Right before school started, edublogger Jersey Jazzman, posted a video of a lesson being taught from Success Academy meant to be used for teacher training.
The response from his readers was scathing, as it involved a couple of typical methods of teaching favored by no-excuses charters (but loathed by child-centered educators). The video is no longer public (SURPRISE!) so you can’t see it, but I’m going to talk about something that struck me as I was watching it.
The students participated, but I noticed a lot of them stuttering over their words. The teacher is constantly talking over and interrupting them when they are incorrect. The young white teachers are in a class full of black students. A really excellent example of a “Becky”moment.
I wanted to share a story that it reminded me of when I first saw it, but before that, some background…
My husband is black and grew up in San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s. His parents spoke AAVE/Black English/Ebonics reflecting their Southern background. My husband speaks standard English, and always has, but he once shared a story of another boy in his neighborhood, who struggled with standard English.
He was the son of a cop, which would means he was probably one of the earliest black SFPD officers. Dad was adamant that his son would speak “proper English”. Physical punishment was involved. My husband described how he would flinch as he spoke sometimes, self-conscious, as though waiting for blows to fall.
The students in this video, while not under physical threat, have that same self-conscious look, as though fearing the verbal “slap” (correction) that is sure to come when the inevitable slip is made. While they may not be in danger of a beating, they are in danger of losing many things are important, their sense of self, their culture, their pride.
The price they pay is this, we say, “Sure, you can be a scholar, but only if you give up your “culture”.
Image credit: Sad Boy
As you know I blog about politics because my attitude is that you can ignore politics as a teacher, but that does not mean politics will ignore you. In the classroom, I try to use culturally relevant materials and to approach lessons from that point of view.
Normally, teaching fifth grade in an “open” presidential election year would be great. We learn about U.S. history, we’ve just finished the Revolutionary War period, and are into the founding of our nation. I haven’t even tried to talk about the current election with the kids yet. Instead, I’m trying to build a base in a couple of areas.
1. The fundamental ideas that the nation was built on, but;
Not turning that into a “worship” of the documents;
2. Things that didn’t work out, and didn’t get worked out until later and then MUCH later;
3. Spending some time with Franklin’s statements about the Constitution and it’s various imperfections. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the ideas that the ELA curriculum wanted students to get in this first unit was, how author background affects their work. I did like the particular piece they chose for this, Langston Hughes’ Theme for English B. It was a work that I was not familiar with, but it works well with upper elementary (5th grade) since it is made up of statements delivered in a first person voice. The biggest problem I had was trying to get the kids to understand that it was not “auto-biographical” but “semi-autobiographical” since the author was NOT from Winston-Salem, but Missouri, etc. but having facts to point to is easier to discuss, than more abstract ideas. It’s a good way to introduce perspective in race. The line in the poem about being the only black person in the classroom seemed to resonate even among my non-black students. I found this nice video of the poem on YouTube that my students enjoyed.
At the same time I was using the Pam Allyn materials, we were reading Bridge to Terabithia, and I found a great resource for author background AND purpose. NPR did an interview with Katherine Paterson and got some of the story behind the story. It is in written form at the link (edited and in an easy to read format), but I played my kids the audio, to get them used to this format for getting information:
Interestingly, she says one shouldn’t try to discern an author’s purpose (the title of the interview is “Messages Are Poison To Fiction”), but she does talk about some of what motivated her beyond the initial tragedy that the book depicts.
Image credit: Stockwell graffiti Four on Flickr
I had to explain Veterans Day to my students. Not the part about honoring veterans. There are a large number of military families in our neighborhood, and our former principal was a Marine, so we’ve had annual assemblies at the school. They know what a veteran is, what they didn’t get was why was it in the middle of the week, and why did it move around? So I explained to them, and told them about my father-in-law to show the story. Explaining history is always better with a story and even better with a personal story. Read the rest of this entry »