The Atlantic: "The reality is that Baltimore can be a crushing place to be a black child. A sober picture emerged following Freddie Gray’s death. Black youth in West Baltimore are almost just as likely to get arrested as they are to graduate from high school; the area’s juvenile-arrest rate is the highest in Baltimore City."
Crawling Out of the Classroom: "The best way for me to learn the things that I do not and cannot know, about what it is like to be a race other than white, is to learn from the stories of others. And I can do that same thing for my students. By using the stories that others so bravely are willing to share, I can help my students to learn about the lives of other people while we learn to be better and more careful readers."
Edutopia: "Community meets the basic human needs of safety and belonging. Daily classroom morning meetings, weekly assemblies, and use of common language for expectations and rules are mandated practices at Symonds [Elementary School]."
Rethinking Schools: "Although immigration is passionately debated in the media, it is an issue often ignored in schools, even though it’s central to the lived experiences of Latina/o children—even those born in the United States. This was something I didn’t realize until I created space for students’ lives in the curriculum."
The Jose Vilson: "I fear, with proof, that should all of the current public education blueprint be resolved without a critical race lens, the rabble rousers who are supposedly colorblind and not racist will go back to their segregated neighborhoods with their segregated schools, segregated funding, segregated class sizes, segregated teaching force, and segregated policies, content that they won for their child and not for other people’s children. I fight against the continuance of crap for policy."
Twincities.com: "Our data doesn't suggest that we have a problem suspending kids. Our data suggests that there are disparities in how we're doing that."
Homeroom: "Growing up in a family of immigrants is a special experience shared by many Americans. As a child of Costa Rican and Jamaican immigrants, I learned firsthand how important it is for schools and community organizations to build bridges to new American families."
U.S. Uncut: "In the past two months, eight cities got rid of Columbus Day in favor of adopting Indigenous Peoples’ Day."
WABE: "At the start of the Great Depression, Horace Mann Bond [...] journeyed into the rural South to document the condition of African-American schools. The photos he brought back show what some at the time refused to believe--that Southern black children wanted an education."
Wisconsin State Journal: "Madison West High School is switching to a gender-neutral homecoming court this year, one of only a few in the country to do so and possibly the first in Wisconsin."
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.
This Sunday, I’m lucky enough to be hosting an all-day camp for girls in grades 5 though 8. We will be discussing and doing activities about relational aggression and bullying, body image and careers—all in honor of the United Nations’ Day of the Girl Child, an annual observance on October 11 also known as Day of the Girl.
While you probably don’t have an entire day to devote to celebrating Day of the Girl, you might have some time in your classes to do one or more of the following activities. The best part is that all students, not just girls, can participate in any of them. It’s important to build awareness of the issues facing girls so that their peers can stand with them against these issues. Also, many students, including boys, are facing these issues, too.
Relational Aggression and Bullying
Relational aggression is “emotional violence and bullying behaviors focused on damaging an individual’s social connections within the peer group.” It’s most often observed among middle- and high-school-aged girls—if it’s observed at all. Because relational aggression is not physical, it is often difficult for teachers to see.
Ending relational aggression has to start with students. They need to be made aware of the problem and given solutions for how to fix it. Discuss the problem of bullying with your students. You will probably discover that, more often than not, many students you work with are torn bystanders. Show them what happens when people don’t speak up against bullying. Unfortunately, since bullying is such a huge problem, they might already know what this feels like.
Then, give students ways to encourage each other rather than break each other down. At the camp, I will have the girls line up and hold hands. I will then have them pass a hula-hoop from one person to the next, all the way down the line without letting go of each other’s hands. As the facilitator, I will encourage them to empower each other by giving them ideas of what to say and do. This activity will help show them ways to lift each other up instead of tear each other down. It will also show them how good it feels to accomplish something together.
The thing I hear most often from students—regardless of gender identity—is that having a good body image is really difficult with all of the media attention that is paid to having a “great” body. Kids know that these bodies are not representative of most people’s bodies, but that doesn’t help much when it comes to actually looking in the mirror and seeing what’s there after being barraged with images of “perfect” bodies all day.
The best you can do is to discuss body image with your students. While there is no quick fix for body-image issues, it does help to unpack the reasons we don’t see ourselves as beautiful or handsome. I find that showing videos like Dove’s “Evolution” or “Choose Beautiful” really gets discussion flowing. If you feel it is appropriate for your students, the trailer for Miss Representation—or the whole film—is also a great discussion starter. You can also critically analyze magazine ads and covers with students. Teaching them to critically analyze media will go a long way toward erasing negative self-talk in their lives.
