Dec 30, 2011

Education Week: More Districts Sending Teachers Into Students' Homes

Image Credit: Flickr/The Voice of Eye

Would you welcome your child's teacher into your home? 

To be honest, I have extremely mixed feelings about the whole home visit thing. A recent article made me think even more critically about my misgivings. Here is a quote from the article that caught my attention:
"There is a gold mine of information in that home—whether it's fully furnished or whether they don't have electricity," said Karen Kalish, a philanthropist based in St. Louis who has led the creation of teacher home-visit programs in several Missouri districts.
For example, just one visit home can help a teacher understand that a particular student doesn't have a desk or a place to do homework. "The teacher can now do something different with the child, instead of sending homework home and getting mad when it's not done," Ms. Kalish said.  --from Education Week: More Districts Sending Teachers Into Students' Homes

Is it just me? or is this an extremely insensitive comment? I work primarily with kids who are on the lower end of the income spectrum. Some of their families may invite me to their homes for social events; but I don't know any of them who would want me to visit as part of a school program. Most of my students' families wouldn't enjoy having someone witness their struggles. Their pride would be hurt if I saw that they had no electricity or no table to sit at to do their work. Many of my students come to school to escape their home situations. They like to have a part of every day where they don't have to worry about the struggles of home life, and they want the freedom to choose whether or not to share those struggles with me. I talk with them and listen to them whenever they want to share, but it is their choice to share. If they choose to share details with me at school, they still might not want me to visit them in their homes (just like I wouldn't necessarily want my students to visit me in my home.) There is a separation between our personal and professional relationships. I have close relationships with my students, but there are boundaries. Home visits cross those boundaries, but only in one direction: teachers visit student's homes but not vice versa.

The whole situation seems like it sets teachers up to be scientists observing lab rats. 

What bothers me even more is the fact that there is also the complex issue of diversity to consider. The U.S. Department of Education's report entitled Increasing Teacher Diversity states that, "Nationally, minority students make up 40.7 percent of the public school population. Although many schools (both urban and rural) are increasingly made up of a majority of black and Latino students, black and Latino teachers represent only about 14.6 percent of the teaching workforce."

Did you get that? Over 40% of the nation's students are not white, while more than 75% of the teachers are white. Following Ms. Kalisha's comments in Education week, it would appear that many schools are sending their white teachers into the homes of non-white students in order to witness their poverty. This is supposed to make them less angry at students when they don't have their homework completed.

Again...this sounds a lot like scientists observing lab rats. This does not describe not socially equal human beings interacting with one another.

There has got to be a better way to get teachers to become more aware of their students' backgrounds. There has got to be a better way of getting parents involved--one that doesn't potentially cause families shame or make them feel objectified.

There are several research studies out demonstrating the connection between parental involvement and student success (see the Harvard Family Research Project or the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education websites for research summaries.) But there isn't really any research saying that home visits are the best way to make that increase happen. I personally think school district dollars would be better spent trying to get parents into schools, rather than getting teachers into student's homes.

What do you think? How would you feel if school staff visited your home?

Dec 24, 2011

Holiday Memories: Weddings, Babies, and Birthdays

First, I wish you all the peace and joy of the season! Whether you celebrate a religious holiday or not, I hope you take the time do some remembering, renewing, and rejoicing in the coming of a new year. Wishing you peace, hope, and love in 2012.

For me, this time of year brings back a lot of family memories...

At the end of December sixteen years ago, the weather in the midwest was a lot like it is this year--unseasonably warm. I was finishing up the final plans for my wedding, trying not to worry about anything but enjoying our special day. Our New Year's Eve didn't just mark the end of the year, it marked the end of being single people. Bobby and I married on January 1st. Next week, we will celebrate 16 years of marriage!

For several years after we married, we celebrated holidays by driving across state lines and visiting relatives on both sides of our family. We brought thoughtful gifts, visited, and had a lot of fun trekking around in our little car with two cats. We always made it home in time for our anniversary--a day to hang out together. It was a fun-filled and carefree time.

