Thanks to Lew and JoBeth for telling me about the NY Times piece…
Archive for the ‘high school’ Category
The energy is pervasive – conservatives and liberals alike are just buzzing with constant chitter chatter about debates, advertisements, polls, pundits, and SNL.
We keep hearing about historic numbers of new voters being registered across the country (check out this video from Free Speech TV) and this seems to be the perfect time to inject our K-16 education system with some real political education. If every public education student could leave high school understanding the fundamental philosophies (social and economic) of different parties in the U.S. and feeling a sense of urgency regarding political engagement, I’d say we would be heading in the right direction. No wonder we have several generations of politically apathetic folks (including my own generation and many dear friends) – we have nearly erased real political education from K-12 education since WWII, leaving millions of people feeling things must be “fine” the way they are, so why bother?
My first grader went along with me to register new voters over the weekend – the final weekend to register in Georgia – and she had a ball. I made sure to give her the lecture about what “nonpartisan” means and that she should not mention either candidate to anyone. Instead she created tables of “registered/not registered” and made tallies to represent folks’ responses to us. She also made posters and hung them up pleading, “Please Vote,” and paced back and forth singing her ever-changing song that included lyrics like, “Please vote and help our country be happier, help us save our charities, help us be a better country…” and on and on. She loved having a real audience – something we can make happen for kids everywhere…
What could kindergarteners and first graders do in their schools? How can we inspire them to not only pay attention to current social and economic issues but also to think deeply about various “solutions” offered to us through candidates’ perspectives?
Here are some ideas off the top of my head that might be fun in various k-12 settings:
-Critical readings of television advertisements: What is the purpose of each campaign’s ads? How are they positioning one another? How are they positioning American voters? Are they talking about issues? Distracting from issues? How would students re-write those advertisements?
-Collect newspaper and magazine articles, Internet videos, etc. to share during “show and tell” (or similar sharing times during the day). Get students talking about these things every day.
-Research voter registration strategies by different groups and come up with new strategies for a local push for registration even after this election (there will be more elections folks!)
-Graph new voter registration state-by-state, then compare that to the turnout on Election Day.
-Research “early voting” rules in different states and compare them, thinking about issues of equity and access.
-Research “election day voting” in different states and compare the rules, thinking about issues of equity and access, including people who are in jail and/or people who have served their sentences.
-Brainstorm, more than one time, the reasons why it’s so important that people vote – AND – why so many people have decided not to vote in the past.
-Create brochures, films, email messages, speeches, posters, songs, artwork, and other texts to motivate people to vote in this election – and in the local elections that will also be coming up soon.
-Research any other issues or candidates that will be on the ballot in November and construct texts to advertise those issues beyond the Presidential Election.
Have Fun and let’s Rock the Vote starting with our youngest future voters…
If you haven’t been following the story of Genarlow Wilson, the young man who was sentenced to ten years in prison for having presumably consensual oral sex with a fifteen year old girl when he was seventeen, check out these pieces: CNN , NPR , Think Outside the Cage. He was released from a Georgia prison last week after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that his sentence constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Justices Hines, Melton, and Carley opposed the ruling and substantiated their opinion in the final pages of the Court’s Ruling, a very interesting document, particularly if you have never read a Supreme Court Ruling until now.
FYI – check out the Justices’ biographies
Great critical inquiry for teens, teachers, and families…
What laws are on the books in your state that could change the lives of teens engaging in various kinds of sexual acts if they were to be convicted? What other crimes are teens serving time for?
How many teens are in state and federal prisons (yes, juveniles are sometimes incarcerated in adult prisons)?
Are there differences in incarceration rates related to geography (north vs. south vs. west U.S.), race, gender, social class?
Do you find anything wrong with the picture of justice for teens in the U.S.? If so, what can you do?
Who benefits from incarcerating teens (and, if you want to extend it, people in general)?
What are the differences between state funding for education and state funding for jails and prisons?
Interesting websites for inquiring into issues of incarceration and probation:
Kids today aren’t dumb, they seem to know precisely when an education offered to them is worth engaging or notIn high school, politics, social class on October 26, 2007 at 8:37 pm
Dumber kids? Dumber schools? Dumber parents? Dumber policies?
Where does this all end? And when does one generation NOT look out at the younger generation and drop their jaws at the lack of enlightenment of the kids growing into adults? I would love to know what lmv over at adolescent literacies thinks about this.
Mark Morford, SFGate columnist writes this about today’s dumb kids. Toward the end he makes some good points that I might chisel down to “social class stratification folks!” but there are so many other issues I have with the assumptions in the piece that I couldn’t stop there.
TV is bad for us? Really? And bad for kids too? And video games? And smut journalism? And the Internet?
Come on, we can’t seriously be continuing to have these debates can we? Young people across the country and the globe are engaged in revolutions right now – starting them, leading them, pushing them. Check out Youtube and search for ‘justice’ or ‘social change’ or any other phrase that interests you.
Perhaps if teachers were not under the thumb of NCLB mandates they could encourage revolutions inside their classrooms! Perhaps this Oakland teacher that Mark writes about could have put video cameras in the hands of his students who wouldn’t “awaken” and tell them to film something that is meaningful, something they would fight for, something they dream of, something they want to change, dammit. And then connect them to the Internet to do research, to create their own version of moveon.org, to find a larger community that cares about the same issues, to read widely and deeply on the topic, and to find some purpose inside the four institutional walls other than to sleep or rebel.
But ah, some of the comments about Mark’s piece raise real challenges: How can government-funded public schooling ever encourage a revolution? If working-class and poor kids really get a rich, deep education in K-12 that leads to class mobility and even the challenging of the whole class structure, how will future generations be able to stratify themselves?