But don’t end the discussion there. Rather, end with something empowering and positive, like a compliment wall. Here’s how it works: One student sits facing away from a whiteboard or chalkboard. All of the other students then go up to the board and write positive things about the seated student. When the seated student turns around, he or she will see a wall full of compliments. It’s hard to say negative things about yourself after such a positive experience.
As teachers, we talk a lot about making sure students are college and career ready. But what about discussing how students choose careers to begin with? The vast majority of my female students want to become chefs, teachers or nurses. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those professions, of course—I chose one of them for myself—but there are a million other options out there that they might not even know of yet.
A great way to get the community involved in students’ career selections is to have them come in to discuss their careers with the kids. At my camp, I am going to have a panel of women—some from STEM fields, some who are administrators in hospitals and some who oversee entire college programs—come in to talk to the girls. Hopefully, these students will be able to make some connections and see new options unfold for them.
These are just three of many ways to celebrate Day of the Girl, raise awareness of gender inequality and help students work toward empowering themselves and each other. How will you celebrate Day of the Girl?
Samsa is a freelance writer and teaches high school English in the south suburbs of Chicago.
One thing that makes Mix It Up at Lunch Day so great is that it takes a light-hearted approach to a serious problem. Switching seats and having a chat with someone new is a pretty simple way to reduce the number of painful experiences caused by exclusion, prejudice and bullying.
When preparing for the event, try to keep it light, especially when you get pushback from students. For example, a student might say, “I don’t want to sit with someone else. I want to sit with my friends.” You might have the impulse to tell the student that Mix is mandatory. But, in fact, student pushback can be a perfect teaching opportunity. Explain to the student that Mix It Up was created to reduce the tension he or she is feeling.
Here are some ways you can respond:
- “That’s exactly why we’re doing it. So you can get to know someone you’d otherwise never talk to.”
- “It may feel uncomfortable to break out of your normal social circle, but by doing it once, there’s one more person in the world you never have to feel uncomfortable around in the future.”
There are ways your team can prepare for the possible pushback. Just gather your core organizers and role-play possible situations. You can practice your responses and fine-tune your answers. It’s never too early to start, and then you’ll be prepared as October 27 approaches.
Keep the Mix It Up spirit alive. The big day is just around the corner!
Mix It Up at Lunch Day is October 27!
Do you have any questions about Mix It Up? We want to answer them. Any ideas or other thoughts? We want to hear them. Contact us on Facebook or Twitter (use #MixLunch), or browse these FREE Mix It Up resources.
It seems at least once a month we read a news story about dubious education practices that spawn national outrage. This week’s news featured pages from a geography textbook that identified Africans forced into the horrific transatlantic slave trade as “workers” and “immigrants.”
Here’s the story: 15-year-old Coby Burren took a picture of a fishy page from the textbook and sent it to his mother, a former teacher and current Ph.D. student, with a text message: “[W]e was real hard workers, wasn’t we ☹.” Roni Dean-Burren, his social media-savvy mom, made a video of herself flipping through offending pages, and it went viral.
Before talking about all that is wrong here, I’d like to point out two aspects of this story that should hearten us all.
First, it shows that speaking up sometimes can effect change. You don’t have to storm the barricades. As the Dalai Lama is reputed to have said, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
Second, Dean-Burren raised her son right.
As for the problems here, they’re complex and deep, and they go far beyond the Texas suburb where Coby attends school, and beyond McGraw-Hill, the company that publishes the textbook. What we face, especially in education, is an aversion to confronting our history. The textbook in question is simply the latest example of national denial, or what Coby’s mom called “erasing history.”
Last March, Teaching Tolerance released a classroom film called Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot. Designed for students in grades 6 through 12, it tells the story of the voting rights movement from the point of view of the high school students who were the movement’s backbone. The students endured verbal and physical abuse daily, and the abusers often used the n-word.
We included the recorded use of that word in the film. It’s part of the story, and it shows how the word was used to support white supremacy. It’s what really happened.
Several teachers objected strongly to that decision. One wrote, “Our board policy is to educate about the word, but not to use it in the classroom, as it draws attention to students of African descent.” OK, I understand not wanting to tokenize students, but how exactly do you educate about something if it can’t be used in the classroom, even in a context that shows it’s repugnant?
Another teacher wrote that she would not use the film because she does not allow racial slurs in her classroom, as “they cause discomfort to many students.” Another wrote, perhaps more honestly, “I do not feel comfortable about the use of the n-word … [T]hough I know it’s historical, I think the message can be made without offensive vocabulary.”
No wonder Dean-Burren worries about erasing history. Forget the textbooks. The problem, dear teachers, lies in ourselves.
Consider the case of the Confederate flag. In Michigan, a place where few students have Confederate ancestors, a group of high school students has appropriated the flag to show that they are “rebels,” like James Dean.
If that is truly how these students interpret the term “rebel” in the Confederate context, their education failed them.
There is no simple solution when it comes to teaching about painful—and shameful—history. Teachers care about their students. They want to build their self-esteem, give them positive messages and set them on a bright path to the future. They’re also aware that, as one teacher wrote to us, “some students and families are very sensitive about the use of that word.”
I wonder, though, who’s really uncomfortable in those classrooms? Let’s review the demographics of U.S. education: Over half of students in public schools are kids of color, while about 80 percent of their teachers are white.
Maybe the discomfort sits not with the students but with the teachers who truly don’t know how to square their concern for students’ well-being with the ugly scars of our nation’s history. What we need is some truth before we can have reconciliation.
As Coby showed us, it’s not like African-American kids don’t know what really happened.
Costello is the director of Teaching Tolerance.
"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships. He left from Spain. He sailed through sunlight, wind and rain."
Columbus Day is the wrong story, a story that injures all of us with its focus on a disoriented European. A better story—and better point of focus—is one that celebrates indigenous peoples who not only pre-date Columbus, but who persist and excel in an often hostile U.S. social and political environment.
Teachers have the power to change the practice of celebrating Columbus to a practice of celebrating indigenous peoples’ presence, endurance and accomplishments. Seattle, Minneapolis, Berkeley and the entire states of South Dakota and Hawaii now celebrate some version of “Indigenous Peoples Day” instead of Columbus Day. There’s even a Wikipedia page describing the holiday designation.
While many schools in 23 states will be closed on Monday, October 12, for the federally recognized honoring of Columbus, 16 states do not recognize this day as a holiday.
It’s clear that the story of the indigenous peoples affected by Columbus—and the colonizers who followed him—is gaining traction in local and state governments, as it should. But teachers also play a crucial role in highlighting that story in a deeper way. Regardless of where your school is located, consider engaging your students in a different story leading up to Columbus Day with one of the following activities:
- Read the story of Columbus from indigenous and Western perspectives to help students understand that historical events have more than one side. Possible Native-authored texts include the comic book The 500 Years of Resistance by Gord Hill (grades 9-12) and Rethinking Schools’ Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, which includes lesson ideas that can be adapted for any grade level, historical documents and creative works. These resources all help replace the “murky legends” with a celebration of indigenous survival.
- Read about indigenous experiences related to colonization beyond the arrival of Columbus. “Connected to Everything” is great for elementary students. You can find middle and high school readings in the text anthology of TT’s anti-bias curriculum, Perspectives for a Diverse America. “The First Americans,” “Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question” and “Proclamation: To the Great White Father (November, 1969)” are a few examples.
- Conduct a mock trial of Columbus. “You Are There: The Mock Trial of Christopher Columbus,” accessible through the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) database, “asks students in grades 6-12 to evaluate statements drawn from primary and secondary sources to determine whether or not Columbus should be found guilty of crimes against humanity.”
- For grades 2-5, read Jane Yolen’s Encounter, a picture book about Columbus’ arrival from a Taino boy’s perspective. He warns his community against welcoming this man, and later in the story, he looks back as an old man at the destruction of his people.
- Have students write letters to the town council or mayor detailing their concerns about honoring Columbus and considerations for honoring the cultures and contributions of indigenous communities in your region. The Persuasive Letters (grades 3-5) and Truth to Power: Writing Letters for Change (grades 6-12) activities in Perspectives are excellent ways to connect class readings and discussions with action.
- Introduce older students to contemporary indigenous practitioners and perspectives such as Drezus, the comedy troupe The 1491s, the documentary Moccasins and Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling through Performance Poetry and Adrienne Keene’s blog, “Native Appropriations.” You can even ask students to tweet on October 12 to these practitioners (or tweet references to their work) as a public antidote to the celebration of Columbus.
Thomas King writes in The Truth About Stories that “stories are medicine” and have the power to injure or heal. Observing a holiday in honor of Columbus and his exploits sends the wrong message. More important, it hurts Native Americans by reinforcing their absence from our national consciousness and hurts those who aren’t Native by lauding the arrival of a European instead of the more impressive healing story of indigenous survival. The indigenous story is more accurate, and it’s a story that students deserve to hear.
If stories are medicine, then the doctor is in. The prescription: Write and speak a healing narrative that honors Native peoples.
*Note: Although the website associated with the “Reconsider Columbus Day” video no longer exists, the video and its message remain powerful and persuasive.
Morris teaches writing and Native American/Indigenous Rhetorics at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.