After four years of marriage, though, the trek wasn't so easy. I was pregnant with our first child and there was a huge snowstorm. The drive was treacherous (not just because of the snow-covered roads, but because I had to make bathroom stops at least once an hour!) That year was the last year we traveled across state lines to visit both sides of our family on Christmas Day. After our son was born in the spring of 2000, our holidays became more planned and cautious; there is no driving through snowstorms when you have a baby in the car!
First reason to stay home for the holidays!
When baby boy was 10 months old, we found out I was pregnant again. The due date for baby number 2? December 29th.  The family came to us for Christmas that year! On Christmas Day I sat with my feet up, unable to get myself off the couch without assistance. My husband wore a stopwatch around his neck and timed the contractions that had been getting closer and closer together all day. Baby number 2 was trying to make an early appearance! At 11:00PM on Christmas night, we left for the hospital. Several hours later, our first daughter was born. She was definitely the best Christmas gift ever! 
Best Christmas present EVER!

Baby's First Christmas--at 364 days old!
Our Christmases together as a family of four were few....within two years we added another bundle of joy to our family! Born soon after the new year, our second daughter became our best anniversary present ever.

Best Anniversary Gift...Ever!
Heading home from the hospital, for the 3rd time.

This time of year for us is a whirlwind of celebrations:

Celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and remembering our greatest gifts: each other!

Celebrating the Spirit of Giving (what we call Christmas),

believing in the innocence and magic of the season,

and having FUN together!

2011 Holiday Greetings to you from our family!

 Happy Holidays from our family to yours! Hope your season is filled with family, happy memories and love...

Dec 18, 2011

Daddy/Daughter Dance Party: A Vlog

A question asked of me in August by the The Parent du Jour was, "How has parenting changed you as an individual?" Part of my response, 
"I used to be pretty goofy, but my husband and children are goofier—and someone needs to play the 'straight man' in our house so that day-to-day necessities get taken care of."
Here is picture proof that I am considerably less goofy than I used to be...

Me...before hubby and kids

Me last week...After 15+ years of marriage and 3 kids
Nowadays, there is no room in my house for any goofiness from me. My hubs and the kids have such extreme silliness that they fill our house with laughter. It's a beautiful sound!  But I don't think I've been taking enough time to soak up that beauty lately. Recently, I realized that I need to remember to laugh with them sometimes, instead of always reminding them to pick up their dirty socks, do their homework, and brush their teeth. 

This weekend I had the chance to really laugh with two of the silliest people I know, my husband and youngest daughter. They're so silly that I have to share! 

Imagine that it is bed time. I'm trying to get my children into bed at a reasonable time because I commute to work, and our mornings start really early. What happens every night at bedtime? An attack of the goofies---led by my husband! (The king of the goofballs!) He is the oldest person in our house, but the youngest at heart. See for yourself in this vlog featuring my hubby and our youngest. (Apologies for the lighting. But honestly, it makes the hubs look even goofier, doesn't it?)

Here's your chance to see what I mean when I say that they are goofy... look out for the move that cracks me up every time I see it--The Sprinkler!

Dec 11, 2011

Being African-American in Iowa: Politics

Iowa Pubic Radio (IPR) correspondent Rob Dillard (@IPRDillard) has been working on a year-long assignment on diversity. In March-April 2011, IPR ran series of stories on Being Latino in Iowa that highlighted the Latino experience in my home state. Dillard covered stories on the effect of Latino populations on small towns and the importance of Latino food and culture. The series returned to focus on a different population in our state--African-Americans.  According to IPR, U.S. Census data show there are now 90,000 African-American adults living in Iowa. According to state department of education enrollment figures, there are almost as many African-American children enrolled in our public schools. My husband and his family have lived in the state since the 1960's and I found it interesting to hear what Rob Dillard learned about Being African-American in Iowa in 2011. His series was divided into five parts: education, economy, politics, health, and spirituality. I have written about my family's experiences with education and economy.

Last night I was watching the Republicans verbally duke it out at the Iowa Debate (thanks Ezzy, for reminding me to watch) and decided to watch the Twitter response. Besides all of the commentary about what $10,000 can buy and Newt's statement that Palestine is "an invented state", several tweeps noted that the audience was overwhelmingly white. They questioned why this debate was held in Iowa, a state that is 95% white and mostly rural.

The reason the debate is held in Iowa is simple: we are the first in the nation to caucus (i.e. elect) a candidate in any political party. According to the Iowa Caucus Project, a move by our state legislature in the 1970s to improve the delegation process led us to be first in the nation. Our government wanted more people to be able to take part in the political process, so they pushed for election reform and required a minimum of 30 business days between precinct caucuses and the county, district and state conventions.  During those 30 days, the caucuses are advertised so that more people know about them and can participate. In 1972 the State Convention was slated for May 20. Allowing for 60 business days to occur before the State Convention made the Iowa Caucus date January 24--first in the nation. It has been that way since 1972. (See Slate magazine's great article about the Caucus here.)

What tweeps watching the Iowa Debate may not know is that we do have some diversity in Iowa: I am sitting in a house where I am the only white person, and my children attend a school that is over half non-white. There are pockets of extreme diversity in our state. Those pockets of diversity have greatly influenced our politics, and as I've written in the past, Iowa has a history of doing what is right instead of what is popular when it comes to some political issues--especially Civil Rights.

The Iowa Public Radio podcast, Being African-American in Iowa: Politics, was aired in July of 2011. It taught me a lot of about the history of African-American involvement in Iowa politics at the state-level. It is an impressive history to me because for African-Americans to be elected, they need to cross the so-called "color line" and gain the votes of whites in their districts. The African-Americans interviewed in the IPR podcast did that--they went door to door, they hosted events, they communicated their concerns and interests. A repeated theme in those interviews is this: "We need to focus on what we have in common vs. what we don't have in common." Those who were elected got there by focusing on the issues, but not necessarily by talking about race. The podcast talks about Helen Miller, an African-American woman who currently serves in the Iowa House. Miller is the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, which is not a committee dealing with a traditionally African-American issue. She states that she got there by really communicating and focusing on the issues. There seems to be a significant amount of "colorblindness" in campaigning that leads to African-American success in politics.

In my mind, the notion of focusing on the issues to get elected is one that is very idealistic. It can happen in a state like Iowa because there isn't much diversity in the state as a whole. But there are definitely issues that need to be addressed without a "colorblind" lens. These issues are human rights issues, and it is my hope that eventually a candidate--of any color--will begin to discuss them.

These statistics are from the Iowa Commission on the Status of African-Americans:
  • The poverty rate in 2008 for African Americans was 35.6%. The corresponding rate for Iowa is 11.5%
  • 70.9% of African-Americans rent, as opposed to owning, their own home. The corresponding rate for the state as a whole is 27.1 %.
  • The unemployment rate for African-Americans in 2008 was 8.9%. For Iowa as a whole, it was 3.9%
  • Median earnings for African-Americans was $19,174. For Iowa, it was $26,959. 
Then there is also a considerable achievement gap for all people of color in Iowa. According to the Iowa Department of Education's "Gap Paper,"
Gaps exist in the achievement of Iowa students. In 2010, the percent of all students in grade four enrolled for full academic year (FAY) scoring proficient, as measured by the Iowa Tests, was 78.5 percent. The percent of Black (54.5 percent), Hispanic (61.2 percent), free or reduced lunch eligible (66.6 percent), or English Language Learner (ELL) (51.3 percent) students was considerably less.
Interestingly enough, these Iowa issues are also issues we face as a nation. Yet none of them were mentioned in last night's Republican debate. In my mind, these are human rights and social justice issues that concern us all. Politicians, no matter what their color, can no longer afford to be colorblind.

I am interested to see when, if ever, the 2012 candidates will really and truly discuss issues of poverty, unemployment and achievement.

What issues do you think politicians should be discussing? What was your reaction to the Iowa Debate?

Dec 4, 2011

My Contributor Spotlight on Multicultural Familia

This interview, written by Chantilly PatiƱo (founder of and biculturalmom.comallowed me to share more of myself with the readers at Multicultural Familia. My experiences writing there have been really wonderful. The readers and contributors are both supportive and inspiring. In many ways I feel they truly are an extension of my family--my Multicultural Familia. I am so thankful to have found a home there, and I encourage you to check out the wonderful stories shared there by such talented and passionate writers. Here is my contributor spotlight, part of a series of interviews that runs on Mondays at

Contributor Spotlight: Jen Marshall Duncan – Wife, mother, teacher, blogger

Multicultural Familia is a place where individuals can learn more about families like theirs and find new perspectives from parents around the globe.  As part of our mission, we are proud to showcase the personal stories of real families who are multicultural like you.  Learn more about our multicultural contributors in this special Contributor Spotlight series.  

What are three personality traits that best describe you and how do they impact your personal identity?