Please don’t be duped by the “dumber kids” mantra…
Even when they appear to be less engaged in classrooms, that’s more likely a reflection of the level of relevance, interest, and motivation inspired in the classroom than the kids themselves.
And when they don’t know how to form a sentence in high school? Well, that’s pure proof that whatever one-size-fits-all (most likely skills-based drill and kill) curriculum a particular district adopted is simply not working.
And when they don’t know how to hold and use a ruler to draw straight lines? Well, that’s when we better reconsider a paper-and-pencil math curriculum as well as the funding necessary to ensure all kids have access to and use a diverse range of tools and materials in their learning.
It’s about class folks, yes, but it’s not about the “parents” feeding kids too many Doritos or keeping the TV on too long or that steady diet of video games. It’s about the sickening way that states and districts make decisions about what will and won’t be taught in schools and to what teachers and students will and won’t have access.
One of the comments made about Mark’s piece notes that horrible decisions are sometimes also made in wealthy public school districts and even in private schools. I hear you – and that’s true. But then who suffers? Even if wealthy and poor districts have equally distributed oppressive curriculum policies, the status quo will be maintained. Rich kids have rich social networks and safety nets…you know where I’m going with this.
Are kids dumber today, or are education policymakers too dumb to realize that reductionist policies reduce everything – and everyone.
Kids today aren’t dumb, they seem to know precisely when an education offered to them is worth engaging or not.
The sun beat down ruthlessly as I marched across the spacious and vulnerable lawn of the outdoor Florida high school campus that was framed by one-story brick buildings. Doors hung open in fifteen feet intervals revealing classrooms filled with rows of chair and desk combinations and a teacher at the front of the room. I stepped into the shade of the canopy that covered a walkway and made my way to the classroom where I first learned about beakers and chemicals and where I memorized the table of elements and slouched in a chair staring dreamily into the dark afro in front of me. Today I was on a mission – no attending class, no slouching or dreaming, no goggle-wearing or chemical mixing. It was a new semester and a new day, and though Mr. Ramirez held my attention impressively throughout Chemistry, I was not going to follow through with his recommendation that I take physics. Stepping up and into the laboratory-like room, I handed him a piece of paper that indicated I was intending to drop his physics class and take something else. Mr. Ramirez (who was about forty years old, dark-complected, good-looking, and the food for my fantasies of marrying off my mother to a middle-class man who could provide her with an easier life) pushed his moustached lips together, shook his head and said something like:
“Stephanie. Don’t do this,” and gave me a long hard look.
“Why are you doing this?”
I can’t for the life of me remember if I responded to him or just sat there staring at his face or my shoes.
“Tell you what, I’ll give you an A. Just take the class. You can do it.”
At the time I had constructed some perverse fantasy in my mind that this “bribe” was to keep me in his classroom as eye candy, or something exceptionally stupid like that. People told me that I was pretty and had since I was old enough to understand words, so nearly everything that happened to me was immediately designated as a response to my physical appearance. Now, as an educator who has counseled first-generation college students who were on the verge of dropping out, and as someone who has made similar “offers” just to keep students in the line of possibility I reread this historic event differently. I have sat in my office chair pushing my lips together, shaking my head:
“I will do everything I can to make this a good experience for you.”
“Don’t drop out. I will get you through this, you can count on me to do that.”
For the life of me I can’t remember their responses. Perhaps they stared silently at me, or at their shoes, or perhaps they shook their head and mumbled something about not fitting in, not being able to manage family and school, not being able to talk in classes where they felt so different. Those details have left me, but the real physical pain of feeling my heart in my toes and knowing that I was about to lose one has stayed with me. Mr. Ramirez must have felt that same pain.
Mr. Ramirez was trying. He had to know that I was a recent newcomer, that I was from a family headed by a single woman at the time struggling to pay the bills, that I had been teetering on the edge of the abyss for at least two years, that I had the brains and the motivation but not the know-how to find comfort within school walls. How difficult it must have been to watch me walk out the door with his signature on the paper indicating that I was now officially dropping his course, physics, a course that could have provided me with cultural capital had I thought about applying for college, a course that could have convinced me to pursue science beyond high school, a course that might have helped me find comfort within academic settings.
That part of the conversation never happened, but of course, it’s so clear today.
Even had that conversation taken place, what is a sixteen-year-old who hated school, despised witnessing the privilege of schoolmates, and needed to make every dollar possible to pay for her own clothes, food, shoes, and help with younger siblings and household expenses to do? I needed money, and school was placing too many boundaries around the hours I had for working. I transferred to the district vocational school where I took classes for a few hours in the morning and then left to go to work – to make money – at noon. Mr. Ramirez, in that moment, didn’t have a shot at me. He might have convinced me across a number of conversations and across time, but in that space of me smiling and handing over the “drop” slip from the high school office, he didn’t have a fighting chance. I was done. Gone.
The multiple, competing, and contradictory narratives of my mobility across social class divides are filled with tense spaces such as that constructed between Mr. Ramirez and myself on that hot Florida day. Near-misses I call them – moments when I might have begun down a path that was foreign to me and most of my family, moments that might have made me miss the carefully practiced beat of walking in working-poor shoes, moments that might have gone either way, though they were in the habit of going in the same direction as the moments for generations before me, moments that constantly threatened to reclaim any stake I had made on the path to mobility. Money and time were always at the center of those tense times for me, two concepts that I found intriguing as a young child but unable to control them, at least in small ways, until I was an adolescent. Both, however, are forms of capital that work for us or against us in various societal exchanges, and that was something I did recognize early on in life, as well as the fact that physical beauty and a feminine demeanor could be used nearly as well as money in most circumstances. And use them I did.