Category Archives: Diversity

erinoneillcarlos

What Happened to Carlos?

This post is written by member Erin O’Neill Armendarez, NCTE’s Higher Education Policy Analyst for New Mexico.

One semester years ago, after noticing a student’s uncharacteristic absence, I asked the students who usually sat next to him, “Where is Carlos?”

“Oh, he was deported, ma’am,” was the casual response. Deported? Wait. Carlos — not a US citizen?

From time to time, I still wonder about him.  Occasionally I find myself remembering an essay written by a student from Juarez, Mexico, who often crossed the border to visit family and friends. His essay described an afternoon in Mexico when suddenly the loud, staccato sound of automatic weapons fire sent the entire street into immediate panic. Finally summoning the courage to explore, my student encountered two strangers lying dead on the street, haloed in rings of blood.

“How did that make you feel?” I wrote in the margins of his essay, fumbling to prompt him toward some larger purpose. “I don’t know,” he said when we discussed it. “It just happened. It happens a lot.”

Right. Okay—pretty good structure, development, and punctuation — we will give the essay a pass.

With my nose to the grindstone teaching, I did not know much about the DACA program, New Mexico law with respect to undocumented students, or even why an undocumented person would not do the obvious thing —  get into the citizenship pipeline and out of the spotlight.

Now I find I have to think about these things, because I care about all the students who have a legal right to be in my classroom, about their ability to learn and their freedom to come to class without having to worry about whether their parents, grandparents, or siblings will be unlawfully questioned, apprehended, and taken to one of the nation’s detention centers before the evening meal.

After ICE raids in February 2017 coincided with “A Day without Immigrants” activities, absence spiked almost 148% in Las Cruces public elementary schools. Officials saw a connection and immediately made a public announcement that schools and buses are considered “sensitive” spaces where inquiries and arrests would not be made without a warrant or some other compelling reason.

Newer, tighter federal regulations probably will not cause families to voluntarily send their undocumented members back to wherever they came from, as the risk of returning for most far outweighs the risk of staying. Many families immigrated to avoid ongoing, life-threatening violence in their communities. Alternatively, they immigrated to avoid the desperation of poverty and to take advantage of the chance to work and to meaningfully contribute to a society where a stable, prosperous life might be possible. Nevertheless, this new climate of fear could keep students in the shadows indefinitely as they and their families do their best to avoid sudden detention or deportation.

Whatever we might believe about public rhetoric and federal policy with respect to undocumented immigrants, I hope we can all agree on this: children should be in school. To learn and to grow as they should, they also need to be cared for by stable families able to meet their basic needs.

Yes, our schools are already populated with too many children whose parents are US citizens struggling below the poverty line; too many children in our nation’s schools are exposed to horrifying trauma and crime. New Mexico hovers at the top of the national rankings for child poverty and for violence against children. However, addressing the needs of one group of children should not necessitate abandoning the needs of another group. Kids are kids.

The needs of all children should be prioritized. Children of refugees often have trouble learning and focusing in school. The American Psychological Association and other mental health agencies have convincingly documented the depression, anxiety, and PTSD suffered by refugee students scarred by past trauma and the constant threat of separation from loved ones. If that were not enough, many immigrant children are bullied at school because of obvious differences in dress or ethnicity.  Some suffer the humiliation of having their spoken English mocked by classmates.

Children have no power over their own legal status; they are completely dependent on the adults around them and on our legal system. For a variety of reasons, legal status can be virtually impossible to get for many family members of documented immigrants and US citizens. In the best of circumstances, for many it would (and in fact does) take decades. Meanwhile, for their children enrolled in classes in the United States, the very real possibility of deportation or detention (de facto imprisonment) looms.

As educators we are not able to solve all of these complex problems. But at the very least, we should be willing to welcome each and every student who is legally admitted to our classrooms, unlike an Albuquerque high school teacher who posted on Facebook that she believed undocumented students should be deported to “better serve American citizen students.”

Before posting, she probably did not think carefully enough about how her words would hurt her students, kids who were already hurting in ways she knew nothing about.

