Tag Archives: Social Justice

The Paradox of Tolerance

This post is written by member Shea Kerkhoff.

When I opened Twitter on the evening of Saturday, August 12, my feed was full of educators’ responses of outrage at what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the aftermath. I quickly closed my app. The rest of that night, I ignored Twitter, Facebook, even direct personal messages about the event. I didn’t turn on the TV. I couldn’t . . . or, more accurately, wouldn’t. I didn’t want to feel the deep sense of loss and sadness that was sweeping over me. I realized that I was acting out of white privilege, but I continued to shut out the news and my feelings. I could ignore these sad feelings, because for me the feelings would diminish as soon as the headlines found a new interest. For my friends of color, racism isn’t a 24-hour news cycle, but a daily reminder of the hate in our world.

It’s time to stop ignoring what’s going on. As a teacher, it’s my responsibility to help my students make a better world.

I’ve heard too many of my students use the same rhetoric as that coming out of the White House: “Both sides are to blame” or “it’s my job to de-escalate the situation, to keep the peace.” But an educator’s job is not that of peacekeeper. It is that of peacemaker. Peace is not made through a lack of violence, but through social justice, when the righteous are declared and the evil condemned.

Tolerance is a moral stance, not a neutral stance, calling for acceptance of difference but not of evil. Let us not fall prey to the paradox of tolerance; let us teach intolerance of intolerance.

Let us not teach critical literacy and poststructuralism to the point where students trust no one and nothing. Let us teach them to question what they see in order to seek truth. Their history textbooks may read that Rome had peace for 200 years, but a country wracked with oppression, even slavery, is not at peace. Let us teach our students that blanket condemnation of violence does not lead to peace. Peace is living in equality and harmony with others.

In light of recent tragic events in Charlottesville, it’s time to double down on our commitment to education for social justice. To give you the tools to follow through on your commitment to social justice this school year, here is a link to an English Education special journal issue guest edited by April Baker-Bell, Tamara Butler, and Lamar Johnson dealing with racial violence: From Racial Violence to Racial Justice: Praxis and Implications for English (Teacher) Education.

Shea Kerkhoff received her PhD in literacy from North Carolina State University. She now teaches adolescent literacy and young adult literature at Purdue University and is assistant editor of English Education.

Why Address Climate Change in the English Language Arts Classroom? Part II

This post is written by members Richard Beach and Allen Webb. This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.

Studying Language Use

The study of climate change is also an ideal topic for understanding the use of language, argumentation, and creative and persuasive writing. Though some politicians have succeeded in making climate change a partisan issue, climate change will impact people regardless of their politics.

English students can examine the use of language in public discussions, news reports, and the mass media. For example, in a CNBC interview, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, stated, “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

In critiquing such statements, students could explore the larger social and political agendas behind Pruitt’s rejection of scientific research. Through critical inquiry, students can analyze Pruitt’s use of language, his climate denial, his interpretation of scientific “disagreement,” and investigate his ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Given that our current lexicon for describing the experience of climate change effects may be inadequate, students could also create new concepts for describing climate change by noting examples from The Bureau of Linguistical Reality.

Critiquing and Transforming Systems Impacting Climate Change

Addressing climate change entails not only the transformation of individuals’ beliefs and attitudes regarding the need for change, but it also fosters the transformations of energy, economics, agriculture, and transportation systems dependent on fossil fuels. Making changes in these larger systems requires that students gain an understanding of the forces driving these systems as well as strategies and tools for arguing for changing these systems. For example, students can study the economic benefits of moving toward renewable energy and transportation options in their community to then make the case to their communities regarding increased use of renewables, increased development of bike lanes and mass transits, and subsidies for purchase of electric cars.

Students can also examine issues of climate justice related to the impacts of climate change on people of color and those living in poor countries who have little to no responsibility for causing the problem. Americans, who make up 4% of the world’s population, are responsible for 27% of all greenhouse gasses, and they continue to be the greatest polluters per capita. Students can address how this inequality and racism impacts the causes, impacts, and solutions related to climate change by accessing testimonials of survivors of climate change calamities, from Katrina to Syrian refugees, as well as how people in indigenous cultures engage in sustainable living.

Students can write, develop presentations, and use social media in their schools and communities to address these issues by examining their own, their school’s, and their community’s carbon footprint. As they gather evidence to support their claims for change or development of policies, students might use the Writing 4 Change platform that includes a collaborative whiteboard space and a media asset library for collaborative writing and feedback.

Summary

More than any other discipline, English language arts can help students think critically about climate change stories in personal, social, and moral contexts. The stakes for ourselves, and for our students, are too high to ignore climate change or leave consideration of it to others in less comprehensive disciplines.

We provide examples of English language arts teachers engaging their students in addressing climate change in our book, on our wiki website and in the ongoing blog, English Teachers Concerned about Climate Change. We invite your ideas and input to this wiki and blog. Join in to foster student understanding, engagement, and action on the greatest challenge facing the human race.

richard-beachRichard Beach is Professor Emeritus of English Education, University of Minnesota. He is author/co-author of 25 books on teaching English, including Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference (Routledge) and co-distributed by NCTE, that includes a resource website. Twitter: #rbeach

 

webb-allen-2Allen Webb is Professor of English Education and Postcolonial Studies at Western Michigan University, USA. He was a former high school teacher in Portland, Oregon. Allen has authored a dozen books, mostly about teaching literature for secondary teachers published by NCTE, Heinemann, and Routledge.  He has also been studying, teaching, and involved in political organizing on climate change for the last five years.  Currently, Allen teaches about climate change in literature, environmental studies, and English teaching methods classes. 

I Write to Rejuvenate!

This post is written by member Dr. Kalpana Mukunda Iyengar, Early Career Education of Color Leadership Award Recipient.

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MyLinh Tran, Dr. Iyengar, Mario Paman
  1. What has the award meant to you and how has it affected you?

I was thrilled to learn about the award and that my dissertation chair, Dr. Henkin, nominated me for it. I thought the award was for Hispanic or African American educators and that I did not stand a chance of winning it, because Asian Indians are marginalized in the United States. Although we are considered model minorities, we are not well represented in the literature. People now recognize me in conferences when I present in sessions and ask me if I was one of the educators of color award recipients. When I went to India in the summer of 2015, several educators congratulated me on the award. It feels good to know that NCTE recognizes Asian Indian professors.

  1. Describe an experience in your classroom.

When students from single parent families with very little economic support discuss their struggles with pursuing university education, I share my struggles with an alcoholic parent and how my mother raised me with limited resources. Students appreciate sharing such experiences with each other, and they begin to rationalize their decisions in life. On the first day of class, I always make them write on an experience that they cannot forget (happy or sad), and students enjoy the craft.

  1. What drew you into teaching?

My mother was a Montessori educator for 35 years, and she was a wonderful teacher with skills necessary for success as a teacher of young children. She served in rural schools with lack of access to drinking water, electricity, and education for girls. In addition, I had excellent teachers myself who encouraged and inspired me to achieve. Many of my teachers were quick to notice my talent as a writer and appreciated my willingness to share through writing. I think teachers can make a difference in their students’ lives if teachers put their hearts into teaching. That is why I chose to become a teacher, and I did not know that I would move to the United States and that I would not be able to give back to my people in India. However, I have the satisfaction of helping and encouraging students in the United States who may be happy in my classes.

  1. What would you like to accomplish as a teacher?

To help students, especially those who are underserved and from marginalized communities, to achieve mastery in reading and writing.

To help students understand that the teaching of writing is valuable across the disciplines and not just in English classes.

To instill the love of learning in struggling and less motivated students by incorporating culturally relevant materials and contextualized writing workshop.

To facilitate learning in less fortunate but deserving adult students in our communities.

To use the experiences that I gathered through my doctoral program and the professional development experiences at the San Antonio Writing Project for 10 years to help make our society linguistically, culturally, and socially rich.

To help students develop a love for multicultural education, help conduct research-based inquiry, and help establish socially just classrooms.

To disrupt social justice issues, including bullying, micro-aggression, symbolic violence, and “othering,” etc.

To assist aspiring teachers with the latest pedagogical and technological advancements that help teachers deliver their lessons effectively and foster analytical, inquiry-based, critical, creative, and transformative literacy skills.

To establish learner-centered classrooms that will promote interdisciplinary learning and multicultural teaching.

  1. What issues are you passionate about as a teacher?

My primary goal is to establish socially just classrooms that can help disrupt micro-aggression, symbolic violence, or bullying so that all students are happy and have access to a quality education. To mentor students so I can acquaint them with the latest research developments in pedagogy (e.g., a multimodal approach to teaching to accommodate the different kinds of learners in our classrooms). Then, help preservice teachers integrate literature from other countries of the world so all children feel welcomed in our classrooms.

  1. Describe experiences with your students and share recommendations that you feel have helped you as a teacher?

My adult students hesitate to write about experiences that they feel could expose them to ridicule or bullying. I make sure to discuss the civil discourse document that my department has provided me and to establish my classroom as a safe and healthy environment and platform for expression without fear or constraints. I highly recommend that teachers keep an open mind and let the creative juices flow in students. In addition, I allow students to write on topics they choose and topics that are culturally relevant to them until they learn how to write comfortably and efficiently. Writing workshop is the best strategy for encouraging students, especially reluctant ones, to engage in writing.

Dr. Kalpana Mukunda Iyengar is a lecturer in the department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching at University of Texas at San Antonio. She teaches the interdisciplinary studies courses to undergraduate students. She is also the San Antonio and Haridwar Writing Project Teacher Consultant and works for the Center for Inquiry of Transformative Literacies.

Reaching Toward a More Accepting and Equitable Society: The Work of the Language Arts in These Times

This post is written by members Wanda Brooks, Jonda C. McNair, and Kelly Wissman.

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In September of 2016, we published the first issue of Language Arts under our editorship. In this open-themed issue, we included an article exploring various genres of talk in writers workshop conferences and a reflective piece on the potential of Twitter in the classroom. Our November issue, “Diverse Books,” welcomed a range of voices advocating for more inclusive texts, including an essay by Rudine Sims Bishop, one of the field’s most widely cited children’s literature scholars, and a carefully argued take on research and policy related to diverse books by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.  Our third issue, “Tweens,” featured artwork by and an interview with beloved author for tweens Tom Angleberger. Celebrated author Rita Williams-Garcia’s reflection on her trilogy for tweens also graced the pages, alongside renowned researchers Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston who wrote about the importance of choice and high-interest literature to promote classrooms as engaged reading communities. Our recently published “Viewpoints and Visions” issue includes articles on culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogies across grade levels and contexts.

As Co-editors, we are honored to serve in this capacity and to maintain the longstanding tradition of publishing high quality scholarship focusing on language arts teaching and learning related to children of preschool through middle school age.   Within these times marked by profound political unrest and widening inequalities, we believe that the language arts have a central role to play by helping us reach toward a more accepting and equitable society.

Our collective vision for the journal entails three main goals. First, we emphasize children’s literature in a number of ways such as routinely featuring art from picturebooks and novels on the cover of the journal, publishing interviews with notable children’s book authors and illustrators, and having one themed issue annually devoted to some aspect of literature for youth. Second, we try to make even more central the words, experiences, and insights of children as they use language and literacy to navigate, make sense of, and leave their marks on the world.  For example, in classrooms and homes today, young learners are harnessing the tools of digital media to navigate the realm of popular culture while creating their own multimedia productions.  As editors, we embrace these deeply creative and increasingly complex practices of literacy by highlighting the literary, artistic, and analytic work taking place across multiple modalities and contexts. We also prioritize children’s voices and the written and multimodal artifacts young people create. Third, we aim to embed issues related to diversity and social justice throughout the journal. We also feature in the journal perspectives and research that explore the challenges and possibilities of envisioning and enacting “education as the practice of freedom” (hooks, 1994) and the vital role that the language arts may play in this endeavor.  From schools to community sites, from homes to homeless shelters, from street demonstrations to prisons, literacies can profoundly mediate and transform experiences and our understandings of them.

It is our hope that as you engage with the pages of Language Arts that the ideas contained within will inspire you, open up new avenues of thought, and perhaps even provoke a change in a classroom practice or plant the seeds for a fresh way of thinking about literacy, assessment, young children, and the possible role of the language arts to help us realize the democratic promise of education. We invite you to correspond with us on the direction and vision of the journal and to support us in our efforts to make more central the voices and perspectives of students and their teachers as they engage in this important work of the language arts.

We also invite you to write for Language Arts! Please consider adding your voice and perspectives by writing a Feature Article emerging from research you have conducted in school, family, or community settings. You might also consider writing a shorter, more conversational, piece for our Perspectives on Practice column. Visit our website for a description of upcoming calls for manuscripts, including, Reimagining Writers and Writing; Changes in Children’s Literature; Youth Culture(s) and Childhood; Life Lessons: Autobiographies, Biographies, and Memoirs.  Click here for the full calls: http://www.ncte.org/journals/la/call and here for manuscript submission guidelines: http://www.ncte.org/journals/la/write

Reference

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY:                   Routledge.

wandabrooksWanda Brooks is an associate professor of Literacy Education in the College of Education at Temple University.  She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses related to reading theories and literacy instruction.  Her research examines the literary understandings of diverse middle school youth who read African American children’s literature. 

 

jonda_mcnair_photoJonda C. McNair, a former primary grade teacher, is a professor of literacy education at Clemson University in South Carolina. She specializes in literature intended for youth with an emphasis on books written by and about African Americans.

 

kelly-wissman_headshot-6Kelly Wissman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning at the University at Albany-SUNY. Across her scholarship and teaching she explores how children’s literature, writing, and the arts can create more humanizing and equitable educational spaces. 

Literature and the African American Read-In

AARI_180To be recognized as an official African American Read-In Host, it’s easy as I,2,3:

  1. Select books, poems, speeches (anything) authored by African Americans;
  2. Hold your event during the month of February; and
  3. Report results by submitting an African American Read-In Report Card.

The first step is to choose a piece written by an African American author. NCTE has a Resolution on the Need for Diverse Children’s and Young Adult Books.

The African American Read-In Toolkit provides a variety of resources to help support both individual hosts and hosting organizations implement and promote African American Read-In programs. Included in the toolkit are a number of booklists including one that was crowdsourced at an NCTE Annual Convention.

The September 2016 #NCTEchat was on the topic of Black Girls’ LiteraciesDetra Price-Dennis compiled a list of Black Girls’ Literacies Resources that were shared during #NCTEchat.

Tune in to the Text Messages podcast episode #weneeddiversebooks to hear about recently-published YA titles that celebrate diversity in a range of genres. There’s something for every reader here: comic book superheroes, Civil Rights history, love stories, humorous essays, poetry, artwork, and stories of suspense.

What titles would you add to these lists?