The Atlantic: “The school is a place of welcome for teenagers who are refugees, asylum-seekers, and other recent immigrants. The aim is to give students who speak little English—and often had little formal education in their home countries—the skills to graduate from high school and thrive in the U.S.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Ohio schools dole out up to 36,000 suspensions to elementary students each year —a number that stunned a Republican lawmaker into seeking a ban on many suspensions and expulsions.”
CNN: “‘The DOJ should be a champion for all students’ civil rights and by signaling a willingness to be bound by the injunction nationwide they ae [sic] certainly signaling they aren’t intending to pursue civil rights for transgender people.’”
The Huffington Post: “[Artist Erica] Deeman then wondered, if she created images depicting black men in a more dignified light, would they have the power to shatter expectations with no firm footing in reality?”
Mark Maynard: “I was being silenced, it seemed, because it was not okay to make a female of color feel safe if it also meant that a white male would be made to feel uncomfortable.”
National Public Radio: “‘In looking at this issue, people seem to want a quick solution to fake news, but I’m not sure there is a solution (at least an easy one). … Students need to recognize that these skills and ideas need to stay with them through adulthood.’”
The New York Times: “To talk about how we got where we are today, we have to start with slavery and see how the justice system took over as a system of social control.”
The New York Times: “What makes someone American? How do you define American identity? When do you feel most American? Or least?”
Teen Vogue: “Jackie was born in the United States, which automatically makes her a citizen. But her mom was born in Mexico. That difference, and its consequences, might appear obvious for young adults, but Jackie got a crash course in immigration law while she was still in grade school.”
Vox: “‘Kids were sobbing, especially immigrant children, saying they were going to get sent back to Guinea, Senegal, Yemen. They were totally distraught.’”
The Washington Post: “Now, ICE knows exactly where to find [Jeanette] Vizguerra. The question is whether they will enter a church to retrieve her.”
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.
“Black lives matter at school.”
This affirming—and crucial—statement marks the agenda for today, February 17, 2017, in Rochester City School District. Students, educators, support staff, administrators and community partners are coming together to observe “Black Lives Matter at School: A Day of Understanding and Affirmation.”
In a letter to families and students, Rochester City School District explains the event’s purpose: “This day was created to affirm the lives of black children, who represent the majority of students we serve, and to promote understanding that will strengthen our community. Racial equity will not happen unless people are willing to talk about race, and this day is one important step in that process.”
That understanding—the need for schools to affirm black students and move toward racial equity, in part, through dialogue around race—was central to the efforts to establish “Black Lives Matter at School” in the district. In November 2016, a small group of teachers, administrators, parents and community organizers, including local Black Lives Matter activists, formed a committee. Their objective: to create a day of action for educational communities to “grappl[e] with the past, present and future status of [b]ack lives in our nation” and to “affirm that [b]lack lives matter in all of our lives.”
One member of the organizing committee is Chris Widmaier, a high school educator and a 2016 recipient of the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching. Widmaier says the day’s programming is a response to a couple of different incidents.
“One, our entire boys' varsity soccer team [at World of Inquiry School #58] took a knee at a soccer game during the national anthem,” he says, “and [that] sparked a conversation within our school and in the news and in the community about that action.” Widmaier addressed the protest as a teachable moment with his students; yet he saw the need for a larger, district-wide response.
A few weeks later, on the other side of the country, schools and educators across Seattle Public Schools took steps to understand and affirm that black lives matter, garnering national news coverage. Widmaier says, “I had a couple of different parents and teachers and people that I … talk[ed] to about all of this, and it led to us saying, ‘Let's put together a meeting. Let's sit down, and let's see what can do about it.’
With its first meeting on the schedule, the newly formed committee got to work, seeking to address racial inequity in education systematically. Widmaier says, “We agreed, from the very beginning, Black Lives Matter is about self-determination. It's about black voices being out front. We knew that it was a tricky line … because we're trying to educate and help students that are black find a voice and find leadership. That's empowering rather than coopting.”
