Nov 27, 2011

Inspiration vs. Appropriation

Earlier this week my family was packing up to head out of town for Thanksgiving. My kids were being goofy (a regular occurrence) and somehow the word pelvis came up. My youngest giggled wildly about the word pelvis and asked if there was anything that rhymed with it. "Elvis used to be called 'Elvis the Pelvis' " I told her.

"Why?" she asked. And so I found her a YouTube video of Elvis performing on the Milton Berle show in 1956. While she watched and imitated Elvis' famous pelvic moves, I scrolled down the list of videos to see if there were any other good examples of Elvis the Pelvis. In with the Elvis footage was a video of Big Mama Thornton singing "Hound Dog." I played it for my kids who asked, "Which one came first: Elvis' version or Big Mama Thornton's?" My husband and I gave an impromptu little lesson about the history of black music, explaining that a lot of popular music has roots in black culture but didn't become popular until a white, mainstream artist performed it.

Then at my parents house over the holiday, a similar conversation occurred. My mom and dad recently watched a documentary about famed songwriters Leiber & Stoller, who incidentally wrote the song "Hound Dog." Leiber grew up surrounded by black folks in Baltimore. He was not just influenced by black culture, he was in it. He went to schools that were predominantly black, and helped his mom run a store that was in a black neighborhood. He said it was his experiences in black culture that allowed him to write music for black artists. Leiber and Stoller's first big hit was "Hound Dog," which they originally wrote  for Big Mama Thornton; but it didn't become popular until Elvis sang it.

Were Leiber and Stoller inspired by black culture? Or did they appropriate a style of music from black culture that didn't belong to them? Were they paying homage to a culture by popularizing black music? or were they profiting from a culture that wasn't theirs to profit from?

I've been thinking about the notion of inspiration vs. appropriation for several months. Conversations about the movie The Help over the summer, an interesting read on Racialicious, a spirited chat on the podcast Is That Your Child? about Halloween costumes, and an interview on the Mixed Chicks Chat podcast all left me thinking about the difference between honoring a culture and stealing/profiting from it. How do we decide the difference between inspiration and appropriation?

Image Credit: Flickr/brittany0177
The book and movie The Help stirred up a lot of controversy because of the fact that it is a story about the black experience written by a white woman. Many negative responses to both the book and the movie centered on the question, "When do people of color get to tell their own story?" The author, Kathryn Stockett, states that her story is based on memories from her own life. Is she inspired by the black women from her past? Or is she appropriating the story of black women, telling a story that isn't necessarily hers to tell?

Mixed Chicks Chat (a live weekly podcast about the mixed experience)  episode 225 featured a man by the name of Phil Wilkes Fixico (read a story about him here.) His mixed experience involved an amazing story: at age 52, Fixico discovered through research that he is a descendant of the Seminole Maroons-- slaves who escaped in the 18th and 19th century to live in Spanish Florida near the Seminole Indians. Their cultures intermixed, creating an African-Seminole cultural experience. Fixico discussed the fact that Seminole Maroon experience is a story that needs to be told, that more people should learn about this intersection of African and Native American history. His mission is to share this history, and he suggested that the best way to spread the word is to get someone from the dominant culture (i.e. someone white, European-American) to write about it. He argued that more people will listen if the story is told by a member of the dominant culture.

Image Credit: Flickr/ronocdh
Since that episode aired, I have been thinking about his statement.

Will the dominant culture only pay attention to a story if it is told  by one of their own?  

Both Leiber & Stoller and Elvis brought a lot of attention to black music. Without their inspiration/appropriation of black culture, what would music sound like today? The Help started a lot of conversations about race that weren't happening prior to its release. Many white women in particular who read the book/saw the movie are seeing issues of race from a perspective they had never before considered. Without that inspiration/appropriation, would those conversations have occurred? Will more people learn about the story Phil Wilkes Fixico wants to share, the story of Black Seminole Maroons, if it is told by a white/European-American?

I don't have answers here, just questions. In fact, the more I think about it the more questions I have. When I talked to my husband about the concept of cultural appropriation he told me a story about walking to work and seeing a group of Japanese college students dressed in hip hop attire. He asked: are they appropriating black culture? Or is their expression of hip hop culture not considered cultural appropriation because they aren't members of the dominant European-American culture?

What do you think? What constitutes cultural appropriation? What is the difference between inspiration and appropriation? 

Will the dominant culture listen to a story that comes straight from the source? or does it need that inspiration/appropriation to happen before it can learn to appreciate other cultures?

Nov 15, 2011

In Your Dreams: Whoopi Goldberg Stand-Up Routine Remixed

Long before she was on The View, Whoopi Goldberg was an amazing stand-up comedian whose work always made me laugh and THINK. She somehow always had a way of using humor to stop me in my tracks and see things from another perspective. I admire the way she uses humor to make people stop and think, to question the status quo.

