stephanie jones

Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Creative wills to make money – know your rights:)

In American Dream, classism, communities, creativity, social class, social policy on May 30, 2009 at 3:54 am

She stopped me in the parking lot of a convenient store and popped open her trunk, “Does your little girl like Barbie?”

“No, thank you,” I said.

“But look, it’s a great little basket – you have a sand bucket and shovel, some Barbie stickers and paper for writing. Cute, huh? Eight bucks.”

“Hmmmm…we really don’t need it.”

“Five bucks.”

“Okay. I’ll take it.”

I’m from a place where creative ways for a head of a family to make a buck are used by most people I know. Cutting someone’s grass, shoveling some snow, selling make-up, selling left over prescription pills, cutting hair, setting up a flea market booth, having a yard sale, fixing a car, repairing a roof, making and selling jewelry, taking someone’s picture, cleaning someone’s house, giving someone a ride for gas money, betting on a horse, playing pool, grooming someone’s dog, collecting aluminum cans, standing on the corner with a pizza advertisement, working at a food pantry to get the leftovers. You name it, I’ve seen it done, and done a lot of creative stuff myself to make money. And those were in good times.

Now times are less than good – and people have doubled and tripled their creative efforts to make money. I had never been stopped in a convenience store parking lot to buy a cute bucket for kids, nor have I ever seen so many yard sale signs, so many crafts laid out in front yards with “for sale” signs on them (I saw a really cool wooden clubhouse for kids in a yard that had been handmade – but it would have never made it back to Georgia), so many cars for sale in driveways, furniture sitting out with signs on it, and on and on and on and on and on.

It never ceases to amaze me how much hustle people have in them when the cards are down, how they do what they need to do to get food on the table and the rent paid, and how people shift money around from person to person, family to family to help others get food on the table and the rent paid.

My great uncle works in a food pantry and brings extra food to my grandma and her brother – he told me about all the “strangers” suddenly coming for food, not the usual folks who tended to be older and on social security drawing very small monthly checks. “It must really be bad,” he said.


And I think of the Barbie bucket I bought in the parking lot and the signs – dozens and dozens of signs – advertising items and services for sale. Hustlin’ we call it in my family – hustlin’ to make a buck – and so rarely does that hustle happen in the official economy, that one that is above ground, above the table, counted in government statistics and weekly reports. It seems to me more people are hustlin’ out in the open when they used to be more underground. But the underground economy is sagging too, so the creative efforts are coming out from everywhere. These are folks who have either rejected the official economy because of the devastatingly low wages (I mean, really, does anyone think you can feed yourself, much less a family, on $7.00 an hour?), bullshit red tape (have you applied for jobs lately? nearly everything – even foodservice – requires online applications), humiliating drug tests (does anyone really think that someone who smokes a joint on the weekend should not be allowed to cook a hamburger on Wednesday?), or have taken up hustlin’ as a second or third job (should it really take two or three jobs to live a modest life?).

But they know their rights, and they know they have the right, and the responsibility, to make money for rent and food, so they do it. And I also know that if the government could tax them on their Barbie bucket sales out of their trunk, it would. And that $5.00 sale, with a cost of items at at least $4.00 would leave a $1.00 profit, a .30 tax, and .70 left for her hustle. Not quite worth it…unless of course .70 is exactly what you need to buy that loaf of bread that will feed your kids half the week.

Reminds me of a verse from a song – Know Your Rights by The Clash:

And Number 2
You have the right to food money
Providing of course you
Don’t mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers

How to Make School Not Suck #3 – Leave the state tests alone already!

In classism, high-stakes tests, identity, NCLB, teacher education resources on May 20, 2009 at 8:31 pm

#6 Stop going on and on about the state tests even AFTER they’re over! We already know the stupid tests have taken all the “real” education out of schools and they’ve taken attention away from real academic learning, inquiry, curiosity, democratic engagement, and authentic projects. But once they’re over, DROP IT! But noooooo, some schools can’t seem to do that. Many weeks after the tests were over and the scores were in, celebrations are held for the “highest scorers” and those who have “exceeded expectations” get public recognition, and some even certificates!  I mean, are you freaking kidding me??!! It’s not enough to torture kids for weeks or months prior to the test with test preparation, test cheers, pep rallies, homework, etc. etc. etc., but now the kids who didn’t simply “meet” expectations but “exceeded” them get recognized?! All this time you’ve been telling kids you just wanted them to do a good job – but you lied. You really wanted them to do better than most other kids – passing wasn’t enough – and you do this publicly??!!

Get off it already.

Around every corner of this problem is another problem.

I shake my head in disbelief.