For Widmaier, who is white, the organizing committee itself provided a sustained space to engage in dialogue around race and racism, and to be critically conscious about what advocating for Black Lives Matter looks like in a district where, as of the 2015-16 school year, 59.3 percent of students are black and 75.5 percent of the teaching corps is white.
Early on, the committee drafted an organizing document with the key objective of establishing a district-wide day to affirm the value of black lives and the concerns driving the organizing agenda of the Black Lives Matter movement. This document, in turn, helped articulate the committee’s objective publically and helped engage community members. Widmaier says, “It's been a really open table and we really maintain this attitude of, ‘Anybody who wants to come to the table and participate, or just try to understand what we're doing better, is welcome to come and be a part of our organizing committee meetings.’”
The committee studied up on how to present a resolution to the Rochester Teachers Association (RTA), and then presented a resolution before the RTA’s Representative Assembly. This resolution states, “[S]chools should be places for the practice of equity, for the building of understanding, and for the active engagement of all in creating pathways to freedom and justice for all people.” It passed unanimously, with the RTA endorsing and encouraging district teachers to participate in a “day of understanding” that affirms that black lives matter at school.
Next, the Rochester Board of Education voted to adopt a similar resolution, making “Black Lives Matter at School” an official initiative of the district. Then, the Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester passed a similar resolution. The district developed an instructional resource toolkit, communicated with staff and families, and offered professional development resources. At one of the professional development sessions offered, led by Widmaier, local Black Lives Matter activists spoke with teachers, followed by a group viewing and discussion of the Teaching Tolerance webinar Let’s Talk! Discussing Black Lives Matter With Students.
Today—the actual day of the event—the affirmation, dialogue, reflection and learning continues. Although participation among staff is voluntary, it’s expected that many classroom teachers and support staff will implement lessons or hold guided conversations around topics like race and Black Lives Matter. Some schools have organized book groups for teachers, with such titles as The New Jim Crow and For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood ... and the Rest of Y'all Too, that either kick off or culminate today. There’s also a district-wide art contest, “What Does Black Lives Matter Mean to You?” for students in grades 7-12, which some teachers are using as their main activity. And the organizing committee and district leadership have encouraged staff to wear visible affirmations, such as t-shirts, pins and buttons, to their workplaces.
Widmaier sees “Black Lives Matter at School” as a catalyst to build energy and momentum to affirm that black lives matter in Rochester—and everywhere else. “Versus some sort of mandatory racism training that we're pushing everybody to do one workshop,” he says, “this is more about people thinking about their own mindset, examining their own biases and taking action, working together to correct things we notice need to be corrected.”
Lindberg is a writer and associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.
On Wednesday, February 8, I woke up early to take advantage of my house’s predawn quiet for lesson planning. The day before, I had taken a social media break, something I am doing more often these days. When I checked Facebook, I came late to the news that someone had brought white nationalism to the forefront of the campus where I teach the day before.
As I read in horror, I had a conversation with myself that I have been having a lot lately:
I have no time for this.
I have no energy for this.
I have no choice.
So before the sun came up, I made the decision to throw out my plan for the day and dig deep into the story on my campus. I had no choice.
“Modify and adjust. Modify and adjust.” We learned these words in our education classes, in our first years of teaching: They are the pillars for the work we have ahead of us.
How do we modify and adjust when the news is shifting so quickly? When we are bound by prescriptive standards and curricula? When we feel fear of being accused of being “too political” in our classrooms? When we already do not have time to teach what we want to teach, need to teach and feel called to teach—all three of which can be competing on a daily basis?
Yet, we need to find space in our plans to address pressing issues of the day. We have no choice. As teachers, we are here to help students make sense of the world around them. We can find space to teach and discuss timely issues when we have to, like I had to do last Wednesday. It wasn’t a normal day.
Here’s how I found that instructional space: I used our campus as a text in tandem with the texts I had already been teaching. That day’s reading dealt with oppression and silencing—and the resistance people enact when they are oppressed and silenced. When I realized that I could connect the campus incidents with the texts I had assigned, I knew I had to learn more about the group that had hung their white nationalism hate on our campus—and specifically on top of the posters advertising our campus’s Vagina Monologues performances.