In her original Broadway show Whoopi Goldberg: Live on Broadway, she did a piece that really challenges people's perceptions about external appearances. Here is a young man's version of that piece that I found to be very powerful (thanks to my mom for sending it to me!)

If you never had the chance to see Whoopi's stand-up, you can check out one routine here from the revival of her 1985 Broadway show, Back to Broadway (warning: some swear words are used in this routine.)

Nov 13, 2011

Un Meme: Sólo por Diversión | A Meme: Just for Fun

Why I love octubre/October!
¡Que divertido! Mi amiga, Ezzy de EzzyLanguzzi, compartio este meme con migo a semana. Gracias! Me que me ayudó a practicar un poco más español. 

Aquí les dejo mis respuestas:

What fun! My friend, Ezzy from EzzyLanguzzi, shared this meme with me last week. Thank you! You helped me practice a little more Spanish.

Here are my responses:

¿Qué fue lo primero que le viste a tu pareja cuando se conocieron?
What was the first thing I noticed of my husband's when I met him?
Sus ojos
His eyes

¿A dónde te gustaría ir de luna de miel?
Where would I like to go on a honeymoon?
Venice (before it sinks!)

¿Te consideras una persona aventurera?
Do I consider myself an adventurous person?
No es tan aventurero como yo de tener hijos.
Not as adventurous since I had kids.

¿Tienes algún secreto tuyo que nuca le hayas contado a nadie?
Do you have a secret you've never shared with anybody?
No. Al menos una persona lo sabe todo.
No. At least one person knows everything.

¿Playa o piscina?
Beach or pool?

¿Verano o invierno?
Summer or winter?

¿Besos of abrazos?
Kisses or hugs?

¿Dulce o saldado?
Sweet or salty?
Dulce y salado! ... cubiertas de chocolate pretzels
Sweet and salty! ... chocolate-covered pretzels

¿Fresa o chocolate?
Strawberry or chocolate?
¿Qué hay de fresas cubiertas de chocolate?
How about chocolate-covered strawberries?

¿Blanco o negro?
Black or white?

¿Color favorito?
Favorite color?

¿Cuál es tu película favorita?
Your favorite movie?

¿Juego de mesa favorito?
Your favorite table game?
Euchre (un juego de cartas)
Euchre (a card game)

¿Cuál es tu bebida favorita?
What's your favorite drink?

¿Cual es tu trago favorito?
What is your favorite [alcoholic] beverage?

¿Cuál es tu mes favorito?
Your favorite month?

¿Qué es lo primero que piensas al despertar?
What's the first thing you think about when you wake up?
lavar la ropa y las tareas del mañana
doing laundry and morning chores

¿Perdonarías una infidelidad de tu pareja?
Would you forgive infidelity on the part of your spouse?

¿Cuántos timbrazos antes de contestar el telefono?
How many rings before you answer the phone?

¿Sabes guardar secretos?
Do you know how to keep secrets?
I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you ;-) (Spy humor that I have no idea how to say in español!)

¿Dices tu edad verdadera?
Do you tell your honest age?

¿Te consideras timida o extrovertida?
Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
An introvert

¿Que hay debajo de tu cama?
What's under your bed?
Fuera de temporada la ropa
Off-season clothing (and maybe a lot of other stuff I don't want to look at what kids have hidden under there!)

¿Has faltado a clases/al trabajo sólo por el clima?
Have you missed school or work due to the weather?

¿Cuánto tiempo tienes con este blog?
How long have you had this blog?
Casi un año
Almost one year

I apologize for any errors in español here...ha sido durante muchos años since I studied, and I never really got that far in my studies! Gracias a Dios por my Spanish-English dictionary and traductor Google :D

Le paso este juegito a unas amigas queridas, gracias por todo su apoyo ... I'm passing this little game to a few of my dear friends, some of them are the same friends Ezzy listed (I hope that's not cheating!)  The Lifestory of a Bookworm (Jessica), Bicultural Mom(Chantilly), Motherhood in Mexico (Leslie), Me and the Mexican (Tara), and  Growing Up Blackxican (Ruby)

