We may be the architects of our own destruction…

Gary Howard (1996) asks, (p. 324) “What does it mean for White people to be responsible and aware in a nation where we have been the dominant cultural and political force?

One of the reasons Howard cites (p.325) for those of European ancestry feeling so ambivalent toward the perceived threat of a multicultural society is that–for many of them– persecution, prejudice, and discrimination are part of their own ancestral past, a history that many feel has not been adequately addressed. Weren’t the Irish and Italian immigrants ostracized and often outright killed, even as they settled into large, industrial cities? Weren’t the Eastern Europeans looked upon with suspicion, having to change their sir names and lose their accents, in favor of more Anglicized forms?

Taking this into account, perhaps white American culture should be more mindful of the high cost their own ancestors paid to become part of this nation. Should we not afford the same chance to other races and cultures, who continue to come to our shores looking for the very same things European immigrants sought so long ago? And once here, should they not be given the opportunity, not to simply assimilate and comply with established White norms, but add to the society that has given all of us a chance at freedom and self-determination?

Every time this nation makes room for new people, new languages, and cultural backgrounds, it enriches us all in ways we do not fully realize. It happens so minutely, that the dominant culture believes that these newcomers must be assimilating, becoming “Good Americans”; And, though on some level they are, they are also “adding their perfection to our own” (sorry, I cannot resist the Borg dictum from Star Trek). Everyday life—from what we eat, to who we choose to provide us with medical attention—is enriched by immigrant contributions.

Even as many whites rail against “foreigners” bringing crime, poverty, and odd belief systems into their communities–these same whites are more than glad to partake of the delicious foods, the social and luxury services, and professional, thoughtful care immigrant people provide to them, each and every day. Not to mention the often demeaning and difficult jobs they are willing to take on, that white workers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

So, how can white Americans be more responsible? They can own up to the fact that we need immigrant people’s cultural contributions, just as much as they need what a new life in our country offers. We can defend them like our long-lost brothers and sisters. We can throw out common, prejudiced misconceptions (or at the very least, adjust them according to new truths we encounter). We can help to raise their voices, and give them room to contribute, rather than try to keep them down.

What can be our unique contribution, and what are the issues we need to face?

Howard (p.327) suggests that our white, dominant-culture privilege affords those of us who inhabit it to prosper more easily than our multi-racial counterparts. He also acknowledges that, even when whites fail, they never have to worry that it is because of their skin color. So, I think perhaps our unique contribution can come from our position of relative ease: We can use our privilege to make room for those who do not have it so easy. We can advocate for them. We do not speak for them, but provide them room to speak for themselves. We defend their dignity, we honor their tenacity. We level the playing field, not just for the white race, but to include all players—not to assimilate and deny their ethnicity, but to celebrate it. We should call out institutional racism, and fight for equity for all. White people have the power to do good—that is our contribution. But we must be vigilant not to let that make whites feel superior, however. Instead, we should be custodians and mentors, allies and partners. Sometimes even silent partners.

How do we help create a nation where all cultures are accorded dignity and the right to survive?

Howard states (p.328), that underlying both the denial and the hostility (of whites toward other races), is a deep seated fear of diversity. White dominant-cultural “guardians” defend the supremacy of a white, European-based, Christian society, that actually does not really exist. We have actually been a nation of many religions and races for much longer, and continue to go in that direction, even as widespread racism and violence has taken hold again. It is all fear-based.

Immigrants and the multi-racial populations typically become scapegoats, when there is an economic downturn, or increased crime. But when we examine the issues at a deeper level, these events are symptoms of the fear that caused them in the first place. Growth comes in fits and starts, but then we defeat ourselves as a society when fear settles in. Violence begets violence. We take two steps back, even as we step forward. How do we change this paradigm? Own up to our cultural shortcomings, and begin to heal. Facing reality is the beginning of liberation (p. 329). As noted earlier, we as a nation must advocate for the marginalized and oppressed among us. Get educated, open a dialogue, and decry racism, violence, and backward thinking at every opportunity. Lose the fear that grips us as a people, before it really is too late…we will become our own undoing. America was not meant to be exclusive–check the Constitution. At its central core, it is a set of agreements that provide basic rights and freedoms for ALL. That has not changed, nor should it, but we can amend and improve upon it to reflect the times. Those times, bad or good, depend on all of us pulling together. Simple, yet not so much.

Cited:

Banks, J. A. (1996). Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge, and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Gary Howard, Chapter 17-Whites in Multi-cultural education—rethinking our role. Teachers College Press, Columbia University, New York, NY.

 

 

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My 5th Year

So here I am, entering my fifth school year as a teacher specializing in English Language Development. I am also midway through my graduate degree in Multicultural Education and ESL. It’s been a tough road here and  there, but I have few if any regrets.

The downside of this vocation remains much the same: Limited financial resources and support from the state government, increased emphasis on mandated testing (the worst is a new Kindergarten ELL test, 30 minutes long), misconceptions by the public and even some colleagues about what I do: “Isn’t teaching ELD curriculum harder, because the kids don’t understand anything?”  (One typical assumption I encounter yearly).  Lots and lots of paperwork, scheduling hassles, and documentation. This is the boring stuff.

The upside? Working with kids from various backgrounds and cultures, of course. Working with refugee and immigrant kids, getting to know their families, and making a connection based on trust, by finding common ground. Knowing that these kids, in particular, are eager to learn, and want to go to school. They do not take education for granted. Another awesome part of my job, is I get to teach ESL in my own way–though I do follow a prescribed curriculum, I can adapt it however I see fit, and tailor it to my various students’ needs. I can be creative, I can be culturally responsive. And best of all, I can be myself.

Sometimes teaching ESL, especially as a “resource” teacher, can be very lonely. I cannot collaborate daily with teaching teams. Most of the time, it is “hit and run”: A few minutes here and there with the classroom teachers with whom I share students. I share ideas and data with them, which they sometimes appreciate, but often ignore.

The administration at my school values what I do, as long as I do not step out of bounds, like advocating for my students without “checking in” first–following protocol, etc.  Often I am censored, and not encouraged to take a leadership role as a teacher. So the research and education I am trying to apply to my work is often thwarted. How can I be an “agent of change” or “dialogic” in my approach, when few are willing to listen?

And so, another school year begins, this being (actually) my tenth as a teacher. For half of those years, I have worked directly with ELLs. Who knows where this next leg of the journey will take me?

I am hoping for some commiseration, some input, and clarity from my readers. Please feel free to comment, no matter where you stand. And if you teach ELs, welcome back to the classroom!

Ms. N.

Inclusive_community

 

 

Activism: Does it Matter?

Everyday my Inbox is full of entreaties to protest for, petition in support of, and donate to a myriad of causes. Most are in response to the continuing assault on the environment, human rights, immigrant rights, education, and to fight the Trump administration’s agenda.

Although I am a supporter of the activist spirit (as I myself have been activist, both passive and active), I wonder sometimes how much of what I sign, write about, or donate to, has any effect whatsoever. Sometimes I feel I would be better occupied by continuing to educate future people– so that these same issues, and the clearly destructive decisions by those in control, can at last be eradicated by a more intelligent, compassionate generation.

Of course, how we engage with current events and social issues is also being watched by those whom we teach. How we deal with them is watched by our own children. If we do nothing, say nothing, then they will think there is nothing to be done. And so, the cycle continues.

So—even if it feels as if we gain no real ground by venting our discontent with the status quo and the wrongs of the world, through our passive and active acts of protest, perhaps we should continue to do so. Diligently, conscientiously, but not randomly. We cannot hope to fix everything, especially by passively signing every petition on social media or in our e-mail. We must make our truth a reality by living it.

Being honest about what we believe in and support, without negligent judgement, or pressure (especially on the younger generation) is an important first step. Showing, instead of telling. Encouraging others’ exploration into issues that concern us all. And then, asking those who read or hear us to decide for themselves.

It is our responsibility, almost a sacred duty, to educate and prepare the next generation. But we need to be prepared to ask and answer the hard questions, always and without fail.

And occasionally, delete some petitions in favor of others. Small but significant steps.

einstein

2016: The Year that Defined Us?

It’s not easy to admit when we are wrong. And in the past year, there has been much, much wrong. DAPL, the death of  David Bowie (May He Rest in Peace), and the election of Donald Trump top my personal list. Death notwithstanding (as little can be done to prevent “natural” death–although it’d be nice if we’d finally get around to curing cancer), could we have prevented what is wrong in the world?

You may look back and see many “wrongs” that define the year 2016 for you, and not necessarily agree with  the list that follows. There were just so many injustices and sadnesses to choose from–no matter your religion, political affiliation, your stand on the environment, or on human rights. But should 2016 come to be known as the year that defined us as a country, a world, as human beings I don’t know…that depends on your definition.

Were we intolerant and violent?

 

Were we deluded?

Image result for Trump followers

Photo from Vox online magazine, 2016

 

Were we destructive?

From Conserve Energy Future online website, 2016

 

 

Were we uncaring?