I am really patient, loyal, and positive. All three of these traits together have a huge impact on my identity–especially when I reflect on what I do for a living. I teach in an alternative high school program for kids who don’t fit into a traditional educational setting. They have many reasons for being in my program–some have babies, some have difficult home lives, some are just “different” from everyone else. I am extremely patient with my students because I know that attending school hasn’t always been a positive experience before. Many of them have problems that are beyond their control (learning disabilities, homelessness, and hunger for example.) My goal is to help them see that they have choices in life.  I am really positive in my interactions with them. No matter how bad a situation is, I can see a way for it to get better. No matter what is in a person’s past, I can see an opportunity for learning in the present and change in the future. People just have to choose to make a change.  I am very loyal to my students and my job; I’ve been working in the same place for 14 years.

Patience, loyalty, and positivity also impact my identity outside of work. I am very patient with my children and with the people I see each day–I don’t often freak out when someone cuts me off in traffic,  I just let them in. I am loyal to my husband (together for 17 years and counting!) and to my friends (some of whom I’ve held dear to me for more than 30 years.) I am a “glass half full” kind of person, who can see something good in everyone I encounter; and I’m not afraid to smile at anyone I meet.

What are your fondest childhood memories related to your cultural heritage?

My mother was born in Germany to a German mother and a Lithuanian father. They moved to the U.S. when she was 3. They knew no English, had no family here, came here with nothing but a suitcase and a dream. Many of my fondest childhood memories come from visiting my maternal grandparents. My German grandmother (Oma) and her friend would have cheesecake bake-offs and name me the judge. I would sit at the good table with a German lace tablecloth and the fine china, tasting their home-made cheesecake. The two women eyed me as I sampled their sweets, waiting for me to choose a winner in their friendly competition. Food and family make some of my most cherished memories.

When I was 12 my Oma died. After a while, my grandfather moved in with a nice Lithuanian lady and that relationship created a whole new set of cultural memories: family meals were “picnics” in the basement so that the plastic-coated furniture in the living room wouldn’t get ruined. We’d have  a feast of beige food, including Lithuanian dishes like kugelis, sauerkraut, and Napoleon for dessert. Finishing the meal meant it was time for live accordion music and polka dancing (it would be more correct to say that the old folks finished that way, while the youngsters snuck upstairs to watch TV or listen to rock music. Accordion? Embarrassing!) Even though it was sometimes uncomfortable to be a young, English-speaking person in a room full of Lithuanians, I am glad I experienced those ethnic moments. They are some of my fondest cultural memories and they help me to feel empathy for people who are new to the U.S. and trying to learn our language and culture.

How did you meet your spouse?

I wrote a post about how we met on Multicultural Familia. Read it here

In what ways are you and your spouse different?  In what ways are you alike?

In some ways we are such total opposites it’s like we’re black and white (oh, wait…WE ARE ;-)  He loves eating meat, I am a vegetarian. He drinks soda pop daily, I only drink water. He stays up late and sleeps late, I am early to bed and early to rise. When listening to music he pays attention to the beat, while I pay attention to the words. He gets road rage at every car attempting to cut him off, I smile and wave them in. I like mayo and he’s Miracle Whip all the way. You get the picture…

Despite those differences, we are really very similar. We both love to read books and watch movies. We both love all kinds of music, from alternative rock to disco and everything in between. We both like watching American Football (so much so that we got married on January 1–of course it was a symbolic new beginning; but it is also always a day off work to spend with each other watching college bowl games!) We both love libraries and love learning. Our worldviews are almost identical when it comes to issues of politics, religion, and all other topics people are supposed to avoid speaking of in polite company. And we would both do anything for our family.

What made you decide to become a writer/blogger?

I have always wanted to be a writer. I kept diaries when I was a kid, and I wrote poetry and stories. Writing was always my outlet. I dreamt of taking my writing to another level, but never knew exactly how to do that. A blogging project with my students in 2010 really inspired me to start a personal blog where I could share a different perspective.

In Iowa there are many people who don’t have the chance to encounter diversity. Many of the kids in my classroom have never been outside of their home county. I wanted to give them the opportunity to see things from a more global perspective. I also wanted people (both in Iowa and in the rest of the world) to know that there are pockets of extreme diversity in Iowa–our state is changing quickly. My blog became a place to write about those changes, to help people see that families of color/mixed families are families just like other families, and are families unlike other families–we carry some issues with us that all-white families don’t have. Similarly, because I teach in an alternative high school classroom, I wanted people to know that “those kids” are like all other teen-aged kids, and at the same time are kids unlike any other teen-aged kids because they carry some issues that many average teens don’t have. Out of that thinking empatheia was born.

