Sunday, September 27, 2015

Armstrong & Wildman - Deconstructing Privilege

Article I: "Deconstructing Privilege: Teaching and Learning as Allies in the Classroom" -Armstrong & Wildman

Article II: "The next time someone says 'all lives matter,' show them these 5 paragraphs" - Roose

Armstrong and Wildman's piece was very eye-opening and relevant for me as a public school teacher in Providence.

The authors focus on the issue of "colorblindness", its meaning and the detrimental effect this way of thinking can have on our society. The authors argue that this now widely accepted term is often used by people (often white people) to show that they are not racist or prejudice - indeed, they are "so not racist" that they apparently do not see color in people's identities. To be "color blind" is a common them across all levels of education in this country; students are taught that "we are all the same" and no one person is better than the next based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Armstrong and Wildman flip this common idea, and argue that to be "color blind" is to be ignorant; indeed, the only way to break down ever-present societal barriers is to acknowledge our differing privileges and disadvantages - a process called "color insight". The authors argue that color insight provides an appropriate antidote to color blindness.

If being "colorblind" is so bad, why is it ingrained in us at such an early age. In kindergarten we are taught that "everyone is the same" and that we shouldn't focus on attributes that make us different - ultimately, this will make the world a better place. In theory, it sounds like a great idea. I must admit that I even felt like this not too long ago. I have definitely moved against this way of thinking. The reality is that we do not live in a society where all persons are treated equally. If we are "colorblind", we are basically saying that we are ignorant to the fact that these privileges and disadvantages exist. As Armstrong and Wildman propose, we as a society need to recognize these differences in order to potentially eradicate the constraints that hinder all of us in some way.

Armstrong and Wildman note that teachers, especially college professors, have the responsibility to teach their students "color insight" instead of "color-blindness". We often do not see this. Many colleges preach "diversity", but in a way that says "we are all the same". I wonder how Armstrong and Wildman would feel about the common, staged college pamphlet photos where seemingly every race and disability is crammed into a room. Do these photos suggest "we are all welcomed here" or so they support the common trend in colleges where one black student suddenly represents all black students (and white students should "learn diversity lessons" by having lunch with him or her)?

While the authors suggest that this education should happen in colleges, I would take this a step further and say that this education is imperative and should be taught at an earlier age. Perhaps early elementary school students are too young to understand these implications, but students should have our unbalanced world explained to them by middle school at least. While Armstrong and Wildman offer some great ways in which teachers can inform their students, I believe that many educators would struggle to teach these lessons to their students. For one, many educators will become defensive - they did not create white privilege, we have a black president now, and now its time for us as a society to move on. Of course, many of us know that we still live in a racially biased society, but I have my doubts that many teachers would want to teach these lessons to their students. I say this because race and racial biases are difficult issues for teachers to talk about. It is easier to just "play it safe" and teach a curriculum, then to discuss racial privilege and potentially anger an entire class, administration, and a group of parents.

The authors also explain that we should not be afraid to talk about the personal "me" in relation to society. As illustrated by the "koosh ball" example - everyone has privileges and non privileges. We as educators should not be afraid to tell our students about our own personal "me" - our story and our positions in society. I do this in my own classroom at the beginning of each course. I explain that I went to college, but both my parents are both immigrants and my dad is a construction worker. This allows me to relate with my students more. Still, I do not allow my students enough space to explain their own personal "me". I stress that this will take away from the curriculum. I should allow my students this space to acknowledge their own positions in society, as well as their peers'.

Kevin Roose's article on "All Lives Matter" was very eye-opening. Over the past several years, the movement "Black Lives Matter" has spread throughout the country, calling for media, police, government officials, and society in general to recognize that black lives are just as important and deserve the same privileges as those more fortunate in society. In light of this, many people have become defensive or looked down on the movement, calling it seclusive; many opponents have suggested that "All lives matter" would be a better alternative. Indeed, there was recently a large sign posted here in Providence seemingly mocking the :Black Lives Matter" campaign; the sign said "Brown Lives Matter" with the Brown University crest just below it. I found the Reddit  user GeekAesthete did a remarkable job explaining why "All lives matter" is not a proper response using his analogy to the dinner table and food. He explained that yes, all lives do matter, but the point of the movement is that black lives matter too. I think this was a very clear explanation, and one that really helped me to understand the slogan as well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Problem We All Live With - This American Life

This podcast from This American Life was both very interesting and sad. The overall theme of both parts of the podcast is that while there have been many attempts to try and "fix" underperforming schools and school districts across the country, most districts fail to do the one thing that Brown vs Board of Education was supposed to do in 1954: eliminate "separate but equal", and establish integration in schools. Both parts of the podcast explain that impoverished, underperforming districts continually try to "fix" their schools by using a variety of techniques: hire new teachers, increase after-school activities, re-design curriculums, etc. Indeed, we continually see this in Providence public schools. Several high schools here in the city are using outside consultants to redesign school instruction, organizations such as Teach For America and City Year have been brought in to try and assist schools across the city, and the state/city has spent large sums of money on teacher development over the past several years. The podcast speaker notes that underperforming school districts are trying to decrease the "achievement gap" that persists between white and minority students, but these attempts will never be successful. She argues that the only way to fix the ever present achievement gap is to integrate these school districts with wealthier, "whiter" ones. I agree with the speaker on this point. Numerous studies have shown that if you integrate lower-achieving, minority students with high achieving white ones, the minority students' academic achievement increases significantly. Still, I believe she was too dismissive when the superintendent of the normandy schools explains that he wants radical change. Integration is the utopia, but given societal constraints, it is important that these under-resourced schools do look for radical change because the old system is clearly failing.

Additionally, in Part I, a researcher focuses on an "accidental" integration that happened to some students from the Normandy school district in Missouri. After the Normandy school district became unaccredited, the state allowed students to attend another school district, Fall Hollow, that is 45 minutes away. Roughly 1000 students decided to switch from the failing school district to the more resourced, almost entirely white suburban district. The most disturbing part of this podcast is the recorded statements from the parents of Fall Hollow following this decision; many of the parents expressed their desire to leave the school district, their concerns of violence, and their concerns that the quality of their children's education was in jeopardy. Although I cannot argue whether these parents' concerns were entirely based on race, I can understand why many would be concerned. I do not have children of my own, but I hope that one day I can move to a town that has a strong academic reputation. Indeed, I feel that most parents, just like the parents who sent their kids to Fall Hollow from Normandy, would and do the same. It is easy to see why many parents would be concerned about over-crowding, or lack of resources (but I do think some of the concerns suggested were completely racist and absurd). So, if I do decide to send my kids to a private school or live in a wealthier neighborhood with great schools, am I only supporting a cycle of racism?

Another point that resonated with me came at the conclusion of Part II. One of the guests, a white woman, explains that white people "don't want to talk about school integration as a race issue". Instead, she argues that white people often center their arguments against school integration around issues of "poverty", "lack of funding", and "lack of resources". The speaker notes that opponents to school integration do not want to admit that this is a race issue, so they tiptoe around the issue using other excuses. While I do believe that racial prejudices are often sadly at play, I do not necessarily believe that opponents to school integration are simply opposed because of race. If there was a school that was comprised of 70-90% black and/or Latino students and the school was performing well (plenty of resources, high graduation rates, a history of graduates attending great colleges, etc), I do to believe that white parents would be opposed to sending their children to such a great school. Perhaps I have too positive of a look on this, but I like to believe that parents from predominantly Caucasian communities want their children to go to a good school. If that good school is comprised of predominantly minority students, I would be surprised if white parents would be so strongly opposed.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

“The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Education Other People’s Children” - Lisa Delpit

“The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Education Other People’s Children”  
- Lisa Delpit
I found Delpit’s piece “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” to be a very interesting and potentially controversial one.

Delpit focuses on the common disconnect in education between people in power (referred to as “liberals”) and their minority students. Although she does not focus her argument around quantitative research, Delpit uses personal examples and conversations to demonstrate that middle to upper class whites often fail to understand and provide what their minority students want from them.

On many points, I agreed with Delpit. Most of my students are not part of the “culture of power”, and I often ask them to share their opinions on what “good” teaching looks like, what I can improve on as a teacher, and their opinions on growing up in the Providence public school system. In many ways, my students’ opinions coincide with the examples that Delpit provides.

It would come to no surprise to Delpit that my students dislike and lose respect for teachers who do not “control” their classroom. Often, teachers try to teach the way they were taught in suburban communities, but this fails minority students who come from a different, more authoritative culture.  I also agree with Delpit that teachers should be honest with their students. Teachers should try to develop interpersonal relationships to garner student respect, and push their classrooms to integrate student proficiency in conjunction with teacher expertise.

While I agree with Delpit on many of these aforementioned points, I also found some of her points confusing or in opposition to what teachers are commonly taught to be “best practice”. Delpit notes that she is not simply in favor of the process method or the skills method, but rather, she feels teaching should be a blend of the two. However, she seems to be more strongly in opposition to the process method. For instance, she notes that many students complain that “lazy” teachers are not “doing their jobs” when they have students work in groups and edit/correct each other’s’ work. Perhaps I read this wrong, but this “student-led” teaching is what we teachers are told to do. Indeed, my principal even told me that to earn the highest rating on the state teacher evaluation, she should be able to walk into my classroom and see me saying nothing – my students should be leading the classroom. Perhaps Delpit would argue that this evaluation is reflective of the “dominant culture’s” influence.

Additionally, my grad school certification classes and training taught me that I should present rules and consequences as a choice. Students should recognize that they face consequences if and when they choose to break rules. I was taught that I should not tell students what they should do if they make a mistake, but I should say things like, “what are we supposed to do when we enter the classroom?” etc. Thus, I was very surprised when Delpit states that we should be more authoritative and demanding with our instructions. I found this especially interesting because Delpit argues that this is what these children are used to at home, and we should mirror this. She also continually argues that we should be preparing minority children for life beyond school. I would go against Delpit and argue that giving students choices and not always giving direct instruction is better preparation for life outside of school. Delpit argues that these children expect and desire to be told what to do by people in power. This is interesting in context of many of the excessive abuses of power by police in recent times. Additionally, I would argue that the real world does not have people always telling us what to do. We have to make decisions and face the consequences of those decisions. By not allowing our students to make their own choices, are we not failing them for life beyond school? 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Johnson Reflection

I found this reading from Privilege, Power, and Differences by Allan G. Johnson to be very enlightening and pertinent given present day issues of racially charged violence and debates.

Johnson speaks about the discomfort that individuals experience when they discuss issues such as "white privilege". Throughout the piece, Johnson takes his readers through his own journey of discomfort, and he remarks on the common trends that occurs when people try to have these discussions. 

Although I technically am a "person of color", I also struggle through this discomfort as a Latino. For instance, I often feel very connected with my students given that I share similar backgrounds and experiences with many of them. More than 85% of my school identifies as Black and/or Hispanic/Latino. Whether it is the way I look, my age, or even the music I listen to, I can often relate to my students in many ways. However, in many ways I cannot. I was fortunate to be born into a family in which my parents stressed the importance of college. I was given an opportunity to go to a boarding school and play a college sport. While we never lived a glamorous life, my parents made sure we always had food on the table. On the other hand, many of my students have never had the opportunity to leave Providence. College is not a reality for many of my students. In many ways, I can be a role-model for my students, but I often feel disconnected from them in others. 

Additionally, Johnson speaks about the “defensive” reaction that many Caucasians feel when the conversation about “white privilege” comes about. I have been in numerous conversations and seen these responses. More often than not, one group feels that they are being attacked. “I didn’t create this system,” and “I worked hard. I had no privileges,” are common responses. In order for these conversations to create meaningful change, I believe that all participants need to be more reflective. If we realize that we are not attacking a specific individual and that we are all a part of this societal problem, then we can try to resolve some issues. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


My name is Dan. I was born and raised in Connecticut, and I moved to Rhode Island just last year. In my free time, I love to play soccer, go running, dance, and listen to music. Both of my parents are immigrants, and my Brazilian and Portuguese background is very important and relevant in my life.

I am a second-year teacher at E-Cubed Academy High School in Providence, RI. Although E-Cubed has a "charter-like" name, it is actually a small, traditional public school in the north end of the city. After graduating from college in the spring of 2014, I started my teaching career last year. I am certified in secondary mathematics, and I currently teach Algebra I.

I decided to pursue my graduate degree now in hopes that I will be able to use these skills and new-found knowledge in my classroom.