Make Them Think It’s February Every Month of the Year!

After 25 years as an educator, I finally teach in a school with substantial African American student representation. These young adults are wonderfully confident in expecting their yearly dose of African-American history in February for African-American History Month. I started teaching in January, mid-year, and I was caught off guard by this polite but firm expectation. You can get through a lot of February’s without being called out by Jewish, Yupik Eskimo, or Anglo-European students on how much African-American history you are teaching. I was knee deep in unit planning to try to wow a new supervisor and school, and this was not in the plan. But I honored the request anyway, as though I had planned to do so all along. I got through it and blocked out the lack of continuity that I usually take pride in avoiding.

 

My goal for this year, though, is different. My goal is not to teach a unit for February African-American History Month again.   My goal is to make the students think its February in August all the way through May. African-American history is not a footnote. It’s not 1/9 of anything. It’s not a token obligation to appease 15% of our population.

 

The magnitude, depth, and relevance of this subject matter takes far more than a month, and to insinuate otherwise sends a faulty message as though African-American history is a piece of pie that can be sliced up and chewed upon for a time before moving on to the next pieces, the other more uniform pieces. To endure the pie metaphor a little further, the African-American story would be the sugar and the eggs, whose impact on the entire pie cannot be undone or easily extrapolated, nor should it be, at least not for one month a year.

 

We have nothing to fear by scratching past the surface and taking a hard painful look at the truth. We owe it to all students to let them process, name, hold their own country accountable for, and create change from the acknowledgement of the blood on our hands and skeletons in our closet, as a culture. We owe it to white students and students of color, for different reasons, but the final result for both is freedom and liberation to move forward toward something better for their children.

 

An African-American History Month runs the risk of treating an integral part of our lives as though it can be studied in isolation.   Teachers and texts treat the history of slavery in a similar way, usually placed right before we study the Civil War even though people lived it, wrote about it, endured it, rebelled against it ever since 1619 in the U.S. and since 1497 in the Americas. Moreover, people endured its legacy from 1865 to the present day. The message, though, is that this peculiar albeit shameful institution was here for a time, until Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and a whole bunch of white Union soldiers saved the day, culminating with the Emancipation Proclamation. End of story. Now to the Industrial Revolution.

 

We all need to know so much more, and I do not use the words “all” or “need” lightly. We all need to know, understand, and appreciate the impact of the slave trade- on America and Africa. We need to know, understand, and appreciate the Jim Crow period. We need to honor that part of the American ethos that exists due solely to African-American influences.

 

We need to take the time to be profoundly inspired by the unbelievable heroes, named and unnamed, who organized, rebelled, resisted, disobeyed, suffered, spoke up, created change, and offered hope for the redemption of all of us. We “all” stand on the shoulders of these giants that most of us don’t even know about. A superficial tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. just doesn’t cut it; I know he would agree.

 

We need to know about the pseudo-science ideologies of eugenics and social Darwinism that poisoned European and American culture, whose ideas are intertwined with those of nationalist capitalism that is defining the rules that are shaping globalization today.

 

We need to know that race doesn’t exist but racism does. We need to know that before the invention of racism and race became tools of the elite to divide and conquer the poor and oppressed, there are countless cases in human history where all different colored people came together to work, live, befriend, marry, organize and love.   And there are cases that manage today in spite of the lie of racism.

 

We need to know that racism is unnatural, unholy, and we are responsible for its continued existence. We need to teach our kids all these things and so much more.

 

The African-American story is a living breathing continuous thread throughout the fabric of the American, African and human story. One month isn’t near enough time to touch on the stories that need to be told in African-American History.

To insinuate that it is, is a travesty, and we all lose what has become an essential part of our past and present existence.

 

Tragically, a February African-American History Month appears to be a necessary evil to remind and to force our schools and culture to at least acknowledge something that should not need reminding and should not need to be forced.   But I challenge schools and especially history teachers to make that necessary evil obsolete by giving the year round attention that African-American history deserves.

Make them think it’s February all year! That’s my goal this year.

New Seattle Test Boycott Erupts: Nathan Hale High School votes to refuse to administer a Common Core test

I AM AN EDUCATOR

Today, I found out from my good friend Doug Edelstein that his school community decided to collectively refuse to administer the new Common Core test, the SBAC, to 11th graders. Doug teaches at, and graduated from, Nathan Hale (in fact, my step-dad was a classmate of his).  The Nathan Hale Senate–a body made up of the teachers, administrators, parents and students–voted nearly unanimously that this test was inappropriate. The vote was taken after careful consideration and much discussion and inquiry, including two school community forums — one of which included University of Washington professor of education and renowned scholar on high-stakes testing, Wayne Au.  This is the first year that the SBAC is required in the Seattle Public Schools, and this action represents an escalation of the high-stakes testing resistance that erupted against the MAP test in 2013.  In taking this action, Nathan Hale has became the latest focal point of…

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Bob Shepherd: Humans Tell Stories

Diane Ravitch's blog

Bob Shepherd, veteran designer of curriculum, texts, and educational publishing, explains here why the Common Core is wrong to favor informational text over fiction, argument over narrative.

Shepherd writes:

One of the many things that Coleman didn’t know about ELA (one could make a very long list there) is that getting a handle on narrative is essential. He decided unilaterally, for the rest of us, to de-emphasize narrative in favor of argument.

Narrative is arguably the primary means by which we make sense of the world. Let me tell you a story

Not so long ago. . .

the world was completely different.

Anatomically modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years.
But only since the end of the eighteenth century has artificial lighting been widely used. Gas lamps were introduced in European cities about that time, and electric lights came into use only in the twentieth century.

In other…

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Assessment in California Teacher Education

Nicholas Meier

(This column is adapted from a talk I gave at the University of Kyoto in January, 2012)

Those in the field of assessment often refer to two important standards that assessments are expected to meet, reliability and validity. Reliability meaning that the same results would be obtained if the assessment were given again, or if a different person was scoring the assessment.

Validity means that the assessment actually measures, assesses, what it claims to be measuring/assessing—and whether it predicts how one will perform in the future (Ormrod, 2005).

One type of validity is “face validity”—that is, it is accepted that the assessment actually does measure what it claims to measure, without needing statistical proof that it does. The road test portion of the driving test might be an example of that: We can easily agree that if we want to know if someone knows how to drive, we can sit…

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#NativeAmerican Ways of Educating

Cloaking Inequity

The United States consists of lands that have been considered home to American Indians for thousands of years. Given this continuous relationship to the land there are orientations within American Indian culture that not only honor nature but that promote a relationship of engagement and harmony with the earth that calls upon one’s observational and mindful capacities. This culturally grounded worldview has inherent value for not only American Indian children but all children who now call this land their home. A world view that enhances relational skills with the earth promotes a framework that respects the existence of all living things; understands one’s reciprocal relationship with the earth; the impact that humanity has on the earth and its resources; our obligation in protecting her as well as our responsibility in healing her when humans fail to protect her. These understandings are most activated when in relation to the Earth. Conversely…

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Bad for Solidarity and Message to Critique Specifics of CC

I’ve been resisting this position for a while, but critiquing the specifics of the Common Core may be unnecessary, confusing, and potentially divisive .  I admit I got caught up in it for a while.  I enjoyed the critique of the language arts standards,  reading commentary that points out all the pedagogical and curricular flaws, and it seemed to add one more position that those of us opposing corporate reform and standardized testing could unite on.

I noticed myself, though, not reading too much critique of the math because I was a little afraid that I wouldn’t agree with the critique. I’m not a math teacher, so it didn’t hit a nerve with me, but it all did seem to smack of criticizing something for being a little more difficult to teach and to learn because, well, it is more difficult, especially to a nation of children who don’t usually have to approach math or anything else as an open-ended confusing reflective slow process.  So, again, I didn’t go deep with it because, in retrospect, I was afraid I would disagree with the critique, and I don’t want to disagree.  I disagree with everybody else in the world.  Can I just be united with one group on its major tenets for once in my life?

But then, I started to take a look at the 3 C’s social studies framework, and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. Oh, dear, I think I may like these broad standards, and people I respect hate them. It brought back memories of reading Diane Ravitch’s work on the history standards that I wasn’t completely aligned with in my master’s thesis.  No, I will not disagree with my hero, not right now.  I quickly closed the file to see if I could forget, but of course, unfortunately, I couldn’t forget, nor should I.  I know too much about social studies not to have an opinion.

I bring this up, not because I’m neurotic about disagreeing with people, but because we need to remember the merits of the Common Core standards are irrelevant. What is relevant is how and why they were created and who took part, and how and why they should have been created, and who should have taken part.  We know that the quality of our students’ learning experience has been severely diminished  and anything “good” that may be in the standards wouldn’t get into the test, so we probably won’t be teaching it. That is the relevant travesty that unites us against corporate reform and standardized testing.

When this fight is over, that will be the time for healthy respectful democratic dialogue and debate to negotiate what education should look like.  Now is not the time. Now is the time for unity and to preserve the integrity and clarity of the message.

Stop all the Clocks: You Should Have Made the Cover of Time, John Goodlad.

Last week, I re-blogged Deb Meier’s reflections on November 30 recommending that we ALL read The Public Purpose of Education and Schooling by John Goodlad and Timothy McMannon. (http://deborahmeier.com/2014/11/30/the-public-purpose-of-education-and-schooling/). This morning, I learned that John Goodlad passed away on the evening of November 30.   I only know John Goodlad passed away because after hours of reading his work and interviews online all night, I stumbled into an In Memorium page deep inside some website.

As an avid education news follower, I am stunned that I hadn’t heard of the passing of one my education heroes until my accidental web wandering.  It seems to me we all should all have heard, and it seems to me this nation should have mourned for the loss of this great, thoughtful and gentle man.

We should also take the time to reflect and mourn the loss of having not practiced his ideals and not heeded the recommendations from his unprecedented extensive research.

I hope every educator, administrator, parent, student, and citizen takes Deb Meier’s advice and experiences the eloquent and timeless prose of John Goodlad in The Public Purpose of Education and Schooling. Maybe we could try something new and actually make our actions match our beliefs and aims about education.  That would be the way to honor the life of John Goodlad, democracy, and our youth.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
-Auber