The Atlantic: “We spoke to [Rikers Island Principal Tim] Lisante about his work in District 79, how he plans to help New York City’s court-involved youth, and whether New York state’s graduation requirements are too tough.”
The Christian Science Monitor: “The political tensions have created a fundamental dilemma for teachers: how to make class work relevant while acceding to school efforts to prevent or minimize political blow-ups between students, parents, and administrators with opposing views.”
Education Week: “Instead of using children to promote discord, what if we used their beginner’s minds as a reminder that there is a better course? Uncorrupted by the prejudices that destroy curiosity and breed fear, children love hearing new ideas.”
The Hechinger Report: “Nationally, 52 percent of low-income high school graduates immediately enrolled in college in 2014, compared to 81 percent of high-income students.”
The Hollywood Reporter: “[Get Out] embodies and expresses the African-American experience with infrastructural racism in a way that blacks hope whites will better understand after seeing it.”
National Association of Elementary School Principals: "For years, Tillicum Elementary’s achievement scores were reported as being the lowest in the school district and state. ... Fast forward to 2016, Tillicum Elementary was honored with numerous awards, including the State Achievement Award, National Title I Distinguished School, and Elementary Principal of the Year."
National Public Radio: “[Richard Kahlenberg’s] idea: Create public schools that are more integrated. He helped innovate the use of social and economic indicators to do that—instead of race and ethnicity.”
The New York Times: “When we don’t talk honestly with white children about racism, they become more likely to disbelieve or discount their peers when they report experiencing racism.”
The New York Times: “These 25 short New York Times documentaries ... range in time from 1 to 7 minutes and tackle issues of race, bias and identity.”
ThinkProgress: “‘I just want to be an advocate for boys or girls, anybody who is trying out for a sport and has a religion and they feel like their faith can interfere with the way they play sports. ... It shouldn’t be that way.’”
The Washington Post: “The Trump administration is seeking to cut $9.2 billion—or 13.5 percent—from the Education Department’s budget.”
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.
I needed a snow day on a recent Friday.
It didn’t happen. Nope. Not even a delay.
My two daughters had a snow day. I, on the other hand, had deep, deep anger.
I should have taken a day, but making lesson plans for my classes this year is more stress than being in an angry frenzy.
I was bitter.
My students and some of my colleagues entered the building in a funk. My seniors and I just gave each other “the look.” Our eyes silently communicated our dismay.
We weren’t the only school in the snowiest U.S. city to be open and on time; it just felt that way.
My anger dissipated as I began to teach. It was replaced by purpose. My lesson was on “-isms”: capitalism, socialism, communism and fascism. It was a great lesson. But it also involved the scariest student conversation I have overheard in my entire teaching career.
For 22 school years, I have taught about these “-isms.” This year, however, two students reacted to fascism positively. Luckily, it was only two students, but I wonder how many other students are seeing the merits of extreme nationalism, instead of recoiling in disgust at its historical consequences.
Students tend to be like hamsters trying to escape their cages at the end of class, so most of the students were rushing to return their tablets and packing up their huge backpacks when I heard it: Two male students were discussing their thoughts concerning my lesson, and the exchange went something like this:
Student A: “I agree with
extreme nationalism. If we don’t put our country first, we will never prosper.”
Student B: “Yeah, I would have made a good Nazi.”
Maybe these two adolescents were trying to be provocative or funny. Maybe they simply felt a naive connection to fascism. Maybe. Or, quite possibly, I am teaching in a new time. Maybe I will look back and see this year as a turning point. I do not have a crystal ball, but I am disturbed. When I taught eighth-grade social studies, I used to show a corny movie, The Wave, based on a California teacher’s classroom experiment in the 1960s to show his students how people came to support the Nazi regime. Maybe I should show that movie again. Or would I be told that I was being political? My administration has warned us educators to not share our political views. I agree that I have a very influential position as a high school social studies teacher, but I also have a responsibility.
Luckily, the lake-effect machine gave me a snow day on Monday.
Monday’s snow day gave me time to write this reflection.
In the words of another student, “Snow days are savage.” So is teaching in 2017.
Brown is a high school social studies teacher who is exploring teaching in the age of Trump.
I picked up the ringing phone yesterday to hear the voice of a colleague. “Maureen,” she said, “I just got a call from a JCC director who needs advice.”
I began a mental inventory of our resources on combatting anti-Semitism when my colleague continued: “They’ve been having bomb threats and evacuations. The children are anxious and asking questions like, ‘Why is this happening to us?’”
That stopped me cold. I knew institutions like Jewish community centers (JCCs), synagogues and Jewish day schools (along with mosques) around the country have been getting bomb threats. According to the Anti-Defamation League, as of March 15, there have been 165 such anti-Semitic threats this year in the United States and Canada. The JCC on Staten Island where my son had played youth basketball was targeted, and a friend posted on Facebook, angry that her child in daycare was repeatedly sent outside to wait in the cold while police checked the building. But this question brought home what it felt like to the children most affected by the threats.
“Why is this happening to us?”
Who really wants to have to explain to a 4-year-old why complete strangers hate Jews so much that they would make such threats? I’m supposed to have ready advice for such matters, but I stumbled on this one.
Because I just don’t get it. Even though I know about implicit bias, scapegoating, hate crimes and genocide, I really don’t understand what happens to a human mind and heart to produce this behavior. Like the caregivers at this JCC, I cringed at having to explain this darkness to children.
We like to preserve the innocence of children and focus only on the positive. I thought of the blog I’d written after the Boston Marathon bombing, which recalled Fred Rogers’ advice to “look for the helpers.” Shaping the narrative is a privilege that comes from living in a country where, for most (but not all) of us, tragedy is relatively rare and where it’s possible to imagine that we can always protect the children. That kind of narrative isn’t available to children in Syria, Afghanistan or South Sudan. How do adults in those places explain the world to their kids? How do they answer the question, “Why is this happening to us?”
Part of my mind rebels against shielding kids, and not just because other children around the world are in danger every day. Why pretend that the world is safe when we know it’s not? Teaching Tolerance advocates for honesty with kids when it comes to racism and other forms of injustice. We’re not for whitewashing or erasing unpleasant truths, but we think these truths need to be told within stories of empowerment. Children need to know that injustice exists and that there are those who will protect them and fight for righteousness.
All of this ran through my mind as I thought about what to offer the JCC director and all the others who are struggling to navigate the xenophobia and hatred that’s mushrooming across this land.
But I can’t get that question out of my mind.
Costello is the director of Teaching Tolerance.
Are we losing our humanity? If indeed “love is a many splendored thing,” as a 1950’s songwriter writes, why is it that this current moment in our American political and social history seems to be one of unadulterated hatefulness, fear, divisiveness and deliberate unkindness? For the noisy hate groups on the fringes of our nation, hate is the result of fearing difference, of fearing that the “good ole days” are a distant past, never to be repeated. But those who value diversity in true democracy will ensure that the hands of time and progress will not turn back.
It is precisely this unwillingness to accept progress that explains the rise of hate groups, particularly white nationalist groups that are actively recruiting for membership. While the days of terrorizing whole towns on the basis of racial victimization like Rosewood, Florida, are gone, church burnings, church shootings and other hate crimes are still perpetrated in the name of some alleged religious teachings and an illusory “white racial purity.” The current trend in recruiting for and promoting these desperate groups—as in recent cases in Denver, Colorado, and in Dahlonega, Georgia—reminds us that the fear of the ethnic, racial, gendered, sexual and differently abled Other is still very real.
But even as the numbers of hate groups and hate crimes increase, Americans must be mindful that such groups and heinous acts of violence have defined our nation’s very identity and landscape. What would the United States be without the genocide of American Indians? Yet indigenous sports mascots and names persist in supposed homage to American Indian culture or heritage, though it is just the opposite.
A study of American history reveals that our version of police started not as a way to fight crime, but as white males during Reconstruction who were charged with controlling freed slaves. During the same period, the Ku Klux Klan began to keep black people “in their place” through intimidation, hatemongering and race baiting. And cultural appropriation and misrepresentations were another form of keeping black people in their place.
This history—and the present that results from it—indicates that my own and my colleagues’ work in Arizona State University’s Project Humanities is needed now more than ever. We’re building and promoting comprehensive programming around seven principles: kindness, respect, integrity, forgiveness, compassion, empathy and self-reflection. In spring 2017, Project Humanities reveals the new theme song for its Humanity 101 Movement, “Humanity (Love Is in the Air),” written by the late rock guitarist Dick Wagner and produced by the legendary Motown icon Bobby Taylor of Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. The song is an R&B-rock hybrid, a musical testimony and a challenge to each of us to shed our individual vanity and to meet violence with creativity. After all, what is a social movement without a song to energize and to sustain community?
The work of educators, socially conscious people and other “woke” individuals will persist. We cannot and will not lose ourselves by bending to or otherwise legitimizing the inhumane actions of those who grab the headlines and the news crawls. We will remain focused and even more vigilant to ensure that our individual and shared humanity is greater than the fear others have of American progress defined by “liberty and justice for all.” We can use our knowledge of these growing hate groups and the historical contexts of their hate to strengthen our position of resistance and resolve. As James Baldwin put it, “The great force of [American] history comes in the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”
Lester is a foundation professor of English and founding director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University.
Editor’s note: This post is part three of a series on teaching and learning how to know in 2017. Find part one, a discussion of key terms from cognitive science and media literacy, here. Find part two, a classroom example of teaching about confirmation bias, here.
In my eighth-grade Global Thinking class, we talk often about the importance of keeping up with the news. I encourage students to consume a variety of news sources, and they regularly bring in articles, videos and links to share. Many become avid followers of the news, echoing the statement of one focus-group participant highlighted in the Knight Foundation’s report “How Youth Navigate the News Landscape”:
I just think it’s important to be a productive member of society and be aware of what’s going on around you. You know, like—it sounds really cheesy and cliché, but we all affect everything around us inadvertently and directly, so it’s like important, at least for like my generation, to know what’s going on in the world.
The Knight Foundation’s report, published in March 2017, is a must-read for educators working with students on how to know, and it can serve as a classroom tool. I shared the focus-group member’s statement with my students, and they agreed that they have a responsibility to keep up with what’s happening. We then had a discussion in which we reflected on why it’s become harder now “to know what’s going on in the world.”
Students noted there’s so much news that it can be overwhelming to keep pace and that it’s difficult to find news sources that are accessible to them. They were eager to reflect on the impact of social media. They felt that it can have an isolating effect, which led us to discuss the concept of “echo chambers,” the idea that we increasingly live online—and perhaps in real life—in closed systems of political consensus and like-minded thinking. They also understood that social media creates an environment in which clicks matter more than precision and depth; one particularly savvy student even lamented the “profit-driven” media seeking advertising revenue at the expense of clarity and accuracy. And, of course, they were well aware of related concerns about fake news, which they saw as a problem uniquely suited to social media.
With a bit of facilitating, most of the conversation ended up focusing on the challenges of trust and credibility. I shared a trove of data with them from Gallup, among other sources, to give them a broader picture of Americans’ sense of mistrust in the media. We probed further in our discussion, with students able to see how political polarization can play a major role in reducing trust. They were shocked by data from the Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media showing that voters across the political spectrum consume media from vastly different sources, which is consistent with existing trends in partisan media habits. They were also surprised to find out that, while fake news receives a lot of attention, its actual impact (including on the 2016 election) is thought to be rather minimal.
At this point, I reminded students about confirmation bias and motivated reasoning, the cognitive habits that explain how we tend to overvalue our own logic to more readily believe arguments that support our worldview, and how we struggle to accept evidence that contradicts our own assumptions. We then looked at data from the Pew Research Center showing that “[a] majority of U.S. adults (59%) reject the idea of adding interpretation, saying that the news media should present the facts alone” when reporting the news.
One student, with gears turning, saw an issue emerging. I’m paraphrasing, but she asked something like, “Isn’t it a problem that people are getting news from sources they trust and that they trust those sources only because they reinforce what they already think?” Another student picked up the thread, thinking in particular about the Pew findings on interpretation and facts: “What one person considers ‘interpretation’ another might just consider ‘factual,’ right? If you like the argument, you’ll accept it as fact. If you don’t, you’ll say it’s biased and ignore it.”
There was a silence in the classroom as students began sensing the profundity of the issue before us. I asked them what kinds of things we’ve done in class to learn how to know well. They immediately brought up a key through-line of our class, Chimamanda Adichie’s idea of the “danger of a single story,” a mental construct for avoiding one-sided stories, questioning established narratives and scrutinizing our assumptions. They talked about using a variety of sources and letting evidence guide their thinking.
As class finished up, we read Steve Inskeep’s “A Finder’s Guide to Facts,” in which the NPR host offers up tips for savvy news consumers to operate in what he calls the “post-trust” era (instead of the more popular—and more problematic—“post-truth” era). My students were inspired by his suggestions, especially the practice of reflecting on the emotional response to an article and the importance of consuming news from across the political spectrum.
It was the last class before our spring break. I asked students, as always, to follow the news during our two weeks off with a particular emphasis on reading a variety of sources and finding articles that contradict their viewpoints. They agreed to step up to this challenge, eager to apply what they were learning about the ways our cognitive habits and the knowledge landscape make it harder to know now.
As I reflect on these and other lessons, it’s become clear how vital it is for teachers to wade into the complexities of teaching students how to know. They certainly want to learn; we certainly need them to.
Gold is a seventh- and eighth-grade history teacher at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island.