Category Archives: diversity

Schools Are Doing Well

I posted the following on a message board. What do you think?

I don’t understand why people think WA schools are failing. ACT and SAT scores are up (and above the national average) even with ever more students tested each year.

We still have kids entering the best schools in the nation and earning the highest of awards.

Schools are more diverse than ever, have more special education students than ever (the numbers are increasing rapidly here), and have more ELL students than ever. And still the scores climb.

Areas of affluence perform better than areas of poverty. It’s the same around the nation.

Schools reflect their communities.

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A Great Debate

I’m in the middle of teaching John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath today, and I presented the students with the following question:

If the economic system used in our society guarantees winners and losers, does this mean society has an obligation to take care of the losers?

Wow! What a lively debate! It may have been one of the best moments of the school year as the students brought up salient points from their experiences, observations, and from The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby (which we read previously).

What struck me, though, as I watched the students argue their ideas was that the students of the upper middle class families argued most strenuously for less assistance (because they believed everybody could get what they want by working hard enough and some will cheat the system) while my middle and lower class students argued for more assistance (because they believed opportunities are fewer for them and hard work may not be enough to be a “winner”).

This class divide in economic home lives came out quite clearly, but the students eventually reached an understanding that assistance is needed, and they decided that some will cheat the system and that’s just the way it goes.

Tomorrow I’m going to present ideas to them to see how they feel about them, and then I’ll reveal these ideas to be from Steinbeck (and hint at some of his socialist slants). I’m curious how they’ll react.

Texas Moves Backwards

Texas prepared to change the history textbooks to create a more right leaning slant, and Texas voted for a new curriculum that “amends or waters down the teaching of the civil rights movement, religious freedoms, America’s relationship with the U.N. and hundreds of other items.”

Maybe one solution to this problem is not to buy textbooks from Texas. If history is being rewritten, don’t purchase the books. Put a financial strain on the publishers since they rely on national sales.

A second solution could be more fun: have all students who come to a college in your state be required to take remedial history at your university or college. If their education cannot be trusted, force them to be re-educated.

How fun would it be to watch the education wars begin?!

Day of Music

We finished The Grapes of Wrath and are starting A Gathering of Old Men, but I was gone for a few days. Now, I had intended to do this earlier, but I had time today and we had “music day.”

We listened to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and look at the final two verses in particular which are often not used when singing this tune. Most of the song is so hopeful and positive, but the last two verses change the feel and meaning of the song.

As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side  .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Next, we listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” as we finished off The Grapes of Wrath. The kids were at first curious about the song’s folksy sound and gradually got into the tune while easily connecting its ideas and its final verse to the novel. The kids told me it was “cool” that people today still sing about Steinbeck’s work.

Then I talked to the class about how Springsteen may be becoming the voice of new generation. We started out listening to “Born in the USA” and focused on the desperation and sadness in the tune. Believe it or not, I used the film and novel First Blood starring Sylvestor Stallone (we didn’t actually watch the film) to discuss the post-Vietnam society and the veterans themselves as a connection to Springsteen’s 80s hit: the unemployment, the hopelessness, the frustration, and the decision to make a stand. Of course, this connects quite well to Ernest Gaines’ A Gathering of Old Men. We also briefly discussed the irony of how “Born in the USA” became such an American anthem while being a less than patriotic song.

Lastly, we listened to and examined the lyrics of “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. My students were shocked by the title metaphor and the juxtaposition of the “pastoral scene” and the “gallant South” with the image of a hanging man. Quite a few of the kids actually questioned the truthfulness of the song’s subject, but I also have some pictures of actual lynchings with people smiling and pointing proudly to their handiwork. The kids were horrified at the sight of the pride in the photos. I’m glad they can’t imagine events like these occurring in their community, but I also want them to understand the magnitude of these horrific events and their influence on Gaines’ novel.

All in all, today was a great day and the kids were sad to leave the room at the period’s end. 🙂

Silence vs. Truth

My school’s Diversity Club sponsired a Day of Silence for “all people whose voice is lost because of” discrimination, bullying, and bias. This was on Friday.

On Monday, we had what is titled as a Day of Truth, which is a response to a Day of Silence. The Day of Truth attempts”to counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective.”

I find this interesting since our Diversity Club does not use Day of Silence as a strictly GLBT day, but as a day to illustrate how voices of all beliefs and lifestyles are silenced. However, local churches attempted to create an “honest” conversation about homosexuality. This obviously implies that the Day of Silence is dishonest about its anti-discrimination stance and its anti-bullying stance.

The tally is as follows: Day of Silence had over 100 t-shirts worn and 1,000 stickers worn. Day of Truth had 10-12 t-shirts worn and 20-30 stickers worn.

Tolerance and acceptance wins.  I’m not necessarily a line in the sand guy, but this was an obvious victory for inclusion versus exclusion and acceptance versus exclusion.

Response

I waited a couple days before commenting on my January 6 post, “Serious or Satire?”, but now I feel I should provide my opinion.

I think Foley must be seriously recommending the elimination of novels using negative terms about African-Americans. If his intent is satire, it’s entirely too subtle. Thus, I wholeheartedly disagree with his arguments. Continue reading

Equality?

Through I Thought A Think I read an excellent editorial explaining how Governor Gregoire’s slashes to levy equalization will harm poorer and potentially more diverse districts much more than wealthier districts.

In fact, Neal Kirby, the editorial’s author, explains how Aberdeen has:

a 2008 tax rate of $4.16 per 1,000 assessed valuation and raises $1,350 per student. Bellevue, with a tax rate of $0.88, raised $2,039 per student. Bellevue raised 50 percent more funds per student even though Aberdeen had a tax rate four times higher than Bellevue.

Losing district money can result in:

  • the loss of teachers,
  • the elimination of programs helping struggling students,
  • fewer support staff,
  • cuts to non-teaching certificated positions (counselors, librarians, instructional coaches, etc.),
  • higher class sizes, and
  • the loss of administrators.

Once again poorer and more needy districts would be harmed while wealthier and more successful districts would be just fine when uninformed decisions are made. I have heard from a few teachers that cuts to I-728 dollars or benefits would be more equitable. I just hope that the legislature really looks at the ramifications of levy equalization dollars being cut, and I especially hope that Eastern Washington representatives pay close attention to this issue.