As educators we are constantly searching for the best ways to serve all of our students. Although it can be a struggle, we strive to offer the best possible educational opportunities to every single one, offering them a haven against violence, prejudice, and ignorance.

I understand educators will have varying opinions on this topic. My point is that until the recent ICE raids, I never thought carefully about the issues undocumented immigrants — including students — face beyond their struggles with our perplexing idiomatic expressions and our less than intuitive system for spelling in English.

Now I want to be sure that all of my students are able to attend all of their classes. I want to be sure they know they are truly welcome, respected by all in my classroom and on campus.

It is my job to support their dreams with high-quality educational experiences no matter where they came from or how they got here. While I do not know where they have been, I know what they might become if given a chance.

Erin O’Neill Armendarez teaches writing courses at New Mexico State University Alamogordo, a community college in southcentral New Mexico. 

Please read NCTE’s 2015 Resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented and Unaccompanied Youth.

An LGBTQ + Identity Toolkit for Educators

 

We’re living in scary and challenging times as educators. Issues connected to LGBTQI+ people have been brought into a heightened focus in the news, and this means it has never been more urgent for these issues to be folded into conversations within our schools and classrooms. But many teachers find themselves ill-equipped and ill-prepared to guide these discussions and meet the myriad emergent needs of their students in this space. That’s why I’m excited to share a new set of resources I’ve helped to create with you.

WNET, the education department of PBS LearningMedia, convened an advisory boardwhich I was part of—and these five individuals, including educators and representatives from the NYC Department of Education’s Guidance Office and the LGBTQ+ Community Liaison, created The LGBTQ+ Identity: A Toolkit for Educators Collection.

The advisory board workshopped the content to ensure it aligned with instructional goals that directly support educators and students. The kit includes a series of digital media resources that will help administrators, guidance counselors, and educators understand and effectively address the complex and difficult issues faced by LGBTQ+ students.

The collection features short segments of video content from WNET’s groundbreaking LGBTQ+ series First Person, a digital series that delivers candid personal narratives illustrating larger conversations about gender, sexuality, social norms, and identity development. The video content is scaffolded by educational resources (background information, conversation guides, discussion questions, and teaching tips connected to the standards) to facilitate their use in educational settings. When used in tandem, the videos and accompanying educational resources will help promote understanding, awareness, and self-esteem.

The collection is distributed free of charge through PBS LearningMedia (pbslearningmedia.org) and is truly the destination for high-quality, trusted digital content and solutions that can inspire students and transform learning. New seasons of First Person are in the works now.

Please share with others, and don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions!

For viewing of Season 1 go to: LGBTQ+ Identity Collection on PBS LearningMedia; watch the first video of Season 2Boundless Black Masculinity.

Reading List for Participatory Citizenship

Reading List for Summer in Participatory Citizenship

The following post was written by Pam Allyn and is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

Reading is one of the best ways for children to step outside of their own lives and gain perspective on the world. An important aspect of participatory citizenship is an openness to other people’s experiences that are different from our own. Books are an important portal into the experiences of others; reading is proven to make people more empathetic. Empathy is an important part of participatory citizenship: participation in society and community, fueled by mutual respect for others. Books can help kids gain awareness of past and present global issues, which can lead to more direct and effective participatory citizenship. Below is a short summer reading list, including different books for all ages, to encourage and foster global participatory citizenship. After each book is a discussion or activity prompt to encourage deeper thinking and action.

lilahs-lunchboxLailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story
by Reem Faruqi K-3

This is a story about a girl who moves from Abu Dhabi to the U.S. It’s not only her first year in a new school, but also her first year fasting for Ramadan. This book addresses Lailah’s mixed feelings about being a new student who practices a religion different than most of her peers. The takeaway message from this book about participatory citizenship is the way in which sharing cultures allows Lailah and the other characters in the book to connect with each other and personally grow. This book is a great read because every child will relate to the themes: feeling out of place, growing up, and the hope that others will understand you. The book demonstrates how sharing your own culture, as well as expressing openness to the cultures of others, leads to joy, harmony, peace, and friendship.

Prompt: Think of something about yourself that your classmates may not know about you and write it on a sheet of paper. Trade papers with a partner and each person illustrates what they learned about their classmate.

fourfeettwosandalsFour Feet, Two Sandals
by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed 1-5

This book is a great way to introduce children to the realities of living in a refugee camp, why people are refugees, and then relate it to their own lives. A ten year old girl named Lina ends up sharing a pair of sandals with a girl named Feroza, since there are not enough sandals for everyone. These two characters experience the hardships of life in a refugee camp: waiting on long lines for water, the hard journey that brought them there, the fear for their futures, no access to education, among other obstacles. This is a book that will get children thinking about the hardships faced by people in other parts of the world.

Prompt: The girls in this book are friends who care about each other. What are some things we already do for our friends to show them we care? What are things we can do in the future?

laststopLast Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña K-2

A book about a boy and his grandmother and their Sunday afternoon routine, Last Stop on Market Street will touch the hearts of children and adults alike. It is also a quiet call to action, inspiring us to be better people, and to do good for others, no matter how much or how little we ourselves have. In the book, CJ and his nana wait for the bus after church, and CJ is curious about his surroundings and his life. The final
stop for the pair is a soup kitchen. Although CJ and nana don’t have as much as some others, volunteering at the soup kitchen is still a priority for CJ and nana. This book will inspire kids to volunteer, and beyond volunteering, teaches all of us how to practice appreciation and gratitude in our everyday lives. Last Stop on Market Street won the 2016 Newberry Medal, was a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book.

Prompt: Write a list of things we are grateful for in our life. Next, choose one thing on that list and write down how we can express our gratitude. For example, telling our family members we love them, or, sharing our favorite music with a classmate.

henrysfreedomboxHenry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
by Ellen Levine Gr 2-5

A 2008 Caldecott Honor Book, Henry’s Freedom Box is an important historical picture book. A book about one slave’s remarkable escape from slavery to freedom, Henry’s Freedom Box addresses the hardships of life as a slave and the dehumanization of slavery. Henry is taken from his mother as a child and later separated from his wife and child. This book successfully conveys the pain of Henry’s life and why he risked his life for freedom. This is a great story that can be used to teach children about U.S. history, slavery, and the repercussions that continue to influence our country to this day.

Prompt: How would you feel if you could no longer be with your family? What inspires you about Henry and the people who help him along the way?

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition)
by Malala Yousafzai, with Patricia McCormick Gr 6 and up

The young readers edition of Malala Yousafzai’s memoir is a must-read for all kids Grade 6 and up. Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban because she and her father advocated for girls’ education in Pakistan. Her memoir not only provides a historical background to the Taliban’s control of her hometown, but also her ongoing fight for education. Yousafzai–a Nobel Peace Prize Winner–is an inspiring figure because she advocates for human rights and education for all. Readers of this moving memoir will learn about middle-eastern politics, what it’s like to live in other parts of the world, and Yousafzai’s social activism. This book is both a call to action and an inspirational account of a young person who works tirelessly for others.

Prompt: Check out Malala Yousafzai’s organization and its tips on how to get involved in the fight for women’s education: hosting a film screening and writing letters to congress are just a couple suggestions.

hateugiveThe Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas Gr 8 and up

This novel is an important read for teens and adults alike. The protagonist, Starr, witnesses the shooting of her friend by a police officer, changing her life forever. Realistically capturing the repercussions of the event, as well as the political and cultural environment of the moment, this book is about far more than one girl’s experience of a tragic event. With its fierce social commentary on race, power, and police brutality in America, The Hate U Give is a textured, profound story of how past and present racism and violence impact lives. Through this perspective, readers will gain awareness about the necessity and importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Prompt: Check out the Black Lives Matter website and see how you can get involved. For something creative, make posters that you would bring to a Black Lives Matter march.

indarknessIn Darkness
by Nick Lake Gr 8 and up

Merging the past and present, In Darkness is a vivid account of one boy’s struggle in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that shook–literally and figuratively–Haiti. Opening as the earthquake hits, the main character “Shorty” nearly dies. Just a teenager, Shorty suddenly feels the presence of the revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, and the journey of the book unfolds as the past and present influence each other through the lives of these two lives. Readers will learn about the Haitian Revolution, slavery, and the harsh historical realities of colonization, slavery, and natural disasters that led to Shorty’s life in the slums of one of the world’s poorest countries.

Prompt: Research and learn about life in Haiti after the earthquake and the aid responses. Consider how the history of Haiti continues to influence the country to this day.

marchtrilogyMarch Trilogy
by John Lewis, co-written by Andrew Aydin Gr 7 and up

These graphic novels are written by Congressman John Lewis. Together, they comprise the story of Lewis’ life, focusing on his fight for civil rights, beginning with his childhood in rural Alabama. The books continue through his fight for justice through nonviolent protest and the others who dedicated their lives to equality. Culminating in a scene where Lewis receives a Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, this memoir is a piercing reminder of how much work there is still to do. With an informative, inspiring story such as this one, young people will have the tools necessary to continue Lewis’ mission. The third book in the trilogy won this year’s National Book Award for young people’s literature.

Prompt: Think of a cause you are passionate about. If you were to plan a nonviolent protest to make change in the world, what would you do?

christophremargolin

How Students Helped to Discover the Relevancy of Poetry in the 21st Century

 This post is written by member Christopher Margolin.

Teachers tend to teach poetry because they feel it has supposed to be in the curriculum. They believe that students need to be familiar with sonnets, haikus, and acrostics, but what they neglect to do is allow their students the freedom to simply explore — and write poetry themselves. They spoon-feed old, outdated pieces that have not been relevant in decades, focusing on the dead white guy, or the poets they feel will strike a chord. They teach lessons from rote memory or out of textbooks. They do not watch for the yawns. Instead of partnering with their students to find out what might actually be of interest, they stifle their creativity and ruin poetry for the majority of students.

I am guilty of all the above.

I came out of college as an expert in sixteenth-to nineteenth-century British poetry, and when I started teaching, I thought these were the necessary poems for all students. I wanted them to hear the rich language, dive into the hefty topics, and talk about the importance of blah blah blah. I was excited about it, as were a few random students, but they didn’t really understand what I was talking about. Showing them poems by John Donne, or William Blake, or Samuel Coleridge didn’t inspire any real emotions, but I taught them all the same — because I liked them. The choice of texts had absolutely nothing to do with my students, and it showed on their faces — which I only noticed after a handful of years of digging through the obscure.

A few years ago, one of my students asked me to prove the relevancy of poetry in the twenty-first century. That’s when I realized I didn’t really know any current poets. I knew the laureates and a handful of current pieces I had read in different journals, and I could cite reasons why I found poetry to be important, but the challenge left me questioning how important the poems I had been teaching were in today’s world. Therefore, I stopped. And did some research. I had heard about Button Poetry, and I spent time sifting through YouTube videos of performance pieces and slam poetry competitions. I watched through five seasons of Def Poetry Jam and fell in love.

My students and I started a Twitter account (@poetryquestion) and began to send tweets to literally thousands of artists, poets, musicians, actors, authors, and anyone else we felt might offer 140 characters on how they felt about poetry in the modern world. Then our campaign started to work. We received more than 300 responses. Not only did we get responses, but we also had people reaching out to talk with my students. This was inspiring. This was what my students needed. Instead of staring at words they did not understand, they had real people talking to them — people they knew, people they enjoyed, and people who were relevant.

I had my students open up their Chromebooks, go to YouTube, type in “Button Poetry,” and hit play on whichever video popped up first. I told them to click on every poem they could find. They watched countless videos and wrote down what hit them the hardest. Then they filled my whiteboard with 183 names of poets. After that, they began to write their own poems. They wrote about the abuse they suffered, or family vacations, or fears, or joys, or teenage life, or school, or whatever made sense to them in the moment. They wrote, and they did not stop.

In addition to Twitter conversations with a number of the poets they had discovered, my students Skyped with Joel Madden of Good Charlotte and with Saul Williams. We held Twitter interviews with Marc Maron, Taylor Mali, and so many more. Alexander Dang and Clementine von Radics visited our classroom to perform.

And the students kept writing. They kept putting their emotions on paper and crafting them into performance pieces. I did not teach them how to format anything. Instead, I just told them to write. I told them to watch more poetry. I told them that we, as a class, valued their words and their lives, and that this would be a comfortable, judgment-free environment, — and they listened. They were one another’s allies and shoulders to cry on, and people with whom they could laugh and cheer on throughout the process. By the end of the unit, every student in every class had shared their poems with their peers, and some even went to a local poetry slam to share with complete strangers.

If we pay attention to the needs of our students, if we give them the freedom to explore and talk and watch and listen and teach themselves, they become excited. They want to learn. They want to write. They want to collaborate. But they only want these things if teachers stop giving the rote-memory rubbish and instead partner with them, enjoy their content, facilitate rather than lecture, and help to prove the relevancy of words in the twenty-first century.

Chris Margolin is the Vancouver Public Schools’ Curriculum Specialist for Secondary English Language Arts, Advanced Placement, College in the High Schools, and Running Start. He spent 12 years as a high school English teacher, working not only with students, but also as a member of the district curriculum design team, developing the district’s Creative Writing course. He currently resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife and daughter. 

robertmeyers

Linguistic Prejudice and the Ultimate Public Good

This post is written by member Robert Meyer. 

In her recent New York Times Magazine article “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools? Nikole Hannah-Jones frames the current fight over school governance in the history of public education as the ultimate social contract and, at the same time, unending efforts by some of America’s wealthy to disengage from it. She cites the segregation academies of the 1950’s as the origin of today’s voucher movement and as an example of how, for many, racism undermined the public good.

Racism has long undermined equality and justice in public education for far too many people, as has, in a much more insidious way, linguistic discrimination. In her landmark book, English with an Accent, Rosina Lippi-Green defined it eloquently: “Accent discrimination can be found everywhere in our daily lives. In fact, such behavior is so commonly accepted, so widely perceived as appropriate, that it must be seen as the last back door to discrimination. And the door stands wide open.” Dr. Wayne O’Neil also described “linguicism” in a 1997 Rethinking Schools article as the last “legitimate” prejudice and as a “thinly veiled racism.”

This form of racism is still prevalent today throughout our education system and in every part of the country. It expresses itself in the form of low expectations for children who are Standard English Learners (SELs). It is made manifest through correctionism, which has crippling consequences for students at every academic level, perhaps especially so for the more than five million SELs who either read at a below basic level or who are floundering their way through the primary grades now on that trajectory. This situation was essentially the same twenty years ago, and it will be the same twenty years from now unless something changes pedagogically.

Academics have investigated the relationship between SEL language differences and literacy outcomes for fifty years. They have implored educators (e.g., Lily Wong Fillmore and Catherine E. Snow’s “What Teachers Need to Know about Language”) to incorporate this knowledge into the classroom, yet linguistic understandings are still only just beginning to inform instruction. One would think that by now school district administrators would have the legal protection necessary to support SELs in educationally sound ways, certainly in the form of an SEL definition in education policy. But this has not occurred. And without that protection, district administrators seem powerless to do anything.

Linguicism has also not been explicitly confronted by groups advocating for education as a civil right. This is in effect helping prevent many of the students most underserved in literacy from becoming capable of fully participating civically and economically in the great American experiment. I believe the reason for this is that most adults, regardless of ethnicity, have been conditioned with some form or another of bias about the way SELs speak, write, and communicate, and that this makes conversations about language differences extraordinarily difficult to initiate.

If policymakers, school district administrators (and boards), and organizations won’t address this untouchable subject, who can? Who will? Hannah-Jones concludes in her article that a democratic response to Betsy DeVos’s policies has the potential to reaffirm the public ideal – individual by individual. Perhaps institutionalized linguicism will end only as each educator explores his or her own personal biases. Promisingly, this grassroots movement is in evidence at NCTE. This is the only place in regular education where it seems to be happening. ELA teachers are discovering (and reporting at conferences) educationally sound ways to better meet the instructional needs of SELs. School administrators need to know about this because linguistically responsive teaching is essential to academic success for SELs – the students most underserved in literacy. Only such innovations in pedagogy can help educators finally close our long-standing achievement gaps.

Robert Meyer is publisher of Ventris Learning of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.