Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On the cusp of greatness

In my mind, our nation and our world is at a definining moment. To this point, we have defined ourselves as individual countries within continents. We are are pitted with some and allied with others. We have decided who our friends and enemies are based on a few people within an entire nation.

We compete. We do our best to be at the head of the pack. We want the label of being the best and we want all of the blessings. "Buy USA!" "God Bless America!"

How does that language mesh with our spoken desire to help other nations? How does that language contribute to the good of people?

Our world today is different. Travel is easier, cheaper, quicker, and more possible. Speaking to someone overseas is as easy and costs as little as walking out our front door and talking to our neighbor (and we probably talk to more people overseas than we do to our next door neighbors!).

How can we use the tools we have to our benefit? How can we use our networking and connections in a way that brings us all together instead of pitting us against one another? How can we use our knowledge and technology to bring voices to the table across the globe so that people who are in situations of poverty, domination, and suffering can speak out about what they need to help them move forward? How can we bridge the gap to bring their knowledge of their space--whether in Meru, Kenya in Africa or South Dallas, Texas in the United States--together with others' knowledge of systems and politics?

I believe the possibilities are becoming more and more real. The real question is, will we do it? No...the real question is,

Do we want to do it?

Do we truly have the desire to be allies with people? Do we want to get to know the individuals behind the dictators? Do we want to hear the voices of the poor? Do we want to figure out ways to work together to make ALL of our countries stronger...or do we want to remain competitive and separate to see who's the BEST?

Right now our country is broken. But is because of that brokenness that I believe we are on the cusp of greatness.

But it all depends on what we decide to do with that greatness and how we choose to use the power that we still think we have.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Education is Freedom

I believe that all kids should strive to attain a college education. This belief has often been met with criticism by some who tell me, "Not all kids are college material." I know that there are some who have intellectual capacities that aren't conducive to college. But I think there are much fewer of these cases than we want to admit.

I often tell people that my programs are going to aim to equip children for college by providing them educational options and opportunities. By doing that, kids then have a choice. They are not relegated to a job because that is all they know or because that is all they are capable of.

I believe we need everybody. I believe every job is important. We need trash collectors just like we need engineers to design the trucks that collect the trash. But people deserve a choice as to their outcome in life. If they are a trash collector because they don't have the education, because they never knew there were engineers that designed the trucks, and because everyone in their family has been trash collectors and that is all they know, we have failed them.

Education is a right in our country...or supposed to be. We need to provide an educational system that allows every child the opportunity to be who they want to be.

Dr. Marcus Martin wrote a great piece about how education is truly freedom. Read below.


Dallas Morning News Website, 08:33 AM CDT on Friday, March 27, 2009

Marcus Martin: Paycheck is only one benefit of college

Young people are often urged to pursue higher education simply because a college graduate earns more money. There are numerous charts illustrating the stark income gap between a person with a high school diploma and one who holds a college degree. Various studies and census data highlight how a high school graduate's wages will average $1.2 million over a lifetime compared with a college graduate's $2.1 million.

A diagram plotting out the vast pay disparity alone might be impressive enough to convince some high school students to attend college; however, such graphics fail to show the full value of a college education.

The prize isn't just the fine paper bearing the graduate's formal name penned in calligraphy; nor is it the financial success to which the degree entitles its holder.

The true reward is in the education. A college education provides students with knowledge. With that knowledge comes a greater understanding of our global society and how its inhabitants co-exist. Philosophy, history, psychology, literature and the arts are all aspects of a well-rounded college education that encourages a person to think in terms of the larger picture and not just consider one's own experiences within small communities.

Take, for instance, a university student assigned to write an essay about how 17th-century English philosopher John Locke altered the relationship between monarchies and their subjects. Or a college student asked to contemplate the influence of colonial philosopher Thomas Paine in the battle for American independence from Great Britain. These young scholars gain a deeper understanding of our nation, its foundation and the workings of our government.

As a society, we hope such enlightened students emerge from the classroom transformed into well-informed citizens, committed to working for the betterment of our country.

Thus, not only does the individual benefit from higher learning, but our communities will prosper as well. Those with college educations have a higher likelihood of becoming voters, leaders and volunteers in their communities. They will be motivated to improve their neighborhoods because their learning experience has already challenged them to contemplate what it takes to create a better and more just society.

As mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, those college graduates serve as examples to the next generation and can instruct them on the importance of education.

For those living in poverty, access to higher education is especially important. Many times, the cycle of poverty remains unbroken. Children born into poor conditions may not fully grasp the benefits a higher education can bring because they haven't witnessed firsthand how learning might transform their lives. Some youths may feel that college is off-limits because of their lack of financial resources or their poor academic preparation. Nevertheless, countless individuals have proven that these obstacles can be overcome.

Once a person breaks free from the bonds of poverty and successfully achieves a higher education, he or she can create new expectations of learning for subsequent generations. A fundamental change occurs when a college graduate who grew up poor is able to provide for his or her family.

With that financial security comes mental security, improved health benefits and improved well being. These college graduates, who consciously emerge from the hardships of poverty, will have a chance to teach and mentor their own children to follow in their footsteps and pursue higher learning so they, too, are able to make positive contributions to society.

Thus, a college education means much more than the money received from a paycheck. Simply put, education is freedom – and with that freedom comes possibilities. It is in the realm of those possibilities where hope, inspiration and personal transformation can be developed for one's own life, community and country.

Marcus Martin is president and CEO of Dallas-based Education Is Freedom. His e-mail address is mmartin@educationisfreedom.org.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where are we headed?

Technology is moving at light speed. We MUST provide ALL children with the opportunities to interact with current technology and give them the opportunity to explore new possibilities. Most of the public schools I know provide "technology" by "allowing" a child to practice their standardized test on the computer...or take an Accelerated Reader book test on a computer. If they are really stepping outside of the box, they may allow the children to play on the internet and go to advertised sites like Nickelodian.

We have got to do better than that. Technology offers endless possibilities to our children's future. If our children did nothing but focus on technology, I believe they would be better prepared to be successful. Our world is headed in that direction. Why deny poor children that opportunity?? ...or worse, why limit them by telling them the most technology offers is tests and pointless "games" on the computer.

Here is a video that shows where we are headed. The end of the video shows the guy who has created this new technology. He can't be more than 25 years old. We have got to do more to technologically equip our children and our communities.

Friday, March 27, 2009

DREAM Act Reintroduced!

For more information on the DREAM Act and the individuals this act will affect, click here.


Dear DREAM Advocate,

It is with great delight that we inform you that the DREAM Act has been re-introduced in the US House & Senate!

However, this is only the beginning of something amazing! We still need to remain focused on our goal - MAKING the DREAM Act a REALITY. Now more than ever, our congress members need to hear our youth's desire to become educated and productive citizens.

While you take action, please keep in mind that Numbers USA knows that the DREAM Act has been introduced and are asking their membership to call in OPPOSITION.

DREAM Advocate, this is our time to join forces and SUCCEED for the sake of our youth and the betterment of our nation.

Yours truly,

United We DREAM,
Texas DREAM Act Coalition, &
University Leadership Initiative

Message from the National Immigration Law Center

1. Between today and April 3rd - Contact your Members of Congress (your Representative and BOTH Senators) and ask them to co-sponsor the DREAM Act.

2. Between April 4-19, 2009 - Members of Congress will be back in their states and districts . This is a perfect opportunity to meet with your Representatives and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. Make arrangements to meet with your representatives and if you have an event planned, invite the Representatives to attend.

3. Email your Representative - an email will automatically be sent to your Representatives asking him/her to co-sponsor the DREAM Act.

4. Sign the petition. Our goal is to have 65,000 people sign the petition - representing the number of students who graduate each year from high school who would benefit from the DREAM Act.

Lastly and most importantly, in order to pass the DREAM Act, we will need 60 votes in the Senate and 218 in the House!

Like you, we are eager to pass the DREAM Act and cannot wait to celebrate our victory. Please contact us if you have any questions or comments.


University Leadership Initiative

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Teacher inspires student

What, exactly, is "special ed"? When I was growing up, we had a "LD" (learning disabled) class. But I only remember it being for the severely physically and mentally challenged. Today it seems that children are labeled special ed for behavior problems, refusal to learn, "emotionally disturbed," and everything else. I think a lot of times it's just easier for us to get the "problem children" out of our classroom rather than figure out a way to work with them.

Maybe this says more about me, the subconscious messages I received over the years, and the overwhelmed nature of having some students in our After-School Academy who are easier to push aside than figure out ways to work with them.

I don't know Hakeem Bennett. All I know is that he is in a special education class. But I know when he was given the opportunity to express himself, he did so in a way that won him the honor of his story being turned into a book.

I wish we had more staff to spend time with individual students at our After-School Academy. I bet we would find we have a lot of Hakeem Bennetts who, if given the opportunity, could also have some award-winning ideas.

Brooklyn boy's prize essay to become a book dedicated to blind teacher

Matthew Brown, a blind special education teacher in Brooklyn, is the inspiration behind a student's essay lauding his daily determination and patience.

A new Superman book is drawing inspiration from a Brooklyn special education student and the blind teacher he considers an everyday hero.

Eighth-grader Hakeem Bennett, 13, won a national essay contest and will appear as the title character in the upcoming title, "The Kid Who Saved Superman."

His teacher, Matthew Brown - who is blind in one eye, has tunnel vision in the other and takes a guide dog to school - will also be incorporated into the story line.

"I was going to cry," Hakeem said of the moment he found out he won the contest sponsored by Stone Arch Books. "I was happy - happy for Mr. Brown to get recognized."

A student at Public School 36 in East New York, Hakeem was encouraged by his guidance counselor to enter the contest about real-life heroes last month.

It didn't take long for him to decide Brown, 38, would be the subject of his essay.

"My teacher Mr. Brown is visually impaired," he wrote. "That [is] not what makes him a hero. It is because he takes public transportation every day with Stanley his dog to school. That is why he is a true everyday superhero.

"In our class we had a project of being blindfolded and trying to find our way around the class. It was hard for me. ... I feel sad he can't see the beautiful things around. That bothers me."

Brown said he was "very touched" that one of his students would heap such praise on him and called it "humbling."

"It just reminds you why you do this," he said.

He wasn't at school Tuesday because a car ran over his foot Monday on the way to work. The injury will keep him at home for a few days.

Nevertheless, Brown calls his blindness a "gift."

"It allows me to see people for who they are," he said.

Hakeem said his teacher's qualities go beyond his disability.

"He makes sure you understand. If you don't, he'll work with you one-on-one," he said.

"When you're angry, he calms you down. He knows how to treat you fairly."

Brown has worked at the school for six years. His principal, Johanna Schneider, called him "an awesome person."

She, too, will be featured in the story line of the chapter book, which comes out June 15.

"I've always been a fan of comic books," she said. "I'm just sorry it's not Wonder Woman."


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Changing education for our future

I understand that basic skills--reading, writing, and math--are a necessity. But I also believe that our world is rapidly changing and we need to adjust our education system accordingly.