Now the sun was coming out. My daughter would be up soon.
I have no time for this.
I have no choice.
Texts are our foundation. When making the decision to modify and adjust, we have little time. We quickly ask: What texts are available to me?
Fortunately, a citizen media source had done a story about the white nationalist posters the night of the event. I was able to make copies of it and ask students to read it at the start of class. Only a handful of students had heard about the event, so I asked them to write a response to the story and gave them some space to process what had happened.
I then used the Twitter feed of the white nationalist group as a text. I wanted students to contextualize what happened on our campus as part of the larger narrative the group wanted to create. (I am purposely not naming them or sharing any of their materials, as I do not want to give them a platform.) I asked students to respond to these tweets and images and to do close reading of the posters.
Then I showed them the group’s official website. Students closely read the home page image, the language the group uses, the photos of the group’s leadership. We analyzed the group’s slogans and used them to discuss rhetoric and audience—and appropriation of language that speaks to diversity. I asked them to think about intersectionality and to complicate their responses with an eye toward gender analysis.
Finally, I showed them the group’s Facebook page, specifically the response to our campus’s photos of the incident. I asked them to talk about the dangers of someone on our campus hearing they are doing “God’s work” when spreading hateful images.
I had to find those texts and used them as a call to action for my students. I ended by asking them what they are going to do—because they wanted to do something. Some met with members of the administration. Others committed to supporting campus events. Some talked about the work they do to disrupt racism and sexism in conversation.
Later in the day, a story in the campus paper came out. My students already had the context, the critical analysis and the passion to help their friends make sense of what had happened on their campus only 24 hours before.
I think that Wednesday was one of the most important days of my teaching career. I modified and adjusted the day after the Columbine shootings. After 9/11. After white nationalism reared its ugly head in my community.
We never have time.
We never have a choice.
Clemens is the associate professor of non-Western literatures and director of Women's and Gender Studies at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.
Current research confirms that bilingual children learn faster and that learning additional languages also supports other types of learning. The cognitive benefits of bilingualism cover the entire lifespan and even include protection against some forms of dementia. It makes sense for schools to support the development of such a useful competency, and bilingual books can be very helpful in that effort.
But finding enough quality bilingual books at appropriate levels in all desired languages presents a challenge. There are certain types of books for which bilingual editions may prove disappointing at best and awkward at worst. Here are some examples of the types of books to watch out for, followed by ideas for the types of books worth seeking out.
What Doesn’t Work
Books with rhymes
Have you ever tried to read Dr. Seuss in Spanish? Unfortunately, both the rhythm and the wonderful “singsong” nature of his rhymes are lost in translation. You don’t need to speak a second language to understand that the preservation of rhythm and rhyme in translation usually requires a complete rewrite.
Books with wordplay
Wordplay is particularly enchanting for students in early grades. It’s also a great way to introduce humor in reading. But attempts at translation often fail because translated words rarely retain the corresponding double meaning.
Although one can find pairs of words beginning with the same letter in two languages, as a rule, a word’s translation would not bear such a resemblance. In addition, many languages have at least some differences in their alphabets, rendering the side-by-side use of each letter difficult or impossible.
Books rich with cultural references or themes
Culture-specific terms can be translated, but they usually require multiple-word explanations. Also, different cultural norms may cause a translation to be perceived as insensitive in one of the languages. Therefore, stories with universal themes work best.
Although these examples show that some books may be unsuitable for quality bilingual editions, they still present opportunities for provocative discussions about language with bilingual students. Assigning young students the task of translating a simple rhyme, for example, can help them experience one of many translation challenges they may face.
For pre-K, “pictionaries” are ideal for teaching single words bilingually in any language. In K–2, when picture and chapter books dominate reading lists, side-by-side bilingual editions become very useful to introduce new vocabulary and to help build connections between two languages.
These bilingual or dual-language editions also help affirm the value of languages and create an environment of positive acceptance by teachers and peers. Children’s eagerness to fit in with their peers motivates them to learn desirable skills, but also to abandon anything that is perceived as unpopular by their reference group. In an era of increasing xenophobia, teachers can use bilingual books to emphasize positive contributions of all nationalities and to confront misperceptions about foreign cultures and languages.
While we know that speaking additional languages has benefits, it is important that children themselves buy into this knowledge. Bilingual books open the door to conversations about the pragmatic advantages of all languages. Usefulness when traveling or when others need translation are practical illustrations.
Bilingual editions present special challenges, since not all books are suitable for side-by-side, dual-text presentation. The problems can be many, and vetting bilingual editions in both languages is important. Since it’s not always possible to do this for all languages, vetting a publisher, an editor or a particular writer may be easier. Boston-based Babl Books, for example, specializes in dual-language editions in many languages for pre-K to second grade. They are committed to the mission of providing access to bilingual books and use an innovative model of translation that utilizes a combination of crowdsourcing and trusted editors. Because bilingual editions are their specialty, they are experts at avoiding the pitfalls that are common in this type of book.
Thinking about languages is in itself a developmental exercise and it can help build cognitive connections across a broad range of disciplines and subjects. I encourage educators to take the time to find bilingual books that work well in this regard. But even unfortunate translations, when used creatively, offer opportunities for discussion and reflection, which may foster new ways of making interdisciplinary cognitive connections.
Berlin has written several bilingual children’s books, including one published by Babl Books. Learn about her work at deliaberlin.com.
It is important for educators to combat the tokenization of Black History Month. Students deserve to learn about and engage in black history and narratives throughout the year, not just encounter them in supplemental material relegated to one month. Equally important: ensuring that our curricula do not present a narrow, monolithic narrative about black history that omits certain voices and identity groups. One way to avoid such neglect is to teach about black LGBTQ people’s lived experiences, stories and contributions to our nation.
As educators, we must do a better job. For instance, teachers need to allow Bayard Rustin to ascend to his rightful place in the civil rights pantheon. Several texts, such as this moving BuzzFeed article and this PBS special, are engaging pieces that educators can use to teach about Rustin’s activism and life. Another classroom resource is Teaching Tolerance’s four-part lesson series for grades 9–12 on Rustin, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry and Pauli Murray.
Other activists also deserve their place in our historical narrative. From Stonewall to Black Lives Matter, black LGBTQ people have played a crucial part in shaping the discourse around justice and belonging in the United States.
Although he is straight and cisgender, it is important to note the historical and unprecedented role President Barack Obama played in advancing LGBTQ rights, both domestically and abroad. President Obama appointed black LGTBQ judges Darrin P. Gayles and Staci Michelle Yandle to federal judiciaries. His State Department univocally declared that “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights once and for all.” President Obama also presided over the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the passing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and played a pivotal role in the litigation of marriage equality. Our nation’s first black president should be taught as the advocate for LGBTQ rights his legacy presents.
Social studies curriculum is not the only discipline in which black LGBTQ people should be highlighted. English teachers need to deepen their reservoir of black authors to disrupt single stories and expand students’ understandings of intersectional identities. Jacqueline Woodson’s The House You Pass on the Way and After Tupac and D Foster are excellent young adult pieces that explore the intersection of race and sexuality in nuanced and powerful ways. High school teachers have some of the finest writers in James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Octavia Butler and Audre Lorde to explore with their curricula. The recent documentary about James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro, would make an excellent resource in a high school English classroom.
Contemporary black LGBTQ individuals also deserve their place in our classrooms. Frank Ocean’s highly lauded album Blonde features several songs that deserve to be explored from a critical literacy perspective. Memoirs such as Charles Blow’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones and Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness offer accounts of how racial identities intersect with sexuality and gender identity, respectively. Finally, the award-winning film Moonlight, a coming-of-age story about being black and gay in Miami, could be used to explore visual literacy and narrative.
As educators, we must make sure our students understand how black LGBTQ people have shaped and continue to shape our culture and society. And we must acknowledge that a myriad of figures who are not commonly taught exist throughout our history. It’s time to bring their experiences and stories to the forefront of our own and our students’ understandings of American history.
Miller teaches ninth-grade English language arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K-12 laboratory school. He is also a recipient of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching.