Mar 25, 2012

Black is Beautiful: A Message to our Children Inspired by Trayvon

Image Credit: Flickr/werthmedia
Image Credit: Flickr/werthmedia

For a couple of weeks I've had to focus on things going on in my life, putting one foot in front of the other just to get through. As I spent time yesterday going through thousands of unread stories from fellow bloggers, trying to get caught up, I cried. Several times. 

Honeysmoke recommended this piece by TourĂ© in Time that was the first to move me to tears. His piece is entitled, How to Talk to Young Black Boys About Trayvon Martin, and I don't know which saddened me more: the fact that such a conversation needs to take place between parent and child at all, or the fact that my husband and I have already had that conversation with our son--who is not yet 12. 

AP writer Jesse Washington has a son about the same age as mine. His piece, Trayvon Martin, My Son, and the Black Male Code also pulled at my heart strings. He's had that conversation with his child already, too. His conversation is tempered with personal memories of being an adult man, seen from a distance, and momentarily deemed suspicious by someone in his own family. 

We are a well-trained society when it comes to applying stereotypes.

Pieces written by parents of black/brown children flooded the blogosphere last week. Why? Parents of all children worry about their safety. The Trayvon Martin case has shown that many parents have additional worries. Those who have brown children worry that their safety will be threatened by the very same forces that are supposed to be serving and protecting them. It's not just that a crazy pedophile might snatch our child, it's that a neighborhood watch volunteer might kill him for no reason other than having brown skin in a society that sees all people with brown skin as threats. We inform our children from a young age (my daughters started getting tips at age 7) that they shouldn't bring big bags into any retail store because they may be suspected of shoplifting. We don't allow our son to go to the mall to hang out with friends at all (a cause for major eye-rolling on his part) because they will just be targets for trouble from mall security.  

So much of the time, we have to share messages with our children about how scary it is to be black... How difficult it is to walk around in brown skin...How worried we are for their safety...How much harder they have to try to proves themselves in EVERYTHING so that they can combat stereotypes. 

What we forget to do sometimes, is to remind them that they are beautiful. They are so beautiful! They should be so proud of their heritage and history! No matter what the struggle, no matter how society treats them, they are precious. 

To my children:
You are beautiful. I love you and believe in you, and I will always see you for who you are inside...not just for what is outside--your skin or your clothing.

To all of the black & brown children in the world:
You have a rich and storied history of which you should be proud. Do what you need to do to protect yourself, but never let it diminish your sense of self, your sense of heritage, your love for who you are.

This beautiful song sends such a positive message. Please watch, "You Are Black Gold" by Esperanza Spalding featuring Algebra Blessett.



Every time we need to remind our children about the possibility that what happened to Trayvon Martin could happen to them, let us also remind them that they are precious, like black gold.

Mar 18, 2012

Civil Rights in Education

The results of my Google search on the disproportionate number of black students suspended in U.S. Schools

On March 6, 2012 the U.S. Department of Education released some statistics from its Office for Civil Rights. The statistics show that not much has changed since their last round of stats in 2007. From the press release (which you can read here) :
  • African-American students, particularly males, are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers.  Black students make up 18% of the students in the CRDC sample, but 35% of the students suspended once, and 39% of the students expelled.
  • Students learning English (ELL) were 6% of the CRDC high school enrollment, but made up 12% of students retained.
  • Only 29% of high-minority high schools offered Calculus, compared to 55% of schools with the lowest black and Hispanic enrollment.
  • Teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues in teaching in low-minority schools in the same district.
I ask again...what would the reaction be if we changed a few words around? What if the tables were turned? Imagine the outcry if this were the report's findings:
  • White students, particularly males, are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers.  White students make up 18% of the students in the CRDC sample, but 35% of the students suspended once, and 39% of the students expelled.
  • Students who are proficient in English (ELP) were 6% of the CRDC high school enrollment, but made up 12% of students retained.
  • Only 29% of majority white high schools offered Calculus, compared to 55% of schools with the lowest white enrollment.
  • Teachers in majority white schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues in teaching in low-white enrollment schools in the same district.
Nothing will change until white parents and educators start to think about how it would feel if the tables were turned. We need to see all children as our children because in this global village we call home, there is no such thing as other people's children.
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This is an excellent post challenging the media to focus on these issues  rather than on the usual negative stereotypical stories of crime and violence in urban schools (read problems in schools with high enrollments of people of color). Instead, let's focus on the real issues at hand: discipline, curricula, and teacher quality. It is an interesting argument that I hope you'll take the time to read.