Image result for syrian refugee crisis

Photo from helpforsyria.org.uk online website

 

 

Were we wasteful?

Photo from Think Progress online magazine, 2013

 

People walk past a Forever 21 store in New York's Times Square in 2010. U.S. consumer confidence jumped this month to the highest level since February.

From US News and World Report online, 2012. MARY ALTAFFER/AP PHOTO.

 

Were we ignorant?

Image result for social media ignorance

Pinterest

 

This list is inexhaustible, and I am sure, open to debate. It is merely a snapshot of issues, and the views of those who experience these types of “wrongs” vary so widely, there may be no real answers to “righting” them. I merely wish to share that they are out there, and (still) bear reflection.

We do not have to be defined by them, and obviously, 2016 wasn’t the only year that saw these types of problems. It stands to reason that we–the world and its people–may have been part of the problem, perhaps even the cause. And even if we weren’t, then we need to continue to try to right the wrongs to the best of our collective abilities. Ceaselessly.

2017 looms. Can we shorten the list of wrongs? Probably not, there will always be new issues to deal with, and we are continuously taking two steps back as we take two forward. But no matter how dire the coming year seems to be, we must try to face it with everything we’ve got. And rise to it. Keep reading, keep thinking, keep hope alive.

fear

Credits:

Politico online Magazine: Black Lives Matter isn’t stopping, And President Obama could be next, the group’s co-founder tells POLITICO. By SARAH WHEATON 08/20/15
Reverb online magazine: Police Cross Line As Standing Rock Protester Has Arm Blown Apart. November 21, 2016 Dylan Hock
Vox online magazine: The rise of American authoritarianism by Amanda Taub on March 1, 2016
Slate online: Bad Astronomy (Blog)- No, Global Warming Has NOT Stopped. by Phil Plait March 2013
Conserve Energy Future: Global Warming (blog) by Rinkesh. Retrieved December 2016
FIRMM online website: Plastic debris in the ocean. 2013/10/03 15:08 by firmm Team
Help for Syria website: The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Searching for Peace. September 2016, UK Charities Making A Difference
World.Mic online magazine: 45 Surprising Facts About Extreme Poverty Around the World You May Not Have Realized. By Hyacinth Mascarenhas May 22, 2014
Think Progress online article: Americans Throw Out 40 Percent Of Their Food, Which Is Terrible For The Climate By Andrew Breiner and Katie Valentine, Jun 5, 2013
US News and World Report online magazine: The Wasteful Culture of Forever 21, H&M, and ‘Fast Fashion’, By Lisa Chau,  Contributor Sept. 21, 2012
WAVAW Rape Crisis Center online website: What is Rape Culture? WAVAW staff. Retrieved December 2016.

 

 

 

The Backlash: Attitudes overseas about Refugee Kids attending public school reflect what we may be facing here in the US

It is not new news that many countries in Europe, and more recently Canada, have been taking refugees from Syria and other war-torn regions for months, and that the “honeymoon” period of goodwill and charity is starting to wear thin–and the backlash is growing. See this article:

https://a.msn.com/r/2/BBwCEjU?m=en-us

As an educator here in the US, particularly in Arizona, a state not known for particularly liberal views or  an “open-armed” policy toward immigrants,  I am concerned that these children and their families, who will be coming from various war zones around the world–Syria and Iraq most notably–will be facing just such resistance and unwelcome attitudes in our own community.

I found out just a few weeks ago, that we could expect an undisclosed but possibly large group of immigrant students, due to enroll in our school as early as mid-October. An apartment complex nearby likely took a contract to house as many families as they could accommodate, with some families having up to 8 members in a household. This is a bit of a stressful situation, mainly in how our classrooms may need to grow in size, which may possibly even create a need for combination classes—mainly ESL combo classes, which means my current position as a resource “pull-out” teacher may become a thing of the past. Although I am an experienced classroom teacher, even combo-grades, I like my current position. On the other hand, I look forward to the challenges and the joys of working with refugee students again.

This doesn’t mean I do not acknowledge the concerns about our school “climate” changing drastically (a big concern for my principal), or that there is likely to be health and mental/emotional issues among these children–I do, and there will be issues on a scale this school is not likely to have faced in some time. But this is what I have prepared for most of my professional life, and all of my training and schooling is going to be put to the test.

But the real issue here are the rights of the refugee students–they have a right to safe haven, to be able to go to school, to feel accepted. And with the current public climate, that terrorism is somehow following these children into our country, I am doubly concerned. I am going to need to advocate like never before. Will our community be up to the task?

Will I?

I truly hope so, for theirs—and all of our sake.

eduucation-can-end-terrorism