Saturday, February 28, 2009

College bound or Vocational Education?

Why is there a distinction between college-bound and technical school students?

Whether someone is fixing my car or operating on my heart, I would like to know that both of them have the critical thinking, literacy, and problem-solving skills to handle the situation effectively.

We are brought up to believe that one job is more important and more valuable than the other. Yet each job requires a level of skill that takes talent and knowledge. I don't want the "lesser than knowledgeable" person working on my car anymore than I want a "lesser than knowledgeable" person working on my heart.

Maybe I'm exposing my own biases here. The biases that were passed on to me were never stated anywhere, but they were understood. In the rural town I grew up in, it was easy to see who was heading "somewhere" and who wasn't. Kids were labeled based on their subject choices once in high school. Choosing shop class meant that you weren't on a college track and would end up being a mechanic or some other "low-level" job. There was a stereotype associated with the vocational classes offered.

Why is that?

How does the path to college vs. the path to vocational school get such different respect? Both paths need a degree of competency. I would like to see our schools offering that same level of competency to ALL kids so that no matter what choice they make they are equipped with the intelligence to be efficient and effective at their job.

Unfortunately, it's the children of color who disproportionately get tracked and labeled into the vocational classes once the education system has failed them. That is not beneficial to any of us.

We need to do a better job of educating ALL children so that each child is able to make his/her own choice as to what they want to be when they grow up.

For more on this, read here: Career Skills said to get Short Shrift

Friday, February 27, 2009

Accessible Administrators

Speaking *to* parents is a job. Speaking *with* parents is a talent.

I, along with two other parents from our After-School Academy, attended the Dallas Achieves meeting at North Dallas High School. I suppose the meeting was meant to inform. As the meeting started, the school board member welcomed everyone and expressed his appreciation for the "wonderful principals, teachers, and kids." One of the parents with me, fairly audibly to those of us sitting around her spoke up to say, "and PARENTS!"

The school board member went on to talk about how "the community needs to be involved and they (as if the community wasn't sitting in the same room) need to be more informed." It was at that point I got worried that we were in yet another high level meeting where parents are talked at and not listened to.

The first 45 minutes of the meeting was dry, with a power point with small words I couldn't read. The presenter spoke very high level and over our head, "We just bought back $4 mil in bonds. ...We will have a 'wireless overlay.' ...We have our 21st Century grant." I really don't think the parents cared much about the district patting themselves on the back. The parents were there for more basic reasons...their children.

Finally, they opened the floor. From that point forward, I was impressed. Parents were allowed to submit questions via a card or they could speak at the microphone. The two parents I was with voiced their concerns:

Parent 1: I would like teachers to contact me when a problem arises...not wait until two or three problems arise. If they would contact me, I could deal with the problem the first time! The school needs better communication with the parents.

Parent 2: We just moved into the Dallas district from Richardson. My girls were good students. Now, all of a sudden, they are going down hill. One of my children is a special needs student. I would like to know what programs are available through the district that I could get her into. I would like to know for both of them what the school is doing to improve because I don't want my girls getting out of high school not knowing how to read, write, and add...*if* they even make it that far. I don't want them being a statistic and dropping out because they can't do the work and don't have the skills.

I was impressed with the way the principals from North Dallas High School and a few middle schools responded. (I don't know where the principal from our elementary school (J.W. Ray) was...and that concerns me). The principals listened and addressed questions. They assured us they would contact us to follow up if we submitted a card. But more importantly...

Dr. Eduardo Hernandez, principal of North Dallas High School, gave us all his cell number and encouraged ALL of us (elementary, middle, and high school parents) to contact him at any time via phone call or text. Texting will allow him to get back with us quickly, he assured us. He promised to respond as long as it was before 7:00. After 7:00, he requested that we respect the time he spends with his own daughter.


I spoke with him afterwards. He was just as personable then as he was during the meeting. He invited me to serve on their Site-Based Decision Making board. He said he takes it off campus to a Starbucks to make it more friendly for everyone. (Gotta love that!). Plus, I found out, he lives in my neighborhood--grew up there and now has moved back.

Dr. Hernandez has the talent of speaking *with* parents. I plan to work with him so that our After-School Academy for elementary kids doesn't stop at 5th grade, but works toward getting them toward the goal of college. To do that, I need to know where they are headed and what they need to prepare for now to get them ready. I believe Dr. H will work with us in that.

I would like to see more administrators be that accessible and neighborhood/parent friendly.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dallas Mayor appoints himself?

Dallas Mayor Looks at Taking Over DISD

As the news broke that Mayor Tom Leppert was considering a take-over of the Dallas Independent School District, emotions start rising.

When asked for a comment, all Mr. Leppert would say was, "The statement speaks for itself. I'm sticking with the statement," he said, adding only that "in the end, the kids have to be the priority. We're having a lot of conversations."

However, some school board members are questioning his motives. "Why would he want to be in charge of the school district?" Lew Blackburn wondered. Other board trustees from the southern sector (a primarily African-American section of the city) are stating their concern about a mayor from the northern sector (a primarily White section of the city) running the Dallas district (which is primarily African-American and Hispanic).

I get the sense that there is some defensiveness and territorialism going on. But, the truth of the matter is, our district teeters on the edge of a downward spiral. Though blame has been freely placed on Superintendent Hinojosa, blaming people does not fix the fact that our school system is not doing well and our children are suffering.

In the past, I don't know that I would've been on board with a city take over. However, I think we need to consider our needs and our resources.

DISD hasn't been thought of as a quality district for quite some time. If Mayor Leppert is serious about making the children a priority, it doesn't matter to me what color he is or where he lives. Our children deserve better than what they're getting.

I actually like Hinojosa. I like his passion; I like his approach. However, just because he has the best in mind for the kids and may be a great educator visionary doesn't mean he's got great business sense.

What I notice in non-profit is that most of us come from social sciences fields. We have been taught to be social workers, ministers, educators, etc. We have not been taught how to create a business plan, develop outcomes, and have a solid sense of budgeting. Yet, we are expected to wear that hat. Even the president of the United States has a team of people to figure out the economic piece.

So...if a successful business man who graduated from Harvard and was the former CEO of Turner Construction is committed to education and can help us get our financial piece in order, why not take him up on the offer? I don't get the sense he's wanting to tell educators how to teach. I would hope he is willing to listen to the educators and work in conjunction with them so that we can have a financially viable and educationally strong school system.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama on education

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy, where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity. It is a prerequisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma, and yet just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation, and half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education, from the day they are born to the day they begin a career. That is a promise we have to make to the children of America.

Already, we've made a historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We've dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life.

We've made college affordable for nearly 7 million more students, 7 million. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children's progress.

But we know that our schools don't just need more resources; they need more reform. And that is why...

That is why this budget creates new teachers -- new incentives for teacher performance, pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We'll invest -- we'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is...It is our responsibility as lawmakers and as educators to make this system work, but it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it.

So tonight I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be a community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.

And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself; it's quitting on your country. And this country needs and values the talents of every American.