Nov 8, 2011

A Letter to the 2012 Presidential Candidates: #BlogIn2011

Not all families are the same. What the government has referred to as "family values" does not represent the values of most diverse and multicultural families. Those "family values"are not shared by my family, my friends, or my neighbors. Something needs to change. Please join me in speaking out about the family values that really matter in today's world.
Dear 2012 Presidential Candidates, We are your future constituents and we are parents. We are American mothers and fathers and grandparents and guardians. Our families might be the most diverse in the world. Blended and combined in endless permutations, we represent every major religion, political ideology and ethnic culture that exists. We are made from equal parts biology and choice. Our children come to us in every way possible—including fertility miracles, adoption, and remarriage.
Our very modern families embody the freedom that defines America. We embody America. We are rich in diversity, but we are united in our family values. We come together today, with one voice, to express our grave disappointment in the national political discourse.
The 2012 countdown has barely begun and we are already being bombarded with the warmed-over, hypocritical rhetoric of 2008. We are living in a time where 25% of Americans now live in poverty, the unemployment rate stands at 16%, and we are spending close to $170 billion annually between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Given the current state of affairs we would expect every candidate to focus on the issues that truly matter: job creation, debt-relief, taxes, education, poverty, and ending the war(s). Instead, it is already clear to us that the conversation has been hijacked, with the goal of further polarizing our nation into a politically motivated and falsely created class-war. We will not stand for another campaign year in which politicians presume to know what our family values are as they relate to the nation. To be clear, here are our family values:
  • Access to education, and the ability to actually use it. We want quality, affordable, federally-funded pre-K programs made available in every State, in order to provide an even starting point for all children enrolled in public schools— regardless of the wealth of the district or town they live in.
  • A reinstatement of regulations for banks issuing mortgages and full prosecution for those who engaged in fraudulent lending practices. We want full accountability —investigation, indictment and prosecution— of those individuals and institutions who engaged in fraudulent lending practices and who helped create the massive foreclosures that left many families homeless or struggling to keep their homes.
  • Affordable health care, including family planning, for all Americans. We will not tolerate any candidate using the shield of “Choice” to blind us from the issues that really matter. When funding is stripped from organizations like Planned Parenthood, access to sliding-scale health care (including yearly pap smears & mammograms), comprehensive sex education, and family planning is blocked from the poorest of the population.
  • A return of strict environmental regulations protecting water, air, food, and land that were removed in the last two decades. We want our children to grow up in a world not weighed down by the strains of pollution and global warming. Between BPA in our products, sky-rocketing rates of asthma in kids, questionable hormones in our over-processed food, and more, we need leaders who will put our needs and safety over the desires and profits of large corporations.
Family planning, healthcare, education, economic solvency and environmental safety: these are our national family values. Candidates who demonstrate the ability to understand the gravity of these issues, and their impact on our families, and who can provide actual, viable solutions to these problems will garner our support and our votes.
We believe in this democratic system of ours, and we will continue to use our voices and our votes to see that it reaches its fullest potential. Sincerely, Your future constituents, The mothers & fathers of America
If you would like to forward this letter to your elected officials, you can find their contact info at the following links:

The #BlogIn2011 campaign originated with Avital Norman Nathman ( @TheMamaFesto & Lisa Duggan ( @motherhoodmag. Their goal was to have at least 100 bloggers participate. Check out the hashtag #BlogIn2011 to follow the conversation/reaction on Twitter. Visit other blogs participating in #BlogIn2011 by clicking this link.

Nov 6, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Alternative H.S. Program

Last week I spent a day with traditional school teachers from my county at a county-wide in-service. We heard 2010 National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling talk about student-centered classroom practices, exchanged ideas with colleagues who teach in our subject area, and in general had a day to re-charge.  At these in-services, I rarely feel like I fit in anywhere because my alternative high school program is so different from a traditional classroom. In years past, I have not felt comfortable about sharing what happens in my classroom because of those differences-- it's scary to be the only alternative educator in a room full of hundreds of traditional educators! This time was different though. I wasn't afraid to share. I shared some ideas and details about what happens in my classroom and was shocked by the fact that many of the colleagues I have worked with for a decade or more have no idea what goes on in our alternative high school program. I also read this post by Larry Cuban, who recommends that teachers speak out about their practice. So here it is... a play by play of a typical day in my classroom.

Students working independently: yes, the floor is a workspace!
Students arrive at 9:00 AM. (Research suggests that adolescents are more capable of attending regularly and being successful with a later school start time. See this article from the Sleep Foundation for links to research studies.)

9:00AM to 10:00 AM and 10:10 AM to 11:10 AM Independent/self-guided study time. Students choose what subject they want to work on and what course they want to work on. They have options not only in what course they want to study, but how they study it. They can use a traditional textbook to read, answer questions, take quizzes and tests. They can use an Internet-based curriculum (this year we are trying e2020.) They can design their own research project. Currently four students are working to create an aquatic ecosystem in a 29-gallon aquarium tank with the help of a community college Biology professor. (I recently read this post  about the need for traditional classrooms to offer Independent Work Time and found it very interesting.)

While they work, my aide and I are available to help them one-on-one if they need it. Kids can listen to music during class if it helps them focus, and they are allowed to eat/drink (as long as they clean up after themselves.) They work at their own pace, so if they miss a day of school they come back and pick up exactly where they left off. They each have a goal regarding work completion for a nine-week period of time. They each know how much work it will take to complete a course from the first day. They can discuss with us a personalized plan for progress or decide for themselves how much work should be done each day in order to complete a class.  

In any given hour, there are kids working on English, Biology, Consumer Math, World History, or Health. It is rare that two kids are working on the same thing at the same time. Most kids work on the same subject every day during Independent Work time so that they don't have to switch gears from Math to English. They can focus on one subject until it's done. They don't have to switch gears, but my aide and I do. We bounce from student to student to help with every subject area in a short period of time. There is never a dull moment!

In between 1-hour class periods, there is a 10-minute break where kids can text, get on Facebook, walk around, hacky-sack in the yard or just hang out. 

11:20 - 12:20 Whole group instruction. This is optional--students who do not feel comfortable working in a group setting do not have to participate; they can continue working on Independent Study credit. Each 9-weeks I look to see what subject-area kids are lacking credit in, and plan a course to help them. The curriculum can be challenging for me because I am a certified Language Arts teacher and kids often need credit in classes like U.S. Government or Math. In those cases, I must choose to either use our district-approved textbook to present curriculum straight from the book (I read the chapter to them, we discuss the questions together, they take the test) or I must get my curriculum approved by collaborating with a Highly Qualified Teacher. I can also use approved curriculum, but change the way it is presented. For example, this quarter we are working on an Algebra class together. Instead of teaching Algebra traditionally, we are learning traditional Algebraic concepts with Algebra Tiles. It is a hands-on way to illustrate algebraic thinking. Students are working at their own pace through the algebra curriculum and can help each other or wait for me to help them. I spend all hour walking around my classroom, looking over shoulders to check for understanding and helping kids who need help. 
Image via EIA Education

12:20 - 12:40 Closed-campus lunch. School lunch is delivered from the cafeteria at the traditional high school in town. Kids eat, surf the 'net, get on Facebook, throw a football in the yard, and hang out.

12:40 - 1:40 Another hour of optional whole-group instruction. This quarter we are reading the John Grisham book A Time to Kill together. Everyone takes turns reading aloud, but no one has to read more than they are comfortable reading. They must read at least one sentence, but can read as many pages as they want (the goal is to improve their oral literacy skills, not give them panic attacks!) We will analyze characters, talk about the criminal justice system, and examine race issues. They will complete reading comprehension quizzes and finish the course with a self-designed project of some sort that relates to the book. The options are endless for their project, they just need to have a vision of what it will be and let me know about that vision before they start working on it. Projects will be presented to the class when they are completed. In this class, my role as a teacher is to pick the book and come up with the reading comprehension questions. On an every day basis, I am just like the kids: I take my turn reading aloud, chip in on the discussions, and help if someone gets stuck on word pronunciation. 

Our ceiling is filled w/student art
Football in the yard

1:50 - 2:50 Activity hour. We don't have a gym in our building so this is the time of day we use for adapted PE, Art, and social interaction time. When the weather is nice we either walk to the local park to play basketball, frisbee golf, or to walk the track. When it's not so nice we play board games, card games or do art projects. We also use this time for community service projects: our annual Thanksgiving Feast for the Community, home-made valentines for the residents of our local nursing home, and raking leaves or shoveling snow for the home-bound are some of our regular projects.

We dismiss at 2:50. We do not give out any homework (Interesting post here about the homework debate.) When a student leaves for the day, they leave school behind them and go on to their lives outside of school--for many this includes working a job, taking care of children (their own or younger siblings), and a lot of responsibility. Similarly, I work hard to leave my work at work. It is nice as an adult to be able to come home and devote my time to my family; why not give that same respect for personal time to my students?

I take the time to interact regularly with my students. They are my friends on Facebook, they have my cell phone number, and can contact me in any way they feel comfortable doing so. I send a weekly letter home to parents along with an hour-by-hour attendance report and a handwritten note about their student's progress. Many parents are also Facebook friends, have my cell number, and can text or email me any time (some of them are probably reading this blog right now! THANK YOU for your continued support! ) We collaborate as much as possible to help kids graduate from high school. 

Not every alternative h.s. program is the same as mine. Some are much bigger; some are full-fledged alternative schools with a full faculty; some are even smaller than mine and exist as a "school within a school." Some things all alternative schools should have in common are: a student-centered approach to teaching and learning, use of a wide variety of teaching and learning strategies, community involvement, and most importantly an emphasis on building relationships with students. 

I hope you have a better idea about what alternative high school programs are all about. We actually do more than I mentioned in this post (job shadows, worksite tours, college visits, mediation, counseling, etc.) but this gives you a good idea of what a typical day looks like. 

Feel free to ask questions or offer tips on how you think we can improve! 


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