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Tales are forever…

talesBy Dhanya Nair

Last week, I ambled to the Milwaukee public library to get some books for my three-year-old nephew. I was pleased at the wide variety of children’s books at the library; along with Snow White and Cinderella, there were folk tales from South America and Africa and books which focused on the experiences of immigrant children. As I browsed through rows of fairy tales, folk tales, animal tales, nature tales, mysteries, and tales of horror, I felt a twinge of excitement. I was surprised at my excitement because I was not engaging in anything new; libraries have always been my safe haven. Later, I realized that I was excited because I was going to be the controller-of-tales. I would influence my nephew’s flights of imagination during his short stay at my home.

I found myself thinking about the tales I used to read as a child; Enid Blyton’s Famous Five used to be one of my favorite books. The Famous Five was about four siblings and their dog: Julian, Dick, Anne, Georgina (George), and Timmy (the canine). They would routinely find themselves involved in a local mystery during their vacations. Nothing about their geographic settings were familiar to me; they often sought adventure in places like Wales and Cornwall and ate scones, jam tarts, cold cuts, roast potatoes, and kidney pies. I remember being fascinated by the adventures of the five, and today I marvel at their amazing ability to transport me to a place which was inaccessible to me. The Indian tales which I used to read always had an element of magic in them, whether they were from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Jataka, or Panchatantra.

Magic is the word I associate most with childhood tales, these tales are often also associated with an emotional landscape. When I reflect back on my childhood, I remember the stories and rhymes which my aunt and mother narrated to coax me to eat food or fall asleep. I also vividly remember the eagerness with which I would await cartoons and other kids’ shows on Sundays (my childhood was spent in simpler times, when delayed gratification was the rule and not the exception). Tales are also often the perfect gateway to a rich alternate world, where most children find comfort and refuge. My nephew is adept at pretend-play and often adopts the voices and words of the characters from his beloved tales.

My fascination with tales is child-like, however, I am not ashamed at admitting that they hold a strong sway over me. Tales are powerful, the world around us is filled with them. They not only serve as vehicles of morals and values for children, but also reflect the times we live in. Salman Rushdie conveys the importance of tales in his wonderful book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. In the book, Haroun’s father, Rashid, is a master storyteller and is much sought after by political parties to weave positive stories about their candidates. Rashid is called the “shah of blah” in the book and I will always remain grateful to the various “shahs of blah” whom I have encountered in my life.

Photo Jul 07, 10 30 07 AMBy Charlotte Adnams
As part of this year’s emphasis on writing in the Live to Dream Summer Reading Program, the students have been working on their own “All About Me” writing project. The last hour of instruction each day is focused on the students working through and strengthening their writing skills with a project where they are encouraged to write about themselves and what they enjoy. The “Wade Coaches” have been working with students on the writing process of brainstorming, organizing, drafting, editing, and revising.

“Reading and writing go hand in hand,” Christine Reinders, who has played an integral role in planning for the writing portion of the program, mentions. As one of the mentors to the “Wade Coaches,” she has been able to guide these educators in helping their students gain confidence and engage in the writing process. The students are given a space to grow in their writing skills and explore aspects of their life while gaining a “positive disposition of writing,” Reinders adds. Each student is given a digital camera to snap pictures of their family members, pets, sports they play, and even hobbies to pair with their writings.

This is the first year that the program has incorporated the writing project. The students in last year’s program worked through an integrated art project based on the work of artist Romare Bearden. The “All About Me” writing project gives these young students a platform for writing. As writing is a key part of communication and it is strongly linked to reading, this dedicated time to guiding students in their development aids students in their skills and confidence. While the students are making the final edits and revisions to their writing project, they show pride in their hard work and excitement in what they have achieved!

After a morning of reading and writing, the students take a well earned snack break and play with the parachute at Central Mall.

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.

The Privilege of Being a Mother of Children Who Look White

key-96233-1280By Lisa Edwards (re-posted from Dr. Edwards’ blog Hopeful Mama, this post was written prior to the tragic events that happened in Dallas. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this and any other acts of violence no matter where, when or how.)

Soon after I woke up this morning I read about the shooting of Philando Castille, and then I read updates about the shooting of Alton Sterling. Because I teach and do research about multicultural psychology, these stories of lost innocent lives and the complexity of race relations and discrimination in our country are not entirely surprising. But this morning I found myself contemplating the events in the context of being a mother.

I walked around the kitchen, preparing cereal bowls and lunches. Preparing my children for the day ahead, preparing clothes and combing hair. Our roles as mothers always involve preparation. The one area that I never have to prepare my kids for, though, is how to exist in this world as a visible ethnic minority.

To give you a little background, my mother is Latina and my father is White. I identify as being of mixed ethnicity and have spent a good deal of time exploring my privilege associated with that identity and the way I look. While my children have South American family members and they feel connected to their Latino ancestry, they look 100% White and are always identified as White.

So today I’ve been struck by the privileges of being a mother of children who look White. These are unearned privileges, because I didn’t do anything to get them. Yes, I am a hard-working mother. Yes, parenting is not easy and we have challenges as a family. And yes, there are obstacles in life for my daughters because they are girls. This is all true, but I still have unearned advantages that others do not have.

As I try to wrap my head around this idea I think back to one of the most powerful essays about White Privilege by Peggy McIntosh, in which she describes a list of advantages she has because she is White. She notes everything from being able to shop in a store without being followed, to finding a band-aid that matches her skin tone. I realize that my own set of privileges related to parenting are similar, but also unique in some ways. Because parenting and the protection and positive development of my children is so fundamental to my life, all of these privileges have profound benefits.

Below are just a few of the daily advantages I have as a mother of children who look White:

*I have confidence that teachers and professionals are interacting with my children without bias.

*If my children get in trouble in public, I know they will not be seen as bad examples of their race.

*I can find toys and books that have characters who look like my children.

*If a concern emerges at school or daycare about my child, I can feel confident that the teacher has not magnified the issue because of my child’s race.

*I can be confident that my children will learn about role models, public figures, and accomplished professionals in the world who look like them.

*I can let my children wear whatever they want, even clothing that is trendy.

*I can feel confident that if my child is not invited to another child’s birthday party it is not because of their race.

*I can be sure that the world will have high expectations for my children.

*I can write a blog entry like this without people accusing me of trying to “play the race card.”

There are so many other privileges I have, but this one is perhaps the most poignant to me today:

*I can hear news about shootings of innocent teens like Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice without feeling like I could lose my children one day in the same way.

This post is dedicated to the mothers.

Ready for S’more Reading?

alliBy Charlotte Adnams

Before the program begins, I watch the 12 Marquette tutors prepare for the students to trickle through the front doors of the Hartman Center for the third week of the Dwyane Wade Live to Dream Summer Reading Program. Around 9 AM the tutors all gather outside their mini-classrooms and patiently mingle and chat about the day ahead. Each morning that the students filter in to the Hartman Center, it is evident how well-prepared and knowledgeable these teachers are in working with these young students and their diverse needs. As former College of Education students, the 12 “Wade Coaches” experienced diverse field placements and training that aided them in their current role as tutors to these young students.

 

As I am able to observe the learning progress from the windows of each of the mini-classrooms, I am able to witness an excitement for learning and reading that will help these young students excel. Each of the tutors cater to the needs of their students. Some with a stronger emphasis on reading comprehension others more so on word accuracy skills, but an overall aim of making reading fun and enjoyable. The students have been working hard these past couple weeks of the program to become even more well-rounded readers.

Students enjoy their snack and recess break on the Schroeder Complex lawn.

The community that is fostered in the Hartman Center and this Live to Dream Summer Reading Program excites me for my future role as a tutor and reading coach in the coming fall semester. The program fosters a perfect balance of comfort and challenge for these young learners which create an environment to boost the students in their reading and writing skills. Next week these young students will be perfecting their “All About Me” writing project for the program pairing writings with photographs. With just two more weeks to go of the program, the students are still eager and excited to make even more progress!

Happy Independence Day!

fireworks-804838_960_720

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” — Thomas Jefferson

The Case for Summer Camp

Pinemere_Camp_grounds.jpgBy Carl Anderson

I loved Marquette, and the experiences I had there changed my life. But the thing I miss most about my college experience is being able to work at Camp Lincoln for Boys in North-Central Minnesota. I was able to work there for every summer from 2008-2013. I’m jealous both of my little brothers are able to work there this summer. But more than anything else, working at summer camp is the best summer teacher training I can think of. I can’t recommend it enough for any pre-service teacher looking for a meaningful, impactful and transformative summer experience. I came up with a list of reasons everyone, but especially pre-service teachers, should work at summer camp.

  1. It’s really, really, really, hard, which gives you an idea of what makes teaching so hard. You think that it is a summer of being on a lake playing with kids. While it is partly that, you wear a ton of hats; you are a mentor, parent, role-model, older sibling, inspiration, friend and so much more to the campers and fellow staff. You gain respect for parents, because you’re with the kids 24/7. You understand what teachers have to do when they feel like crap but have to put on their teaching faces. You learn how to push campers to be their best—at whatever activity they are working on. You inspire their work ethic, self worth, sense of community, friendship-building skills and fun! Oh! And, if you’re lucky, you get a day off a week. So definitely not easy.
  2. It’s incredibly rewarding. When you get a letter from a parent after their kid has come home, and it says they see a more confident kid, who has a stronger sense of self-worth, cleans up after themselves, and understands perseverance, you swell with pride. You will see your campers grow every day. From learning to make their bed (a big skill for an 8-year-old!) to watching a 15-year-old become a leader for the whole camp, you know you’ve helped that camper excel.
  3. You build your classroom management skills in an environment where they get put to the test immediately. Imagine having 14 rambunctious 10-year-olds who don’t want to be quiet for rest hour, because they’ve got touch football after. How do you get them to stay calm? How do you reward desired behavior? There’s a group of kids upstairs you can’t see, how do you make sure they’re not causing trouble? I learned how do deal with all of those things my first week with campers as a 19-year-old. It has been invaluable for my classroom management skills in my teaching career.
  4. You discover you were meant to be a teacher. This cuts two ways. My particular experience at Camp Lincoln in 2008 and 2009 made me realize I should have listened to my mom when I applied to Marquette, and enrolled in the College of Education right away (I just didn’t want to be a clone of my Dad…so I teach English, not Social Studies). I went right in to my advisor in September of 2009 after Camp and worked out a way to be an Education major without sacrificing a summer at Camp. The other side is anyone who knew in their heart they wanted to be a teacher will have it affirmed by working at a summer camp.
  5. You will learn from amazing people how to be a better teacher. There is a legend at Camp Lincoln named John Heineman. He worked at Camp for years and is a teacher in Nebraska. He was Teacher of the Year there at least once. His tips for working with campers are things I use every day while I teach. From sitting side by side while talking to boys, or giving them something to play with while talking to you so they aren’t nervous, to knowing it is okay to be goofy because kids will love it when it is authentic– I use it all every day. I credit John and Camp for being the reason relationship building is my strongest skill as a teacher.
  6. Bonus! CFAB. CFAB is a saying from my Camp. It stands for Camp Friends Are Best. You will make friends for life. In the way MU Alums have a fantastic network of amazing Marquette friends, I also have an amazing network of Camp friends. I worked at camp for long enough that some of my camp friends were campers when I first met them, and then worked for me at Camp. And in the same way talking Marquette with other MU grads is an instant connection, talking Camp with other people from your Camp (and others too) is an instant connection as well. Finally, it makes traveling even more fun. I’ve visited Camp friends in Oklahoma, Chicago, Michigan, Miami, London, Liverpool, and will be meeting some in Dublin in August. Some of my Camp friends I haven’t seen in a couple years, but we’ll always pick up right where we left off.

I could keep going for a whole book (one of my Camp friends did write a book about why to work at Camp!), but these are six of the best reasons I can think of to work at Camp for every summer you are in college. I guarantee it will be one of the best experiences of your life.


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