Mar 11, 2012

A Blogging Staycation

Image Credit: Flickr/Will Clayton

Thanks to all of you who regularly read this blog! I try to put up a post every Sunday, but this particular Sunday happens to be my birthday, as well as the beginning of my week-long spring break/study session (comprehensive exams are looming in the not-so-distant future.)

I plan to have a post up next week... And look out for a guest post from another blogger soon!
Image Credit: Flickr/fanz

Mar 4, 2012

In the News Again: The N-Word in Education

Image Credit:Flickr/Oxalis37 
Last week I wrote a post about the n-word in education. Two news stories from the Chicago area caught my attention--one coach posted a comment on Facebook using the n-word and was suspended for a year; a teacher used the n-word during class and was also suspended. The motivation behind each educator's use of the word was different, but the outcomes were the same. I made the point that no matter what the motivation, the use of that word hurts.

A few days after publishing that post, I read an Iowa newspaper and found another similar story. Read that story here. The story says that a biracial high school student was walking down the hall with some friends having a lighthearted discussion in which one boy asked another "are you gay?" A teacher overheard this conversation and intervened. According to the story, she
directed him to her classroom, allegedly stating “I’ll show you if it is OK to say things like that.
The complaint alleges that once in the room the teacher asked,
 “How would you like it if I called you a (racial epithet)?” and “How would you like it if someone called you a lazy (racial epithet)?”
The boy's father filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission, but it appears that no further action will be taken. The district issued a statement saying that it is a personnel matter, and that due to state and federal privacy laws they are unable to say anything other than "racism will not be tolerated;"  whenever an allegation of racism or discrimination is made, it will be investigated fully.

In my own classroom, I've dealt with students making politically incorrect and/or hurtful comments to each other. Teenagers today (and back in my own teen years, too) say things for shock value, not always realizing that those things are hurtful. It is always difficult to figure out how to make kids understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such comments. But one thing I know is that calling someone names to teach them that name-calling is wrong is ineffective. In my book, it falls into the same camp of spanking children to teach them that hitting is wrong, or applying the death penalty to teach people that killing is wrong. It smacks of hypocrisy. If something is wrong, it is wrong. Bullying a bully doesn't make them stop...it just makes them more hurt, more angry, and more likely to bully again.  Using a hurtful word to teach that hurtful words are wrong is not teaching anybody anything.

In addition to that newspaper story, I was informed by my husband that someone hollered the n-word at him from their car recently. He was getting the mail from our mailbox at the time. He says it has happened a few times lately, but until I talked to him about last week's post he hadn't said anything about it to me. He told me that his personal attitude about the n-word leads him to shout back, "That's all you got???" He says that he refuses to allow the n-word--or any word--to hurt him.

I am left wondering how to prepare my children for the very real possibility that they will encounter the n-word--either from a random passerby who shouts from their car, or from a well-intentioned teacher who doesn't realize how hurtful that word is. How do we prepare our children for something like that? I remember my mom teaching me the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me." But for most kids, that saying is just not true. Some words hurt. How do you teach your children a) how to avoid using hurtful words and b) how to respond when someone directs hurtful words towards them? I look forward to reading your comments.
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The intention of the teacher mentioned in this post may have been to teach a lesson about the hurtfulness of using the word "gay", but the outcome was just as hurtful due to her use of the n-word.  There are better ways to teach about the hurtful ways people use the word gay. Check out Teaching Tolerance's lesson plan What's So Bad about "That's So Gay"?  It starts with a simple activity: ask your students if they've ever been called a name. Ask them to think about how it made them feel. Get them thinking about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such names without calling them any names.

Another great resource is ThinkB4YouSpeak.com The following downloadable/printable flyer comes from their website.





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