stephanie jones

Archive for the ‘language’ Category

Creativity is Not the Enemy of Good Writing

In Education Policy, language, literacy on October 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Thanks to The Atlantic for publishing this essay I co-authored with Bob Fecho:

Creativity Is Not the Enemy of Good Writing

1 OCT 1 2012, 9:45 AM ET 7

Parasites were the subject of inquiry on a recent broadcast of Radiolab, a National Public Radio science show. Prior to hearing this broadcast, Bob, like most of us, was given to depicting parasites in cold, harsh terms. They were ugly and repellant organisms that lived off the nutrients of others. They conjured up images of the leeches covering Humphrey Bogart’s body in The African Queen and, as the Radiolab broadcast suggested in its opening sequence, the alien that emerged from the chest of the space crew of that eponymous movie.

However by the end of the broadcast, Bob had a revelation: the relationship between humans and parasites is far more complex than he had ever imagined or his high school science teacher ever let on. Among several enlightening aspects, the show dealt with the finding that parasites, particularly hookworms, help control hyper inflammatory response in people with allergies. To this end, scientists are experimenting with parasite therapy with fairly positive results.

What does a story on parasites have to do with the administration, teachers, and students of New Dorp High School and their writing instruction as highlighted in “The Writing Revolution” by Peg Tyre? We suspect that Bob’s initial understanding of parasites was based on a rudimentary inquiry into the subject, a reliance on what is often construed as established fact, and a desire to come to a simple, but satisfactory conclusion.

We, Stephanie and Bob, worry that the writing initiative at New Dorp is being viewed with a similar kind of narrow vision, perpetuating the simple and unhelpful dichotomies often construed as established fact in education rather than a deep inquiry into the complexities inherent in teaching and learning.

When positive change occurs in schools, there is a tendency to want to treat the experience like a controlled experiment in a lab, latch on to the latest innovation at that school, and then market it to schools everywhere. In the case of New Dorp, it’s the twin ideas of focusing on expository writing and the direct teaching of language structure. These two ideas are set in opposition to two others in the story: creative expression in writing and writing skills being “caught” (rather than “taught”) in student-centered classrooms.

These dichotomies don’t exist in real classrooms, nor in the theories and practices grounding powerful literacy teaching.

One example is the “structured speaking” highlighted in the article: Students were asked to respond to specific prompts during class discussions (e.g., “I agree/disagree with ____ because…”). However, similar kinds of exchanges can also be heard in student-centered reading and writing workshops, which have long embraced direct teaching of language, reading, and writing (including expository writing). Evidence of such explicit teaching can be found in volumes of books and dozens of binders produced through New York City’s own Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, arguably an epicenter of workshop teaching where it is always assumed that nothing can replace strong teaching and never assumed that writing will simply be “caught” by students.

Beyond our uneasiness with such dichotomies, we believe the key to the revolution at New Dorp is much more powerful and foundational than a particular approach to teaching writing or even an emphasis on language education. Empowering teachers to engage their professional knowledge and intellect and take charge of their teaching and learning is the revelation we see in Tyre’s article.The principal and faculty, Tyre writes, “began a detailed investigation into why, ultimately, New Dorp’s students were failing.”

In other words, instead of looking outside to standards, new materials, high-tech resources, and external experts for the illusory magic writing solution, New Dorp began a research project conducted by their teachers in their own school. In doing so, teachers were positioned as researchers of students and student work in their classrooms. They began a deep inquiry into what students were and were not doing, which became data they used to shape their instruction and tailor it to the needs of their students.

In doing so, perhaps teachers became less interested in assigning blame, which is too often heaped on working-class and poor students who are perceived as having low intelligence and limited capabilities because of their “non-standard” oral English.

This points to a more subtle and insidious threat to teaching and learning in schools like New Dorp: classism. Linguists concerned with issues of social class demonstrated long ago the fallacy of correlating oral language with intelligence, and yet this myth persists and often shapes assumptions educators and others have about working-class and poor students, making them already “known” to be less capable and more culpable for their own failures to succeed.

Learning about both the strengths and struggles of students can help teachers rethink their instruction. By viewing their students as capable learners, it seems New Dorp teachers innovated methods that — with concerted, consistent, and compassionate support — led the students to conceive of themselves as writers, particularly of academic prose. The fact that this initiative was taken on as a school-wide effort impressed upon the students and the teachers that what they were doing was important for learning.

“We teach students, not programs,” a local administrator recently told Stephanie. If we had to guess, it sounds as if New Dorp High School, as portrayed in Tyre’s article, has decided to teach students. Teachers were positioned to use their professional knowledge and experiences to learn about their students, analyze their writing, and be invested in their success.

Despite David Coleman’s despicable charge that “people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think” in the real world — when teachers teach as if they do give a shit about what students feel or think, revolutions like the one at New Dorp take hold. David Coleman is dead wrong about the real world and his advice for teachers is dangerous. Instead, when teachers invest themselves in deep inquiry into their own practice, they gain the intellectual and emotional commitment necessary to teach in ways that are in the best interest of students.

What worries us about most media portrayals of education is the emphasis on results over process. As new teachers enter New Dorp, for example, they might be told to teach this writing “program” without having engaged in the intellectual work of searching for and responding to the most pertinent needs of their student writers.

And it can’t be assumed that the students of New Dorp five years from now will be more or less the same as current students and in need of the same kind of instruction. Nothing, given our globalized and technological world, could be less true. Unless attempts are made to replicate the inquiry process and reassess student needs and teacher instruction, then, if we had to guess, the program won’t be nearly as successful, and a new crisis will emerge that only committed and empowered teachers will be able to solve.

Desperate educational situations all over the country are emerging out of the ashes of more than a decade of policies that forced schools into narrowing their curriculum and teaching to the test. Should we be surprised that students from under-resourced schools haven’t learned to be the strong analytical writers we wish they were? They have spent their entire school careers in the very places where surveillance was the most stringent, teaching the “standards” most scripted, and controlling the pace and content of instruction the most rigid.

Despite such restrictive policies and in the face of harsh criticism from media and politicians infatuated with tests and scores, many teachers in marginalized schools have struggled to hold onto their professionalism and integrity. As a result, and with few exceptions, underprivileged schools have suffered most deeply the consequences of poor state and national policies promoting test preparation as a guise for education.

But a return to more rigid teaching methods is not a way to solve the writing crisis in underprivileged schools. Actually teaching writing will help, and it seems that may begin to happen again after a decade of No Child Left Behind and the emphasis on skills-based reading instruction as a placeholder for literacy writ-large.

Teaching language will also help, though most of us equate language learning to parts of speech and diagramming sentences, which isn’t the kind of language learning we are necessarily talking about. Instead, we argue that helping students inquire into the way language is used for them, against them, and by them will help them to see the written word as something they control rather than it controlling them.

If anything should be replicated from the experience of teachers, administrators, and students at New Dorp High School, it’s the process they used for inquiring into the needs of their students and the cohesive and comprehensive plan they developed for addressing those needs. It is in that complexity, not the misguided adoption of programs from school-to-school, that new and insightful revelations are born.


White Trash

In anti-bias teaching, class-sensitive teaching, classism, discourse, identity, language, poverty, social class, Standing up for Kids on January 19, 2012 at 3:39 am

I love this post and wanted it on my blog! Using the term white trash is as racist and classist as you can get. When I hear people use the term…and I regularly do…I ask, “what do you mean?” and when the response is, “oh, you know…” I push them: “No, I don’t know what that means. Tell me what it means…”

When we force people to be explicit about the code words and phrases they use to position themselves as better than others – to create hierarchies of value and worth – we force them to face the racist and classist inside them. And when we ask simple questions that get at the meanings of those code words and phrases, we mark ourselves as people who disagree with their view…and that is important work since they wouldn’t have said it in front of us if they didn’t think we had the same perspective as them to begin with.

Out with classism and the systemic dehumanizing of people with language! A person cannot be trash…what could be more harmful than calling someone this?


Cooperative Catalyst

A boy from New Orleans shows up a week and a half after Hurricane Katrina. Being one of only a handful of white kids at our school, he is a little edgy and approaches another white student cautiously.

“I’ve never been at a school with so many Hispanics,” he whispers.

“It’s Latino. Only the government uses Hispanic.”


“Yeah, and if I were you, I would tell everyone that you’re half-Mexican. It’s what I did. There’s a lot of really light Latinos out there, so people will believe you.”

“But I’m not.”

“Nobody knows that. Do you live with just your mom?”

He shakes his head affirmatively.

“Then say that your dad is Mexican. They’ll just thing that your a guero instead of a gringo. You don’t want people to think you’re white trash.”

“They use that term out here, too?” he asks with a look of shock.

His new…

View original post 473 more words

Literacy(ies) and the Body – check out the new issue of ETPC

In language, literacy on September 18, 2011 at 2:50 pm
What does literacy have to do with the body? And what does the body have to do with literacy? How are these two constructs inextricably linked and through what means and media do they become one?
Jim Albright, Kerryn Dixon and I have co-edited a special issue of English Teaching: Practice and Critique focused on literacy and the body.
Hope you enjoy!

the trouble with language…and the beauty of trouble

In anti-bias teaching, classism, creativity, critical literacy, discourse, inquiry, language, literacy, racism, social class on May 31, 2011 at 9:19 pm

“White Trash” is an insult I just can’t stomach, but then Dorothy Allison reclaimed it by naming a collection of short stories Trash and my linguistic sensibilities begin to wobble. When is White Trash being used as an insult to poor white folks, and when is it being used as an insult to mainstream society? How will I know the difference? Usually I do know the difference – it depends on the speaker’s intonation, their facial expression, their body language, and feelings of their own superiority (or inferiority as it may be). Want to know what I’ve done in the past when folks have said it in my company? I make a simple statement, “I don’t know what you mean.” “Oh, you know what I mean,” a speaker might say in response. “No, what do you mean exactly?”

But no one wants to articulate their classist and racist beliefs explicitly…so I smile and we move on, both of us well aware of what just occurred.

Words are re-voiced constantly, always carrying their legacies with each use, but then used with a particular intention of the speaker. Where’s the trouble? When the speaker and the listener have different ideas of what that word means (or, perhaps when they absolutely agree on the meaning of the word but disagree with how it’s being used).

Another word I’ve never been able to stomach is the “N” word (see? I can’t even actually write the word…). I’ve seen fifth grade African America boys shut down and punished because of their use of the word in a White teacher’s classroom – and I’ve seen White folks use the word in the most despicable ways.

Usually schools – including universities where a focus might be multiculturalism or diversity or cultural sensitivity – simply want to silence such language. Does silencing language take away the pain of words used for such insult?

I say no – and with students as young as first grade and as advanced as graduate school I’ve thrown a word on the chalkboard (yes, on an old-fashioned chalkboard, one of the most useful technologies still in responsive teaching!) and opened up a conversation about it. Some of those words have included:

Learning Disabled or “LD”



White Trash




I have never had the spontaneous opportunity nor the guts to plan ahead to write the “N” word on the board and open up the possibility for the beauty that can come from such trouble. But this amazing middle school teacher did.

From Teaching Tolerance:

The Power of the N Word

Submitted by Carrie Craven on May 26, 2011

“Ms. Craven, we can put ‘nigga?’”

I pause. Images of earnest sitting-in-a-circle chats in college flash through my brain:

  • A classmate from Kentucky explaining how she will never say that word, even in academic circles, because, being white, she will never be able to fully grasp its implications;
  • Another black classmate asserting that the word has been reclaimed, and that when black people use it, the poison of the original use gets diluted.

Meanwhile, my 13- and 14-year-olds look at me from a class that is mostly black. They generally have heard only that the n-word is either “cursing” or “ghetto.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about that,” I say honestly.  “What do you think?”

This week my kids are working on their understanding of parts of speech by making teenage dictionaries. Slang and text-speak are all allowed, although cursing and offensive language are not. Of course, I’m walking a dangerous line. If kids were good at knowing what words are appropriate for a school setting, we’d all have one less thing to teach. I, for one, would have far fewer detentions.

But I got into this project knowing these things would come up. I decided I was okay with that. My real, true, not-in-the-Louisiana-Comprehensive-Curriculum goal for this project was to involve my students in a discussion about the power of words. And here we were. Discussion begun.

“It’s just what we call each other,” said Devonta, “It’s like, ‘Wassup, son.’”

Jared replies, “Nah man, that’s what white people called us in the slave days.”

I asked them if the word meant the same thing for everybody—if it means the same thing from everybody. Would they would be okay if I used this word, for example.  (The response was mixed.)

Quite understandably, kids who saw the word primarily as a relic of its “-er” origin decided they should not include the word. Those who saw it simply as a way friends greet each other concluded that it was okay. After all, as Sha’de put it, “This is supposed to be a dictionary of how we talk.”

My kids don’t use four-letter words often in my classes anymore. A strict policy of an immediate detention has curbed the use of your standard Showtime expletives. But I still don’t feel satisfied. I’m not satisfied because I think what this has taught my kids is that swearing in Ms. Craven’s class will get you a detention. What I want to teach my kids is that swearing and using offensive language makes you appear less intelligent, less empathetic and even cruel.

This project is helping. These discussions are helping. My students are exploring the history and implications andpower of specific words. They’re starting to understand that every time you use a word it essentially has two meanings: (1.) What you meant by it, and  (2.) What it means to the person who hears it.

I still have a ways to go. My classroom is far from some utopia of all-inclusive and tolerant language. But this is a start, this honest talk about words we know can offend. And I think it’s a pretty good one.

Craven is a middle school English teacher in Louisiana.

Data is the new curse word…

In discourse, Education Policy, language, politics, teacher education, teacher education resources on November 14, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Thanks to J.E. for sending this!


Teacher: Data, my new dirty word
By Valerie Strauss
This was written by Maja Wilson, who taught high school English, adult basic education, ESL, and alternative middle and high school in Michigan’s public schools for 10 years. She is currently a teacher educator at the University of Maine while finishing her doctorate in composition studies at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Heinemann, 2006).

By Maja Wilson
I would like to create my own language. I did actually, when I was 10, during my hour-long bus rides to and from school with Sarah. We created elaborate code books for translating the cryptic notes we sent flying back and forth over rows of green, vinyl bus seats.