You would think that some educators have never, ever, ever read a single article or book about the negative impact of high-stakes standardized tests, competition, extrinsic motivation, privileging some kids over others repeatedly, “shaming” kids through exclusion, etc. etc. etc.

Besides, it’s really clear here that you are saying to kids, “Really, all you matter to us is a number. We don’t give a damn about what your dreams are, what you hope you can accomplish in school, the questions you wonder about, or how hard you’re working. And we don’t care if you have made two years’ growth this year, or came in so strong already but seem to have made no progress. We just care about that little score you’re going to give us in the spring, and then we are going to use that score to reward or punish you after the tests are long over. And we’ll do so publicly. So you better do good, because just when you thought the trauma of taking the test was over, we’ll make you re-live that over and over. (smirk).”


How to Make School Not Suck #2 – Awards

In anti-bias teaching, classism, democracy, family-school relations, poverty, social class, teacher education resources on May 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm

#5 Stop singling out the same kids over and over for school awards. You know exactly the kind of celebrations I’m talking about: a very small number of well-dressed, submissive, overly-willing-to-please kids get all the recognition in a class-wide or even school-wide award ceremony. If the other kids are lucky, they might get their names called out, but then some sit there never having had the thrill of being publicly recognized for their gifts and talents. Do this: if you or your school gave out awards for the end of this year, ask yourself some tough questions: a) who were the kids that never got recognized? b) how many of those kids are from middle-class or wealthy families? c) how many receive free or reduced lunch? d) how many of those kids are white? African American? Multiracial? Latino? Asian American? e) how many of those kids have already had the privilege of “special programs” such as the gifted program? f) is there any evidence in your answers that you are, or your school is, perpetuating stereotypes and expectations for kids based on race and class?

If you know anything about how children build personal connections with school and develop motivation in school, then you’ll already know that the kids who never get recognized are the very ones who will decide to quit trying. When you reward everything they are NOT, and nothing that they ARE, you send very clear messages about whether they even belong in the school setting. Shame on anyone who does this.

And – we’re sending horrible messages to the kids getting all the recognition as they sit and watch their classmates’ eyes well up with tears and yell and lash out at students and teachers: You deserve praise and they don’t. And when they can see traces of racism and classism in those decisions (even if they can’t articulate it that way – my own daughter said, “all the kids who didn’t get an award were _____” – she knew), they can begin to adopt those same racist, classist beliefs about school and society at large.

And what about the parents of children who attend such events whose child never gets recognized? Well, they probably already hated school and you because they have read through this bullshit long ago. But you surely didn’t help things.

Every single child has something worth valuing publicly.


Recognize and reward the wonderful talents and gifts of every student and you will create a better world, starting in your classroom, school, and then beyond.

Stop repeatedly making some of your students Powerful and others Powerless in school settings. Rethinking awards is one place to start.

Besides, without knowing it, you might be publicly and proudly revealing the racist and classist practices that are already at play in your classroom or school, and surely, surely, no one would want to be caught in THAT situation.

New publications…

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Two new articles:

Jones, S. and Enriquez, G. (2009). Engaging the intellectual and the moral critical literacy teacher education: The four-year journeys of two teachers from teacher education to classroom practice.  Reading Research Quarterly, 44(2).

Jones, S. (2009). Against all odds: A case study of one White, middle-class female teacher becoming an engaged intellectual. Changing English, 16(2), 231-246.

And a really cool book I have the honor of being a part of:

Jones, S. (2009). Jagged edges: A psychosocial exploration by one who “made it.” In (Van Galen, J.A. & Dempsey, V.O., Eds.) Trajectories: The social and educational mobility of education scholars from poor and working class backgrounds. The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

How to Make School Not Suck #1

In classism, democracy, family-school relations, feminist work, justice, language, poverty, satire as critical literacy, social action, social class, stephanie jones, student teaching, teacher education, teacher education resources on May 5, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I’m aching to write a book called “School Sucks,” but I don’t want to be too negative, you know? I mean I am an education professor, surely I should not be preaching about how much school sucks, right? Surely I should be the person waving a banner recruiting people in, being a cheerleader for schools, teachers, education, and schools, right? On the other hand, school does – in many cases – suck. It sucks as a kid when you’re stuck in a chair and get yelled at by the teacher for falling off it after a couple hours of test preparation madness; it sucks as a teacher when you’re finally doing some cool stuff with your kids and the principal comes in and wants to know what standards you’re covering; it sucks as a principal when you want your teachers to do what’s best for kids but the district office will punish you if you don’t meet AYP; it sucks as a parent watching day after day go by knowing that your kid is going off to a place where kids are expected to behave like robots, learn their math facts like computers, follow rules like – well, who follows rules??; it sucks to be a kid and go to  a place every day where you’re not expected to be like a kid at all who would prefer curiosity, experimentation, play, humor, physical movement, friendship, nurturing, kindness, and un-sucki-ness.

So I’ve tried to make the title a little more positive – a little nicer for those who may never read a book called “School Sucks.”

I don’t know if or when it’ll ever become a book, so I decided just to share some of my random thoughts about some things that make school suck for kids here, especially since a friend told me he wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t get started on this project immediately. So here’s my eensy weensy start…

Stop smiling so much at the kids with nice clothes.
You know it happens, the kids who dress “nice,” or as some kids might say, like “preps,” “jocks,” “stuck-ups,” “teacher’s pets,” or “rich kids,” get all the positive attention even when they don’t deserve it. Even when they come to class late, don’t do a good job on their homework, whisper mean things to kids on the playground, and secretly exclude the kids with the not-so-nice clothes, the kids with nice clothes still get treated nice. Stop doing it! This makes school suck for kids who don’t want those stupid clothes, don’t have money for those clothes, or who are trying everything they can to get those clothes. Even kindergarteners notice when the well-dressed kids get all the attention. Stop it. Besides – without even knowing it, you might be promoting materialism and consumerism just by rewarding those who pay big bucks for cheaply made clothing in sweatshops and other subpar working conditions across the globe with your smile and special attention. Smile more at everyone – make school not suck.

Stop gushing over kids who went on exotic trips during spring break.
It sucks, I know, seeing seven and eight year olds trot around the globe like nobody’s business, seeing things in real life that you’ve only seen in books or on television. But stop gushing over it, alright? All this gushing makes school suck for kids who went to a babysitter’s house and thought they had a ball all week until you made a big deal about the trip to Paris little Lucy went on. Make everyone’s spring, summer, fall, and winter breaks seem cool, valuable, educational, and admirable – not just the kids who happen to have been born in a family that can afford to go on expensive vacations. Besides – without even knowing it, you might be promoting an elitist and colonial attitude toward “others” around the globe who are assumed to be there for us middle-class Americans to gaze upon and wonder about. Gush over everyone’s fun and sorrow over school breaks – make school not suck.

Stop saying things like, “He’s never even been to the zoo!”
What kind of school God made the zoo the pinnacle of all experiences that will magically make all our academic dreams come true? It really sucks when all the cool things you’ve done with your family don’t seem to matter to anyone and all that really matters is if you’ve seen caged up animals who are in fake habitats and gawked at all day by well-dressed families trying to do everything they can to give their kid an advantage in school. Besides – without even knowing it, you might be promoting the idea that animals are put on earth to be controlled by humans and to become humans’ entertainment as they live their lives in captivity. Find educational reasons to value everyone’s home experiences – make school not suck.

Stop announcing the names of kids who still haven’t brought in field trip money.
This REALLY makes school suck for kids whose families are barely surviving and don’t have the money for life’s necessities, much less the $6.00 fee to go to the zoo where they keep animals in captivity and we gawk at them for our entertainment. Here’s the thing – if out-of-school experiences mean so much to educational success (and I would agree here that this is true), then tell your school and district to stop wasting millions on test prep materials and testing materials and use that money to pay for field trips that mean so much to educational success. Or, find lots of free field trips to go on. Or, use public transportation so the cost is lower. Or, convince your principal to create a fund that pays for families who can’t afford it (without announcing it). Or, have an open conversation with your students about the fact that because we live in a society that inequitably distributes economic resources, we expect that different families will be able to pay different amounts for field trips and that sometimes means that families are not able to pay anything at one time or another. No big deal. The big deal, in fact, is that our society should make sure it has decent paying jobs for everyone so that everyone could afford the field trip fees. THAT would make school not suck for the kids who don’t have the money to pay and can’t stand the humiliation and shame that comes along with not having the money to pay and go home angry at their parents because they don’t have the money to pay.

Make field day free for all students! At a middle school in Northport, AL, students had to pay $10.00 each to participate in the end of the year field day; those who didn’t or couldn’t bring money were sentenced to study hall. What were organizers thinking when they made these decisions? Field day doesn’t cost anything, but even if there were expenses involved, how could anyone think it would be right to keep non-paying students inside? I’ll be circulating a petition to make Field Day free for all.

Stop privileging school athletes by giving them a day off of school for “athletic day.” While the middle school athletes spent a day at Alabama Adventure Amusement Park, non-athlete members of the geocaching club, chess club, math club (etc. ad nauseum) stayed behind. Why can’t everyone in the school community be invited to go to the amusement park? Do athletes, and athletes alone, deserve a special day? Of course not! It’s absurd!

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