stephanie jones

Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Reading: The ongoing national focus

In great books, professional development resources, teacher education resources, teaching reading on August 30, 2009 at 10:58 pm
Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
Just a little change
Small to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared...

Would any of you literacy people out there ever think you would find an article that references Diane Ravitch, Lucy Calkins, Catherine Snow, Elizabeth Moje, and Nancie Atwell all agreeing on something??? Well, okay, Diane Ravitch didn’t admit to agreeing, but in her steadfast clinging to Moby Dick she also didn’t completely disagree, did she? choice (lower case ‘c’) seems to be a common intersection…

Here it is in today’s NY Times – The Future of Reading: A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like

Imagine a FRONT PAGE article in the New York Times on Reading Workshop, self-selected reading, and schools setting aside 40 minutes a day for students to read!!! I shook my head and did several double-takes before convincing myself it was real. And all kinds of literacy folks are cited agreeing that student choice, time for self-selected reading, and empowering children to be in control of their reading WORKS in more ways than one. (I won’t debate the definition of working here, but you all know we all have our own ideas of what “works” actually means)

This is the 4th article in a series on teaching/learning reading (The Future of Reading) in the Times, including:

Literacy Debate: Online R U Really Reading?

Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers

In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update

**And please don’t over-analyze my use of Beauty and the Beast…the song just came rushing into my mind as I read the article. Don’t ask me why – I have no idea and I refuse to psychoanalyze it or anything else. Seriously, I didn’t have any person or people in mind as “Beauty” or “Beast” so don’t “read” anything onto it – just thought it was a funny intro to the article:)

congrats – this is the first time I’ve liked the readings

In anti-bias teaching, classism, creativity, professional development resources, teacher education resources on August 30, 2009 at 2:20 am

…said a grad student in a recent class (on teaching in the elementary grades) meeting after reading the first week’s assigned readings. my response? congrats to you:) several other students “admitted” to usually skimming readings in the past but said they couldn’t take their eyes off these readings they were so interesting.

and what were we reading?

two chapters from mike rose’s The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker

maxine greene’s The Ambiguities of Freedom

a long chapter from the incredible (and gorgeous) 1978 book by michael thurmond: A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History

and a chapter from To Remain an Indian by  K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Teresa L. McCarty

You might be wondering what these readings have in common to be assigned in the same week…our question was “What is the purpose of education?” – and these pieces together provoke lots of great dialogue.

to go on

In freedom, justice on August 30, 2009 at 1:58 am

tears well

muscles ache

lips quiver

voices crack

minds wonder

how it will be done.

shoulders droop

arms wrap

chests heave

knees buckle

under the pressure.

and yet

mouths smile

hands wave

heads nod

feet move

to go on

as tears well.

Beautiful Pedagogy…Foxfire Style

In American Dream, communities, conservation, creativity, freedom, high school, inquiry, justice, professional development resources, social action, teacher education resources on August 30, 2009 at 1:52 am

A bit of inspiration for all of us trying to stay grounded in our big fight over public school education and working toward a better society for everyone.

Click here for information on Foxfire

And here for the Foxfire magazine

Thanks to Lew and JoBeth for telling me about the NY Times piece…

Jails, Prisons, Incarceration Rates, and Public Cost

In classism, communities, critical literacy, democracy, freedom, justice, politics, prison, racism, social policy on August 16, 2009 at 7:08 pm

I wrote this in response to a story in our local paper about a proposed new jail that would cost approximately $100 million when all is said and done. But the issue is a significant one for everyone in our country – I’ll try to add some hot links to this later so you can access the reports I used to gather information.

New jail “critical”? Let’s look at some facts…

International and national rates of incarceration
Bear with me readers, it might not seem immediately clear why a new jail in Athens-Clarke County (or any other place) is not necessarily what’s critical for our community, but at least by the end of these comments we will have more to consider as public citizens than we do with a narrow-visioned and short-sighted argument for a bigger facility to house those who have become enmeshed in the criminal justice system.

The United States incarcerates more people – and the highest percentage of its population – than any other country in the world. At the beginning of 2008, the U.S. had 2,319,258 people in federal, state, or local jails/prisons; China was a distant second in the world with 1.5 million people incarcerated; Russia in a distant third place at 870,000 people incarcerated. In a surprising twist, countries our government and public often points fingers at for human rights violations are far behind the U.S. in incarceration rates. According to statistics in 2007 and 2008, the U.S. was incarcerating a stunning 760 people per 100,000, Iran was at 222 per 100,000 people, South Africa was at 329 per 100,000 people, Russia – 626 per 100,000 people, Saudi Arabia – 178 per 100,000, and China – 119 per 100,000. What about countries we consider allies and comparable regarding human rights policies? In 2008, Canada incarcerated 116 people per 100,000 and France was at 222 per 100,000 people. Sweden, perhaps not surprisingly, was at a very low 74 people incarcerated per 100,000 people in its population.

The U.S. hit a startling figure in 2008 with 1 in 100, or more precisely, more than 1 in 99.1 people in the country incarcerated with the state of Georgia consistently ranking near the top for incarceration rates in the United States. In 2005, Georgia was ranked 2nd highest when 1,021 people per 100,000 were incarcerated, and according to 2007 data, Georgia had a rate 21% higher than the national average of incarcerated adults per 100,000. Just for those of you wondering, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Oklahoma are always among the top of the incarceration list as well.

Even more shocking than the high percentage of our country’s incarcerated population is the racial and ethnic differences within those numbers. At mid-year, 2008:
a. 727 White males were incarcerated per 100,000 White males
b. 1,760 Hispanic males were incarcerated per 100,000 Hispanic males
c. 4,777 Black males were incarcerated per 100,000 Black males
d. 1 in 355 White women aged 35-39
e. 1 in 297 Hispanic women aged 35-39
f. 1 in 100 Black women aged 35-39

In 2008, a shocking 1 in 9 Black men aged 20-34 were behind bars, and 1 in 15 Black men over the age of 18 were behind bars. This evidence points to serious racism in our country’s incarceration rates, intersecting with classism given that approximately 90% of all people of all races being arrested are living below the poverty level at the time of their arrest.

At what cost?
Readers can ascertain the human, familial, and social costs of the above facts themselves. Here I will focus a bit on the financial costs that have skyrocketed. Between 1987 and 2007, for example, states’ increase in spending on higher education was 21% while the increase in spending on corrections was 127%. In 2008, $1 in every $15.00 of states’ budgets of discretionary money was being used for corrections, and in the state of Georgia, every dollar spent on higher education equaled 50 cents spent on corrections. There is no doubt that in the nearing $100 billion industry of corrections, public priorities such as education, healthcare, parks and recreation, transportation, infrastructure, and so on have suffered.

Studies have also found that child support and restitution payments become almost nonexistent when someone responsible for such payments is incarcerated. So, it seems that we put people behind bars, take away their ability to work and earn money to be responsible for their debts, take away their ability to work and earn money and pay taxes into an increasingly small pool of money, and make it harder for them to find work after they are released because of the stigma of having served time in jail or prison. Even for those people less inclined to concern themselves with the social and moral ramifications of incarceration, everyone can certainly see the extreme economic cost to every single taxpayer and person in our country.

Our local tax dollars

For SPLOST 2011, voters will be asked to approve an $80 million bond sale to pay for the jail expansion and the following November they will be asked whether to pay back the debt with future sales tax revenue (about $20 million in interest). That’s approximately $100 million to make room for even more than Georgia’s already high numbers of people incarcerated.

On the other hand, a mere $40 million will be requested for an expansion of the Classic Center – an investment that would reportedly create “700 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs, and bring $6.6 million into the community annually.” Wow – what could $100 million do for Athens-Clarke County? Surely there are other “big-ticket” items that could generate jobs for our neighbors and community friends who don’t have any prospects right now. Could another big project mean 1,400 construction jobs and at least 400 more permanent jobs?

Experts have said that rather than asking for taxpayer dollars to pay for corrections, it would be better public policy to invest taxpayer dollars into things that are going to transform the economy, such as education and diversifying the economy. In Clarke County we are furloughing teachers and asking families to foot the bill for long and expensive school supply lists. Other counties are cutting field trips altogether and anything else that seems non-essential. If we want to keep kids in school and prepare them to be the innovative leaders we need tomorrow in Athens and far beyond, it is absolutely essential that we not consider a $100 million project to incarcerate more of their family members now and more of them in the future. We could use that money to stimulate our local and regional economy, ensuring there is work for all of us in the community now and in the future. Ensuring work and legitimate economic opportunity will surely result in a decrease of need for a new jail. And we could use the saved money to engage our youth in powerful ways – helping them see education beyond the four walls of school and inspiring them to see how they can be positive change agents in our society. That will take field trips, of course, and lots of other innovative practices that schools don’t have money for now.

Tough questions for Clarke County and others around the country

Given that the increased number of people being incarcerated is not correlated to an increase in crime, but rather change in policies governing admissions and lengths of stay in jails/prisons; Given the horrific differences between the rates of incarceration depending on race and socioeconomic status; And given the evidence of a skyrocketing jail/prison population and an exponentially increasing bill for housing and caring for incarcerated people, it is absolutely critical that taxpayers ask local, state, and national governments some tough questions:
1. What are the county/state statistics on race/ethnicity and incarceration?
2. What are the county/state statistics on socioeconomic status and incarceration?
3. If those statistics are alarming, how does the county/state explain such differences in incarceration across races?
4. If those statistics are alarming, what is the county/state actively doing to prevent the incarceration of Blacks and Hispanics at such high rates?
5. How are zero-tolerance and three-strikes policies impacting the admissions and lengths of stay in jails/prisons?
6. What is the loss in potential local and state tax income for every person incarcerated?
7. What is the cost in relation to child support and retribution payments for every person incarcerated?
8. What are the statistics regarding recidivism and an overall decrease in crime for every person incarcerated?

A new jail, housing more people, will cost Athens-Clarke County far more than the $100 million dollars that will simply get a physical building. The real cost in dollars and cents, as well as the cost to our local public priorities, has surely not yet been calculated.

*Statistics and other information gathered from The National Institute of Corrections, The International Centre for Prison Studies, The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, and The Pew Center on the States.

What do I really want out of school as a parent?

In creativity, critical literacy, democracy, family-school relations, inquiry, personal narratives, teacher education, teaching reading on August 7, 2009 at 6:44 pm

After a nearly two hour ordeal with my seven-year-old newly-second-grader Hayden this morning, who announced she was quitting school and refused to get on the bus (again – for regular readers who know this has happened in the past), we made a deal that I hope buys me some time, and I quote:

“When you can read the newspaper, talk to me intelligently about everything in it, locate all the places mentioned in the articles on a map and globe and know something about them, then we can talk about doing something other than school. Deal?”


“But I can already read the newspaper,” she said – though that’s not entirely true.

“Yes, but you can’t have an intelligent conversation about it yet,” my witty response.

I was desperate this morning. We tried 30 minutes of home-schooling (please just home-school me! she said), but that didn’t work. She tried to convince me to take her to my classes at UGA (I’m little but I can learn that stuff too!), but I told her she wasn’t allowed to go to UGA without going to another school first. I had an appointment at 9:30 and the clock was ticking…so I made the deal out of desperation and without giving any thought to what I was saying.

And now I sit, thinking about that deal.

Is that really what I want my child to get out of school? Because if it is, I’m afraid it doesn’t usually happen.

But think about it – the newspaper covers religion, politics, general science, mathematics, social issues, ecology, biology, health, nutrition, technology, innovation, medicine, entertainment, the arts, local issues, global issues, war, genocide, social relations, civics, sociology, psychology, geography, sports, education, and on and on and on and on.

And if one could read and speak intelligently about all these things – wouldn’t we have hit the mark?

So perhaps this is what education boils down to for me – at least today – and I’ll stick to my deal and see how much time it buys me.

But she better be doing a lot of studying up at home if she hopes to reach this point, because I rarely see a newspaper in schools.

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