No matter what topic I write about, empatheia offers an invitation to readers to see that topic through a new lens. I hope that every reader leaves my blog thinking, and forming a new opinion. I believe that the power of empathy–seeing things from someone else’s perspective–can change the world for the better.

How many children do you have and how old are they?  Do you write about them on your blog?  If so, what are your favorite posts about your children?

I have three children. An 11.5 year old son, a soon-to-be 10 year old daughter, and a soon-to-be 8 year old daughter. I’ve only written about them a couple of times because I want to save them from any embarrassment I might cause. But I may have to write more about them–they are such characters! My favorite post about my daughters is “Raising Confident Mixed Girls” because it features a sample of their vlog. It makes me smile every time I watch it! Despite our many daily struggles, they delight me. They are growing into strong, wonderful young women. They have tons of videos they’ve made on our computer and I’m thinking about adding more of their little shows to my blog in the future. My favorite post about my son is one showing lots of pictures of him dressed in various superhero costumes in celebration of the latest biracial Spider-Man. I loved looking back at his obsession with heroes, seeing how it has evolved, and realizing that he will always be my favorite superhero.

What is your personal mission?  What do you seek to achieve in your lifetime?

My mission is to help make the world a better place. That’s totally subjective, I know, I know. What’s better to me might not be better to someone else; so let me be a little more specific. There are people in this world who feel alone. There are people who feel like no one understands them. My goal is to listen to a bunch of those people and try to help them realize that they are not alone, they are not so different from everyone else. I can’t listen to the whole world or empathize with everybody, so I’m working on my little corner of the planet. I really listen hard to the kids in my life–my children and my students–and try to make them know that no matter what, they are not alone.  

I try to live each day knowing that I did my best to help people learn from each other, to get along better, and to feel better about the world we live in. My goal is to have no regrets–no “shoulda coulda woulda” thoughts dangling. You know that Michael Jackson song, “Man in the Mirror”? That gives you a good idea about my mission. I look at myself and see what I want to change about my own attitudes and perceptions, then I look at other people in my family, town, and workplace to see what change can be influenced there. I try to always think globally and act locally. I hope that there is a ripple effect, and what I do in my little corner catches on, spreading empathy to myriad other corners of our world.

What region of the world do you live in and how does that affect your cultural/personal identity?

I grew up in a diverse area near Chicago and then moved to Iowa for college. Aside from a brief period of time living in Miami Beach in the early 90’s, I haven’t lived outside of Iowa. My state isn’t all corn and soy, farmers in overalls (though we do have all of that here!) There is much more to it than they show in the media at caucus time. I live in a very culture-rich area near a university. Graduate students from all over the world come and go as they work on their advanced degrees.

A recent migration of Chicagoans has given our town a much more urban feel (the response of community members to this migration is both positive and negative at times.) We have ethnic restaurants, grocery stores, and cultural events that make our area feel like a big city, yet we still have a really small-town atmosphere. Kids can safely play outside, crime rates are low, and neighbors get to know each other pretty well. It’s really a great place to raise kids, and we have no problems as a multiracial family because there are many, many other families like us around. My daughter came home from school once and said, “I think everyone in my class is mixed!”

While our area is really ethnically and culturally diverse, things are different if you travel just 15-20 miles in any direction out of town. When we travel we are often out-of-place in the small-town gas stations we are forced to stop at for potty breaks. The town where I work is 99% white. My cultural and personal identity are wrapped up in this state of being in between two worlds. At work I am the only person who spends every day with brown people; at home I am the only white person in the house. I carry bits and pieces from one world to the other each day, hoping that the puzzle will eventually come together in one big world picture.

What advice would you give to other mixed couples/families?

Stay strong. Stay true to your beliefs. Keep loving each other. Make your family unit as tight and close-knit as it can be.  Establish your family’s own routine and rituals, without being afraid to create new holidays or celebrations that capture the essence of each family member’s heritage and experiences. If you do all that, then the outside world can’t touch you. No one can break down your bond of love and togetherness, not with their disapproving looks or their inappropriate comments or their harsh judgments. Make your family strong and confident with who you all are, then shine that radiance out on the world to show them how beautiful it is to be in a mixed family.

© 2011, Multicultural Familia™. All rights reserved.


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