Bluegrass Momma: "[Poor kids] don't learn differently, but they do need different things. They need teachers like me who share our experiences, who speak of our own poverty openly and without shame. They need to see that being poor does not make you inferior or stupid. They need to see how much we love and value our families, value the lessons poverty can teach you, even if we're relieved to no longer have to struggle the same way we once did."
Education Week: "The Stanford Education Data Archive, a massive new database that allows researchers to compare school districts across state lines has led to the unwelcome finding that racial achievement gaps yawn in nearly every district in the country—and the districts with the most resources in place to serve all students frequently have the worst inequities."
The Huffington Post: "As our country grapples with the devastation wrought by the 'three strikes' sentencing legislation, harsh drug sentencing laws and other disastrous 'tough on crime' policies of the past few decades, the effects on the innocent children trampled in the wake are too often ignored."
The Huffington Post: "External beauty now requires more validation than ever, and that is the reason for why skin tone inequality operates so successfully. This devaluation of the deeper business of feeling beautiful and worthy has also come to surface in public dialogue about the new form of racism: colorblindness."
The Jose Vilson: "Terrible, terrible events happened within the walls of boarding schools to rid Indigenous people of their language, ceremonies, traditions and beliefs in hopes that they would become 'civilized,' a.k.a. White."
Los Angeles Times: "What most people don’t understand is that many Spanish speakers in the U.S. are also bilingual. So when you hear someone speaking Spanish that doesn’t mean that they don’t speak English."
MIC: "'If we continue buying and selling products that use Native designs but don't support Native artists, we're perpetuating cultural appropriation.'"
National Public Radio: "'Any time a principal who is entrusted with the public trust to make sure their work is for the benefit of the children is instead diverting money for their own personal profit, it is egregious conduct.'"
The New Yorker: "Things get especially complicated when interrogations take place in school, where students have fewer legal rights than in a police station. School officials do not need a warrant or probable cause to search a student’s locker or backpack, nor are they required to give a Miranda warning prior to an interrogation, no matter how severe the offense."
Think Progress: "Universal College Application announced on Monday that it would change its question about a prospective student’s sex and include a gender identity question — so instead of 'sex,' students will see 'legal sex' and the options 'male' and 'female.' The application also lets students opt to answer a question about gender identity, with the options, 'woman,' 'man,' and 'self-identify.'"
U.S. Department of Education: "'We need to help ensure formerly incarcerated young people and adults can return to their communities successfully. We need a community working together to provide job training, social and emotional support and a concerted effort to ensure success.'"
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to email@example.com , and put "What We’re Reading This Week" in the subject line.
Editor’s note: The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) regularly publishes blogs written by the lawyers and investigators working on various SPLC cases. This Story From the Field was originally published here.
I was standing in the intake room at the juvenile detention center in Jackson, Mississippi, where two high school students had just been brought in from the small town of Terry, a few miles south of here.
One of the officers looked at me and pointed to the teens. “You gotta do something about this,” he said. “It’s Terry High School.”
“What happened?” I asked.
The boys, sitting next to each other, both shrugged sheepishly. They had been arrested on disorderly conduct charges following a minor altercation in the school cafeteria that afternoon.
The officer’s meaning was clear: Even law enforcement thought the school was going too far in having children arrested.
At the SPLC, we had been hearing reports that children at Terry High School were being arrested and sent to jail for minor misbehavior, and we had recently finished representing one of those students in disciplinary proceedings.
So, on a cool night in January, we met with a handful of parents at a Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Terry to hear their stories.
Over pizza and sweet tea, one mother recounted how her son, a student with a disability, was handcuffed and threatened with arrest for walking in the hallway, at a teacher’s request, during school hours.
A father described his lingering frustration after receiving a call from the juvenile detention center—not from the school—hours after his son was arrested following an interaction with a bully. He reported that Terry High’s school resource officer thought the arrest was unwarranted but was obliged to follow the school administration’s orders anyway.
Fighting tears, the parents of a senior described the trauma of becoming involved with the juvenile court. Their son had a spotless disciplinary record but was arrested on campus and locked up for seven days.
Each story followed the same pattern: A student is arrested for minor misbehavior, the parents are kept in the dark, and the family finds itself navigating the criminal justice system.
After some digging, we discovered that arrests at Terry High School have increased by more than 400 percent in just the last three school years. This year, 31 children have been arrested, compared to just six in 2013-14 and 20 last year.