That's why -- that's why we will support -- we will provide the support necessary for all young Americans to complete college and meet a new goal: By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. That is a goal we can meet.

That's a goal we can meet.

Now -- now, I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why, if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education.

And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Sen. Orrin Hatch, as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country, Sen. Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children, but it is up to us to ensure they walk through them.

In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a parent, for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences, or help with homework, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, read to their child.

I speak to you not just as a president, but as a father, when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home. That is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. That's an American issue.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Click Clack Moo--a children's story of community activism

I've always loved the book Click, Clack, Moo. But when I went to the play at the Dallas Children's Theater, I had a whole new eye-opening reality:

Click, Clack, Moo is a great children's story about community activism.

After the cows and the chicken deal with a cold, drafty barn for a while, they decide to express their grievance and request electric blankets. However, when they try to communicate this with Farmer Brown, they realize they are speaking in a language he can't understand. They go back to the drawing board and gather together in their barnyard (community) meetings to figure out a different plan.

Since Farmer Brown didn't seem to understand them the first time, they decide to act it out in hopes that he will be able to see how cold they are. The message still does not get through.

Finally, during a community...I mean, barnyard...meeting, they discover an old, discarded typewriter. They realize that they have to communicate with Farmer Brown in a way that he can understand.

So they type.

They withhold milk and eggs.

They make him realize that they are an important part of his livelihood.

In the play, they are afraid they will get in trouble, but they persevere.

Duck appears to be a neutral party and, therefore, mediates (though in the play, he explains that he is a part of the barnyard meetings, too).

After some negotiation, the cows get their electric blankets and Farmer Brown gets the typewriter.

I suppose that could be seen as giving up their power (the typewriter)...but what they've already discovered by that time is that the power is within them. (which is why Duck then demands a diving board)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Race dialogue--"you can't go over it, you can't go under it. You've got to go through it."

Meet the Press doesn't have the small segment I want...and I can't figure out how to edit the if you'll let the video load, you can go to 45:05 (near the end) to listen to Michele Norris's comments about Eric Holder's comments I posted yesterday.

I have edited the transcript below the video so you can read her words.

David Gregory falls into the same trap that I mentioned yesterday. By saying that the Attorney General shouldn't speak so openly about race, we reinforce his comments about us being cowards. I appreciated Ms. Norris's points.

MR. GREGORY: In our remaining moments, I want to spend a couple minutes talking about Eric Holder, the attorney general, first African-American attorney general. And he gave a speech about the national dialogue about race in this country, or lack of thereof, and he used some charged language. And this is what he said.

(Videotape of Eric Holder speaking on Wednesday)
MR. ERIC HOLDER: Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as a ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.
(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And, Al, his point is that the dialogue about race in this country is too stilted and it doesn't happen, and that people are still afraid to have it. Was that the right way to invite people to have that conversation more freely?

MR. HUNT: I think that he's absolutely right on the history. I think he makes a very valid point. I think the attorney general should not be making that point. I think it weakens him in some, some of the tough actions he's going to have to take to deal with race. So I think it was a poor choice of words, even though it's hard to quarrel with his history.

MS. NORRIS: You know, that, that almost--what you just said, though, seems to confirm the argument that he's making, that if he talks openly about race that he can't deal with race. He seems to be saying that we need to talk openly about race. I think if he had said Americans are uncomfortable talking about race...that Americans are skittish of talking about race, we probably wouldn't be talking about it at this table right now.

MR. GREGORY: So, Michele, what happens now? Is, is President Obama, the first African-American president, is he or should he be a catalyst for this conversation? Or rather, does this conversation, in a more open way, have to happen around our dinner tables and in other more casual settings amongst all of us?

MS. NORRIS: Well, you know, I was speaking to--we did a segment on the radio about this this week, and one of the things that was said that I thought was so striking is when someone calls for a conversation like this, people like us sit at tables like this and we have this conversation. But the places where the conversation really needs to happen is where that conversation generally doesn't happen, because it's really difficult to talk about this. It's fraught with landmines. People are afraid of saying the wrong thing or the right thing, so sometimes they don't say anything. It's fraught with anger and resentment and guilt and the need for apologies...

MS. NORRIS: Can I say one thing, though? I think that what, what you see here is perhaps a slightly different view of the need for dialogue. And I hear two very different conversations. And in some ways they're coming from two different camps, from people of color and from Caucasian Americans. And when you talk about the need for, or the move toward a more post-racial society, you don't hear that so much from people of color. And it's almost like that, that ship is heading toward an iceberg, because from people of color what you're hearing more often is let's now have a more open dialogue about race.

MR. GREGORY: Let's not shut the dialogue off because...

MS. NORRIS: can't go over it, you can't go under it. You've got to go through it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What we don't know can hurt us

Above is the controversial image. A monkey is shot by police as they talk about finding someone else to write the stimulus package.

When I saw the cartoon, my first reaction wasn't as strong as my African-American friends. Because I am White, the image and the association did not and does not affect me like it does a person who is African-American. I don't have the context to understand or have the pain associated with being called a monkey in the most derogatory way. When I was a kid, if we were called monkeys, it was because we were acting silly.

So, with my background and context, I could try to deny that the monkey has anything to do with President Obama. But the monkey in the picture has nothing to do with clowning around...and it has nothing to do with an attack on someone (as some people are trying to connect it with the recent chimp "pet" who turned violent and attacked a woman). The cartoon is very specific in it's comments about about a stimulus bill. The word bubble and the chimp together in a cartoon don't allow us to disconnect the two.

I believe many of us who are White try desperately to deny and refuse to acknowledge our history. The reality is that White people have connected Black people with monkeys for a long time. If we don't believe that, we need to look into our history. As Kyra Phillips (CNN) found out, our history and the connecting of Black people to monkeys is all too real. You can see the of the dialogue with Kyra Phillips, Al Sharpton, and Jeff Johnson of BET here. She found the information in an article written by Rev. Buckner Payne in 1867 called, "The Negro: What is his Ethnological Status?"

We take up the monkey, and trace him...through his upward and advancing orders--baboon, ourang-outang and gorilla, up to the negro, another noble animal, that noblest of the beast creation. The difference between these higher orders of the monkey and the negro is very slight...and consists mainly of this one thing: the negro can utter sounds that can be imitated; hence, he could talk wtih Adam and Eve, for they could imitate his sounds.
I think it's important that we hear what people say. When Black people are telling us it's a racist cartoon, why are we so offended by that? Where does the defensiveness come from? Why not acknowledge their comments and their feelings and seek understanding so that even if we may not understand it, we can at least become more sensitive?