You had to be in the know, to know what we were writing. And Lorraine couldn’t ever know. We were writing about her most of the time, how she’d pushed me on the soccer field, or how she’d slapped Sarah at the foot of the slide. So, in an act of semantic warfare, Lorraine slipped her own Top Secret! code book to Heather and Nicole and all the girls with long hair and soap opera names who would always be cooler than thou.
I no longer ride the school bus, but I still spend my days in classrooms, where I’ve worked as a teacher for almost 13 years. If I were to create my own language now, “data” would be my all-purpose curse word. It has all the characteristics of a good swear: four letters, the central harshness of the letter “t,” the power to condemn.
Of course, I wouldn’t be inventing the word myself, but would be stealing it from the 21st century educational codebook. When I started teaching in 1998, “data” was not part of the classroom teacher’s lexicon. But when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001, it became a key term in the rhetoric that would both dominate and define an entire era of educational history.
Now, teaching itself has become redefined as generating, collecting, and using data, and learning has become redefined as the curve connecting data points. This is a fundamental
shift in how educators think, talk, and go about educating our children. Unfortunately, it is not a shift that serves anyone but the data-collectors very well.
To illustrate what this redefinition of teaching and learning looks like in practice and why we should be disturbed, let’s take a run-of-the-mill classroom situation—one of a hundred a teacher might confront on a given day. We’ll play it out first in the increasingly common data-driven classroom and then in the classroom governed by professional observation and judgment. Here’s the scenario: Sam, our hypothetical sixth grader, is trying to divide decimals. He gets six of ten decimal problems wrong.
The data-driven teacher in a data-driven school brings her class’ scores on this decimal assessment to her Professional Learning Community (PLC), which consists of all the school’s sixth grade teachers. (Incidentally, “learning” and “community” are not terms in the 21st Century rhetoric of data, but are used strategically to lull data-leery teachers into submission.)
The teacher whose class has the highest average on the decimal assessment shares her lessons on dividing decimals with the members of the PLC. All sixth grade teachers implement those lessons, and the worksheet is given again the following week.
To make sure PLC members take their work seriously, a Data Board is posted in the teachers’ lounge: teachers’ names are listed with their students’ scores in line or bar graph form underneath. Despite the re-teaching and re-assessment, Sam’s chart is still distressingly low.
Anxious about how her curve compares to the teacher’s next door, each math teacher implements daily timed decimal dividing drills, called Mad Minutes! right after the morning’s Pledge of Allegiance. Children who don’t pass the morning’s Mad Minutes! are kept in from lunch recess to practice decimals lest they be left behind. (Apparently, it is acceptable to be “kept in” but not “left behind.”)
Now, if the PLC and the Data Board don’t lead to continually improving scores on state math assessments, the school is labeled a School In Need of Improvement, and a range of corrective measures are taken, including (but not limited to): additional training for teachers in standardized testing procedures; increased standardization of math curriculum; and increased common math assessments which generate more data points for the Data Board, which has now displaced the “Reach for the Stars” poster that had been hot-glue-gunned to the cinder block wall since 1987.
Now, we must ask: Where is Sam in all of this, besides pinned to the bottom of the Data Board in perpetual anxiety? It is hard to say. No one has bothered to talk to Sam, since everyone has been so busy creating, administering, scoring, posting, and comparing all the new decimal assessments.
However—and here’s what matters to consultants, politicians, and the media—there is the appearance of progress, of a school system really taking education and continuous improvement seriously. At least something systematic and data-driven is being done! What dedicated and collaborative teachers!
Now, let’s consider Sam in a classroom where the teacher doesn’t play the data game. Her observations aren’t formed through the use of standardized tools, but she has spent years studying teaching, math, and children, and she’s met students like Sam before. She’s going to be working through dynamics that are difficult to quantify. But that’s okay, because she isn’t going to try to quantify them. Instead, she’s going to thoughtfully observe, examine, and interpret what she sees. Then she’ll figure out what to do.
Our observant teacher has already noticed that the normally gregarious Sam freezes up in class any time he’s asked to solve a math problem. She sees that when he begins his problems, he becomes quite anxious, scratching deep grooves into his desktop with his pencil instead of showing his work on the page. When she asks him to talk through his thinking, he can’t formulate an entire sentence without his voice shaking in frustration.
She wonders why he is so anxious. When she asks him how he feels about math, he says he’s awful at it and talks about last year’s math teacher, who used to yell at him when he got questions wrong. He is angry and embarrassed about how he always had to stay indoors during lunch recess because he could never finish his Mad Minutes!.
Anxiety-induced math withdrawal, the teacher knows, is more dangerous in the long run than a student who works a bit more slowly and methodically than the rest of the class. She decides that the last thing that Sam needs is the anxiety that trickles down from Data Boards, Mad Minutes!, and more frequent assessments. She encourages Sam to slow down; there will be no stopwatches in her classroom. She cuts his daily problems in half and arranges for him talk through each problem to his seatmate. She will keep an eye on him, and once she sees that he can do these few problems without freezing up, she’ll add problems back to his daily work.
She introduces Sam to a second grader down the hall who is having trouble with addition. He spends some time each day helping the second grader talk through his work, and he starts to feel like maybe he does know something about math. By the end of the year, he isn’t dividing decimals quite “on grade level” yet, but he isn’t afraid to work hard with numbers anymore.
Now, is it possible that, in a different classroom, the teacher will observe Sam carelessly, or worse, with prejudice? Yes. But let’s not pretend that carelessness and prejudice don’t exist in equal amounts in data-driven classrooms. And let’s not pretend that Sam is always (or even often!) given what he needs in data-driven classrooms as a result of the teacher’s focus on data.
But wait, can’t teachers’ observations, interpretations, and knowledge of Sam co-exist with the focus on data? Many teachers are heroically trying to preserve a balance. But they can’t co-exist in the long run. Both approaches are not only time consuming, but they require completely different and ultimately antithetical mindsets: The first is based in a distrust and dismissal of the teacher’s subjectivity and experience, and the latter based in an acknowledgment and development of it.
To pursue the first approach wholeheartedly, in other words, a teacher needs to abandon the second.
A new teacher in the data-driven system will spend so much time being trained to administer the assessments that she’ won’t have time or guidance to develop the observational, descriptive, and interpretive skills that our second teacher has worked so hard at. And these skills do require hard work and mentoring. Unfortunately, mentors who value and develop their professional judgment are being pushed out of the profession, and any time for this mentoring to take place outside the classroom is being sucked up by the focus on data in PLC’s.
I don’t expect that, anytime soon, educators will be piously reprimanding consultants and politicians who accidentally let the word “data” slip in polite company.
In the meantime, I’ll amuse myself during in-services and accreditation meetings by imagining that these consultants—modern day versions of Lorraine with their talk about data-driven instruction and what’s the data telling us and becoming consumers and producers of data—actually suffer from an uncontrollable—Data!—urge to—Data!—curse.

Speak with an Accent? No teaching English Language Learners…

In American Dream, critical literacy, democracy, discourse, Education Policy, family-school relations, language, literacy, politics, professional development resources, racism, social policy, teacher education resources on May 11, 2010 at 4:03 am

Well, that puts us all out of work.

Here’s a great commentary that was on NPR today that everyone should listen to…

head mice

In families, family-school relations, language on March 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I’m cleaning out old computer files to figure out what to do with years of snippets of stories, letters, essays, and notes to self. Among the hundreds of documents I found lots of notes about Hayden’s preschool and kindergarten experiences, especially her use of language which I’m always so interested in…

This one is from preschool:

“Mommy, [my friend] had to go home today.”

“He has head mice.”

“Do you mean head Lice?”

“No mom. Head MICE.”

“Sweetie, I think you’re talking about head L-LICE. They are little tiny bugs that like to get into people’s hair sometimes and they lay lots of eggs and move to other people’s hair too, so if someone has head lice they have to go home and wash their hair with special shampoo before it gets bad.”

“No. Mom. Head MICE! They’re little tiny mice that live in your hair sometimes and you have to go home from school so they don’t get into other people’s hair. I don’t want head mice mommy!”

“You’re not going to get head mice honey. They’ll take care of it at [your friend’s] house, so you won’t have to worry about it.”

Later that week I checked out a book on head lice from the library to read with Hayden – I still don’t think she was convinced however; it’s just another adult conspiracy from her point of view – we never tell the truth:)

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!

School kids rappin’ and rockin’ the vote!

In creativity, democracy, language, politics, professional development resources, social action, teacher education resources on October 22, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Check out this video on YouTube of a classroom of students informing and inspiring an adult crowd to vote. Thanks to Susan Bell, one of my undergrads, for sending it to me!

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: