Sunday, September 24, 2017

Taking a Knee for Public Education by Laura D. Brown

Call me a son of a bitch, I don’t care. The national anthem is not sacred. The United States is not about one single person, belief system, or song from the war of 1812. Nothing is sacrosanct and that is why the United States will endure.
What can students learn about the NFL controversy and President Trump’s remarks? The biggest lesson to gain from this is that we can disagree and survive. To quote the 18th Century French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire, who raged against the Catholic Church, promoting crushing that infamous thing, would definitely be on my side of this argument.
First a caveat: I am not a “sports fan.” I don’t watch football and I don’t care about the sport. I have often thought that some Americans take it too seriously, and I would much rather play any sport than watch it. This post is not about football.
Second caveat: I love the U.S.A. I am a patriot. I proudly stand for the pledge of allegiance every school day. I teach social studies with respect for American law and institutions. I am neither a communist nor a member of ANTIFA. I am not radical. I am a white, middle-aged (sorry, my friend, Jen, said I can’t describe myself like that). I am a white, mature, middle-class woman living on 40 acres in Upstate New York. I am related to many war veterans and I greatly appreciate their sacrifice. This post is about patriotism and how dissenting is a form of patriotism.
So, why do I connect the NFL with public education? Where is patriotism instilled? In public schools, every day when we stand, put our little hands on our hearts and pledge our allegiance to the U.S. of A. Because every American is entitled to NOT stand when the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance is recited. Dissent is liberty. Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy — it is a form of action.
By not standing for the anthem, or for the pledge, individuals are sending a message. Our country is bent — not broken, but bent — and is in need of repair. The knee represents the need for dialogue and collective introspection. Blind loyalty is not patriotism, it is a form of vapid nationalism.
Public education is my “knee” issue. If President Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy “Amway” Devos, is able to dismantle public education further, I will take a knee. Every time that I have stood for the anthem, and the pledge, since the 2016 election, I have reflected on the state of my country. Since the election, I have grown more and more aware of the savage inequalities that permeate our schools, our communities — all threats the American dream.
Jose Vilson, in his recent post entitled “A Note On Teaching as Activism,” writes about this issue with more clarity. He points out:
“It’s little wonder that less than 20% of the entire teaching force is of color. It’s even less curious that the schools with higher percentages of educators of color are more subject to scripted lessons, standardized testing, crooked teacher ratings, and oppressive staffing decisions — including suspension and expulsion for frivolous reasons.”

So, stand if you believe our country is a great place and deserves praise. Kneel if you don’t. Maybe you have a “knee” issue, maybe you don’t. Transparency, discussion, and dissent are “the way home through Baghdad.” Change happens with resistance, not stasis. We will never embody the message of Francis Scott Key, or the words in the Pledge of Allegiance if we don’t have a country that values every resident and gives everyone a voice.

Future Librarians: Pro-Literacy & Everything in Between by Ciro Scardina

Originally posted at:

Chancellor:    “You are obsolete, Mr.Wordsworth!”
Mr. Wordsworth:   “A lie.  No man is obsolete!”
Chancellor:   “You have no function, Mr.Wordsworth. You’re an anachronism, like a ghost from another time….”
–From “The Obsolete Man” episode of the Twilight Zone, written by Rod Serling
The above dialogue excerpt is from an episode of the Twilight Zone (TZ) that aired on June 21, 1961 called The Obsolete Man. It is a conversation between Mr. Romney Wordsworth and the Chancellor discussing the reasons for his “liquidation”Mr. Wordsworth is a librarian, and therefore obsolete. This episode of TZ interested me well before I even had the foggiest notion that Library Science existed. I have been watching TZ for as long as I can remember and even as a kid I could not understand what a librarian could possibly do that might even be considered obsolete. Fast forward to the recent past and and our present, rife with library closures, alternative facts, funding cuts and the MakerSpace craze, and people (including librarians) are left wondering what happens next. Where do we go from here?  What is the future of libraries?
Reading is the foundation of libraries.  Without reading, there is no need for them to exist.

Once upon a time…

In my mind, I can still follow the exact path I took in my elementary school library to find my favorite book. Through the door, a right after the first set of tables, through the alcove, bottom shelf on the left. There were the Dare Wright Lonely Doll books. My favorite was Edith & Big Bad Bill, a story about Edith and Little Bear encountering a rather violent, bad guy, Bill. I chose this same book time after time.    
Although it is out of print, I picked up a copy of Edith and Big Bad Bill on eBay and looking at it as an adult, I can see exactly why this was the book I sought out. I was a ‘lonely doll,’ of sorts, and I had a ‘bad guy’ in my life as well. Only he was my father. At the end of this book, everything is sorted out for Edith and things go back to normal. I did not know this at the time, but things would not go back to normal for me for many years. This book gave me hope that they could. Sitting on the floor of the library at P.S. 30, a reader was born.
When children are given the chance to freely come to books of their own volition, amazing things will happen.
Mrs. LiBassi introduced me to E.B White in 2nd grade by reading aloud Charlotte’s Web. My mother bought me my own copy so I could follow along with her and when we finished as a class, I reread it independently. Then I read and reread Trumpet of the SwanStuart Little was next.  Then books about mice, and pigs, and spiders and goslings and anything else I connected with the characters and themes in his books. By third grade I was hooked on words.  I read every single Roald Dahl book available to me at the library and then read them again.  Having three older sisters, I read all of Carolyn Haywood and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. I then read my mother’s books; The Life and Times of Heidi Abramowitzby Joan Rivers being my favorite; and my father’s magazines and newspapers. I relished reading for the sake of reading.  
The library, for many, is the first exposure to this magic. It was magic yesterday. It is today and it will be tomorrow as well. In that, I am securely sure. For kids, this magic can serve as the jumping off point to boundless learning.

The Pleasure Hypothesis & FVR

No conversation about reading for pleasure would be complete without discussing the seminal work of Dr. Stephen Krashen in Free Voluntary Reading (FVR).  According to Krashen, “There is massive evidence that self-selected reading, or reading what you want to read, is responsible for most of our literacy development…In fact, it is impossible to develop high levels of literacy without being a dedicated reader, and dedicated readers rarely have serious problems in reading and writing.”  
The research on literacy and language development in Krashen’s eyes, points in the direction of the Pleasure Hypothesis: What is good for language and literacy development is perceived to be pleasant.  Several studies and case histories have been done and the results of these studies are consistent with the view that reading results in language and literacy development. 
There is a fantastic TED Ed lesson created by Gordon Powell that features a video of Dr. Krashen speaking on the Power of Reading.  Krashen is a wonderful speaker and in the video he discusses the one word that will bring lower level readers to higher level readers. The one word that could develop academic literacy. The one word that could bring people to the highest levels of literacy.  And that one word is reading.  
Krashen argues that FVR is the foundation for developing passion for reading, for making connections for deeper engagement with curriculum and for developing vocabulary and the knowledge of the disciplinary/technical language of each subject’s curriculum. FVR involves reading for reading’s sake without book reports, quizzes or responses.

Practical Response on the Future of Libraries

While the rate of people that read for pleasure has been increasing, demands to be literate are swelling at a faster rate. Up until recent times, we have been living with overwhelming information scarcity. I read a quote by Google’s Eric Schmidt on TechCrunch that said every two days the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization to the year 2003. Think about that for a second! Relatively 2,000 years worth of data compiled every TWO days. It is no wonder why there is such a 21st century misunderstanding about the the purpose of libraries!  
Because we are living in a period of such staggering information glut cluttered with fake news, alternative facts, and active measures campaigns, perhaps the answer to combat this sad reality is going back to basics and acquiring critical thinking rather than just learning about it. I believe the central way to accomplish this is through reading fictionBecause of the future, words are more important than ever and our familiarity with those words and ability to comprehend and use them is critical.  
Reading fiction improves brain connectivity and function, as well as increases Theory of Mind (ToM). ToM is the ability to attribute mental states (like beliefs or intentions) to oneself and others, as well as understanding that others have beliefs and intentions that are different from one’s own. In this way, fiction allows the reader to flex their imagination in a way that is similar to the visualization of a muscle memory in sports. Cognitive Psychologist Keith Oatley likens the brain to a supercomputer running a simulation game when we read fiction. We are allowed to enter the mind of the protagonist and see the world through his eyes and think his thoughts. We are him. The details we know about him, learned through his words and the words of other characters and the narrator, we readers analyze and piece together another world through words that changes us mentally after the simulation is over. The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information gathered from observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication. In this way, critical thinking is synonymous with fiction reading. Reading fiction widely can build ‘algorithms’ through critical thinking better than Facebook ever could write, and can allay the efforts of nefarious campaigns or clickbait come-ons. If we have learned nothing from the 2016 Elections, we are now all too aware of how fake-news is made to mislead us in order to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention.  
The real educational challenge for school librarians in the future is teaching students the skills that make them careful and thorough researchers. For clarification, ‘research’ is not only done in schools and universities by students and researchers. Google defines research as “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.” Research is a human skill. I could very easily change out the terms “fiction reading” and “critical thinking” for the term “research,” and the definition would still ring true. So why are we attempting to reinvent the wheel of our future role here, people?    

The Magic of Books

I’d like to shift focus onto Neil Gaiman and his view that our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming. I feel that his knowledge and belief system as an author perfectly dovetails with Krashen’s research findings. I was forever changed when I read an article in the Guardian that featured a lecture Gaiman gave in 2013 to The Reading Agency, a London Based charity whose mission is to inspire people to read more, encourage them to share their enjoyment of reading and celebrate the difference that reading makes to all our lives. I have not been so affected by someone’s words as they pertain to my profession as I was having read Gaiman’s lecture.  
I like that this piece deals specifically with the future. Fiction, according to Gaiman has two uses. First, fiction is a “gateway drug to reading.” What a wonderfully enlightening analogy, and so very true. The drive and motivation to know what happens next, to visualize, to question, to infer themes and motivations are all very real. These are the skills necessary in critical thinking.  Says Gaiman, the simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. That means, at its simplest, finding books they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.   
Second, reading for pleasure builds empathy and social skills. I love how Gaiman describes the difference between seeing a movie vs. reading a book. With prose fiction, the reader uses 26 letters and a few punctuation marks, and using one’s own imagination, a new world is created filled with people, places and things. Reading fiction helps the reader to see the world through others’ eyes and allows us to be someone else, if only for a moment, and when it is all over, we readers are changed. Gaiman describes empathy as a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals. It lets people know that the world does not have to be like this. Things can be different.  
Libraries, and school libraries in particular are about freedom and equity. Libraries level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots. It is widely known that there is a correlation between children from poverty and reading scores. In a study of factors that best predicted reading scores from The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), the factors of poverty, a Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) program, and the presence of a school librarian were isolated. Poverty has a strong factor with a negative effect. The presence of a school librarian was a very strong, positive factor in predicting reading scores and its effect was nearly as strong as the effect of poverty.  
According to Krashen this suggests that supplying books in a school library can mitigate the effects of poverty on reading comprehension scores. The majority of public school students in the United States are in poverty. I work in a school whose population is 100% free and reduced lunch. My students are ‘my kids’ and their reading life is very important to me. But for the school library, my kids’ access to books would be zero. In my school of 570, I circulated 15,000 books this year.  No Accelerated Reader, either. That is an average of 26 books per child. Allow me to mention that reading scores in my school have been rising steadily over these past few years. I am not taking full credit for these gains but I know that what the library offers accounts for a solid part of them.  