I am very impressed with Attorney General Eric Holder's response toward the cartoon. Yes, he called us a "Nation of Cowards" (which is the soundbyte that has triggered so much emotion) but he also challenged us to start a new conversation.
If we're going to make progress, we have to have the guts...we have to have the determination to be honest with each other.
Mr. Holder wants to make sure the Department of Justice and the Civil Rights division does its job. To do that, he plans to start with his own employees. Mr. Holder thinks it's important...
to not only commemorate Black History, but also to foster a period of dialogue between the races. Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with and would like to not have to deal with racial matters...
View Eric Holder's words (not just his sound bytes) below. I think it's important to hear it from him. He challenges us all to a new level:

As Holder implies, we are scared to have the conversation. We don't want to be charged with racism and we don't want to be indicted as racists. Mr. Holder is not accusing us of either. He is simply challenging us to seek a deeper conversation so that we can move forward with each other.

Our cowardice shows. As I read CNN's The Cafferty File blog, I recognized how our cowardic plays out. He asks:
Here’s my question to you: Do you agree with Attorney General Eric Holder that the U.S. is a “nation of cowards” when it comes to race?
I'm sure he doesn't realize that his question is a cowardly question. But I believe the bolder position Mr. Holder is calling us to is to acknowledge the comments...acknowledge the racism in the cartoon...and begin a deeper conversation. Asking us to side for or against Mr. Holder continues to pit us against one another. A better question would be,
"How have we been a 'nation of cowards' and how can we move beyond that?"
Instead of denying that there's anything wrong, let's open ourselves to ask, "What *is* wrong...with what I just said...with what I just did...with what I just drew?" It's a vulnerable position and the answer may be painful, but I find that people who offer these open-ended conversations aren't trying to hurt us; they are trying to help us see and understand what we can't.

As I watch Eric Holder and observe how President Obama handle different situations I began to notice something. To this point, what we've come to be proud of is when we have shades of brown in high level positions. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's a start. But what I see happening now is a true diversity. President Obama chose people of diverse skin tones, but he has also created a freedom in our country that starts from the top--a freedom to speak and a freedom to challenge what hasn't been spoken about and challenged in the past.

This new dialogue has the potential to challenge us to hear voices that we haven't heard before. It has the potential to challenge all of us to see things differently.

I am looking forward to this new day.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Black studies programs create a White frenzy

I read this story in the Houston Chronicle because I was interested in the topic.

The article was short and didn't offer much for me. Instead, what was more interesting was that it had received 193 comments, the very first one being,

"African American Studies" ???? Are there any "Irish American Studies"???? How about some "Italian American Studies" ???? Courses like this tend to exacerbate racial problems, not help. They tend to promote and perpetuate racial strife. Just read the first few comments and see if you agree.
So, I kept reading. (sigh) Same old stuff.

I guess the internet allows people to say directly and overtly what they think without the concern of looking someone in the eye and speaking to their face. I'm guessing the people who say these things probably don't know any Black people well enough to have the conversation with them anway. In a way, the internet is a good tool for this. Since we are a pretty segregated society, this allows Black people (if they even care to read this stuff) to affirm what they've always known existed (i.e. underlying racism, hatred, and scorn) and possibly even respond.

I don't get it, though.

Why is there so much pent up agression and anger about something as harmless as an African-American studies program? After I had written this blog, I came across another professor who shares my sentiment in his article, When are WE going to get over it?

I don't have a problem with an Irish-American studies program. Evidently, neither does Bridgewater University or New York University. Obviously the commenter and others I've heard with this same type of argument don't bother looking to see there are Irish American and Italian-American studies programs just like there are African American studies programs. Stony Brook University, Queens College, and others offer Italian-American studies. So yes, there are other cultural groups being studied in universities. Most reflect the region where they are located.

Even if there weren't Irish and Italian programs, why do White people get so bent out of shape when things like this come up? How many of these peanut gallery commenters are enrolling in the Irish American and Italian American programs? And why do they immediately begin talking about how if they had segregated themselves like that, they'd have been called racists?

The bottom line is if we incorporated other culture groups into our regular, on-going curriculum for *all* students throughout elementary, middle, and high school, we wouldn't need a program dedicated to the study of a specific cultural group to find out what the people from that group contributed.

And if we truly don't care what those other cultural groups did or didn't contribute, why are we so concerned and why do we raise such a fuss? Are we afraid that we might find out someone other than White people *did* contribute something?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Wisdom of Melvin

Over the years I've had many inner city teenagers relay stories of teachers and administrators who discourage their dreams and encourage them to go to trade school because, "That's where you need to be."

I've always been frustrated by this. So, I try to take little opportunities to remind the kids that they have every capability they believe they have and should never let anyone tell them any different.

It was on one of these mini encouragement sessions that I began explaining to the kids that I am a college professor who teaches teachers. I stressed to them that the things they can do as a result of our technology class is more than most teachers. I went on to explain that because they were young and inquisitive they have endless potential in front of them and things we won't be able to teach them that they'll need to teach us.

I happened to mention that many of the teachers I teach resist technology. They refuse to even try. To which Melvin, so innocently replied with such wisdom that we should all heed:

"Miss Janet, if they don't want to learn then why do they want to be teachers?"

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Do you love to write?

Do you freeze up because you think you have to write something perfect?

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? NaNoWriMo is about writing for fun, with no constraints. It's not about being's just about getting something on paper. (you can edit it and clean it up later during NaNoEdMo)

NaNoWriMo offers a curriculum that is free for schools. Once a teacher signs up their class (which you can do by going here), they receive buttons, stickers, posters, and access to an interactive Web site intended to make writing fun. Teachers are not expected to grade their students on the content, or even necessarily read what they write. You can read more about it here.

Adults who want to sign up on their own can click here. During writing month, adults are expected to complete a goal of 50,000 words during that month. (Kids have more options of setting their own goals). The goal is writing...not being perfect.

If you're interested, but can't wait until the November writing month...or if writing a novel doesn't sound interesting, but writing song lyrics or plays, creating art, or editing your work that you already have is more your thing, check out these upcoming events:

NaNoWriMo-style Events Coming Up on the Horizon: - National Novel Finishing Month (December). Goal: 30,000 words.

JaNoWriMo - January Novel Writing Month (January). Goal: 50,000 words, or whatever goal you set.

FAWM - February Album Writing Month (February). Goal: Write 14 original songs in a month.

NaNoEdMo - National Novel Editing Month (March). Goal: Commit to 50 hours of novel editing in a month.

JulNoWriMo - July Novel Writing Month (July). Goal: 50,000 words for a new or unfinished manuscript.

24 Hour Comics Day - (Changes annually, lasts 24 hours). Goal: Draw a 24-page comic in one 24-hour period.

Mad Challenge - (Varies). Goal: Complete a variety of point challenges issued by moderators, including writing 10,000 in 5 hours.

April Fool's - (April). Goal: Set a word-count goal for yourself and reach it by the end of the month.

NaPlWriMo - National Playwriting Month (November). Goal: Write a play in one month.

NaNoMangO - The artist's alternative to NaNoWriMo (November). Goal: Draw 30 pages of sequential art in one month.

NaNoPubYe - National Novel Publishing Year (Year-Round). Goal: Get that NaNoWriMo novel ready for publication!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Should we cancel Black History Month?

Evidently there's an effort to cancel Black History Month. Their argument is that Black History should be celebrated year-round and it is paternalistic toward Black people to only celebrate it one time out of the year.

I agree that Black History should be incorporated into our regular American History text books and classes. However, the fact of the matter is, it's not.

When I teach my Diversity and Equity in Education course at Texas A & M-Commerce, I have the students do several activities to help them become more aware of our lack of awareness. I would challenge you to do the same. Let's try an activity...and please don't read ahead.

Only take about 3-5 minutes for each of the following questions. Try to scroll only as far as the end of the direction.

List 6 people who, in your judgment, have made important, positive contributions to the world or to U. S. society and culture.


Now list 6 men and 6 women who, in your judgment, have made important, positive contributions to the world or to U. S. society and culture.


Now list 6 Whites, 6 Black/African Americans, 6 Hispanic/Latino/Latina Americans, 6 American Indians/Native Americans, and 6 Asian Americans who, in your judgment, have made important, positive contributions to the world or to U. S. society and culture.


Now look at your lists.

What are the demographics of your first list? What was the dominant culture you listed? What was the dominant gender?

How much more challenging was it to name female contributors?

How well did you do when asked to list 6 people in each culture?

I've done this with quite a few groups...and the results are always the same. More than likely, whether your Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, or any other culture, your first list consisted mostly of males and mostly of White people. More than likely, it was a little challenging to list 6 women. And it is likely that you're now thinking of women and saying that you just didn't have enough time (which is part of the point...the point is to list the people you think of off the top of your head). And finally, more than likely, it was easy for you to list 6 White people, more challenging to list 6 African-Americans, and even harder as you went through the other cultures.

Also, look at how many of your White contributors are intellectuals vs. sports heroes and entertainers. How does that compare to your Black contributors?

I'm guessing that everyone put President Obama on their list...probably Martin Luther King, maybe Rosa Parks. But if you take out the popular ones talked about every Black History month, who else did you put?

What about Garrett Morgan who invented the stoplight? Matthew Henson who was the first one to help discover the north pole? John Lewis, a major person in the civil rights movement and now a congressman? Diane Nash, another major leader during the civil rights movement? Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Richard Wright...all great authors?

Black History month (February)...Hispanic Heritage month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15)...Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May)...and many others...are still important because to this point, other cultures simply haven't been integrated into our regular lives enough for any of us to easily recognize those achievements.

I completely agree that Black History (and every other cultural history) should be incorporated into a regular history lesson year-round. But I listen to teachers every semester tell me, "We don't have time." For some reason, people still see other cultures as an additional burden. Until teachers and others figure out that every culture has made significant contributions to our country, the focused months are still needed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Teachers! Stop the cupcakes!!

Poverty often dictates that parents often have to purchase cheaper, more filling food to work within their budget and their limited hours in the day. There are some excellent programs that help parents plan their shopping lists so that they purchase more nutritious food for their children. Unfortunately, for parents who are taking the bus to jobs or are working more than one job, they don't often have the time to take the time to prepare food in the way that this new shopping list dictates.

I have been known to be critical of parents who feed their children junk food or provide the kids with money to buy chips and a soda from the corner store. Unfortunately, it's sometimes the parents who are at home, but have other concerns, that are the least educated...and possibly the least concerned...about what develops their children's brains long-term.

At our After-School Academy, though, we are not just struggling with educating the parents, we fight the influence of the schools and other community organizations. Schools, these days, justify nachos as providing a milk product and a well as other absurd justifications of the four food groups. But beyond that, teachers dismiss kids with cookies, cupcakes, chips, and other high fat, high sugar junk food.

The latest issue of Edutopia quotes Jan Pruitt, from the North Texas Food Bank that provides much of our food at Central Dallas. Pruitt says teachers are often surprised to learn that a "problem" student is really just hungry: "They will say, 'Oh, my gosh. I never thought of him being hungry.'"

I'm guessing the teachers in our area recognize that kids are hungry. However, maybe we need to start educating people that just because a child's "hunger" has subsided, doesn't necessarily mean he/she will be equipped to learn. In fact, that much sugar creates an adverse affect. When the children come home eating their cookies and cupcakes, they are not in the right mindset to sit down and do homework...and then attend enrichment classes. Their after-school sugar high creates hyper-activity, irritability, and other behaviors.

I'm a very big sweet tooth. However, I've learned that eating sweets leads to wanting more sweets. I've always been a pretty healthy eater, thanks to my mom. But until I got into my late 20's, I was perfectly satisfied having a brownie sundae fill me up...or cookie dough...or any homemade dessert. I justified the 5 cookies I might eat because they filled me up and I figured they were about the same amount of calories as a larger meal. What I didn't realize was that my body and brain functioned much better on a bigger, healthier meal. When I finally started leaving out the sweets, the craving wasn't so strong.

I'm convinced that our charitable acts of giving poor kids cookies and junk is the reason when they do get a free meal, they throw out the sandwich and soup and eat the cookie and chips. Let's educate those providing lunches and snacks for our children. They need fruit and vegetables. As my mom did us, they need to be encouraged to taste two bites of everything so that they can develop new taste buds.

We have got to do better by our children.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ripple Effects of Community Organizing

During the 2007-2008 school year the community in Turner Courts began coming together to speak out about many of the injustices and inequities in their community. We didn't have the process perfected yet. Each time we had a meeting it was like pulling teeth to get people to come out. But, there were little victories won here and there and some community members gained a little more faith in the process. Click here and you can see many of the efforts we undertook.

Unfortunately, just about the time we were building steam...just about the time residents were beginning to feel a stake in the process and knew they had the ear of the city and the Dallas Housing Authority, the decision to tear down Turner Courts came through. Central Dallas, along with all of the residents, were forced to find other places to settle.

We have attempted to keep in touch with our friends and neighbors from Turner Courts, but we're often dependent on them calling us since their phone numbers often change pretty regularly. I think it is a testament to say that many have kept our phone numbers and call to check in every once in a while.

Yesterday the phone call came from Maria.

Maria has six kids. She makes sure that she takes advantages of opportunities, makes sure to attend Bible study 2-3 times a week, and wants to see her children receive the best opportunities possible. Maria is also enrolled in a GED program. If her car is broken down, she packs up the family (even the baby) and they ride the bus wherever they need to go...planning ahead to manage the extra ride time and the extra distance between where the bus lets off and where she needs to go.

Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, Maria struggles with her oldest two boys--one 16 and one 14. Both have found the "wrong crowd" and both hate school. Every morning, she drops them off at school. All day long she hopes and prays that they will remain there throughout the day. Often they don't. Maria now has more than $1500 in truancy tickets. She takes responsibility for her family, but she does not know what else to do. She is working hard to make sure her other four stay on the right path, but the tickets and the constant truancy issues keep distracting her from her focus on her youngest ones.

Maria called yesterday to get advice. She thinks her boys should be required to work in order to pay off the truancy tickets instead of her having to struggle to pay tickets and risk jail while her boys continue to skip school. She said the truancy officer explained to her that the only way things would change is if she talked to the people in Austin.

My first reaction was that she shouldn't be shirking her responsibilities as a parent. She should be held responsible for her boys' actions. But, the more I listened to her (and I know her boys), I realized that she had a point. She is not just complaining; she has a solution to offer. And she wants to write whoever is making these laws to help them think about it differently as well.

It was because of our community organizing efforts in Turner Courts that Maria called. She wanted to know how to write the letter and who to mail it to. She has already started planning how she can go around to different parents who have truant children and get them to sign on to the letter.

I haven't decided if I agree with Maria's approach. But, the point isn't whether or not I agree. The point is that Maria has a problem and a potential solution and she is taking the initiative by using our democratic system to make her voice heard. My hat goes off to Maria!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gigapan photo of the Inauguration

This is very cool...One gigantic photo of the Inauguration. I'd love to know how he did that.

My favorite is snapshot 15 of Bush.

By: David Bergman (DavidBergman) on January 22, 2009
I made this Gigapan image from the north press platform during President Obama’s inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on January 20, 2009. It’s made up of 220 images and the final image size is 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels.


Read more about it on my blog at:

For more information from the photographer, send a blank email to
Date Taken: January 20, 2009
Date Added: January 22, 2009
Bookmarked: 105 times
Total Views: 4189298 views
Snapshots: 1755
Size: 1.47 gigapixels

Field of View: 194.19 degrees wide, 80.09 degrees high

Friday, February 13, 2009

Teaching algebra with pizza, water balloons, and ice cream

How many of us grew up taking math classes thinking there was nothing useful about them? How many of us have finally discovered that math has a purpose and is useful in nearly everything in every day life?

Wouldn't math had meant so much more if we had been taught Algebra served with a side of ice cream?

Steve Norton uses his creativity to teach algebra in a very practical...and fun...way. His students learn, love to learn, and are figuring out how to apply math to everyday situations.

I love that they learn algebra to the tune of Jingle Bells:

Graph a line, graph a line, here is what we know: Draw a table, pick an X, plug it in, and go.

Get a list of five or six, and graph your ordered pairs. Connect the dots, a line you've got, if you've graphed with care.

Graph a line, graph a line, from slope-intercept form Y equals MX plus B. Here is what it's for:

At B you cross the Y-axis, and M, it stands for slope. Begin with B and move with M. It makes a line, we hope!

Anyone out there who can teach algebra and math creatively?...or know someone else who could? I'd love to talk them into volunteering their skills at our After-School Academy one day a week.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Strengthen schools and decrease unemployment

I'm still trying to figure out why some people can't make the connection between strengthening our schools and long-term economic growth.

One friend said that the stimulus package should be called an investment package. Personally, I don't have a problem with that. Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing...stimulating our economy in order to have long-term growth (i.e. return on an investment)? defines it...

Investment: the investing of money or capital in order to gain profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value.
My understanding is that we want returns on our money so that our $700B is not put into some bottomless pit.

So, I return to education.

Rebuilding schools provide immediate jobs for engineers, construction workers, architects, and many others, while also strengthening the capacity of schools for the future generations of children who will attend them. Obviously, the people who cut this out of the budget hasn't been to places like East St. Louis that desperately need new schools...or even other places who simply don't have the capacity to include current technology in their buildings.

Pell grants allow low-income students the ability to dream and believe that college is accessible to them, too. Believe it or not, there are a lot of students who aren't able to access the extra loans needed (or are fearful of going into debt) to pay what Pell grants don't pay. Though Pell grants in the past may have paid for a college education and left some money for living expenses, that's not the case these days.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has just released a report giving an economic sketch of black people. You can read more about the report in the recent Washington Post article.

Nearly two-thirds of Black people are 45 and younger.

2.2 million black people were unemployed last year.

However, by looking at the Black people that are employed, you can get a good picture of their economic outlook. There is a strong correlation between work and education.

Of the 6.8 million black men who are employed, the vast majority have at least a high school diploma. Many have college degrees or diplomas from technical schools. The same is true for the 8.4 million working black women.

For black men ages 20 to 24 without a high school diploma, on the other hand, the unemployment rate is 55 percent -- an abysmal 91 percent for 18- and 19-year-olds. For uneducated black women 20 to 24, it's close to 30 percent.

The higher the education level, the lower the unemployment.

With more than 40 percent of blacks failing to graduate from some of the nation's largest urban school systems, little wonder that one in nine black men between 20 and 34 are behind bars.

The report doesn't say getting an education makes you rich. But it does demonstrate that a higher education level provides a much better access to jobs.

Wanna know how to solve the economic crises??

Invest in education!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Drunken Negro Cookies

I'm at a loss...

I think I could understand this more if the man openly admitted to being racist. What completely blows my mind is that he (and the ones who made the Obama Waffles), especially in this world of politically correctness, do not seem to recognize this as racism. They do not recognize that their awful caricatures are connected to a ugly past. I guess it should be understandable. It's not their past. But why not at least pay attention to the news and peoples' reactions?!

I shake my head...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Helping negotiate the college system

Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school, has the right idea.

Just because students graduate from high school doesn't mean the high school is finished and the kids don't need anymore help. Guidance counselors at Metropolitan High School help former students navigate their way through the college system.

Sometimes kids need someone to answer the questions like, "Where do I go to get a textbook?" Sometimes they need someone to help them figure out why their financial aid went away and is no longer credited to their account.

We need more counselors like the ones at Metropolitan High School--people who will help streamline the process and create a communication line from the student to the school (whether it be community college, university, or trade school) and vice-versa. We need people who can answer what may seem like "simple" questions for those of us who have already been through college...but can be quite intimidating for a first-generation college student who feels like he/she is the only one who doesn't know what they're doing.

If this method doesn't work High-Tech High has another idea. "Almost every adult at the school serves as an adviser to twelve to fifteen students, meetinga t least weekly with the group and keeping each advisee for all four years."

Poor students and students of color have traditionally attended college at a much lower rate than White or Asian students...and many of their parents have not attended college either. So, for us to expect them to be successful at navigating the college process on their own--figuring out which student loans offer the better rate, what department to go to when needing extra financial assistance, how to pay your bills, and how to budget the student loan money--is a lot to ask. The ones who manage it, my hat goes off to them; it is a complicated process.

The students need a point person...someone they can trust to help them understand the process and answer their questions. Many of us had parents who helped us understand (or handled the process all-together). Many others don't have that.

I've often said we need a College Liaison in every low-income community just like we have Community Prosecutors. In addition to making it known that we prosecute community crimes, we need to be willing to offer long-term alternatives in a very visible way. We need someone who is committed to the community and willing to be that point person. And, in my opinion, just like the Community Prosecutor, it needs to be federally funded.

But, since that isn't on any drawing board that I know of, if we could re-tool public high school counselor's job descriptions and, first of all, turn them back into counselors (instead of test administrators), then equip them and charge them with being available for former students, we could provide a door of opportunity that some students don't realize can be available to them.

