stephanie jones

Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

Give us back our kindergartens!

In creativity, families, family-school relations, gender and education, high-stakes tests, kindergarten, NCLB, politics, stephanie jones on August 15, 2008 at 12:49 am

This news story reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (with some good, and some so-so quotes from me – I hate when I get riled up and don’t say what I want!) and the comments by readers has me thinking about our little ones who are already, or almost, in school this year. I hope some of you will get in on the discussion about this article – and start your own at your schools and with your friends and family.

Kindergarten teachers in different regions of the U.S. have shook their heads, pursed their lips, cussed a little, and even shed a tear or two as they tell me stories about what they feel they have to “do” to their students. “I don’t even have time for teaching – all I do is assess, assess, assess,” one teacher told me referring mostly to the DIBELS (phonics-driven) assessment mandated in her school and used to evaluate teachers at the end of the year. Other teachers have written emails to me panicking that their principal had just taken away recess – or choice time – or crayons – or P.E. – or rest time to make room for more testing and test preparation. They wanted my help. I wrote thoughtful messages back to them, citing research about play-based approaches to learning and social, emotional, and academic needs of young children. I gave them ammunition from the “experts” in education…but politicians and publishing houses (who sell the big-money test prep and test materials) wield more power and often get their way in schools. These conversations and email correspondences have driven me mad. Some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen in action – and they’re looking to me for help and I fail them.

I’ve also been in kindergarten classrooms where teachers weren’t outwardly questioning the mandates to make sure kids were writing complete sentences with appropriate capitalization and punctuation by December of kindergarten. And I saw children falling asleep, crying, acting out, and checking out. I didn’t blame them. I was checking out too.

Some of the trickle down of test preparation into the kindergartens has prompted particularly middle-class parents (who feel they can question the “system” of schooling) to keep their kids out of kindergarten a year longer until they’re “ready” for the more rigid behavior expectations (no running! no talking!) or the higher academic expectations. I’m all for kindergarteners learning a ton in that first official year of school – but through hands-on experiences, explorations, projects, play, and movement. Not through sitting-at-the-table-with-nothing-but-a-piece-of-paper-and-pencil. And no talking!

All around the country kindergarten teachers are angry about this, parents are confused, and children are suffering. Teachers are stressed, children are stressed, and families are stressed.

When are we going to say, “Give us back our kindergartens!”

Blessed Unrest Review by Paul B. Scudder

In conservation, creativity, critical literacy, democracy, freedom, great books, justice, politics, poverty, professional development resources, social action, teacher education resources on August 12, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Paul Scudder is a fine arts, commercial, and portrait photographer, master naturalist, and long-time friend of mine. Here’s his review of Blessed Unrest.

Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World by Paul Hawken

“Teach your children what we have taught ours, that the earth is our mother.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons [and daughters] of the earth.  The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.  Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.  We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”                                                ~ Chief Seattle, Suquamish Tribe

Author Paul Hawken develops a theory in this inspiring New York Times Bestseller that the world’s citizens are in the throes of a movement.  A movement that many of them are unaware exists outside of their own circumstances.  Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) ranging from one-person internet bloggers to large non-profits throughout the world are busy each day trying to create awareness for a cause they hold dear and trying and change the minds of individuals, governments, and corporations that are working against them.  Millions of these NGOs throughout the world are part of a larger “movement” that is working from the ground up to change the planet on which we live.

Hawken draws a correlation between the need for social justice, restoration of the environment, and protection of indigenous cultures.  He believes that an individual or NGO must care about all of these issues to be successful in their own cause.   You can not have one without the others.  All three of these issues are the result of runaway abuses of the “free market” economy that is currently enveloping the globe by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the multi-national corporations that are its members.

Blessed Unrest’s contention is that we must demand that governments and multi-national corporations provide a fair and decent wage to their employees, protect and preserve the indigenous cultures in the areas they are using, and do it all in a way that does not harm the environment.  Corporations can no longer be allowed to acquire land, displace peoples, and impoverish local workers all in the name of the “free market” system.

The text of this 325 page book is less than 190 pages. The remaining pages include a 105 page taxonomy of over 1 million types of non-profit groups that exist throughout the globe that are involved in the “movement”.  Additionally, Hawken backs the claims he makes in his thesis with 25 pages of footnotes and bibliography.

This book is a must read for anyone who cares about true democracy and freedom, cultural preservation, the environment, or the world that we will leave to our children.

“Blessed Unrest is exciting, compelling and very important. . . It will Inspire and encourage millions more to take action.”
~ Jane Goodall

Clean up the beach while on vacation?? Come on…

In critical literacy, justice, professional development resources, social action, teacher education resources on August 5, 2008 at 3:11 pm

Last week I was on vacation in Ft. Morgan, Alabama. It was gorgeous, especially the breeze in the evenings and the bright stars hanging over the Gulf of Mexico. Seashells were everywhere and so were some of the natural wonders of the oceans: fish, rays, crabs, dolphin, and jellyfish. In fact we saw dozens and dozens of huge, gorgeous jellyfish with long tentacles effortlessly pushing themselves through the shallow waters near the sand.

But wait. I’ve never seen one of those things in real life, only in National Geographic-like television programs and photographs. How could that be?

They were stinging people every day. Hayden refused to go in the water. Her daddy refused to stay out – landing him with several bad stings.

In addition to the massive amounts of live and dead jellyfish that we’ve never seen before, I was also surprised by the amount of litter on the beach.

Hayden and I decided to do a couple clean-up mornings as we searched for shells. We had a contest to see who could end up with the heaviest bag of beach litter (coke cans, beer bottles, shoes, old toys, string, plastic pieces, ceramic tile, fireworks debris, and on and on). She’s six years old – she won:).

When we returned to Georgia we read this article in the New York Times about the worldwide problem of jellyfish.

Could pollution and climate change be the problem in Ft. Morgan too?

What if everyone spent just 20 minutes each day picking up litter instead of walking by it?

I helped Hayden write a letter to the Tourism folks in Alabama and Ft. Morgan encouraging them to encourage their visitors to spend a little time on their vacation taking care of the beaches so that we will have beautiful, healthy places to enjoy for years – and decades – and generations – to come.

For any of you folks teaching near the coast, this would make for a fabulous local inquiry and potential social/eco action project. This is both a social and ecological problem – not only are our oceans’ health diminishing, but closed beaches means fewer visitors which means smaller amounts of money pumped into local economies which means fewer jobs and more economic struggle for families depending on tourism. It’s all connected…

What could kids of all ages come up with as creative solutions to this – and other – social/eco injustices? I’d love to find out.

And for vacationers – if you don’t do it, who will do it to ensure that pretty beach is there for you next time, much less for generations to come? It’s everyone’s responsibility to care for our physical world.

poetry, literature, and social justice

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2008 at 3:56 pm

For all you literature buffs out there…

Channeling Mark Twain by Carol Muske-Dukes is a must-read if you’re into poetry, literature, prison politics, and social justice. Holly, the protagonist, finds herself in complex situations where her ideals around social justice and feminism collide with material lives lived inside and outside a women’s prison walls. Fast-paced narratives are woven into the fabric of the poetic novel, the history of poetry and poets, and high/low brow poetry. This book will push you to make intertextual readings with familiar poems and research those unfamiliar to you – but particularly if you are a die-hard social justice warrior, it will make for great conversation about the age-old questions and debates about “power” “oppression” and “justice.” Everyone will enjoy being carried into the prison on Riker’s Island, if they haven’t been there themselves, to critically rethink the problems in our society and criminal justice system…and by default, our education system, social class, race, gender, and sexuality.

welfare brat by mary childers

In American Dream, classism, creativity, families, family-school relations, gender and education, great books, language, mothers, personal narratives, poverty, professional development resources, social class, teacher education resources, Uncategorized on August 1, 2008 at 3:03 am

I’ll be adding this book to my list of terrific reads that explore the complexities of social mobility through education. Childers’ memoir is beautifully written even when she’s writing about her teenage rage directed at her mother and painful realizations caught up in the tricky web woven between gratitude and desire, loyalty and resentment, love and fear, school and home. Some of the most insightful moments for educators might be in her writing about language use, clothing, and eye contact as she crosses the threshold into middle-class Manhattan to work as a teen and downplays desires to attend college to maintain peer relationships. Interchanges between Childers and her guidance counselor would also make for interesting dialogue, as well as the variety of ways her siblings experience mobility – and how sexuality, lies/truths, language, and relationships buttress such mobility.

Brava Childers!

%d bloggers like this: