Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Class Reflections Part 2

An interesting internet meme has been showing up on my Facebook thread over the past week. In it, a black female writer (I cannot find the post currently) observes that people who decry violence at protests and tell protesters to harken back to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message of nonviolence, have missed his message entirely. She points out that Dr. King refused to harass or denounce those who committed violence at protests, even if they were at one of the protests he participated in. He did not denounce them because he understood their pain, but he also understood the importance of a threat to those in power: deal with me or you deal with them.
Reading this analysis on top of the stories of cyclical oppression both in class discussions and in 13th make me wonder about the appropriate approach to education. Not to whether we must resort to violence on our end as educators, I do not believe that is the most effective option currently, but whether we may face that violence soon if the system is not corrected. Honestly, all of our discussions, while we talk about how we will lead it and if the system is right or wrong, all focus on the effects our system has on our children. And at what point, with access to technology and the world and the myriad of experiences that they can connect to now, at what point will they reconsider their roles in this system and see the inequity and violence that are inherent in our current system? How long until they rise in rebellion, as students at university and high school have done several times in our nation’s torrid past?
When I first started teaching 8 years ago, there was a story going around in some papers about a girl who simply refused to go to school. Her mother was SARB’ed, she was repeatedly picked up by police and brought to school, where inevitably she disappeared from and ended up at home time and time again. Her mother had removed all of her technology, taken her items, but none of it motivated her daughter to return. My teacher friends at the time spoke of it with amusement and some with condemnation, but behind it all was a thread of fear. Much like the Chicano walkouts, what could seriously be done the day students decide school is not for them? I worry that we are fast approaching that point of obsolescence.
How do you lead positive change from the inside? This class has focused on community engagement but 13th highlighted some issues with that line of inquiry. While any true change must address the community's needs and occur within and with a community, what happens when that community has bought into end goals that will ultimately harm them? As was pointed out in the documentary, black and African-American communities bought into Clinton’s tough on crime stance in the 90’s. They wanted less crime in their neighborhoods. Much like many parents in our communities want less violent kids in their schools, want us to be stricter on bullying and on drugs, how do our actions truly affect our community? How do you build collective trust, where the community feels you genuinely listen to their concerns and respond while also responding to your own concerns? How do you build this without becoming dominant or a savior?
Please don’t misunderstand my writing. I often write to the darker topics, because my background has always forced me to consider the worst scenarios and plans to move up from them. How would I truly build this relationship with a community? Truth and time. I’ve seen so many administrators and district personnel invite their own downfalls through lies and double-dealing. Whether to teachers, their peers or to the community at large. Once that trust is lost, it can never be regained, not in the same way. I feel that that is what is emphasized in the Dual Capacity model, where clarity and trust are mutually built during the establishment of viable, effective processes. One irony of the article is that an individual mentioned as a leader of the model, while they were able to establish that connection with younger students and families, lost their connection with older students and their families because of lack of clear processes and ultimately, a lack of honesty in their statements.
Time is necessary to consider, as it affects us in so many ways. Scheduling meetings at difficult times will discourage attendance and send a subtle message that while parents are welcome, we will not make the time for them. We want results and change immediately, but they take time to achieve. Finally, we give ourselves the time, but too much time allows us to lose our way. Working with the community to balance time effectively is one of the most difficult aspects of being an educational leader. My assumption here is based on how many districts I have seen that have been unable to budget time appropriately.
Much like my last reflection, I am left with many concerns moving forward, and time is always at the top of the list. If I were to observe all the signs and predict which cycle we are in politically when considering oppression, I would say we are swinging swiftly towards aggressive oppression. How many of my students, our families, our communities will be harmed in the coming days? As I move into a leadership position, what will I be asked to do that will fundamentally compromise my core beliefs? What will I refuse to do and what will be the consequences of those choices on my students, my family and my communities? What can I do within the system to truly motivate the change I want to be and see? What allies will appear to help fight against this cycle? Will educators and educational leaders be willing to take a stand against what is wrong, or move quickly for what is right? I do not know.


But I am always down for the struggle.

Reflections on my Academic Leadership Class

Tuesday’s class left me with one enormous impression: though we have talked about the importance of race and racial discussions and equity in our classes so far, we haven’t really deeply engaged the topic more than once or twice. That and the lack of a summative discussions left us in an interesting space. It has always been an interesting thing in the United States that we never want to confront some of the harsh truths out there; the most blatant being that extreme success often is at the expense of others. This is not in relation to athletes, who often credit those around who motivated, coached and trained them and acknowledge that while their drive helped, they wouldn’t be there without the help of others. This is not about those who are moderately successful, those who have worked hard, helped others, and in turn have been helped or guided towards success, their own drives playing a large part. But those who are obscenely successful, their success often comes at the expense of others, or the expense of others during their parents or grand-parents (etc.) generations. We have this fantasy that as long as they do “good works” they are good people. But as I stated in class, Microsoft relies on minerals stolen or bought cheaply from African countries. Facebook started by excluding all those not in college, creating a elitist community ground that eventually allowed others in and as it did so, began to data-mine their every activity. Apple’s production company has Chinese workers locked into a factory where they see suicide as their only viable escape. It’s insane. It was also interesting to see what people remembered or learned from their partners. I tend to pick up details about people as we go along, but it was kind of shocking how little some knew about others. I’m curious if that’s tied to what I see as family building (I make my family from my friends) as opposed to acquaintances, as some see others in the room. I wonder what details find important about others… I think our class is torn in three parts: those who think the system can be repaired and made equitable, those unsure of what the solution is, and those like me who feel that the system may be irreparable. And race, equity, special education, poverty, all dance around that question. Every question we bring up in class all tie back to that one core question, which I am becoming grimmer and grimmer about: Is our education system in its current incarnation worth saving? And if not, what is next? I feel like that is definitely a leftover of my childhood. I mentioned in my cultural proficiency paper that I learned from a young age to abandon that which hurts me and to move on to find things that helps me. Education hurts. Actively, continually, and painfully, destroying the lives of percentage of students we have deemed “acceptable losses” but that we constantly target for work. Society plays a huge part, politics too, but education is the system in which we exist, and the system where we all interact. The question now, truly is, how can we justify allowing the education system as we know it to continue when so many children are lost?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Measurement vs Growth vs What Do We Want

What do we as a society want?

I feel like that is the question that has skirted the edges or been an integral part of my blogs and my podcasts. What do we expect of ourselves and others in our society?

More specifically, why do we often expect more of others than what we ourselves can produce or give?

I've seen this pretty consistently this year with my students, who have had a large number who enact the "demand respect without being able to give it" mentality.

But honestly, I realize that it is something that is endemic to much of our society. We expect "Jesus" of others when we ourselves are barely capable of "Judas". We expect a president to be perfect, our managers to be omniscient, and our employees to be ever enduring.

Why?

Listening to a podcast recently with and interview with Jordan Peterson (who many hate for their own reasons) and he said something very interesting. He is a clinical psychologists and he and his team have created a tested program known as self-authoring. During his talk with Joe Rogan, he said he felt a lot of our issues in society have been the development of our technology but not our morality. He thought, rightly or wrongly, that with our removal of religion we have done away with the official search for the self, the search for a true sense of who we are at our innermost core, and replaced it with labels, as in what labels can define us.

Now I cannot say whether he is correct or not, but it is an interesting idea. He also discussed the idea that with the fall of the religious hero, and the military hero, we have lost our guiding moral lights. We have our civil rights heroes, but those are hard for some to identify with. He continued by saying we've attempted to fill that void with book and movie heroes, like Harry Potter and Spider-Man.

This is what stuck in my head. I realized that I never really received the moral religious education growing up (despite my mother's best attempts), yet I still have a very strong sense of right and wrong.

I received that from the books I read. And oddly enough, those books gave me a better idea of the ideal moral person I want to be and should be than religion does for others. The Dark Is Rising, Ender's Game, Dealing with Dragons, the Hobbit and more gave me heroes who were flawed, reluctant, who grew, who overcame, who made sacrifices for others, who did what they felt was right, and either survived their experience or did not, but were deeply changed by them. And my ability to skim read and miss details (such as the fact that all of those heroes are white) allowed me to immerse myself in those stories.

I feel like we are really dealing with a society of three parts right now. Our religious aspect, who truly expect perfection from others but also realize that that is impossible and harbor a little resentment over that. Our apathetic aspect, who didn't read that much or get into religion that much, and really don't have a deeply ingrained moral compass. And our bookish aspect (which does overlay with the religious, but tends towards the contemplation of themes over the actual religion), which has a firmly ingrained sense of right or wrong, but it is tempered with the reality that we are all flawed on a fundamental level and that heroes are the ones who constantly struggle to overcome those flaws, whether successful or not.

Am I saying books are better than movies? Yes. Sorry. The time it takes to work through them, the depth of detail that exists, those allow you to slowly process information and integrate it, whereas in a movie it tends to come quickly and leave you with just emotion and very little processing.

This three headed aspect of our society is playing out in our schools. What do we expect of our districts? Our principals? Our teachers? Our students? Our parents and guardians? We range from demanding perfection to believing massive incompetence to not caring to having a small understanding of what they go through. Do we measure them on the stick of perfection and fire those not there? Do we not care? Do we realize that they are all imperfect but struggling and support them as such?

I do have answers. But they are not perfect. And they will take time to process before I can share them. They are also just my answers. They may not work for all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why wait for change?

I would lie if I didn't say I post, discuss or have concerns about politics, both privately and publicly. As a teacher, especially of history, it is against codes of professionalism to bring my own leanings into the classroom, but as a purveyor of fact and critical analysis, this year has been difficult when discussing this election cycle.

But for a change, this post is not about teaching. It is a post motivated by a great speaker and researcher on the history of the world and of our politics, Dan Carlin, and his recent Common Sense episode "Or Else". If you don't listen to him, I highly recommended his measured, thoughtful ideas, and his definition of a radical.

As part of a larger statement about community, Rabbi Hillel the Elder once stated, "If not now, when?" That is what I felt during the Democratic primary, when I was often told by my Democratic friends that now was not the time for Sanders. That he would be divisive. That the United States in general was not ready for his "radical socialism." That change takes time.

Change takes time.

As I sit here, on my sick day, still thinking about education, checking on my emails to see if students emailed me about their work, still thinking about politics, this phrase has echoed in my mind.

Change takes time.

Does it? Define the time that change takes. Since I was born, we've gone from going to the library to check encyclopedias to talking to our phone and getting answers. Becoming media famous no longer requires the media, in fact, most of the time, the media is the one who catches up to those with fame.

Do they mean social and political change in this context? That I should allow the suffering of children because the change that can affect their lives will take time? That I should write off the injustices and the fear and pain that I see others suffer because change takes time?

How much time?

Africans and then black Americans protested their injustice for years, decades, centuries. Some white folks attempted to help, some placated them with "when you learn our ways" and others still oppressed them further through inaction or action. To this day, many are not free, literal victims of a war on "drugs".

Chinese Americans, some with ties back to the 1840s, are still viewed as foreigners, despite every investment. Despite wars fought for this country. More than a century here and still foreign.

Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Latinx/o/a, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Colombian, all foreign still. Still "illegal" even if their families have been in the California and Texas regions for centuries.

Decades of rural or urban poor white families subsistence living, dying for this country like all the others in their wars, working their asses off while simultaneously being called free-loaders and welfare families.

All the Native American/Indian nations that didn't have much of a choice. Who just want respect and land autonomy and some form of caring for what was done to them. The lies told to them. Clearly still waiting.

So again, the question. How much time? If not now, when?

You can feel free to shame those who look outside the system, who vote 3rd party, who refuse to vote, who get arrested protesting, who get shot, who question those who've been in the system for years, out there, exposed.

Only 60% of the United States votes, of those eligible. It excludes our non-violent felons, even should they reform. It excludes those who can't get the time off work, or who don't have transportation, or an address, or in some states, don't have proper IDs.

At what time, as proud US citizens, do we stand up and say, hey, this is ridiculous. THIS is not right, and it is not impossible to fix. We might not agree on all of the solutions, but we can agree on some solutions. We might not be able to save every industry, but we can make sure everyone stays employed. We might not be able to save everyone from hardship, but we can make sure we're not creating additional hardships for them.

In my podcast, I've talked about changes in education. Ideas, beliefs, practices that could be adjusted, kept or done away with. But here is the harsh truth: We are getting to a point where as a country and as an education system, we will be forced to change. You want to know what the biggest concern principals are supposed to have when they walk through a classroom? Student engagement, as a measure of learning. Engagement. Because teachers need to engage the students in the learning. But it doesn't address the real issue. What if what we are asking students to learn is crap? And they know it? What if our emphasis on non-urgent content, when so much real shit is going on around them, shows them that our system is broken? What if they can find hundreds of videos online outlining and explaining that same idea? How do you engage a student then?

So again. If not now, when? Our we as a country going to lead the change or be led by the change? Because right now, it seems to have us by our ear, and it's starting to pick up speed.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Post-Project, Pre-Exhibition

Our project is officially done. 8 core teachers plus all of our support teachers (ELD, Special Ed and electives), finished student presentations and are mid-grading right now. Grades for 8th graders are due tomorrow. Joy.

This project was incredibly difficult to pull off. The hours of planning, the setup of the project, and the check-ins throughout were time-consuming and there exist questions of whether or not we gave them too much time, not enough time, examples, too many examples, etc.

Grading was difficult to figure out as well. Our two main options were: 1. We grade each role, and each person in the group gets that role's grade for their related class (so if the political consultant gets a C, everyone else gets a C grade for the project in history). 2. (the option we chose) We grade each role, then average the scores together and that is the grade they receive for the project in every class. The latter seemed more fair, as it reduces the effects of a low performer in a group (everyone doesn't receive a C, D or F based on one person), while still holding the group accountable for everyone's work.

One of our major reflections was that we should have increased the amount of scaffolding for students. Our kids this year were the last year of students who exclusively were taught under the old standards. The old standards didn't emphasize multiple approaches or open projects, and so there was a large question of what to do and how to do it (despite us giving them some supports). We had quite a few English learners and resource students unable to fully participate and so in the future, this is an area we will be focusing upon. Our big emphasis will be backwards design.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week...

Hello again!

It's teacher appreciation week. Always a weird week. A week of people everywhere thanking teachers for what they do. But not giving them the money or funds to do the stuff that might actually matter.

That's just me being shitty.

My favorite part of the week are the letters I get from students. Some encouraged by a specific teacher on campus, or the pta or counselors, some on their own initiative. They always make me smile.

But I'm always curious why other public service jobs don't have a week. Or maybe they do and I simply do not know and/or celebrate it. Like fire fighters, or nurses, or police officers.

Though for my community, I'm unsure how that last one would go. Half the cards may contain N.W.A. quotations.

...

Today a colleague, my vice principal, and one of my school counselors went to meet with a vice principal, a counselor and an English teacher at a local high school that we feed into. We were trying to figure out if a program they run their would be applicable to our school. Really, we want to do an ethnic studies program at our middle school. It was a good conversation with some positive contacts made and possible ideas and discussions planned for the near future. We'll see how it goes.

As preparation for the program we are thinking of starting, I've been brainstorming thematic driving questions for my history curriculum. I'll be teaching two 7th grade cohorts and two 8th grade cohorts (at least) next year, and a possible study skills class.

Here is what I've created so far, based on our 2 semester, 6 term year (3 terms in each semester):

8th grade:


  1. Why do people immigrate?
  2. Should people change for society or should society change for them?
  3. Why do people revolt?
  4. How do you build a community/nation?
  5. How does race and class affect our lives? What is race?
  6. What is worth fighting for? How do you fight to win?