Anyone got connections to help move that dream forward?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Attention: Culture is finally being considered an asset!

It seems the new trend is to hire people of color for the most challenging jobs possible. Barack Obama became the top leader of our country and inherited the worst economy ever...and now Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, a Mexican-American pediatric surgeon, has "become the first Hispanic to preside over a major university system" (University of Texas)...a system that has major financial struggles and complaints about diversity.

This is a new day and I believe a person of color is the exact person for the job (if only we'd have thought of that earlier in our lifetime). In these two particular situations, both men are very educationally qualified...and their status as a person of color gives them an insight and unique perspective that many others don't have.

Maybe in this new climate, we'll do a better job of seeking out the highly qualified people of color who have been around, but are often overlooked. Maybe we will begin to appreciate that the academic qualification along with the understanding of diversity is a stronger candidate than one with only academic qualifications.

See more here:

Texan becomes first Hispanic to lead a major school system

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Offering education can fight "terrorism"

Several years ago, I read a book called Children in Danger, by James Garbarino. I was amazed at his comparison of children in war zones of third world countries to the experiences children in the inner city of the United States of America face. The similarities were striking.

As I was reading Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen's comments about children in Pakistan made me, once again, think of the striking similarities between our inner cities and third world countries.

It also made me think of our absurd ignorance.

Here is an excerpt:
A Republican congressman from California interrupted Mortenson in midsentence, challenging him. "Building schools for kids is just fine and dandy," Mortenson remembers the congressman saying. "But our primary need as a nation now is
security. Without security, what does all this matter?"

Mortenson took a breath. He felt an ember of the anger he'd carried all the way from Kabul flare. "I don't do what I'm doing to fight terror," Mortenson said, measuring his words, trying not to get himself kicked out of the Capitol. "I do it because I care about kids. Fighting terror is maybe seventh or eighth on my list of priorities. But working over there, I've learned a few things. I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death.
In my work in the inner city, I, too, have learned a few things. Much like Mortenson, I have learned that the kids in the inner city aren't any different from other children. They don't grow up wanting to be prostitutes pimped out by their mothers or drug dealers who will spend a lifetime with a felony on their record. They are no more born to be violent than any other child. They do not simply decide to become criminals, hoping to terrorize people.

For the very same reason Mortenson spoke of, those characteristics and acts are results of children with lots of potential not being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over prison or death.

Why can't we recognize this??

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Texas superintendents advocate for changing the focus of public schools

I know I am very critical of the public school systems. I criticize them because I know what my small town school system was able to offer me. Some of the teachers in our high school drove 70 miles once or twice a week to attend classes at the university so they could further their own education and keep up with the current technology...and that was 18-22 years ago! I can only assume they obtained great resources for us through different grants and government programs for rural areas. As a result, in my small graduating class of 57 people, at least four of us have a doctorate degree.

The rural area I grew up in had/has a fairly high poverty rate. In the 2000 census, the median household income was $23,083. Yet, the community and the school system worked together to ensure the kids had access to a quality education and good experiences (many times free...paid for by the Lion's Club, local businesses, and other local organizations).

I know that providing poor kids with quality education is possible. I'm sure it's more challenging to control quality in a large system like Dallas, but it is possible...and the resources are available. So, yes, I'm critical...of teachers, administrators, and systems, in general...when I see kids with tremendous potential failing miserably.

So, when I came across a recently released document created by 35 superintendents in Texas over the last two years, I was extremely encouraged to know what was going on behind the scenes. As I looked through the list of superintendents, I was also very encouraged to see our very own Dallas Independent School District superintendent, Michael Hinojosa, on the list.

In an AP article, Keith Sockwell, chief executive officer of Cambridge Strategic Services, profoundly stated, "When we look at our public schools today, I'd say they're doing a dadgum good job of preparing our kids for the 20th and 19th Century. It's almost like we need to blow it up and start over."

These superintendents recognize the importance of technology. "We believe that the new digital environment will have more impact on the generation and transmission of knowledge than anything since the invention of the printing press," and understand that preventing kids from using technology in the classroom is not the solution. "...Students come to traditional school settings with a mastery of iPods, Wii game systems, cell phones and other devices that must be 'powered down' in class. The challenge is finding a way to use gaming techniques and other technology to enhance the curriculum and create a more relevant and engaging learning environment."

I am dumbfounded when I hear politicians talk about voting against the stimulus bill because it puts too many funds into public education. What are they thinking???!!!!

Too often, I find the desire to become more innovative is limited to children in higher-income districts. It excites me to hear that they are advocating for ALL children by changing the policy at the top.

"We're asking for comment," said Stephen Waddell, Birdville school district superintendent. "We want people to read [the document] and respond."

I would love to see this happen and would love to be involved; I'm sure many of you feel the same. Unfortunately, I can't find how. If anyone knows, please inform me/us!

Let's work with these superintendents to help equip our children to become the great innovators we know they can be!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Lessons from Gran Torino

SPOILER ALERT!!! If you haven't seen Gran Torino and plan to, you may not want to read this post just yet. If you haven't, I highly recommend you see it. Once you have, please comment and add your own reflections to this list.

Here are some of my reflections and little life lessons from Gran Torino.

You can "kill" (win over) people with kindness. I was impressed with Sue's ability to see past a grouchy old man and his racist comments. Sue was wise enough to know she had something to offer Walt. He needed the unconditional love her family, and the community, offered him...and he eventually figured out he had much to offer as well.

Look deeper than the surface. Sue did this. Not only did she look past the racist comments herself, but she took Walt into her world to challenge her own family to get past their assumptions about him and challenged him to get past his assumptions about the Hmong. She was a great teacher who saw something more. As a result, his honesty and lack of tact challenged her and her brother to make wiser choices to live up to their own worth and value.

Little things done in and by the community make big changes. In the Hmong culture, family name was important so Tao had to work for Walt to bring credibility back to their name. Though every culture may not see this the same way and neighbors may not provide free labor, I think of my dad who always hired a teenager or two from the community to work on the farm with him. Teenagers are cheap labor and working (especially when we work alongside them) provides great life-lessons--even when just raking leaves, fixing small household issues, or doing a small project.

Doing something for someone else benefits everyone. When Walt couldn't think of anything for Tao to do, he sent him across the street to fix the neighbor's eye-sore house. It was a perfect fit...Tao had to do free labor...neighbor's homes were in disrepair--maybe because of lack of time, lack of money, or lack of knowledge of how to repair...and Walt had time, tools, and knowledge of repairing. Walt was being self-serving because he didn't like looking at the eye-sore, but in the process, he created "community" because other neighbors came to him asking putting in their suggestions for what else Tao could do. The effort became a win-win for everyone.

Sometimes evil is just evil. I kept thinking Walt's efforts with Tao would somehow win over the gang members. I wanted them to change. I hoped for the happy ending. But sometimes that behavior has to be brought out and purged from the community...even if they are relatives and close friends.

Relationships have more impact than retaliation. Purging from the community is hard. Fear is part of it; wanting to believe they can change is another part. Tight-lipped is not limited to the Hmong. But the deep sense of love and concern won over. I know the police don't always come. And even when you can point out who did something, it doesn't always result in arrests. However, I believe that a deep sense of caring and concern for each other, stimulated by a passion for justice, can change that.

I know there are other lessons that I may be missing. I'd love to hear yours.

Thursday, February 05, 2009 important part of who we are

Pardon me for continuing to post news clips of President and Mrs. Obama, but I'm home this week and am able to access much more news than when I'm at work all day. Plus, I think it's important for us to hear what they are really saying...and not the soundbytes that can be taken out of context or misconstrued.

But, more so, I think his words are profound. He acknowledges that religion has often been used in ways that allow us to discriminate and used to divide. He acknowledges that there are people of all faiths who follow very similar principles. He acknowledges that people of all faiths...and of no faith...are important to our work ahead and should be valued for their contributions. He recognizes that we wil not all agree. But also points out that our faith challenges us all to work together.

He speaks of his own conversion not being because of someone proselytizing, but because of what they were doing with and for people in the community. It was their non-discriminatory, non-overtly evangelistic faith in action that ultimately helped him understand the higher purpose Christianity offers...but he continues to understand the goodness in other faiths as well.

I've embeded the video, but I'm also attaching a large portion of his comments (below) because they were encouraging and meaningful to me.

I raise this history because far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another—as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness.

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we're going next—and some subscribe to no faith at all.

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule—the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

It is an ancient rule; a simple rule; but also one of the most challenging. For it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue. Sometimes, it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds. And that requires a living, breathing, active faith. It requires us not only to believe, but to do—to give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world.

In this way, the particular faith that motivates each of us can promote a greater good for all of us. Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and it will be the purpose of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that I'm announcing later today.

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another—or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state. This work is important, because whether it's a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what's happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.

We will also reach out to leaders and scholars around the world to foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith. I don't expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.

This is my hope. This is my prayer.

I believe this good is possible because my faith teaches me that all is possible, but I also believe because of what I have seen and what I have lived.

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck—no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose—His purpose.

Want a volunteer project?

Every once in a while we get a large group wanting a one-time volunteer project. I don't often advocate for one-time efforts. But here is a situation where I think a group could really come alongside in a way that would benefit people long-term.

Help purchase and install television converter boxes for seniors.

For those of you who don't need the converter box coupons, collect them anyway. Encourage your church groups to collect them. The government is providing $40 coupons. I've seen some computer stores with $40 converter boxes. So, at no cost to you, you can purchase a converter box and help a senior, who may or may not have the technology experience to know or understand the upcoming change.

The House just approved a bill that extends the February 17 deadline to June 12. So, there is now time to collect contact different senior housing and retirement homes, collect converter coupons, purchase converter boxes, and plan a day to install them. The management at Roseland TownHomes, where I work, has requested this kind of help for the senior high rise in Roseland.

It doesn't matter where you are in the United States, the change takes place for everyone. And I'm sure there are seniors across the country who aren't sure how to handle the change, but need their TV for information purposes.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Getting to know the community is critical

I love this woman!

Just like with her husband, she is such a positive presence. They both set a tone of inclusion and valuing people. Monday she visited the Department of Education. Yesterday, they visited an elementary school together. Today she visited HUD. She is getting to know her community...ALL of her community. How cool is that?!

Here are some of her words that struck me the most:

So in addition to meeting you all here at these agencies, I’m taking time out, as well as Barack, to get to know the community that we’re in. We’re going to be visiting schools and neighborhoods throughout this area, because Barack and I always believe that investing in the community that you live in first and foremost is critical. And for the people here in this agency, we are now your neighbors.

So it’s important to remember — not that you need any reminding — but the issues that you’re working on every single day, in whatever way you are working on them, in whatever capacity, affect this community that we live in, as well. They affect you, your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors.

Obama signs SCHIP bill

One thing I truly respect about President Obama is his tireless dedication and commitment to ALL children...and ALL people.

Last week President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act that will demand equal pay for equal work between men and women. This week he signed the SCHIP, a bill that will continue healthcare for 7 million children, provide healthcare to an additional 4 million children, and lift the ban on states to provide healthcare to legal immigrant children if they choose to do so.

In his speech, he committed to the children:

We are not a nation that leads struggling families to fin for themselves, especially when they’ve done everything right. No child in America should be receiving his or her primary care in an emergency room in the middle of the night. No child should be falling behind at school because he can’t hear the teacher or see the blackboard. I refuse to accept that millions of our children fail to reach their full potential because we fail to meet their basic needs. In a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to tradeoffs or negotiations. And healthcare for our children is one of those obligations.

Despite the tax situations with his chosen leaders, I still say he's setting a good standard that ALL people should be treated equal--poor children and women included.

The Obamas: Setting a new standard of "values"

Who created the rulebook that says if you make more money or if you hold a high position, you have to act differently?

For some reason, I think we have been convinced that if we make more money, we should spend more money, be in a certain neighborhood, and have certain friends. Think about it. How many people who grew up in poverty, went to college, and became highly successful, moved back to live in the same community where they grew up? On the other hand, how many went of and became successful, got a big house in a nice area, began buying more expensive clothes, and spending more money in the unspoken name of "prestige"?

Why does having money or having a higher position dictate that we must remove ourselves or change our lifestyle?

So when I read about Michelle Obama spending her first few days in the White House meeting with the entire staff and getting to know them, I couldn't help but be further impressed. The article went on to talk about the Obamas' plan to keep their daughters as down-to-earth as possible--no nanny...the kids pick up after themselves...and President and Mrs. Obama still plan to attend parent meetings at the school.

I've read the critics who say the Obama's are "wooing" the press. But, in all of my adult life, I have never heard of a president or presidential family who was so intentional about being inclusive...about ensuring that the people who are traditionally at the bottom (...literally...they are in the basement of the White House) are valued. That's so refreshing.

It's refreshing to think that the message coming from the White House is inclusivity, valuing all people, and reprimanding those who spend our stimulus tax dollars on lavish jets and bonuses rather than, "Spend! Spend! Spend!" It's a message in values for our country.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Life is hard. Mentoring is harder.

Vacation had started off pretty good. I had cleaned most of my house and had prepared two different meals--great for homemade leftovers. I was looking forward to coffee shops, reading, blogging, and working on some other longer-term projects.

About two hours into my coffee shop relaxation time, I got a phonecall from one of my 24-year old "kids." I have known him since he was about 11. He's always confided in me, for some reason, despite the fact that he recognizes that our experiences are completely different and there's no way I can possibly understand some of his circumstances.

About junior high, I began getting worried about him. He was such a quiet and shy kid in elementary school. Once he got into middle school, things started changing. He got involved with girls and became the girl-magnet. He was constantly in trouble at school. He transferred from school to school, trying to avoid problems. But, somehow, problems followed him. Evidently, he didn't like or respect most of the teachers and administrators at his school He wasn't a bad kid though. He became such a comedian and was *always* very respectful to me.

He made it through high school by resorting to an online diploma program. Once he had "graduated," we worked to get him into college. He only lasted a semester. But, he went out on his own and began working...a job he has to this day. A few years ago, he started going to a trade school for a certification that he recently finished.

I was worried about him early on but, unlike many of his friends and relatives, he has made some great choices over the years.

Today, though, his phonecall was out of frustration. One of his not-so-wise choices over the years was having four kids with two different moms. He has spent lots of money in trying to establish paternity and child support. Throughout that process, one of the moms has caused him a lot of grief, sending him back and forth to court and not letting him see the kids when she doesn't feel like it or when her new boyfriend is around.

Today I couldn't empathize with him though. I have no sympathy for him. He knew the girl was "messy" and trifling, yet he had not just one, but two kids with her. He hasn't followed up on the sporadic court processes (however, I wonder if he really knows how to do that in the way that would help his case. He's only 24!). He's spent thousands of dollars on attorneys trying to get his child support straightened out and I don't know enough about the process to tell him what he's doing right or wrong.

He may not be the best dad yet, but I get the sense he's trying. His dad has been in prison since he was a little kid, yet he's always been his role model. I thank God he finally got past trying to be like his dad.

After an hour of us arguing back and forth--me stressing responsibility and him saying he's giving up--I was exhausted and exasperated. Not only does he continue to spend money on child support and attorney fees for two of them, but he still has two other kids who need his who is sick right now and needs medical attention.

I don't know what to tell him. He's frustrated...and stubborn. Everything I offer he's supposedly already tried. He's tired. He's irritated. He calls me for the answers and I don't have them. I want to help him but I don't know how.

His solution is to get some "quick money" by selling drugs to help him get back on his feet. I know he tells me this for shock value, but I also know it's not unlikely. It's something he knows how to do...and it's the way his friends make ends meet. At this point, he doesn't care about the long-term consequences.

He wants to provide for his kids but he keeps running into brick walls. And now he has exhausted his money trying.

I want him to face the figure it out. I want him to do that...I NEED him to do that for himself...his kids...his younger brother and sister...and for the community where he grew up. I need him to do that so *I* know it can be done. I want him to set the example that life can be tough, but you can persevere...but I don't know that it's that easy.

I know he's not the only one who has been in this situation, but I don't know what to tell him, how to encourage him, or what to say to challenge him. I don't know if our hour-long phone conversation made things better...or worse.

Growing up in the inner city is not just physically and economically challenging, it is mentally challenging as well. It's very hard to fight a community mindset and example that being moral, doing things the "right" way doesn't pay off. Living in the inner city makes it hard to worry about long-term consequences when immediate consequences are so prevalent.

Unfortunately, his (and others') choices are not within my control. I cannot will him to do the right thing. It's hard to know when to listen and when to direct. I can only hope I made the right decision and have the right balance of pushing, challenging, and caring.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Technology causes decline in critical thinking???

Is Technology Producing A Decline In Critical Thinking And Analysis?

Here's my question: Is it technology that is producing a decline in critical thinking or is it the way that educators are utilizing technology that is producing the decline in critical thinking??

In our After-School Academy, I teach a technology class. Last semester the kids were tasked with creating/designing the pages for the cookbook utilizing Microsoft Publisher. I challenged them to think about the different categories of food and find clip art and internet pictures that would fit in those categories. They were insistent about creating their own recipes to include. They figured out how to make colored text boxes, make their words into WordArt, and download pictures from the internet, and then taught each other their new skills (in fact, there were several times where I had to ask them to show me what they were doing and how they did it). The kids have also blogged and created their own photoshows.

The problem isn't the kids. The problem isn't the technology. The problem is those of us who are older, didn't grow up with technology, and don't know (or care) how to utilize it. We are the ones who are putting our kids at a disadvantage.

I know some amazing educators who are writing grants and implenting innovative uses of Google Earth, Google Maps, blogging, etc. into their classrooms. But I also know educators who refuse to try anything new and school districts who block every website possible, fearing the unknown. For some kids, the only technology they receive is practicing taking standardized tests on the computer. That has become the schools' way of tapping into the kids' interest in technology.

The graduate students (future teachers) and professors' I encounter who resist and refuse technology amaze (and frustrate) me. Their resistance and refusal to utilize it puts the children in their classrooms and our future at risk.

Technology (and much of it is free, once you have access to the internet) has opened doors of communication and innovation. We can email, text, IM, Twitter, and blog. We can utilize social networking sites, play games with someone from the other side of the world, create videos, adjust photos, and create our own website. Within seconds, we can view countries we can't afford to visit and have access to any kind of information for any question we might have. It even allows us to communicate with the parents of our school children through email or text messages--a direct line of communication that wasn't available 10 years ago.

Technology is not going away. We can dig our heels in, resist it, and find every way to tell the world that technology is damaging our children's minds. OR We can dive in, incorporate it into our everyday lives, and help ourselves and our children move into the future.

What are some innovative ways you use technology? What are some free sites (or reasonably priced software) you would recommend and how do you utilize them? I would love to know what's out there so I can utilize it and pass the info on to other parents, kids, and teachers.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ice Storm in Missouri: Federal Disaster causes community to shine

My mom called on Friday to tell me they were okay.

I felt horrible. Though I listen to NPR and follow major news issues pretty closely, somehow I had completely missed that Southern Missouri was one of the major recipients of the ice storm that rocked the midwest...and I hadn't called home in a few days. My parents had been without electricity since Tuesday!

My parents are technically retired. However, my dad is still the Presiding Commissioner of Ozark County. So times like these create a lot of work for him. He just finished dealing with FEMA a few months ago when all of the flooding happened in their area and now FEMA is back, once again, since Ozark County has been classified as a federal disaster area.

My mom explained the down trees, the lack of electricity (and lack of heat), and some of the people with medical conditions who have not gotten the treatment they needed. But what struck me about our last two conversations is what a strong *community* exists in my small town of 632 people.

In the video below, Sonja is letting people use the shower in her beauty shop. The courthouse is allowing people to sleep there to stay warm. Chris and the local bank created an emergency fund for ice storm victims. When I talked to mom today she explained she had to get off the phone because several of them were at the courthouse making phone calls to people in the areas that were hardest hit to make sure people were ok and to see if they needed water or anything.

My brother (who lives in Springfield, which wasn't hit as bad this time) had travelled 70 miles to go back home a town near Gainesville that was hit particularly hard so he and some friends could help clear brush from the backroads so people could get to and from their homes.

Think how strong our neighborhoods would be if we could generate and create this kind of care and concern in each of our own communities.

The pictures (below) can be deceiving. I think it's interesting that the pictures I've seen from friends and family back home, despite the devastating effects, have chosen to focus on the beauty of the moment (with a few exceptions).

Mom and Dad's (normally paved) driveway:

Mom and Dad's carport:

Down electric pole:

Note the thickness of the ice: