance for failure. There are also some... well, I'll say it... really bad kids in urban schools. Some of them are downright mean. And there are the same type of students in other communities as well.

The issue is, whenever a story about a bad teacher or bad kid from an urban community comes up, it's expected. It's a shock if the individual is from a suburb. Violence in schools has been an issue for years. It too Columbine for people to pay attention.

So what do the movies have to do with all of this? Well, the truth is, they don't necessarily convey what should be viewed as the truth (there are some people who believe they are truth). They do, however, reinforce what people to believe is true. It takes a lone teacher (usually white) who defies the inept administration to do what's best for the kids. And the kids are wild. And the poorer and darker they are, the more wild they are. So, while it may just be a movie, it does send a message. And it's one that bugs me.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The facts and nothing but the facts...

From class today, just in case you forgot:

Welcome, welcome! This is what I call a skeleton syllabus, because the real one will be posted online for you to print and read tomorrow. Here are the highlights:

1. Our guiding framework:

a. What are the myths, realities, and possibilities of urban schools and communities?
b. What makes some thing urban?
c. What are the characteristics of a successful urban teacher?

2. Our goals:

a. To explore the myths, realities, and possibilities of urban schools and communities through reading, considering media sources, and conducting field visits to different urban schools
b. To explore our assumptions about what makes something urban and to consider the lens through which we understand ourselves and the communities around us
c. To identify the characteristics of a successful urban teacher and reflect upon our own growth and potential towards that goal

3. Our evidence:

a. Attedance: One freebie absence and late, then grade penalty. More than three absences=F
b. Blogging (15%)
c. Assumptions Paper (25%)
d. My Culture/my Community Project (25%)
e. Inquiry Project/Website (25%)
f. Self Evaluation (10%)

4. How will we learn it?

a. That’s where you come in. Let’s figure it out!

Welcome to the U(rban) Files!

This is where we start at the very beginning. And, it really is a great place to start. Our ultimate goal is to become critical viewers of the urban world, especially for those who are planning to become urban teachers. Our starting point today? Learning the basics about blogging.