7th grade

  1. How does our environment affect our society? Our views of others? Our views of ourselves?
  2. How do new technological advances change our society? Our interactions with others? Our views of ourselves?
  3. How do our religious or intellectual beliefs (from our families) affect how we view ourselves? Others? Society? The world?
  4. How do we affect our environment? How does our society affect our views of the environment and of the world?
  5. Why do people explore the universe around them? How does their society affect how they interact with that world? How do they deal with the new information their exploration gives them?
(There was a 6th one, but I can't remember it)

For study skills, this year was rough. Terrible. Atrocious. It's essentially a glorified study hall/homework class (blech). Next year trying to aim it at actual life skills. Trying to think of how I want to approach it. So it should be interesting. Looking at teaching the following ideas:

- Cash/loans/debt/taxes/dmv
- How does a record affect your choices in school/life?
- Restoring old furniture
- Gardening (personal gardening, not like gardening peoples lawns and crap)
- Basic technology issues like web design, basic graphic design, professional email, etc.
- community service jobs- exploration of and the purpose.

And a colleague and I are going to start an after school hip-hop club. Try to educate kids on the history and roots of hip-hop AND have them share their hip-hop cultures with us.

So we'll see. Still trying to figure out what the hell that will look like. But should be good times.

Give me feedback if you have any (gotta tighten that shit up).

- Tony

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Explaining the hiatus on the podcast and further updates

Hello All!

So, it's been a bit since I've podcasted. This is an education podcast and I try for bi-weekly updates. Unfortunately, as those in education know, March begins the end times. The time of year where, no matter your years or experience or skill, the long drag hits. Some of it is because of staffing changes (letting people go, trying to hire new people, staff numbers dropping or growing or staying the same), some of it is that you're not sure if you're going to talk about everything you want to. Hell, some of it is because you're just tired of this year and you want to start over next year. But it has also affected teachers and support staff and administrators desires to stay after school on Friday's for a "chat". I should have a couple coming up next week. Trying to schedule them and work them out. Hopefully they'll go through with it and not have an emergency pop up.

The other reason I haven't been podcasting is because I've been trying to transfer some of my thoughts on my current class projects into blog post. And the elections. I am going a little crazy over these elections. As I've mentioned before, I'm  history teacher (this year) and politics and power and machinations are my passion. And this year has been crazy with it. So I've done a lot of writing on Facebook and some tweeting and sharing. It's hard.

Now, I'm a pretty out there left, liberal, progressive, something something blah blah blah. Who knows. My teaching career has been a battle against the shitty situations students have at home and the battle against that sense of the unattainable in students. Plus my own experiences in life and some of the drawbacks I've experienced as a man of color have also colored my political views. As could be expected, I'm a rather big Bernie supporter. Something I am careful not to share with my students.

But this is the first time during an election that I feel unsure of whether I am toeing the line of a teacher letting their bias show. And it is because of Donald Trump. The population I teach is majority Latin@/Chican@ (I think that's the right symbol?) and they hate him. Every day I hear whispered, "Trump is a racist" and "Fuck Trump". I created an activity where students went to the candidates websites and looked at their main issues and their opinions regarding one. I've had them watch their campaign videos and compare and contrast them. But I've also told them, "Trump is a liar and what he suggests violates both national and international laws." Now as a crazy liberachi, I'm not saying I respect all of the laws out there. But for me, torture is an important one. John McCain, not a liberal, is a shining beacon of reason concerning this area. And I feel it is necessary to point out Trump's insanity here.

Some of you may ask, do I point out other lies from other candidates, Yes, if students bring them up to me as something they thought was true/legal/etc. But a vast majority of questions from my Mexican-American students is about something Trump said. And I refuse to lie. I do have them double check. And so, a weird election season and teaching season for me.

Thanks for letting me vent a little on that. The Mars Colony project is coming along. None of the teachers are sure what we will have for a final presentation. But we'll definitely have something, and I will post pictures for reference.

And for the upcoming podcasts I'll be meeting with my department head in History, hopefully my VP and a school counselor/social worker, and I'd really like to meet with my union VP, but I'm unsure when I could work that meeting out.

I have no idea what my topics will be, but I rarely do. Hope everything is going well with you, and if you have any topic suggestions out there, I'm definitely open.

- Tony Alberts