Category Archives: The Movement

Celebrate Mandela Day

In 2009, the United Nations declared July 18th “Mandela Day”, an international day of honor for former South African President Nelson Mandela. Also his birthday, Mandela Day invites everyone, particularly young people, to take action to promote peace and combat social injustice. According to the official Mandela Day website, Mandela Day “was inspired by a call Nelson Mandela made [in 2008], for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices when he said that ‘it is in your hands now’.”

Familiarize students with Mandela’s life and legacy by reading aloud Kadir Nelson’s Coretta Scott King Honor book, Nelson Mandela. Share the illustrations and stop frequently for questions and discussion of Mandela’s early life, determination to change social conditions in apartheid-era South Africa, and eventual presidency. Fill in any gaps with resources from the biographical websites found here.

Then explain the purpose and mission of Mandela Day before inspiring students to brainstorm their call to social action by sharing this page from the Mandela Day website. There, students will see examples of service projects around the key themes of awareness building, food security, literacy and education, service and volunteerism, and shelter and infrastructure.

Finally, invite students, as a class or in small groups, to determine a project they can undertake to plan and publicize their contribution to a more just world.

How do you plan to recognize this day?

Save Reading, Save the Country

This post is written by member Julia Franks. 

One of my students, a high school senior on his way to Georgia Tech, told me he loved to read as a child and then, as a teenager, began to hate it. He blamed school, and the way his teachers “overanalyzed” literature. (Just to remind you: it’s not unusual for a class to read Hamlet, a four-hour play, and then spend thirty hours talking and writing about it.) Other disaffected readers blame schools’ “terrible books,” including one Stanford graduate who recalls the exact book that made him hate fiction—forever: A Tale of Two Cities.

Some give up sooner. Some have intuited that it’s not the actual reading of Dickens that matters to their grades, but rather familiarity with Dickens’s major themes. And it’s so very tempting to get that information online rather than spending twelve hours reading a book and then constructing your own meaning from it.

We know that non-readers don’t develop the same mental muscles, but there are other reasons why reading isn’t just for the nerds of the world. Our republic provides free education to its citizenry because an informed and intelligent electorate is a public good. Part of getting educated is experiencing other people’s stories. I’m not a Christian, but I identified strongly with the Congregationalist pastor in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Likewise, I aspired to Pi Patel’s transcendent view of suffering in Life of Pi and was moved by Mark Beaver’s conflicted adolescent feelings about Jesus in Suburban Gospel. Because of those books, I have some tiny understanding of the very many ways there are of being a Christian. I could draw similar parallels about being a combat soldier or about being Muslim. By immersing myself in someone else’s story, I’m inhabiting his or her life a little. I’m practicing a different vantage point.

One night last summer, below a dingy Atlanta underpass, a police car pulled in front of mine and stopped, the blue lights flashing into the tunnel. An officer sprang from the car and ran forward into the blackness. Then: sounds of wrestling, moaning, a large soft mass being slammed against the car, the voice of the officer saying, “Stop moving.” He said it four times, each time sounding more as if he were begging. Moments later a tall wiry man sprinted toward my car, blood pouring from a head wound, his eyes dazed with either terror or drugs. The police officer, who was stockier and younger, tackled him, and they both slammed onto the pavement, not five feet from where I sat. The officer wrested the other man’s arms behind him and closed the handcuffs. Then he met my eye for a long moment, his gaze full of uncertainty. He looked Filipino. The man in the cuffs was White.

At first, I tried to square this incident with one of our national narratives, trying to shape my own experience to fit a story I’d already heard. Was it the brutality story? The resisting-arrest story? Racism? Which one was the bad guy?

But, life is not an action movie or a video game where good guys fight evil. There are many other stories out there. And if you’re a reader, you remember Malcolm X’s accounts of police profiling in The Autobiography of Malcolm X or the brutality in American Boys, written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. But here’s the thing: sitting right there in your brain next to those stories are also Edward Conlon’s accounts of NYPD responding to the events of September 11 and Trudy Nan Boyce’s novels of a female officer navigating complicated relationships in the neighborhoods of downtown Atlanta. If you’re a reader, you have a lot more practice holding all those conflicting stories in your imagination at one time. And perhaps you’re more prepared to see nuance.

Recent data show that readers are also better at controlling their own stories, which is an integral part of constructing identity and has given rise to an entire field called bibliotherapy. Think about it. Stories are the way we make meaning. Take any personal crisis you’ve ever weathered, even something as prosaic as a break-up. When it was all over, you built a narrative around it: “First he did this, then I did that.” Cause, effect, cause, effect. You needed that narrative in order to feel as if you understood what had happened—in order to move on.

As a nation, too, we need these narratives. Election results end in an upset, and we spend a whole lot of time trying to answer the question why? Or a man walks into a church and opens fire on the congregation. We as a country respond by trying to make a narrative: cause, effect, cause, effect. When we can’t do it, we feel adrift, even despairing. And yes, we’re tempted to oversimplify the story. But the more practice we have at story-making, the more we’re able to construct a nuanced national story.

In my own classroom, I wanted a change, so one spring I offered my AP students a choice. They could read the books on the syllabus, or they could set up reading groups and read twice as many books selected from a list of some 300 great titles. We voted. Forty-nine students out of forty-nine chose to read twice as many books. And—surprise!—they chose door-stoppers they’d long wanted to read (Lord of the Rings! The Fountainhead!) and alternated them with shorter reads (The Road, The Bell Jar, Me Before You). By May, every kid in the class, with one exception, had read twice as many pages as I’d originally planned, and many had read four or five times as  much.

At the end of the year, my seniors’ grades on the national exam were exactly on par with the other AP students in the school. Research data on choice reading, particularly those from linguist Stephen D. Krashen, support this anecdotal evidence.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon the classics or the communal reading experience. But kids who have personal reading habits are far more likely to broaden their tastes than those who don’t. They’re also more likely to be reading ten years after graduation.

We have to offer more choice, and we have to set actual time aside in the school day for reading.  (Maybe fewer hours, say, discussing Hamlet?) In this moment in American culture, we need reader-citizens more than ever. Because of that, English departments have the opportunity to be especially relevant in civic life. Some of them are already taking up that challenge.

’Tis a far, far better thing they do.

Julia Franks is a former teacher and an award-winning novelist (Over the Plain Houses from Hub City Press). She now runs a Web application that helps schools track independent reading from grade to grade (loosecanon.com). 

Note: Did you find this post interesting? You may like to read this post by Hannah Sislo whose college project focused on ways teachers could include reading choice in the classroom.

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. 

Who am I becoming through my fellowship with CNV?

This post is by member Marcus Croom. 

A common technique for measuring change is to take a snapshot of something at one point (pre-) and examine it against another comparable snapshot taken at some later point (post-). As a newcomer to the CNV fellowship, I decided to create some early snapshots to which I can return at the end of this unique opportunity. My question: Who am I becoming through my fellowship with CNV? Following are three recalled snapshots that are important to me now. Toward the end of my fellowship, I’d like to revisit these snapshots and add new ones in order to document and describe my development. Because of my own interest in genre, I have thought about the genre I am using here and how to describe it. I regard this text as the opening episode of a micro-comparative memoir, a genre with at least two meaningfully comparative discourses. I create this genre to help me answer a significant question in my life.

Click: George Kamberelis emails me to introduce himself as my mentor and I’m geeked! I chose him as one of several potential mentors because his work focuses on philosophic issues, genre, and the nature and effects of different modes of classroom discourse. That’s exactly the kind of thinking partner I need for my work. Man, he’s published so much stuff! His CV is like a scroll. It seems like we are both in the field of literacy because our careers unexpectedly unfolded into literacy research. I think we might be able to relate through our less-affluent backgrounds and our less-traditional journeys into the field. We also share a background in religious studies. Hmm, he seems to be a White guy with convictions about racial justice. It’s always heartening to detect White folks who are not in racial darkness. George and I schedule a talk and we hangout via Google. He’s an intellectual heavyweight, yet he seems like such a cool guy. He’s already sharing ideas that are moving me forward in my thinking. Wow, George Kamberelis is my CNV mentor. This is going to be great!

Click: At our first CNV 2016–18 cohort Fall Institute at the NCTE Annual Convention in Atlanta, each mentor and fellow shares their story. One-by-one we solo, with a full soul, to our caring choir of color. I realize that I’m more impressed with who these amazing people are than withtheir scholarship and accomplishments.

These mentors and fellows are uplifting people, people who are resolved to doing good work in the world. I’m awestruck by their generosity and transparency. In so many ways, our times have tested these women and men, yet as scholars, they have remained true to the good fight of justice.

As I collect the contours of these scholars’ particular experiences, I also realize the terror of choosing a career path that is routinely and stubbornly anti-egalitarian, unmeritocratic, and constrained by the racially White superordinate assumption. Note for readers: Don’t misunderstand, I already knew this. Each story we heard raised themes that were familiar to me. Understand that I’ve been cross-training for an anti-Black world since at least Goldsboro High School (in North Carolina) and at each HBCU (Historically Black College or University) from which I have graduated. The terror did not come from surprise, rather from proximity. Notwithstanding all else, including Trump’s approaching presidency, here I am choosing our mentors’ well-worn journey: tenure-track professorship in a research-intensive institution. In this cohort moment, I feel like I’m standing in the hypogeum of higher education’s savage arena. In this close dialogue with the mentors of our cohort, I feel the weight of this savage arena—we all got next. Also close to me, though not present, are my beloved ones at home in Oak Park (Illinois). Come what may, and however I manage to navigate this savage arena, my path will impact my family’s future; including retiring my old student loans, retiring the soon-to-be mortgage of our second purchased house, and even retiring from the labor market altogether. As if I were nearing another African door of no return, I ask aloud, “What am I doing?” Hearing me, George supportively looks on as another CNV mentor at our table replies in a sisterly tone, “The right thing.”

Click: I’m at the NCTE Annual Convention for the very first time because of CNV. I’ve heard about this conference and have wanted to go, but the LRA (Literacy Research Association) conference is the annual gathering for my field and AERA is THE research conference, so I’ve had to choose carefully which conferences to attend as a doc student. The struggle is real. Without CNV, I wouldn’t be here this week. Glancing at the program, the sessions at NCTE seem outstanding. I’m glad NCTE provided the conference schedule through an app, the same way that the International Conference on Urban Education also did two weeks ago. It’s so hard to pick sessions. Each of the sessions I found (using a keyword search for race) sound amazing.

Time for our CNV Poster Session (p. 29). Dang, I forgot to bring push-pins! Never mind, I’m good. There’s a brand new box of clear ones under the boards set up by the Convention Center. The questions and feedback mentioned during the poster session are so helpful. I’ve gotta keep in touch with the folks who signed up for my contact list. I want to make the most of the network that CNV is offering me. By the time I graduate, I gotta have a job lined up. It looks like all of the fellows are having a great time and are connecting with a lot of passersby. After our CNV Poster Session, I head to “Supporting the Academic Achievement and Cultural Identity of Black Adolescent Males.”(p.41) I’m liking, and learning from, the way one of the researchers used “racial storylines.” Good thing I got to hear this sister’s presentation. Oh my goodness: A high school classmate I haven’t seen in years and George were both in this session too! I didn’t even see them until we were walking out. I introduce my classmate to George, and the three of us stand talking for a few moments about the fiery exchanges we heard. My nine-nickel classmate, an English teacher in Atlanta, is singing at a gig in Stone Mountain tonight and she invites me to come. That’s wild—what are the odds? Goldsboro is in the building, NCTE!

Debut: In Autumn, age 40 awaits. For now, an unsettling haze wafts between this last leg to commencement and my treasured definition of success. It hovers and occasionally wrinkles, making the specific steps I should take appear and disappear like drifting clouds. I wonder: Does it profit to have a better understanding of race or to develop racial literacies? Yes, this is significant, justice-minded work. But will my costly justice work profit (the university I work for, the schools I work with, the family I live for)? I don’t yet have the answers I want. Still urgently, at every possible moment, I move forward and work thoughtfully within my immediate clear view. When I must pause, I stand trusting. Make no mistake, I am not the trusting type. I’m learning to stand trusting at forced pauses because of defining moments that have left me no other choice. As it turns out, I am the situated captain of my fate. Remembering my peaks and valleys, I look back now and marvel with gratitude. I was brought this far by caring collaborators, helpful hardships, and immortal love. If it had not been for all that was on my side in this anti-Black world, where would I be? Now, with the added support of CNV, who am I becoming?

Marcus Croom is currently a doctoral candidate of Literacy, Language, and Culture at University of Illinois at Chicago. Within his broader interest in literacies and race, Croom’s research will continue to document teachers’ understandings of race and examine the influence these understandings may have on teacher efficacy, student identification, pedagogical reasoning, and teaching practices in literacy instruction.