Archive for the 'Education in the news' Category

Ramp Up With a COED Alumna

Osborne High School counselors, administrator, clerk and parent liaison

Congratulations to Courtney (Wesnofske) Courtney (Master of Arts in School Counseling, ’13) and the counseling department in Osborne High School (Marietta, GA) for receiving RAMP classification! Courtney is the first graduate of the program to achieve RAMP status for her department.

RAMP, short for Recognized ASCA Model Program, is a designation from the American School Counselor Association to recognize high performing school counseling departments. The RAMP designation provides departments with the confidence that the program aligns with a nationally accepted and recognized model, evaluations and areas for improvement, and enhances the efforts to contribute to student success. Currently, over 700 schools in 43 states received a RAMP designation.

For Courtney and her department, receiving RAMP status has been a rewarding experience. “This RAMP designation has proven that we as a department work to address the needs of the whole child/student, which is our ultimate goal,” stated Courtney when asked the importance of receiving RAMP status. With limited resources and a high caseload per counselor, the RAMP classification shows the hard work the department does to support all students. Courtney further explained how the department works with data to drive programs to help students, parents, and the community. “Our data has led to implementing interventions through small group, classroom curriculum, and individual counseling, as well as increasing our events offered to our parents and guardians,” explained Courtney.

Along with increasing programs and events, Courtney stated how the school has seen other increasing with college and career preparedness, parent/guardian involvement, and an increase in graduation rates. In the past three years, graduation rate has increased from 48.4% to 68%. Since receiving RAMP classification, Courtney explained how the department is using the feedback provided by the RAMP application to improve their programs for students. Also, Courtney mentioned an increase of passion and excitement for the work the department does. “ I can honestly say that one of the biggest changes is an increased sense of passion and excitement for working to improve the supports provided to all students,” she stated.

Dr. Alan Burkard, Department Chair of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology (CECP) at Marquette University, shared his excitement for Courtney and her department’s success by saying, “As a past RAMP reviewer, I know that not all school counselors can meet the rigorous criteria established to receive this award.” To him, it is the department’s goal to see the graduates of the program become the kind of professionals they hoped to develop. “Knowing that our students are demonstrating this kind of commitment to their schools and profession is simply an honor, and it suggests that the message we hope students will learn is being achieved.”

Want to learn more about Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education at Marquette University? Visit us online!

Stress Related to Immigration Status in Students: A Brief Guide

This brief guide is designed to provide an overview of detention, deportation, and other immigration status-related stress and its effect on children and families, as well as suggestions for how school personnel can support families in the context of this unique stressor. Please note that the information included in this document was obtained from published reports as well as suggestions from mental health professionals, teachers and other school staff. It is our hope that others might contribute to this guide; in this way it can be a dynamic compilation of practical ideas to support our community members.

Lisa M. Edwards, PhDDepartment of Counselor Education & Counseling Psychology, College of Education, Marquette University

Jacki Black, MA EdAssociate Director for Hispanic Initiatives, Marquette University

 

The Context of Immigration Stress

 There are more than 11 million individuals residing in the U.S. without legal authorization from the federal government. While the total number of unauthorized or “undocumented” immigrants in the U.S. has remained stable since 2009, there has been a rise in K-12 students with at least one undocumented parent. In 2014 estimates suggested that 7.3% (or about 3.9 million) K-12th grade students in U.S. public and private schools were children of unauthorized parents.1 The vast majority of these children (3.2 million) were U.S.-born, and therefore are citizens. These children are members of “mixed-status families,” or households in which at least one member is a citizen or legal resident and at least one is not.

The context of having a parent, sibling or relative without documentation, or not being documented oneself, is a unique stressor that cannot solely be understood as generic stress or trauma. Families with members who are undocumented often “live in the shadows,” experiencing a lack of safety and fear of deportation. Because of their relationship with students and families, teachers, counselors, and other school personnel are often on the front line of dealing with mental health concerns as they arise, and should be well-informed about the challenges that immigration status issues may present.

How Detention and Deportation Affects Children

Over the past eight years, 2.7 million unauthorized immigrants were deported, not including those who “self-deported.”2 These deportations not only affect the individual, but can also have devastating consequences for families.

A growing body of research suggests that children who experience the detention and deportation of a parent suffer from many short and long-term mental health effects, including loss of appetite, changes in sleep (e.g., nightmares), crying, clinginess, and feelings of fear. Additionally, these children can later exhibit PTSD-like symptoms, including anxiety, withdrawal, and anger/aggression, as well as academic declines at school (for a summary report about the psychosocial impact of detention and deportation see: Brabeck, Lykes, & Lustig, 2013).

In two reports about the direct effects of detention and deportation on families, researchers identified these key findings related to mental health:3,4

  • Children experienced “a pervasive sense of insecurity and anxiety,” which led to mental health concerns such as separation anxiety, attachment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • In some cases, children didn’t know their parents were being deported and therefore felt their parents had suddenly “disappeared.”
  • Family members often had difficulties communicating with parents who were detained due to distance, rules and costs of communication, which exacerbated the emotional harm to children.
  • Spouses and partners of detained parents reported struggling with social isolation and depression after the detention, which likely negatively affected their children.
  • When parents, who are typically fathers, were detained, there was substantial financial hardship and stress on the family. This hardship often led to caregiving and housing instability for children.
  • The negative emotional, financial and housing effects led to declines in school performance for many of these children.

Toxic Stress: How the Threat of Detention and Deportation Affects Children

The stress related to detention and deportation not only affects those who have experienced the detention of a parent or those who are undocumented. For example, research suggests that children who are aware of the threat of deportation or who have undocumented parents have higher levels of fear and anxiety, as well as disrupted sleeping and eating.5 Other studies have shown that the threat of deportation negatively affects children’s grades and leads to more students missing school and changing schools.5,6 Additionally, deportation-related stress may in fact spill over to legal residents who experience discrimination and may fear for the future of themselves or their children.7,8

The notion of toxic stress provides a useful framework for understanding how the threat of detention or deportation can negatively affect the physical health, emotional well-being, and educational performance of youth. Toxic stress is the stress from prolonged exposure to serious stress that can harm developing brains and result in psychological, biological and neurological changes.9 In essence, this means that children with knowledge about the potential threat of deportation may be living in a constant, heightened state of anxiety which does not allow the body to return to baseline functioning. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in support of protecting immigrant children against the negative effects of the toxic stress of living in fear of deportation since this type of stress can disrupt a child’s developmental processes and lead to long-term concerns.10

This toxic stress may be intensifying in the current political climate. Over fiscal year 2016, 92% of those deported from the interior of the U.S. had previously been convicted of a crime.2 Following the new administration’s directive to define deportable offenses more broadly, however, many unauthorized immigrants who previously had not been considered high priority targets may now be at greater risk for immigration enforcement action. In the first major immigration strike under the Trump presidency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched coordinated raids in at least 12 states, resulting in over 680 detentions of “criminal aliens” – now defined as any unauthorized immigrant – over the course of one week.11 The current administration has also repeatedly called into question the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—President Obama’s executive order providing temporary relief from deportation action for many undocumented youth, heightening the uncertainty and anxiety felt by these “DREAMers.”

Behavioral/Emotional Signs of Immigration Status-Related Stress in the Classroom:

Though every child is different, those who have directly experienced the loss of a parent to deportation or those who are coping with the threat related to documentation status may show some of the following signs in the classroom:

  • Acting withdrawn—appearing disconnected from life; pulling away from activities and relationships
  • Hyperarousal – nervousness, jumpiness, hypervigilance about surroundings
  • Difficulties focusing in schools, learning or memory problems, and decreased school performance
  • Externalizing symptoms – aggressive behaviors, temper tantrums, excessively seeking attention, etc.
  • Somatic complaints (e.g., stomach aches, headaches, fatigue)
  • Regressive behaviors in young children (e.g., accidental daytime wetting or reports of bedwetting)
  • Crying, sadness
  • Fears of being separated from caregivers or family (e.g., not wanting to come to school)
  • Acting nervous, anxious or fearful, avoiding certain activities
  • Poor appetite or digestive problems
  • Poor or disrupted sleep

How School Personnel Can Support Students in the Classroom:

  • Be observant and establish trust. If a student is exhibiting some of the aforementioned behavioral or emotional signs of distress, do not assume the cause and do not put students on the spot by asking them directly. Rather, create an environment in which students feel safe, providing opportunities for them to disclose their stressors. Be an active listener to see what a child might need.
  • Be patient. Some students may exhibit behaviors and emotions that you have not seen before. Consider this when enforcing rules and other disciplinary actions.
  • Be willing to talk. When students reveal immigration status-related issues, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Some students may talk openly about their fears and anger, and many may have questions. Don’t hesitate to answer questions as honestly as you can, and let students know when you aren’t sure. For younger children, be sure to use language that is understandable and that does not cause more fear; young children may not be able to fully comprehend what has been happening or why they feel anxious or stressed.
  • Recognize the importance of language. Teachers and other school personnel should be sensitive in their use of language, favoring terminology such as “undocumented/unauthorized immigrants” and making known that use of the terms “illegals” or “illegal immigrants/aliens” will not be tolerated in their classrooms. “Illegal alien” is not a legal term and is not an accurate descriptor as the status of being present in the U.S. without a visa is not actually a criminal violation. More importantly, these terms can have a dehumanizing impact by effectively rendering the individual and their entire existence as “illegal.”
  • Show your support. Teachers can demonstrate their support through images showing that they are allies. For example, this painting by Favianna Rodriguez has become symbolic of the DREAMers movement:

favianna-welcome-dreamers4

By displaying this on a white board or desk, students are more likely to know that you are a “safe” person with whom they can discuss their immigration status–related stress.

  • Communicate with your colleagues. Inform school staff (e.g., counselors, social workers, administration) regarding what you are seeing in the classroom so that appropriate services can be developed and needs can be addressed.
  • Take care of yourself. Seeing the stress that your students and their families are facing can be overwhelming. Find ways to relieve stress and get the help that you need, too.

How Schools Can Support Students and Families:

  • Set a tone of safety and respect.
    • Make your school a “safe space” through public statements of support such as this one from the Minneapolis school board that reaffirms every child’s right to an education. These statements are most effective when grounded in the vision, mission, or stated strategic plan goals of the school or district, and should include language around creating a safe, welcoming environment for all students.
    • Be aware of the peer dynamics in your school environment. Deal directly with any derogatory language or behaviors from peers that are rooted in condescending attitudes towards immigrants and use these as teachable moments.
  • Share accurate and helpful information.
    • Assure students that any information the school has about a student’s immigration status is protected through FERPA; the only way the federal government can obtain immigration status information from school officials is through a warrant or subpoena signed by a federal magistrate.
    • Inform students and their families of these rights, resources, and recommendations from the National Immigration Law Center and/or distribute “know your rights” cards which provide simple but important tips for how to respond to encounters with ICE agents.
    • Be proactive and hold meetings for families who may have questions. Consider bringing legal experts and other social service programs to present about relevant topics.
    • Remember that some parents may keep their children at home if there are threats of deportation raids in the community. Research also suggests that Latina/o children and families may have a distrust of authorities, sometimes conflating police with ICE officials.12,13 This may be especially true in localities that have engaged in 287(g) agreements with ICE, which deputize local law enforcement officers as arms of the federal government. As of the writing of this article, there are 38 such law enforcement agencies that have been delegated this authority14 but new immigration directives from the Department of Homeland Security have called for the expansion of this program.15 Stay informed on the situation in your community and be sensitive to parents’ fears.
  • Provide direct support and start a referral list.
    • Arrange counseling for students, or if necessary, provide appropriate referrals. Learn about the trusted social service agencies, legal supports, churches or religious organizations and other resources in your area. Collaborate with these agencies so that you can feel confident in your referrals, especially given that some families will be hesitant to access services or may not be eligible.
    • Adolescents may also appreciate the opportunity to discuss their stressors with peers in similar situations through discussion circles and support groups.
  • Encourage advocacy.
    • Adolescents and young adults may feel empowered and gain access to valuable support and resources by volunteering for advocacy organizations. Create space for students’ civic engagement through supportive school policies.
  • Stay informed and educate your faculty and staff.
    • Administrators should take responsibility for staying informed about changes in policies and laws regarding immigration and deportation. For example, a policy memorandum by ICE in 2011 established that agents are to refrain from enforcement actions (e.g., raids) at certain ‘sensitive locations’ such as schools and universities, hospitals, churches and other places of worship, funerals/weddings, and public demonstrations such as marches or rallies. It is possible that this policy memorandum may be reversed; therefore, school leaders should remain informed about possible changes.16
    • Provide professional workshops for school personnel around the challenges that students who are undocumented or who have undocumented family members face, the protections around student information provided by FERPA, the legal limits of what ICE can and cannot do, and creating culturally competent and responsive classroom environments.

Schools may not be able to address the root causes of immigration status-related stress for the children they serve, but through increased awareness, proactive policies, displays of support, and providing access to information and resources, they can do their part to live their mission of supporting our community’s students and families.

Resource Guides for Schools

 Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff – American Federation of Teachers (2016)

https://firstfocus.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ICE-Raids_Educators-Guide-20161.pdf

This comprehensive guide provides information for school personnel about the rights of undocumented children and parents and how to respond to ICE raids. Specific materials are provided to share with families regarding their rights in the context of detainment or deportation.

Resource Guide: Supporting Undocumented Youth – U.S. Department of Education (2015)

https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/focus/supporting-undocumented-youth.pdf

This guide offers legal guidelines, practical tips, and resources for secondary and postsecondary institutions in fostering supportive environments and success for undocumented students.

References

 

 

 

Teach·er ˈtēCHər/: 1. Instigator of Truth.  2. Agitator of Critical Thinking. 3. Provocateur of Free Thought.

By Claudia Felske

Ah, predictable me. If you’ve at all been a reader of my blog, you can probably predict my dilemma right now. These days, I suspect I am hardly alone in this quandary. I’ve written about it in the past: the push and pull between the public school teacher me and private citizen me.

SO here’s my (utterly predictable) dilemma: How does one teach in these politically-charged, complicated times when “fake news” masquerades as the truth, when “real news” is labeled “fake news,” when Orwellian terms such as “post truth” and “alternative facts” are no longer the stuff of Dystopian novels, but mainstream discourse?

fake-stampAnd to those of you who are about to call me out for bringing politics into my classroom, let me say this:  When language itself is being altered and manipulated, when knowledge itself is being distorted and undermined by the highest offices in this country, politics has clearly forced its way into our classrooms, not vice versa.  

Let’s take English class, for example. In English class, we talk about words: what they mean, what impact they have, their origins, their connotations. In English, we research and write. We teach students to be skeptical readers, to find reliable sources, to verify facts, to examine multiple sides of an issue or topic. We do this so our students become good readers and critical thinkers capable of making credible arguments and discerning reliable information in their post-secondary studies, in the workplace, and in the larger world. We do it so they become effective communicators and responsible citizens.

Enter “post-truth,” “fake news,” “alternative facts”; enter a presidential administration which openly disputes easily verifiable facts, which calls the media “the opposition party,” which maligns and berates those who question and attempt to fact-check.

If we are truly “teachers” is it not our responsibility to “teach” students to examine, to question, to discern the truth, to navigate through the complex world of politics, the media, the blogosphere, and propaganda?  

lincoln

It seems to me (I’m primarily speaking of English teachers and Social Studies teachers here) we have three options:  

  1. Do nothing. (Welcome to the path of least resistance and least responsibility).  
  2. Go for it. Lay out the evidence: let videoclips of Spicer, Conway, and Trump speak for themselves (And be prepared for the fall-out).
  3. Navigate somewhere between 1 & 2. (Provide a path for students to investigate this critical topic for themselves).   

Last week, I attempted #3.  I amended our Debate unit in Freshman English to include a few days examining Fake News and what has become the murkiness surrounding “the truth.”

Full disclosure here: Designing these lessons was cause for much anxiety and reflection. I teach in a predominantly conservative community which, like much of his country, is deeply divided and deliberately silent in public on many critical issues that matter to us all.  

Long story short, here’s what I did and why. If you feel so inclined to use any of this in your own classroom, please steal it outright:

Day 1: Students reflected on their own experience with Fake News and examined how its created.  

  1. Small groups of students discussed examples of fake news they’ve encountered on social media or elsewhere.
  2. Students shared out with the class.
  3. Assignment: Students researched the concept of “Fake News”

Day 2: Students participated in a class discussion on the making of Fake news and its impact on Democracy and “Truth.”

  1. Students shared their thoughts about From Headline to Photograph: A Fake News Masterpiece.
  2. Students reflected on (wrote and then discussed) James Madison’s quote: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
  3. Students then reflected on (wrote and then discussed) Serina Taverse’s quote: Fake news, and the proliferation of raw opinion that passes for news, is creating confusion, punching holes in what is true, causing a kind of fun-house effect that leaves the reader doubting everything, including real news.” – New York Times

Day 3: I took dictation in a class K-W-L (Know, Want-to-Know, Learn) exploring the terms “Post-Truth” and “Alternative Facts,” and I introduced the “Triple-Washed Facts” process.

  1. With a KWL chart on the Smart Board, I presented the terms “post-truth” and “alternative facts.” For each, I asked what we “Know.” I typed as they spoke. Then I asked what we “Want to Know” and I typed out their questions. Then, I had them use their Chromebooks to answer those questions. Finally, I typed as they told me what they “Learned.”
  2. I introduced the “Triple Wash” Process. This is the process they  would use for researching all facts used in this debate unit. 1) Check the Source: reputation, experience, respect 2) Check for “Fishiness: (use your BS detector) Is it too surprising? Is it too fantastic? Is it too convenient?  3) Verify it Elsewhere with that “elsewhere” being a separate reliable source.

15-fake-news-w190-h190-2x

Over the course of these three days, I never told  them what to think. This was very much by design. I orchestrated their own exploration and examination of Fake News and its fallout. I was pleased with the depth of their skepticism, interest, and connection-making. And I was pleased that none of their conclusions came from me.

So now, I’m requiring my students to triple-wash every fact they use in our debate unit and beyond, and I’m imploring them to employ similar rigor to the greater network of information and social media streams in which they live.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Charlie Sykes, former WISN conservative radio host, articulated the necessity of such scrutiny: “The real danger,” he asserted, “is that, inundated with ‘alternative facts,’ many…will simply shrug, asking, ‘What is truth?’ — and not wait for an answer.”

That’s where educators enter the picture. We must be instigators of truth, agitators of critical thinking, provocateurs of free thought.

We must teach students to hold everyone accountable, to relentlessly seek the truth, to look for the larger narrative.  As citizens in a democracy, it is our job and theirs to hold none above such scrutiny.

Public Education- An Endangered Endeavor?

save our tudentsBy Dhanya Nair

Education, one of the most basic services that should be made available to children and youth by society, is often the cause of much debate and controversy. Providing quality public education is challenging, even in developed nations like the United States. However, the benefits of free k-12 education are immense and are often reflected in the quality-of-life of a nation’s citizenry. Political leadership has a direct influence on public education through funding and curricula. Having grown up in a nation where public schools lack funds and quality teachers, and where warring political parties propagate their viewpoints by altering textbooks, I feel strongly about the need for citizen-participation in matters of education.

Public education is meant to provide a level-playing field for children from different racial, socioeconomic and social class backgrounds. Education should be an equalizer, not the fiefdom of a select few. If the people making decisions about public education in this country or any other are not committed to achieving its actual goals, there is cause for concern. As a mental health professional, I interact to some extent with the urban school system in this city and within the scope of my limited interaction, the disparities between urban and suburban schools are clear to me. Inequalities are meted out regularly to those children who come from minority, low socioeconomic and low social class backgrounds. Common sense dictates that the achievement gap can be narrowed largely by affording equal opportunities to children cross this nation. However, it remains to be seen if new educational policies will bow to political ideologies or the best interests of students.

She’s the Right Person for the Job if the Job is to Destroy Public Education

By Claudia Felske

This month, I’ll cut to the chase: short but not at all sweet—

Betsy DeVos is President Elect Trump’s nominee for United States Secretary of Education.

DeVos is an activist and millionaire donor in national efforts to divert public educational dollars away from public schools and toward for-profit corporations undermining the original intent of charter schools.

This is the woman set to lead public education in this country.

The charters DeVos advocates have little to no oversight as to the quality of the curriculum, credentials of the teachers, and which students they can deny enrollment. They are exempt from evaluation and monitoring requirements of public schools, many are rife with financial corruption, and many significantly underperform academically compared to their public school counterparts.

This is the woman set to lead public education in this country.

As Diane Ravitch, Department of Education appointee for both Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, said “If confirmed by the Senate—DeVos will become the most radical, anti-public-school education secretary since the Office of Education was established in 1867.” 

This is the woman set to lead public education in this country.  

DeVos has never attended a public school, nor have her children. She has zero experience in public education as a student, teacher, or an administrator. She has no background or experience in curriculum or pedagogy.

This is the woman set lead public education in this country.

Imagine having a new boss at work. Now imagine that this new boss has no experience in your field whatsoever and this new boss has a track record of defunding and destroying companies she leads.   Now imagine that this workplace is every public school in the country. 

This is what we’re dealing with.

So…

1. Educate yourself about Betsy DeVos:

2. Act, email, and call your Senators accordingly.

*The confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos is set to begin January 11, 2017.

Does Spelling Matter?

spelling-998350_960_720By Stephanie Nicoletti

Does spelling matter? Do children learn proper grammar? Do children learn cursive anymore? It seems lately there is this concern about how children are learning writing and spelling skills, which is valid, but the answers to these questions are YES, OF COURSE! It just probably looks different than it used to and these important questions deserve an answer.

Learning to spell is a very difficult task because children are trying to use many different skills at once. When children are so focused on spelling every word exactly correct, the writing process gets slowed down. Many teachers, especially in the early grades, and including myself, encourage inventive spelling: the child makes his or her best guess on the spelling of the word. When a student asks, “Miss Nicoletti, how do you spell ‘because’?” I simply respond, “stretch through each sound of the word.” This practice is research-driven and when children use this method, their writing becomes more fluent with richer vocabulary.

Of course, in the older grades spelling does count, but most teachers have their students engage in a writing process. Correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar come in the final stages of the writing process. Spelling in the older grades comes last in the writing process for the same reason as the primary grades: focusing on spelling too much early on will limit the student’s flow of ideas and quality of writing.

So, do schools still even teach spelling then? Something that our district has implemented that I am particularly proud of is the use of the Words Their Way spelling program. To sum up: students are placed in “spelling groups” based on actual spelling patterns students need help with. When they are “tested” each week, we only look at the spelling pattern that they are focusing on, not the spelling of the whole word. This is a new type of thinking for parents and even teachers, this individualized program supports the research stated above while fostering reading and writing skills.

My Not-So-Good Blogpost

Warning: This is not a good blogpost. A few days ago, I was good to go. I had this month’s blogpost in draft form, in need of a little polish, but it was done—it was timely, relevant, I felt pretty good about it—–and then I decided to chuck it.

You see, a few days ago, my life as a blogger, a teacher, a human being was different, all of our lives were different. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and Officers Lorne Abrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa have changed everything. They have me reeling. They have me recognizing the gross insufficiency of my blogpost, and so I’m chucking it to make way for my not-so-good blogpost, not so good because the right words to process this tragedy are simply unavailable, and the full-circle format so satisfying in a blogpost (problem and solution, question and answer) won’t happen this time around. No pat answers or easy solutions here.

After all, how do we even talk about this? Gun violence. Racial injustice. It’s an understatement to say that these are difficult issues to talk about. Do you dare talk about them with your extended family, your co-workers, your students? They are mired in layers of history, race, identity, and socioeconomics. I’m certain that I’m not the only one, fingers on keyboard right now, not knowing which keys to tap, what words to use. But the very fact that these subjects are so hard to broach underscores their complexity and the urgency with which they must be tackled.

So, how can we tackle them? Here’s my not-so-good attempt:

First, Get Upset

The easiest thing to do is nothing: do nothing, say nothing. News happens and life goes on. If you do nothing and say nothing, none of your Facebook friends will be offended; no one will be arguing at the dinner table; there will be no weirdness in the break room at work. But doing nothing and saying nothing is akin to accepting the horrors of last week as “the new norm” as US Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned.  Doing nothing and saying nothing is complicity.  Our membership in the human race requires more of us.

Second, Say Something, Do Something

As a wife and mother, this means taking about it at the dinner table. As a citizen, this means picking up the phone and calling my representatives to voice my concerns about gun legislation (a topic I find tragically tied to these events). As an English teacher, this means necessarily complicating my teaching of Huck FinnThings Fall ApartTo Kill a MockingbirdOthello—to include the gamut of voices on contemporary race issues (Michael Eric Dyson’s recent “Death in Black and White” and others). It means giving my students the tools and the uncomfortable but important opportunity to process these issues in a safe, rational setting (a complex task, but one sorely needed in our world of increasingly uncivil and unbalanced discourse). As an American, this means being a part of a larger conversation, a larger action. And while I’m not certain what that will look like, I’m committed to being a part of it, as difficult and uncomfortable as it’s sure to be.

As teachers, we have many moments of truth. I’m reminded of one such moment faced by a colleague of mine during our Homecoming Parade several years ago. He stepped into the road, preventing two students in a truck donning a giant confederate flag from joining the tail end of our homecoming parade. Aside from being a physical risk, it was a social and professional one. There he was out in the community in which he taught—no time to consult with the principal, superintendent or lawyers—he decided to step in front of the truck and stop a symbol of oppression and racism from being associated with our school and community.

I’m reminded of another moment of truth in recent days by Robert, a former student of mine (how frequently our students become our teachers). Reading his post on Facebook shortly after finishing my original blogpost is what prompted my rewrite. Here are his words:

“I don’t know what to say about it, and I don’t know if I’m qualified to say anything about it. But damn it, staying quiet doesn’t feel right: I am 4 times LESS likely to be killed by the cops than any random black person is. This is not an opinion, this is fact. Because I was born with pasty white pigment, I’ve always felt safe during routine traffic stops. I’ve never carried a weapon, but I’m sure if I did I would be given credit by many for “exercising my second amendment rights.” Of course in a perfect world we should all (no matter our pigment) respect and admire the police. But you do not gain respect and admiration by also being feared. There is no doubt (just look at the stats and our ugly history) black communities have good reason to FEAR the police while white communities largely don’t. Now, I’m not saying all (or even most) cops are racist. What I am saying though, is that there is a systemic problem and police killings of black people happen at a disproportionate rate. And it must stop. If you’re white and this status makes you uncomfortable, it should do more than that. We all should be in this together to demand better.”

I’m proud of his words. I’m proud that he had the courage to struggle with words and contradictions and the complexity of what we cannot allow to become the new norm.

Third: Ask Uncomfortable Questions

My building principal has a saying that I’ve always found helpful. He says that part of his job is to make people uncomfortable. To change, to improve, to grow, we must be uncomfortable with the status quo. I can think of little that’s more uncomfortable than discussing these ideas in a classroom, but the classroom is a microcosm of the world, and choosing silence means accepting the events of last week the status quo.

We have little choice, then, but to ask uncomfortable questions, and there are many:

  • What does it mean that President Obama, US District Attorney Loretta Lynch, Dallas Chief of Police David Brown are all African Americans in the highest positions of power in politics, law enforcement and justice, yet our politics and law enforcement and justice systems are mired in racial tensions and inequalities?
  • How do we come to terms with the progress we’ve made and the problems that remain?
  • What is the relationship between our gun laws and violence? Between patrons bearing arms and police violence perpetrated against them? Between police deaths and gun proliferation?
  • What is the majority opinion in America regarding background checks and the legality of assault-type weapons?  Is this voice being represented by our legislators?
  • What happens when violence escalates, but conditions don’t change? What have other countries—historically and contemporarily—done to curb gun violence?
  • What initiatives are in place to examine and improve race relations?  What role does segregation play in race relations?
  • What role/responsibility does social media play in peace-keeping, accountability, and inciting violence? What role do television and radio media play?

I want to live in a country where we ask the uncomfortable questions, where we relentlessly strive for social justice, where we respect and protect our institutions of law enforcement and justice, where we do what’s required of us as citizens in a democracy.

That’s why as a blogger, a mother, a teacher, a citizen, and a human being, I was required to write this not-so-good blogpost.


What is a Marquette Educator?

Follow us on Twitter

Archives