The “Future-Readyifying” of Libraries

Reading has become buried under Makerspaces, 3D printers, gadgets, and people’s visions of the ‘future of libraries’ so much so that I believe we have lost sight of our purpose as librarians and the field of school librarianship as a whole. I say that the best way to become more digitally literate is by becoming more literate. The Future Ready Initiative was launched in November 2014 by the White House Office of Educational Technology. “Future Ready” is a ubiquitous term these days it seems. I think it is important to think about the future but also to examine those who are defining the future for educational purposes.
Enter nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE). The mission of AEE is “to promote high school transformation to make it possible for every child to graduate prepared for postsecondary learning and success in life.” AEE is funded through grants from The Bill and Melinda Gates and Macarthur Foundations as well as other corporate and private donations. Future Ready Schools is a registered trademark of the Alliance for Excellent Education.
In 2015, the Alliance created a separate project under its umbrella called Future Ready Schools (FRS) to help school districts develop comprehensive plans to achieve successful student learning outcomes. Also in 2015, the American Association of School Librarians announced their decision to join the coalition for Future Ready Schools. Future Ready Librarians is an expansion of the Future Ready initiative aimed at raising awareness among district and school leaders about the valuable role librarians can play in supporting the Future Ready goals of their school and district.  
Although outside the scope of this article, I think this story from the L.A. Times about the failure of philanthropists in setting the public school agenda is timely and worth a read.
Some of my knowledge of Future Ready Libraries has come from their Facebook group, Future Ready Librarians (FRL). I will not speak to the content on this page since posts are third-party and may not necessarily reflect the views and mission of Future Ready Schools. I will however speak to the public group photo that is used for this page. Being owner and admin of many groups on Facebook, I understand the importance of those 801 x 250 pixels. This image must convey your group’s intention, purpose, validity, and value in one glance. The FRL picture depicts a group of 8 children and, perhaps their teacher. They are lounging on the floor and each is totally engrossed in a device, not interacting with one another at all. Directly behind them are bookcases packed with books shelved museum-neat. Behind them. Backs to the books. A picture is worth 1,000 words.     
I feel strongly that some fundamental research about reading was ignored in a rush to conform to the Future Ready agenda. The FRL framework is lacking a major component. If we assume that the libraries of the future actively value reading and literacy development and their continuous improvement over time, we school librarians have to actively engage with the body of research and scholarship around reading and literacy development. I also feel strongly in the professionalism and ability to discern and adjust to current trends in education and librarianship that I and my school librarian colleagues posses. We are a very swift bunch and we take to change rather well. I can speak for myself and many colleagues nationwide that are Future Ready Librarians today in 2017.   
The FRL framework on its own is admirable. I do appreciate the developers’ interpretation of the future and I do see value in forecasting the future. But the future is tomorrow. Not some nebulous point down the track. We librarians should be on the frontlines of the digital transformation of learning but no matter what transformation happens, reading will be as important 100 years from now as it is today. There will be no “future ready librarians” of any kind if we continue to ignore the foundational assumption about libraries in favor of the newest gimmick and fad. If READING is not part of the Future Ready equation, there is no “future” in “Future Ready Libraries,”  that is the bottom line.
I am NOT anti-MakerSpace. I am NOT anti-technology. I am pro-literacy. I do not feel that we cannot have all three. Quite the opposite. I know we can be all-inclusive because I have a MakerSpace and use technology on a daily basis to facilitate understanding. I am a proponent of gaming in the library and have regular Roblox tournaments and Minecraft building sessions.  But everything I do has its roots in the pure definition of the library: to provide access to books (whatever their format) and advocate for free voluntary reading. Everything is secondary to that.  
As formats change in the future so will my job description but my convictions and what is in my professional psyche will not. I do not foresee ever being obsolete because I am confident in myself and the collective body of school librarians and library scholars to ensure that the school library of the future is one based on solid research in reading. Let us move forward into the future, but not with our backs to the books. Let’s instead get back to books and we will reap the fruits of our labor in a very verdant future.
Future Ready Librarians embrace change. For change to take place there has to be a beginning, and change does not necessarily minimize the beginning. For future ready librarians, that beginning is reading and literacy development. In maintaining that beginning, we are able to meaningfully respond to change and what the future brings.    
A full list of all references can be found linked hereThey were created using EasyBib citation tools, which are available in MLA formatAPA format, and many other citation styles.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Small Class Size – A Reform We’re Just Too Cheap To Try by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:

Taken as a whole, the American people are an awfully cheap bunch.
We’ll spend trillions of dollars on guns and tanks to fight an overseas war, but if someone suggest we build a bridge or conduct a social program or anything that would help people actually live longer, happier lives, well, F- ‘em.
Tax cuts for the rich – WONDERFUL!
Feed the hungry – NOT ON MY DIME!
And it’s true even of our attitude toward little children.
Don’t believe me? Just look at our public schools.
Pristine Taj Mahal-like buildings for rich kids with broad curriculums and plenty of teachers to instruct privileged progeny one-on-one, and then across town on the other side of the tracks you’ll find dilapidated shacks for the poor forced to put up with narrow curriculums focused on standardized test prep and as many underprivileged children as they can fit in the room with one beleaguered teacher.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We’re one of the richest countries in the world, yet we treat our own children – especially if they’re poor and brown – as if they were refugees from the third world.
Well, perhaps marginally better. To my knowledge no one is suggesting we send the unwashed masses back to Africa, Europe or wherever else they originally came from – at least those who can prove they were born here.
What would that look like? Nothing all that radical.
Imagine a classroom where students have the space to be individuals and not nameless cogs in the system.
Imagine ensuring students get consistent, individual feedback from the teacher on a minute-by-minute basis.
Imagine increasing the ability for the teacher to focus on learning and not on policing behaviors.
Imagine allowing students to concentrate on education and not various adolescent social issues?
In education circles, small class size is the one universal constant. There is some debate about exactly how small classes should be (at least less than 20, maybe even closer to 10 or 15 students) and for which student groups it is most important, but the consensus in favor of small class size is overwhelming.
Study after study concludes that small class size increases academic performance. When compared with peers in larger classes, those in small settings end up being months ahead. They cover more material, with greater depth and achieve better comprehension in less time.
This is partly due to increased student engagement. Children are more interested in what’s being taught when they have a more personal relationship to it. In smaller classes, students are able to express themselves and participate more. Even children who don’t normally engage in such activities find themselves forced to do so. They can no longer hide behind the greater numbers of their peers. Everyone is visible, seen and heard.
As a result, students have better relationships with their peers and teachers. These better social interactions and trust often results in academic gains. This also can lead to less disruptive behaviors – even for students who typically act out in larger classroom environments. Previously troubled students end up spending less time in detention or suspension and more time in class learning.
As such, teachers are better able to see students as individuals and determine how best to differentiate instruction to meet every child’s needs.
The benefits go far beyond the classroom. Numerous studies concluded that reducing class size has long lasting effects on students throughout their lives. It increases earning potential, and citizenship while decreasing the likelihood students will need welfare assistance as adults or enter the criminal justice system. In short, cutting class size puts a stop to the school-to-prison pipeline.
Small class sizes in the elementary grades have long lasting effects even if class sizes increase in middle and high school. However, minority and impoverished students (child groups often experiencing significant overlap) benefit regardless of age. Small class sizes help combat the trauma and deprivations of living below the poverty line. Moreover, while small class size has a varying effect on different disciplines, it invariably helps increase writing instruction – even up to the college level. Schools that put a premium on writing would do best to reduce class sizes in all language arts classes, for instance.
However, students aren’t the only ones positively affected by small class size.
This also has an impact on teachers. Reducing class size increases teacher job satisfaction and retention. This is pretty important in a profession bleeding away practitioners. Fewer college students are entering education programs every year. Salaries are falling even as responsibilities and paperwork are increasing. A reform that helps counteract that while also helping students would appear to be just what the doctor ordered.
Unfortunately, administrators don’t seem to be getting the message. Instead of reducing class size for the most effective teachers, they often increase it. The main reason – test scores. Number crunching administrators think giving the best teachers more students means helping the most students. However, they aren’t taking into account the law of diminishing returns.
Cutting class size often means hiring more staff. In the absence of state and federal legislators offering to fund such initiatives, district school directors invariably think it’s beyond them. They don’t want to do anything that might result in a tax increase.
However, in today’s dog-eat-dog public school environment, you either pay a little now or a lot later. Right or wrong, competition is our overarching education policy. Public schools have to fight for education dollars with charter and voucher schools. And smaller class size is the number one selling point for so-called choice schools over their traditional public school counterparts.
Sure, it’s expensive to cut class size, but it’s also expensive to continue funding the district when students leave due to smaller classes at the local charter school. Though the media over-reports the value of high test scores, parents rarely decide where to send their children on that basis. Class size is often their number one consideration. They don’t want their children to be lost in the crowd. They want their children to be valued as individuals and their education to be properly personalized.
According to “More Than Scores: An Analysis of How and Why Parents Choose Schools,” two of the top five reasons parents who choose private schools over public institutions specifically reference class size – 48.9% cite class size out right and 39.3% cite “more individual attention for my child.” And the other three reasons – better student discipline, better learning environment, and improved student safety – are all dramatically influenced by class size.
If public schools want to continue to compete, school directors may have to commit to investing in class size reduction.
Yet the trend of the last decade has been in exactly the opposite direction.
Today public schools employ 250,000 fewer people than before the recession of 2008–09. Meanwhile enrollment has increased by 800,000 students. Unsurprisingly, class sizes in many schools are at record highs.
Is this something we could really change?
Of course! It really wouldn’t be that hard.
We’ve accomplished much more difficult tasks as a nation. We beat back Hitler, became a global superpower and even put people on the moon!
After all that, we can’t find the will to hire more teachers and properly educate all of our native sons and daughters?
Yes, there are plenty of competing ideas for how to improve our schools. And most of them come from corporate think tanks and big business lobbyists more interested in enriching themselves on the public dime than helping students.
Corporate education reformers want us to pay private companies to educate the poor. They want us to invest in privatized schools and standardized test conglomerates. They want us to subsidize publishers and tech corporations with new, untried, unnecessary academic standards that require us to buy boatloads of crap that don’t help and we don’t need.
But the answer isn’t to hand over boatloads of additional monies to private industry. In large part it’s to hire an increased workforce to actually get in there and do the job of educating.
And before you cry about the cost, imagine the savings of cutting all the corporate education reform garbage! If we weren’t committed to corporate handouts as education reform, we might be able to increase the quality of our public education system and still save some money!
You see the answer to improving education for the poor isn’t corporate welfare. It starts with equitably funding schools dedicated to the poor and minorities. It starts with providing them with the money required to meet student needs. And a large part of that includes cutting class size.
There is a significant consensus behind it. Moreover, it has parental, student and teacher support.
It’s a no brainer.
All it takes is a change in priorities and the will to actually get up off our collective asses and do something to help America’s children.

Let’s cut the crap. Cut class size.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What It Means That My School Embraces Cultural Diversity by Aaron Michael Baker

Originally posted at:

I should clarify. I am not in a position to speak on behalf of my entire school. What follows are the implications of cultural diversity as they are apparent to me. My hope, however, is that I have earned the right to speak small truths into the theories and practices of my education colleagues both inside and outside of my building.
Last month, my middle school adopted a vision statement that includes the phrase, “…produce generations that embrace cultural diversity.” Embedded in this statement is the charge to become a school that embraces cultural diversity so that we can produce generations who do the same. But what does it mean to embrace cultural diversity? It seems innocuous enough.

The truth, however, is that the word “diversity” comes with its own set of historical baggage. Through the centuries, people from all sides of the political spectrum have rejected the virtues of a diverse society. A nineteenth century group of white abolitionists called the American Colonization Society assisted in the movement of more than 13,000 free African Americans to the newly formed west African country of Liberia. Abraham Lincoln was among the proponents of this “repatriation.” Furthermore, the colonization movement would eventually inspire the black separatist political and religious movement known as the Nation of Islam.
Conversely, The New York Times Magazine recalls how one social experiment in Virginia in the 60’s and 70’s set out to integrate an all-white private school for the express purpose of teaching the virtues of diversity to the white students who would one day become the thought leaders of a new society. Salon has a piece aptly titled, “Diversity is For White People,” which addresses the problematic ways in which the term “diversity” is used to avoid the difficulty of true anti-racism work.
So back to the question at hand. What does it mean for a school to embrace cultural diversity?
To begin with, embracing cultural diversity means both emphatically rejecting the white supremacy and white nationalism of the “alt right” and respectfully disagreeing with the black separatism of movements like the Nation of Islam. There is no place for claims of “good people on both sides” of Charlottesville. Diversity compels us to speak openly at school in opposition to any ideology that calls for the separation of people based on race. Furthermore, our curriculum should neither be Eurocentric nor Afrocentric (though a healthy dose of latter may be needed to counter the former).
Second, for a school to embrace cultural diversity means that its teachers and administrators must be equipped to have daily conversations about race with varying size groups of students. These conversations are not restricted to Social Studies classrooms. Diversity is cross-curricular. White teachers should regularly find themselves saying things like, “I am white.” Talking to a class about race can be difficult. Talking to individual students about race can be even more difficult. But it must be done if our product is a student that embraces cultural diversity.
Third, embracing cultural diversity means rejecting the re-segregation of the corporate education reform movement. We know that capitalism does not produce diverse communities. The most privileged neighborhoods and schools (mostly white) and the most under-privileged neighborhoods and schools (mostly communities of color) testify to this. It is in the lower middle class, where civic support is moderate to good and where housing is affordable, that we typically see the most diversity. The answer to the re-segregation of our inner city and suburban schools is not selective admissions and voucher programs. These only serves to exacerbate the problem. Affluent mostly white suburban schools should be looking upon lower socio-economic diverse schools with envy instead of animus.
Fourth, when we embrace cultural diversity we are embracing sanctuary for undocumented students. No one can truly embrace cultural diversity while clutching to the irrationality of xenophobia. Public schools are currently at odds with immigration policies espoused by the President of the United States. Education is about building bridges, not walls. The day that schools are required to obtain information concerning citizenship status is the day that teachers will become galvanized perhaps like never before.
Fifth, embracing cultural diversity means that on some level we acknowledge the reality of, or perhaps the need for, class warfare. This piece from The American Prospect takes the position that our society’s focus on diversity has distracted us from the real problem of economic inequality. This may very well be true, but I believe that embracing cultural diversity can also be a window to understanding class struggle. For instance, at my school, the answer to the question, “Why is our school more diverse than others?” is inherently about class and opportunity. I also believe in the possibility of a revolution of the people that begins in under-served urban schools (Reading for Revolution).

I am not na├»ve. We are not diverse because we have embraced it. Our decision to embrace cultural diversity is predicated on our student body being diverse. But regardless, we have been granted an opportunity, a gift even. For me it’s very simple, my school is a model of the kind of world I want to live in.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Camden Education Association Official Statement Re: Opening Of Kipp Whittier

At the outset and for the record, the Camden Education Association (CEA) is not interested in attacking anyone personally. Superintendent Rouhanifard, as an individual, is very likeable, intelligent and an engaging person who is very personable, approachable, and has an amazing life story. Similarly, the CEA is not focused on attacking our outgoing Governor, Chris Christie, our outgoing Mayor, Dana Redd; nor any of the elected officials attending today’s ceremony at KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy at John G. Whittier School. What we, the CEA take great opposition to is the manner in which all of the aforementioned individuals have used political connections, driven by financial and ideological interests, to exploit the Camden community; its residents, and its children.

Masked in the language of social justice and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, the Superintendent and utilized the powers given to him through the politically-orchestrated state takeover, to execute the sustained and systemic closure of our cherished public neighborhood schools to facilitate the opening of up to 15 “renaissance school” (takeover) projects. And while to the naked eye it may appear that a “new school” is opening in the Bergen Square section of the city and thus, cause to celebrate, upon further critical examination, we see today’s events as an exemplar of how the influence of distant millionaires and billionaires investing in education reform for financial gain, coupled with political cronyism, converge and preys on this community, and other low-income communities of color. Residents in this community of color did not, and do not, have a say in whether their public schools are closed or not. Residents nor students had a say when Lanning Square Elementary was closed and came back as a CMO operated, “no-excuses” takeover school bearing the name “Norcross”. Residents nor students had a say when Rouhanifard closed Raphael Cordero Molina, Pyne Poynt, McGraw, East Camden Middle, Bonsall, or Whittier and were all reopened as CMO operated, “no-excuses” takeover schools. So, if Camden residents have no say in where their children are educated, who does?

George Norcross III looms large in Camden’s arrival of corporate ran charters through the manipulation of his network of “yes-men” and “yes-women” including his brother, Donald, and the bulk of Camden’s local politicians, as well as elected officials at the state level south of Trenton. Governor Christie bears significant responsibility in silencing residents’ voices in executing the state takeover four years ago with little empirical evidence to prove this racist and ideologically-driven tactic yielded any significant or sustaining benefits for students. Certainly, Superintendent Rouhanifard shoulders blame for being a willing tool of those with more official and unofficial power than he, though it bears noting that Rouhanifard is no stranger to exclusively minority communities through his actions in Williamsburg while at the NYCDOE; his time with Camie Anderson in Newark, and certainly his time here with us. Last, but certainly not least, the influence of financial and investment gains in the spreading of corporate operated charter schools in minority communities, by outside groups like NewSchools Venture Fund, the Walton Foundation, Aspen Institute, Broad Foundation, and Sarah and John Arnold Foundations is present in what we are seeing here in Camden. All the philanthropies and organizations mentioned above have a financial interest in KIPP, UnCommon Schools, and Mastery Charter – and not coincidentally, all of those organizations have takeover schools in Camden that were forced into this community – while Camden public schools were being closed simultaneously.

While it appears that in this new KIPP Norcross school, educational progress is happening in Camden, to those who care to be truly informed, to those who genuinely care about this community’s residents and children, the opening of this school is a painful reminder that our residents’ voices don’t matter. It further reminds us of the many willing participants, who, for out of personal career advancement, financial gain, or racism, were willing to collude in the systemic oppression of Camden residents.

Finally, let it be known we at CEA firmly, and steadfastly love education; and we love when students are educated. Being educated helps enable us to be our better selves. True education adds to our knowledge base not simply for the sake of knowing more, but the added knowledge should inform, and change, the way we see the world around us – and even critique it. A good education is vital to our Camden community and its young people – and we at CEA respect and honor all good education no matter where that process takes place; whether within public, technical, parochial, or charter schools. But what must be critically examined, and mustn’t be ignored, is identifying who is doing the educating, and under what circumstances that party came to be the deliverer of our children’s education. Good education, for the people, for our neighbors, will never and can never come from parties that thrive off our exploitation. In today’s events, we see the reminder of our CEA’s greater cause to openly resist those who desire and profit from exploiting this community and our children.

Thanks for Reading,

Keith E. Benson, Ed. D
Camden Education Association