The majority of the arrests were for the vague offense of “disorderly conduct.” That means that, for the most part, students weren’t committing violent or dangerous crimes. Instead, they were being detained, interrogated, arrested, transported to the juvenile detention center, and saddled with a criminal record for typical adolescent misbehavior.
We’ve seen the same phenomenon in other Mississippi towns and across the Deep South, where school officials have come to rely on police and the criminal justice system to handle routine disciplinary matters. The consequences can be devastating for children who are pushed into this “school-to-prison pipeline,” because arrests increase the odds of school dropout and adult incarceration. And, as the U.S. Department of Justice has noted, students of color and those with disabilities are disproportionately affected by this kind of harsh discipline. At Terry High School, black children make up more than 80 percent of the student body.
To help resolve the problem, we worked with parents to draft a letter demanding that the school district revise its discipline policies, stop arresting students for disorderly conduct, and start including parents in every step of the discipline process. The first to sign the letter were the executive director of the Henley-Young Juvenile Detention Center and two state representatives. Dozens of concerned parents and community members also joined the effort.
This growing community coalition—wearing T-shirts that said: “Stop arresting our students. Let kids be kids”—presented the letter at a school board meeting last week.
Unfortunately, the superintendent defended the school’s arrest practices.
Still, there is hope: The district has scheduled a community meeting to further explore issues at Terry High School. The Terry High community is finding its voice and, perhaps, the district is starting to listen.
The two boys I met at Henley-Young have a long road ahead. But we have great hope that the district will join countless others across the country that are already reforming their disciplinary policies – including a number that were the subject of SPLC lawsuits or civil rights complaints. Collaboration between parents, the school and the district will ensure that future Terry High students graduate with a diploma, not a criminal record.
Wright is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and a law fellow in the SPLC’s Mississippi office.
How would you like your students to finish the sentence “I am a person who …”? A group of educators recently tackled this question while gathered at a two-day forum at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This group discussed how to move the focus of education from meeting academic standards (as a primary goal) to a commitment to fostering a more just and caring world.
I was privileged to be a part of this group of nature preschool teachers, teacher educators, educational consultants and program developers from around the country. And I was inspired by what the participants articulated they wanted for their students: They hoped their students would aspire to be people who cared about others, who had a commitment to the common good and who would be concerned about the environment.
Those of us at the forum are all involved in environmental education in some way and want students to become responsible caretakers of the environment. We also want them to care about social justice issues. Aware of how environmentalists are sometimes criticized for caring more about the environment than about people, we considered research on “significant life experiences” (SLE) associated with a lifelong concern for the environment.
SLE research indicates that one of the primary reasons people choose environmental protection as a profession is based on having had positive experiences with nature during their childhood years. More recent SLE research adds something new to this understanding—that is, that people who are involved in climate-change education and mitigation state a concern for social justice as their primary motivation. They recognize that the negative impact of climate change falls first and most heavily on people with few resources to combat such effects as extreme heat waves, rising sea levels, changes in precipitation resulting in flooding and droughts, and intense hurricanes. These negative effects will be felt by future generations, too.
Even prior to this recent research, some scholars noted that a concern for social justice could be viewed as an alternative path toward acting to save the environment. Fortunately, we as educators need not choose one path over the other: We can choose to instill in students both a “land ethic” and a “people ethic.”
Helping children care about the environment is good for both children and the environment, and positive experiences with nature promote children’s holistic development while also instilling in them a concern for the environment. But promoting the holistic development of children also has a social justice component. When I think of how I would like students to finish the sentence “I am a person who ...” I want more than statements about how they care for birds and butterflies or about the environment in general. I want students to care for each other, as well.
I welcome the idea that a commitment to working for the environment may start with a concern for other human beings rather than a focus on the natural world. I’ll never abandon the idea that positive experiences with nature during the childhood years can help children and the environment. But I’ll also celebrate the social justice path some people take in caring for the environment. Both paths will benefit children, the environment and the larger society of people.
Actions you might take:
- Start a “Roots & Shoots” program at your school. This program builds on the vision of Dr. Jane Goodall to make the world a better place through the involvement of young people in such initiatives as protecting animals, supporting other children in conflict regions and helping people in poverty-stricken areas.
- Teach students about climate change. Turn to the ideas and resources developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Fisher, Scott R. (2016). Life Trajectories of Youth Committing to Climate Activism. Environmental Education Research, 22(2), 229-247.
Howell, Rachel A. & Simon Allen. (2016). Significant Life Experiences, Motivations and Values of Climate Change Educators. Environmental Education Research, 22(2), 1-19.
Wilson is an educational consultant and curriculum writer with a primary interest in connecting children with nature.
On my left forearm, I have a half-sleeve tattoo of an illustration from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, ink that represents my hope for my sons: the ability to use imagination and reflection to confront and overcome the struggles we all face, to look monsters in the eyes and tame them.
Where the Wild Things Are opens with Max making “mischief of one kind and another,” and then disappearing to the land “where the wild things are.” Despite the frightening and “terrible” nature of these beasts, Max is able to tame them and return to the world he had previously fled. His ability to control his inner turmoil (the beasts) is something I wish for every child.
The book opens with Max wearing a wolf costume, presumably purchased for him to encourage imaginative play. In the first frame of the story, he stands atop two thick books, indicating a home environment where people are literate and well read. The second frame shows a picture he has drawn that hangs on the wall, illustrating his access to art supplies. His mother sends him to his room without supper because he has misbehaved, not because she can’t afford to put food on the table. Max has his own room with a comfortable bed, a side table with a beautiful potted plant and a window that offers him a pretty view and fresh air.
Max is not representative of all kids in the United States.
According to a 2015 study by the Urban Institute, four out of every 10 children live below the national poverty line for at least one year of their childhood. One in 10 lives below the poverty line for at least half of their childhood. For this latter group, the odds of completing high school by the age of 20 drop 13 percent compared with children in the former group, and the odds of completing college drop 43 percent. There is no doubt there is a link between economic status and educational success. Families living in poverty may be forced to choose between paying for electricity and paying for books and paints; school funding patterns often shortchange schools in lower-income neighborhoods. We can’t simply ignore the academic disadvantages these gaps create—or deny our part in the systems that perpetuate them.
Clearly, there are children who grow up in poverty who are academically successful. And there are children living in affluence who experience stressors that negatively impact their educational success. But it is not a level playing field—some kids have the benefit of private tutors, private coaches and all the materials they need to pursue their interests while other kids don’t. An education system that is meant to serve the public must try to close the gap.
I can’t fix a broken system. I don’t know the answers to the questions Sendak’s simple children’s story raises for me. But I do know that I love books and not every one of my students lives in a house filled with them. I often loan books out to students. I have bought used copies and given them away to kids who show an interest.
I know an art teacher who now and then gives a kid in need some of her personal art supplies. I know a guidance counselor who has created a food pantry and who eats breakfast with anybody who may be hungry before school starts. I know a math teacher whose students make bagged lunches and who then drives them over to a park to give to people who are hungry. I know coaches who have purchased practice gear, music directors who have donated sheet music and teachers who have offered free tutoring.
Max tamed the wild things of his world through courage and imagination, but he didn’t do it alone. He also had resources. So keep a careful watch. Find those kids who, despite a lion’s share of courage and imagination, have not been dealt a fair portion of resources and opportunities. Then offer them not a handout, but a hand. Show them through your simple action that you recognize they are playing a game with unfair rules and that you want fairness. Some will say you are treating them like “charity cases,” but there are ways to help based in empowerment rather than pity. You are helping to give them what you would want for your own kids or other young relatives, plain and simple.
As simple as a children’s story. All kids deserve the chance to close their eyes and tame the demons that lurk inside—or outside. Sometimes the way to do that is to disappear into a book, paint, write, compose or just play. Sometimes those things require a little help.
Knoll is a writer and English teacher at public school in New Jersey.
Want your students to know that anyone can succeed in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes and careers? This kind of encouragement should start early: That’s why Teaching Tolerance has created a brand-new lesson series called “Stand Up for STEM” for grades 3-5.
Featuring fun, engaging and interactive activities, this series of four lessons covers a broad range of STEM topics and careers and addresses the underrepresentation of women and people of color in these fields. The lessons also align to the four domains of our Anti-bias Framework: Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action.
- Who, Me? A Scientist? (Identity): Students get in touch with their “inner scientists.”
- STEM at Work (Diversity): Students explore the varied work of scientists, technology specialists, engineers and mathematicians and discuss character traits common to all of them.
- STEM by the Numbers (Justice): Students examine the representation of white, black, Asian and Hispanic men and women in science and engineering careers.
- STEM for All (Action): Students consider some of the advantages of a STEM career and plan activities to support STEM for everyone.
Whether you teach them as a whole series or use them a la carte, these lessons are sure to help your students see themselves in STEM!