When I was growing up, it was a big thing for everyone to have a set of encyclopedias. I loved going to my grandma's house and reading her Childcraft encyclopedias. I can remember my parents debating over whether they should get Worldbook or Britannica. I used to make fun of my brother because he would spend hours in the living room reading them. Twenty five years ago, encyclopedias were an important source of information. But information is accessed very differently these days.

Today I can't imagine having to travel to a library during open hours in order to pull books and write down information, hoping to get what I need so that I don't have to go back if my research takes a different direction.

No, instead, I sit at home on my couch--doesn't matter if it's 2:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m.--and search for specific terms that immediately give me access to the information I need. Or...I "follow" different education tweets on Twitter that send texts to my phone so that I can access articles instantaneously and in real time.

Despite the wealth of information at our fingertips, our school systems are set up in ways that still expects kids to learn by sitting in a classroom, facing forward, and listening to a teacher using one, authoritative source--a textbook.

So, it's exciting for me to hear that there are now 10 states working with the Arizona-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills, or P21, to develop 21st century skills including critical and creative thinking, becoming technologically savvy, and working well with others.

E.D. Hirsch, a well-known writer about "cultural literacy" has written books about What Every American Needs to Know. In his opinion, kids need to learn his list of items before they learn P21 skills. I disagree. In his book, there are 63 pages of small print of "what literate Americans know"...many items of which I don't know. But what I do know is where and how to find information when I need it (a P21 skill).

Maybe we should learn from the UK, who has plans and proposals to overhaul the primary school curriculum.

Proposals would require:

• Children to leave primary school familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of information and forms of communication. They must gain "fluency" in handwriting and keyboard skills, and learn how to use a
spellchecker alongside how to spell.

• Children to be able to place historical events within a chronology. "By the end of the primary phase, children should have gained an overview which enables them to place the periods, events and changes they have studied within a chronological framework, and to understand some of the links between them." Every child would learn two key periods of British history but it would be up to the school to decide which ones. Schools would still be able to opt to teach Victorian history or the second world war, but they would not be required to. The move is designed to prevent duplication with the secondary curriculum, which covers the second world war extensively.

• Less emphasis on the use of calculators than in the current curriculum.

• An understanding of physical development, health and wellbeing programme, which would address what Rose calls "deep societal concerns" about children's health, diet and physical activity, as well as their relationships with family and friends. They will be taught about peer pressure, how to deal with bullying and how to negotiate in their relationships.

The six core areas are: understanding English, communication and languages, mathematical understanding, scientific and technological understanding, human, social and environmental understanding, understanding physical health and wellbeing, and understanding arts and design.
I don't believe anyone is advocating for taking away basic skills. But I do believe we need a better understanding of what opportunities exist for providing kids with a multifaceted opportunity to gain information.

Maybe they won't access the information E.D. Hirsch or I think is important. They may discover something that we never thought to tell them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cutting education to better our country

I'm sitting on my couch, reading this article in USA Today and my head is beginning to hurt. My brow is furrowed and I can't seem to make my face relax. I'm confused...befuddled...frustrated.

But as I began to write and think about..."How can a super-power country made up of wealthy people who gained their wealth and power by their intelligence not see the need for investing long-term in the education of our children????" it became a little clearer to me that my question was all wrong.

In one sense, the people at the "top" are intelligent. Many of them, I'm sure, have big name degrees and important titles. But, it is also many of those same intelligent people who are manipulative, greedy, and have created our demise. When they are inwardly focused, it's no wonder that they don't care what happens to the rest of our system and our children and the educated people of our future. From my point of view, it is a very self-serving set-up.

I know at this point, there seems to be no other way but to keep bailing people at the top out, hoping everything doesn't crash and burn. But I just can't see the rationale in contuing to provide funding (and bonuses!) to people who have created the failing system and, at the same time, require cutbacks from our schools.

Take to heart this information, pulled from Larry James' Urban Daily:

Last Friday morning Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert shared a horrifying statistical profile about our public schools and male students.

Consider 100 boys in public schools. . .

•32 will end up in prison. . .
•44 will graduate. . .
•Of those who graduate, only 4 will read at grade 12 levels and only 1 will be able to do grade level mathematics.

Is that really how we want our country to move forward??

However, it is the people who are affected by those statistics who I tend to believe might have the answers--people who have dealt with little for so long tend to have answers many of us have never thought about. They have innovation and creativity when it comes to making ends meet. They understand what happens when a system doesn't educate children adequately. Perhaps if we invested billions on the other end of our spectrum...the education of our public school children...the investment of technology in our low-income areas...offering unique opportunities to those who have not been given the chance to discover new interests...we might discover answers and solutions people who never had to struggle could never imagine.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Paying poor kids to improve

Washington D.C. has a program that offers cash incentives to kids who "go to class, get good grades, and behave."

It is a system that Roland Fryer, who grew up poor and became an "assistant professor of economics at Harvard before he was 30," created. Fryer believes that paying kids for grades incentivizes them to do well. Dallas also has a program initiated by Fryer, Earning by Learning, that pays kids to read books.

I'm not yet convinced by the program. I am of the camp that believes learning should be it's own internal reward. I admit that belief biases my concerns. However, my concerns do go beyond learning-for-learning's-sake.

As the Washington Post article mentions, "Payments have been inconsistent, Woods said, even as the program calls for consistently good behavior. One afternoon late last month, D'Angelo and his brother Kyree, both sixth-graders, received their money. But their sister Diamond did not."

Schools are not set up to pay students like McDonald's pays employees. Therefore, there are not consequences to the school when they don't pay a child on time or if they somehow overlook the child's "paycheck." The potential for inconsistency is not fair to the child and could de-incentivize.

Some students "pour water on their checks if they are too low, saturating them until they fall apart."

The check is the end of the incentive. There is no financial literacy program that helps the kids understand that saving even a little money can add up, create a savings account, or understand the difference between cashing a check at a check-cashing place for $2 or cashing it at your bank for free.

One of the teachers' asked, "What happens when the money dries up?"

This is a major issue. I have seen a lot of wealthy people and groups come into the inner city and make big "forever" promises...usually financially based--football fields, college scholarships, school supplies, food--and they *all* disappear. In my 13 years, despite fists banging on the table declaring, "WE WILL NOT LEAVE!" I have not yet seen one who has made these big promises stick around for the long haul. Relying on someone else's money is not sustainable. Funding goes away. The need for education doesn't. Paying kids $2 to read a book (but only up to a limited number) either pays the kids who are already reading or pays kids to read and creates a system where the reading stops when the money's gone.

The former principal of the school commented, "There's just not a belief from everybody that this can work, that you can help these students to bring out their greatness," Students, she said, "have to see that people care about their success."

Seeing that people care may be part of the issue. But caring about kids' grades is not going to solve the problem if the kids are not being taught well. Caring is not going to help if grades are inflated to make students feel better about their work. We must do more to make sure kids are learning the material. Oftentimes kids hate to read because they are in upper-elementary and still struggle to read a picture book. Paying them to read does not make reading easier for them. Instead, it can cause more frustreation because they don't have the same opportunity as other kids to earn the money.

Instead of using monetary incentives, why not invest that money in struggling school systems that are cutting back on teachers and other educational opportunities? Why not look toward our future and invest money in teaching technology and making learning opportunities more interesting? In my mind, bribing the kids is not the way to go. Innovative teaching and ensuring kids learn is the long-term solution.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Promising college

In San Francisco, there is a new promise for middle school students, "Qualify for college and you'll have a reserved seat as well as financial aid when you get there."

Despite the current economic crises, three middle schools are promising students who "sign the 'Save Me a Spot in College' pledge - and later meet entrance and eligibility requirements - will receive a fee waiver for two or more years at a California community college, as long as the student continues to show financial need."

Students who qualify for financial aid would be able to receive college funding anyway, but San Francisco sees it as an opportunity to provide "motivation as well as increased college-preparatory support through high school."

Right now colleges are cutting back on offered courses and admitting fewer students due to cash-strapped institutions. However, as they look forward, they are hoping to create the even bigger problem of having so many students qualifying for college that they will be forced to fix that problem.

I think anything that promises and guarantees a future in education is great. It's not a charitable act. The students would have to qualify (which can be a big task...and which is why I would hope the school system is stepping up to that plate). By providing the offer in junior high, kids have an opportunity to begin working toward their goals, not having to worry about finding the funding and figuring out the system....a daunting task for kids and parents who have no experience with the massive amounts of paperwork and small print it takes to get into college.

Wouldn't it be nice to offer that guarantee to all kids?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Encouraging fighting to solve problems

As I read the report about South Oak Cliff (SOC) high school using cage fighting to solve problems, I was troubled for more than the obvious reasons.

Evidently, "documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News show that troubled students were sent to duke it out – with bare fists and no head protection – in a steel utility cage in an athletic locker room. "...while..."students stood around clapping and screaming while watching the fight, as if they were in an arena."

Yes, our urban areas and urban schools can be violent places to be, unfortunately. But is perpetuating that violence really the way to go?

Though the principal at the time denies that he allowed it to go on or knew about it, I wonder if he bought into the belief that in inner city communities people have to be dealt with violently in order to make change. Respond with violence. That's the only thing they'll understand, right?

I've heard that sentiment from other people as well. I don't buy it.

In different parenting classes, I've often heard that we shouldn't spank kids because it teaches them to hit. I don't subscribe to that fully, but there is an underlying point there. If we yell at people, they often yell back. If we hit people, they will hit back. But if we don't feel like we can hurt the person who hurt us, the hurt and anger that is left behind is often taken out on the next person that comes along.

Treating people like animals in a cage creates the "zoo effect" that incenses me. It allows people to observe barbaric behavior at the expense of the people in that environment. How can we think that treating people like animals creates a setting where people feel dignified and respected in a way that behavior will change toward the better?

From the reports I've read, I would agree that SOC is a very challenging environment. Under the same principal who allowed the cage fighting, grades were adjusted so that certain players could play in the state basketball tournament. Creating an environment where high expectations are the norm and students are acknowledged and valued is not easy, but it is possible...and necessary.

We have to do better...for our kids...our communities. Our response affects everyone's future.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Public schools and successful students

Several years ago I had an 11th grade student proudly bring his research paper to me with 100/100/100/80 written across the title page. There were no other marks on his entire paper.

As I looked at the 5-page research paper (including the title page), I saw incomplete sentences, capitalized words in the middle of sentences, and numerous grammatical errors. There was no explanation for the teacher's grading. In the student's mind, he was proud of the straight A's that he had received.

My review of the paper told me it was *maybe* third grade work.

I hated to burst his bubble, but felt that he deserved to know that he had not achieved perfection to the point that he had nothing left to learn. Instead, he was way behind his counterparts in other areas of the city. He needed to know what he was up against.

After seeing that paper, I felt a responsibility to address the school--not just for this particular child, but for him and every other student that was taking classes at that school and with that teacher.

I was told I needed to meet with the curriculum instructor because the principal wasn't available to meet with me (though during the meeting, the principal walked through several times). The teacher did not show up at the meeting, though I was told that he would be there. I was never informed as to anything that happened to the teacher or their curriculum as a result of that meeting.

My point was then, and still is now, that we are doing a disservice to our kids by trying to inflate their grades and convince them that they are doing well when they aren't. Educators and administrators do parents a disservice by trying to convince them that their school is "recognized" when their child isn't performing well.

My experience with parents is that they want their children to be able to achieve. They are concerned that their children will be like other people they know who have graduated from high school and still can't read well (I know several people like this myself).

I know teachers and administrators want to keep their jobs...and I know right now is a tenuous time. But convincing people how great they are and being defensive about their shortcomings is not the way to go. It may help them keep their job, but creates a distrust from parents who think their child is on track and then finds out later he/she isn't. It creates a society of children who think they are doing better than they really are. It creates groups of students who want to go to college and think they are prepared for it, then realize they have to be enrolled for a year or more in developmental classes and then find out they can't meet the expectations of college work.

I know that teachers and administrators want to keep their jobs...but their job and first commitment is supposed to be to our children...our future leaders. Is there a way to do both?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Maybe it's better not to know...

My friend, Karen Shafer, has a very intimate knowledge of what goes on with the homeless population in Dallas. Some people tell me they have a passion for a certain issue. Karen is so much more than that. She knows people who are homeless and she speaks out about unjust issues they are facing.

Just the other day she wrote an extremely powerful piece that talks about something we never seem to hear about...the homeless "camps" that exist and how the city goes in periodically and bulldozes peoples' homes. Her post is definitely worth a read:

The Bible and the birth certificate

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

So goes the nation

I saw this on the news:

I know things are getting bad. Every day I hear about more people losing jobs and homes, but I guess so far I am in a safe middle area and haven't been directly affected. Watching this was a sobering reality.

Unfortunately, many people still don't see how we are all connected. People still want to distance themselves from the homeless.

In the not-so-distant past, it has been easy to overlook the homeless and blame them for their own problems. It has been easy to distance ourselves from the poor.

It is no longer easy.

Very rapidly, no matter how much we try to distance ourselves, the poor and homeless are creeping into our lives. How long will it take us to figure out that we are all connected?

When one suffers, we all suffer. (1 Cor. 12:26)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Two roads diverged in a wood...

Curiosity and a deep desire to learn, despite the bravado. That's what I see in some of our toughest kids.

"This After-School Academy is stupid!!" is what I heard from one of the kids (I'll call him Donovan) as he tried to refuse to walk in to the African Beading class we had scheduled.

I decided we would all be better off if I didn't push him to conform. The other kids were ignoring his obstinate behavior so I left him alone.

His arms were crossed and he stood with a furrowed brow and clenched teeth behind Ms. Dipo, the instructor. Ms. Dipo started with an African greeting and then began talking to the kids about Africa. One-by-one, she pulled out her beaded jewelry. Chelsea's face lit up as Ms. Dipo placed the head pieces on her to show everyone how they were to be worn.

I kept an eye on Donovan making sure he wasn't going to become disruptive to get attention. Instead, as Ms. Dipo started talking, his body language changed. As she held up a new piece of jewelry I saw him sidle over so he could see around her shoulder, then quickly return to his place by the door.

As we moved in to the classroom to make our own beaded bracelets, Donovan started in again, "This is so stupid! I hate this and I can't put that string through that little hole!" ...and then went on to get started.

Unfortunately, he continued making the snide comments, being disrespectful and causing the others to join in with him, until I finally had to pull him out of the classroom.

As I talked with him, I realized Donovan seems to already have his life plan decided...but these new activities that intrigue him seem to be throwing his plan off. He wants to be an "O.G." (original gangsta)...or so he says. But I have hope these little moments are stimulating his thinking. I have hope that the After-School Academy is a place that augments his mom's efforts to ensure he grows into a productive young man.

As I talked to him, I explained that he has opportunities. It is up to him to take advantage of those opportunities. My hope for Donovan is that he will realize that and that one day he will be able to say...

"...and I --I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Obama's message on education

I know I've listened to presidential speeches about education before, but President Obama just seems to "get it." I truly appreciates the way he is looking at our future...and that he is focusing on our future in the midst of the economic crisis. I believe President Obama understands that none of our current crises can be solved in a vacuum. All of the factors--especially education--affects the way our future will turn out. I believe that is why he is juggling every factor instead of focusing solely on one area at a time.

A brief summary of his Education Speech (below)--

Pillar #1: Early childhood programs are asked to create ctting edge plans. Innovative plans will be funded by grants through our government.

Pillar #2: Spur a race to top by spurring better standards changing the way we educate. Other countries are preparing kids for careers. We are not. Funding will be tied to results. Schools are encouraged to invest in innovation. We will use innovative processes to and data to track a child's progress in order to find out how he/she is doing, what teachers he/she has had and assess that information.

Pillar #3: Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers.

Pillar #4: Promoting innovation and excellence in the schools. More charter schools. Asking states to reform charter rules and lift caps on charter schools. We need to understand that we no longer live in an agragarian society, yet our schools are still operating that type of a system that was formed many years ago. We have to progress.

Pillar #5: Every American with a quality higher education--college or technical training.

Take the time to listen to President Obama in his own words...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Ant and the Grasshopper

One of the classic Aesop's Fables is the Ant and the Grasshopper. In this fable, the ant worked extremely hard storing up food for the winter while the grasshopper encouraged the ant to slow down and relax with him. By winter, the ant had plenty of food stored and the grasshopper died of starvation.

The moral of the story: "It is best to prepare for the days of necessity."


However, a More Politically Correct Bedtime Stories version seems to be more accurate and more related to our current situation.

Summarized version:

As the Grasshopper went throughout his days, he made a conscious choice to reject the "bourgeois, money-grubbing concept of 'making it.'"

Ant, on the other hand, worked hard to store up grain and stayed irritated at the grasshopper for his lack of responsibility.

By the end of the summer, the ant had had worked so hard he had "developed a peptic ulcer, ...thorax pains, and lost most of the hair on the top of his head. ...and his wife left him." To protect his goods, the ant installed a securty system.

When times got hard, the grasshopper had to humble himself and ask for food. The ant pointed out his laziness and irresponsibility, reminded him of our free market system, and refused to help him.

Unfortunately for the ant, the mantis/auditor came.

All of a sudden, the story began to change. After the audit, contested charges, suit, countersuit, and the ant's attempt to escape to the Caymans, the ant couldn't avoid the charges. After he was sent off to a correctional institution, his wealth was redistributed to community efforts, helping the grasshopper to begin organizing "a program for young area insects eager for cultural interchange..."

The lesson to think about:
Irresponsibility and avoidance of the rat race vs. collecting and hanging on to "things" at any cost...

Which is the worse crime?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The musical road


That's what I hope we inspire and equip kids to have in the After-School Academy. I hope that is combined with a good education from the school end. Then, one day, it will be a few kids from the After-School Academy getting together to come up with an idea like this:

The thought that went into this amazes me. I think about the skills it took to think about making music on a highway, figure out the spacing between the grooves, and come up with the exact miles per hour one has to drive for it to play the song right. And then, they had to convince the city to "give" them a stretch of highway and work with them to create the grooves.

Evidently, the "music" plays a little too loud. The community around Lancaster, CA isn't as thrilled about the innovation when it wakes them up throughout the night as the "music" plays over and over again. Evidently, the road will be paved over soon, if it hasn't been already.

If you're interested in knowing how they came up with the musical road, watch this:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I'm the mom!

This made me laugh...

I really thought I was the only one that said all of these things!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Renaming "No Child Left Behind"

If you go to the Eduwonk blog, you can get a good laugh at some of the names people have thought of to rename No Child Left Behind and change the era of leaving children behind.

Here are some of my favorites:

Double Back Around To Pick Up The Children We Left Behind Act

Not Even We Think This Will Work Act

AARRRG! (Achieving America’s Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic Goals)

Every Child Deserves a Good Education but not Every Child Wants to go to College, Special Ed Children Get Taught Trades Act

Obama’s President Because He Got Off His A** and Worked For It, So Should You! Act

Bankers to Teachers Rehabilitation Program
Provision 1: Double teacher salaries
Provision 2: Remove teacher certification requirements
Provision 3: Hazard pay for teaching underprivileged schools
Provision 4: Keep bonuses under $18 billion

There are many more. You can check them out at Eduwonk blog. Some make me laugh out loud.

But, much more seriously, this one really struck me:

How about simply “We Owe Kids A Better Education Act”?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Animal Odd Couple

Overcoming our vast differences and accepting each other for who we are. Just something to think about...

"If they can do it, what's our excuse?"

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Let's change the way we think of education

A "groundbreaking" survey out of Toronto claims that race and poverty matter as early as grade 3. I'm not sure what's so earth shattering about that, but at least maybe it will shake some people into reality. Though the survey was done in Canada, I expect the groundbreaking results would apply in the United States as well.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was set up because we knew that children of certain ethnicities were being "left behind." NCLB requires every school to break down their test results demographically so that schools can begin to see which group they are not teaching effectively. In theory, this is great. However, once the groups are identified, instead of finding new ways to teach, the school simply drills that ethnic/age group of kids more with the same old strategies.

Our world is not the same as it was 60 years ago. We have got to change the way we educate!

Step in to the Ron Clark Academy:

I am a very critical observer of schools and teachers. When Mr. Clark went on stage at the conference I attended, I immediately thought of Pee Wee Herman. He was way too bouncy and silly looking. But when I heard Mr. Clark speak, he blew me away! Despite his Tigger-ish bounciness, I could tell that he isn't teaching to entertain poor kids. He has extremely high expectations. He expects the kids will achieve academically. He expects them to behave and be polite. He expects them to encourage one another. And he has fun.

I want my staff to go to Atlanta. I want us to learn from his energy and do as much as we can to replicate this kind of learning in our After-School Academy. But we need your help. The only time we would be able to visit is their one-day teacher visitation day on May 29. It is $300 per person...and there are 3 of us. I have already secured a place for us to stay with friends. Now we only need the transportation and registration.

If you can contribute in any way, please contact me and let me know.

We want to do everything we can to ensure that our kids love to learn and know how to excel.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Don't beg

I hate when people ask for money. I never know how to respond. It bothers me that people will walk around asking random people for money. It bothers me on many different levels. Where are their family and friends? If I needed money, I wouldn’t wander around asking strangers for money, I’d ask my family and friends.

But maybe they don’t have family and friends who have anything either…or maybe their family and friends don’t want to help.

Is there a reason their family and friends don’t want to help?? Maybe they know something about the person I don’t.

So, if I have something, shouldn’t I give it?

I don’t want to encourage a habit. Plus, again, it really bothers me that people walk around asking for money. Why aren’t they employed? Why can’t they seek out the services that will help them get the skills for a job?

In Turner Courts, seeing the adults (usually addicts) standing at the store asking for money encouraged the young children to do it as well. They’d stand at the store and ask anyone who walked in the store for 50 cents so they could buy a soda or some chips.

Don’t beg.

That’s what I’ve been taught.

But when you have nothing…or, in a child’s mind, when you feel you don’t have enough, is it ok to beg? Is begging more my issue than theirs?

So did the guy at Taco Bell really need $2 for a bus ticket or something else? Was it a bus ticket, drugs, or something much deeper that I didn’t take the time to find out about? What makes a person begin to ask random strangers for money? Was he from that community and all of a sudden decided he needed to go to Baylor so he went up the street to ask people for $2, hoping to gather enough money? Has he known he needed a visit to Baylor for a while?

Is it any of my business?

I didn’t give the money. I felt bad. He didn’t look like a drug user.

I’m afraid I may have made the wrong decision. Is there a right decision??

Who’s to say that his request isn’t a devastating result of our current economic situation??

How do we handle situations like that in a way that always maintains a level of dignity—for myself *and* for the other person??

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lowering the bar doesn't make our kids smarter

I didn't ever think about this, but since every state has their own standardized test (Texas has the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills--TAKS, Missouri has Missouri Assessment Program--MAP, etc.). So, although the states have "standardized" tests, it doesn't mean that we are accurately measuring students' skills equally. And, evidently, from what the Austin American Statesman says,
Research by the National Council on Education Statistics found that in 2003, Mississippi was the only state with an easier fourth-grade reading standard than Texas, assuming all states test the same skills.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires states to set their own targets and interim goals and submit them to the Department of Education. So, in Texas, we set the bar low so that we can look like we have made major achievements by meeting the goal of all children passing TAKS by 2014.

NCLB also requires standardized testing to track the progress of racial, ethnic, linguistic and economic groups in order to ensure no group is being left behind. However, Texas has set a standard that the group has to number at least 50 and make up at least 10 percent of a campus's enrollment in order for that group to affect progress. In other words, if a school is 95% African-American, with less than 50 and less than 10% English as a Second Language speakers, , they don't have to be tracked. Or if a school only has a handful of Asian students, their academic failure doesn't count against the school.

I'm not a big fan of tracking. Every inner city school I've been in starts blaming groups of kids for their failure to achieve a "recognized" or "exemplary" standard from the state. At the 85% Hispanic, 15% African American school I was at, they constantly referred to the "one 5th grade African American male student" who had "messed up" their results. I find that pretty unfair to "blame" a kid for that, but that's what has resulted from NCLB.

I spent some time with a 3rd grader yesterday and she informed me how she was so nervous about the TAKS test (3rd graders are no longer allowed to advance to the next grade unless they pass their reading TAKS test). She said she gets scared. She kept reassuring me (and herself) that it shouldn't be hard because, "I know my strategies." But then she would tell me about students in her class who made a 17% because they missed X number of problems and how they all had to be careful not to write in certain spots on the test because it would be thought that they filled in an extra "bubble," which would then count them wrong.

The fact that the standards are lower in Texas is extremely disappointing and concerns me for our children. What's worse is that our standards are lower yet so much anxiety is produced in the children as if they were taking the LSAT...and they don't even know that their lowered expectations are setting them up to be less prepared than the rest of the United States. What's even worse than that is our childrens' intellect is being determined by if they fill in a bubble correctly.

I think testing is good...IF it's there simply there as an assessment of how well WE, as teachers, have gotten the skills across. I'm not a fan of producing anxiety-ridden children. Besides that, our world is changing. We've got to change our educational system to match the pace of our ever-changing, highly technological world. It would be nice if the stimulus bill hadn't voted out school infrastructure. Sometimes we have to go beyond testing and figure out what's wrong with the system that's producing the under-prepared children.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Have we lost our minds?!

Florida is thinking about changing their public schools to a 4-day week. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the school district is financially strapped and is looking for cost-cutting alternatives.

What in the world are we thinking???

Rearrange city services...cut legislator's pay...let the banks fail...arrange for bartering systems or something...but NEVER cut education!!

I am a big fan of being "green." Part of Florida's plan is to eliminate the 5th day of school...probably a Friday...so that they can power down the electricity for three days in a row. Saving electricity makes sense to me. Cutting kids' education doesn't.

Not only does cutting out that 5th day lesson a child's exposure to education (I didn't read anywhere that said they would extend the other days to make up for it), but it also creates a system of more unsupervised children on the streets for an entire day of the week. Cutting out an entire day would either require businesses to restructure for their employees or will cause children to be at home alone and unsupervised.

If we are going to change the way schools operate (which I am not opposed to that...we are working on an agrarian system that was developed long ago), we must also change the way we offer day care, create work weeks, and design education to maximize learning.

Why can we not make the connection that the way we choose to educate students now is going to affect our economy, our society, our communities? If we don't look at the entire picture, the devastating results are going to happen sooner than later.

We've got to change this mentality of cutting or even simply sustaining our schools. As I mentioned, I'm a fan of restructuring the schools. We need major investment into our schools. Every school wired for the internet. Every child using a computer. Every child required to take an annual technology class that would teach them innovative uses of technology. Technology incorporated into every other class as well. Practical application of basic subjects (e.g. DNA studies for science, dance classes for math, use of checkbooks and debit cards to pay for lunch and a financial literacy class to help them balance their checkbook, business simulations, etc.).

Right now, several states have let elementary and secondary schools switch to the shorter weeks, including Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota and Montana. Others, including Missouri and New York, are weighing it.

What do we need to do to get our voice heard on this?? Who's making the changes...and who are they asking for advice? If it's not parents who have children in public schools...and if it's not teachers who truly have an interest in educating children...they are asking the wrong people.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

*Not* Post-racial America

Unfortunately, my "Post-Racial America" series seems to be taking over my blog.

This image was spotted in a Barnes and Noble in Coral Gables, Florida.

After researching the incident...

The good thing is the Barnes and Noble store nor it's employees were responsible for the switching of the window display.

The bad thing is someone was. Someone wanted to make their statement.

Here is more information on the incident, found in The Defenders Online.

Need I say again...we are NOT in post-racial America????

Monday, March 02, 2009

*Not* Post-racial America

One after another, I keep seeing or hearing about things that make my jaw drop in complete disbelief. As we talk about this new era of post-racial America, I think we should be aware of the things that are happening that suggest we are not yet in an era of post-racial America. Whether we accept it or deny it, we need to examine it.

It is with that thought that I plan to offer periodic "segments" talking about just what our "post-racial America" is all about. Please pass along anything you might see or hear about that you think people need to be more aware of.


Los Alamitos Mayor Dean Grose plans to resign after forwarding "an e-mail showing a watermelon patch on the White House lawn under the title: 'No Easter egg hunt this year.' Grose has apologized and said he wasn't aware of the racial stereotype that blacks like watermelon."

Here is a blog with what I thought was a pretty good assessment of the details: Group News Blog. Below is the letter I wrote to Mr. Grose and sent to his city email at dgrose@ci.los-alamitos.ca.us.

Dear Mr. Grose,

I beg of you to help me understand why in the world, if you were unaware of the racial stereotype associated with Blacks and watermelon, did you think the postcard was so funny that you forwarded it?? Please help me to understand what you thought the watermelons represented.

From your photo, I would guess you are *at least* in your late 40s or early 50s. That tells me that you were probably a young child during the Civil Rights movement when the violence toward Black people, including name calling and derogatory stereotyping, was probably at it's peak. I don't expect that you would have escaped hearing it.

As a 36-year old woman who also grew up in a small town, I didn't realize I had been enculturated with racist stereotypes until much later in life. I didn't grow up during the Civil Rights movement...and it took me until adulthood to really examine myself and realize I had heard the "n-word" several times as a child and began to recall racist jokes that stuck in my mind. But I *did* examine myself and those around me. And I recognized how hurtful words and symbols that were filled with derogation, hate, and violence still impact people.

I am disappointed. I am disappointed in us as White people who grew up in the same country as African-Americans and still refuse to acknowledge what was less than a generation ago for some of us. I am disappointed that we refuse to learn about the history that so affects our present day. And I am disappointed that when these insensitive acts are pointed out to us we refuse to acknowledge our mistakes.

I'm glad we have come to a day where your action has caused such an upheaval that you felt the need to resign--though I don't think staying in the city council is appropriate. Perhaps I should thank you, though. Maybe I should thank you for being so bold as to send out something so overtly stereotypical so that other people can see that we are not in post-racial America.

I respect the letter you wrote to Keyanus Price and truly hope you meant everything you said. I have many friends and family still in my home town who I think, like you, would be embarrassed if something like this got out. However, I also know in those small towns that humor like the postcard you sent is accepted and they see nothing wrong with it. I would implore you to understand that that kind of humor is NOT accepted...whether around White people, Black people, your home town, visible to the world....or anywhere. It's offensive, hurtful, and has no place in our society.

I have hope that the publicity of your actions will cause you as well as other people to learn more about our history and think about how what we say and do affects others.


Janet Morrison

Sunday, March 01, 2009

*Not* Post-racial America

November 5, 2008 was such an amazing day. It was on that day we became "Post-racial America."

I'm so proud of our country and so proud to know that we are no longer a country burdened by race issues. We have truly had a rocky past 200 years. Slavery in the 1800s...race riots in the '20s...black homes burned in the '40s...civil rights movement in the '60s...the last lynching in the '80s...Jasper, Texas in the '90s. The American public has been accused (primarily by Black people) of racism for so long.

But now we live in the '00s...2000s...or whatever you want to call it. And we have gotten past all of that tainted history.

...or have we??

Though the incident referred to in the video happened in October 2008, I felt it was important to let the company know that this action is *still* creating waves and should not be tolerated in any way, form, or fashion. So I followed Tonya TKO's instructions and went to their website at http://www.journeys.com/ to "contact us."

As a result of my inquiry, the company emailed me back and explained that "one of the store's employees created an unauthorized and fictitious customer record, using the racial slur as the customer name and associating it with a generic phone number. While processing a customer return, another employee input the generic number in an effort to shortcut the company's normal return procedure of entering the customer's actual contact information."

Both employees have been fired.

I appreciate the company's action. However, before we get too smug (as one blog I read did) talking about how we've come so far, I think we should remind ourselves that the incident took place. It actually happened. Not 10 years ago. It happened 4 months ago!

Until these types of incidents are NO LONGER taking place, we cannot pat ourselves on the back and say we are in Post-Racial America. Until they are no longer taking place, we don't have the right to tell people they should "just get over it." ...and even if the incidents were to stop tomorrow (which, unfortunately, I don't anticipate will happen), we need to think about the impact that these incidents have had over time...and honestly examine our "just get over it" comments.

I think it's important that we know our history and that we are aware of what's going on today. Too often, incidents like these are blips on the radar screen for White America. We need to be more aware so that when we start to make a "just get over it" comment, we are more aware of why people aren't "just getting over it."