When Will We No Longer Live In The United States of ‘AMNESIA’?

Hunter College of the City University of New York[CUNY] system of public colleges and higher learning institutions has a newly added course in its Fall 2017 catalog that examines “how whiteness – and/or white supremacy and violence – is intertwined with conceptions of gender, race, sexuality, class, body ability, nationality, and age.”The Abolition of Whiteness,” taught by Prof. Jennifer Gaboury, can be taken as either a women and gender studies course or a political science class, according to the school’s online course catalog.

When you hear the course title, how does that make you feel? Black or White persons, does it sound ‘divisive to you?Why or why not? In the 21st Century, why would anyone bother to attend or even enroll in this class? Because of its provocative title alone, it invites conversation, both in and outside of the classroom. Deemed irrelevant by many, but so essential to enlightenment, is civil dialogue. It is not enough to acknowledge an ‘elephant’ in the room; we must contemplate how it got there in the first place. Then we may work together towards solution-finding.

This new college course has been designed to heighten awareness of ‘white privilege’ and way it shapes[-ed] our politics, policies, and perspectives regarding the ‘other’-race in this country. Though we purport to be an equal opportunity country that allows and encourages everyone to pull themselves up by their own ‘bootstraps’, the playing field is not and has never been level. Upward mobility is not made possible by sheer desire, hard work and determination alone. Race and ethnicity remain embedded in the accessibility to opportunity. In short, people of color have fewer opportunities to achieve legitimate school, work and life success in this country…even in the 21st Century.[that summons a different argument] Why? How?

Well, in order to ponder the answers to these questions, we must take a look at our society through a wider lens, and we must return to history. Critical thinking is borne out of an honest, more complete exploration of the original sins committed within our borders, and from without. Emphasis must be on what events and conditions led an entire national consciousness and collective conscience to create a social construct from which divisive policies were supported and implemented. Throughout our national history, a divisive legacy was inherited by the sons and daughters of the original sinners, and continues to be passed on into the 21st Century.

Courses such as this one at Hunter College recognize the aim of higher education, and draws from our personal histories to cultivate a new consciousness, by encouraging critical thinking. It is the fully inclusive information acquisition that enables us to pick apart the rhetoric and  find solutions to today’s problems. Without courses that make us think differently, we will continue to pass down the legacy that all wish to forget. This past was considered necessary at that time, but today, it is perceived as it was- oppressive and inhumane. Thus, it is inexcusable and unforgivable to allow any elements from that past to persist and impact lives of a more sophisticated people. We know better, yet still governed by oppressive policies and practices in America today.

This course and certainly more to follow, is not meant to be a vehicle for increased racial tensions, bias and prejudice. Quite the opposite.

This course plants the seeds for change, positive change, and starts the necessary dialogue required of this change. It is that dialogue, this forum of reasoning, questioning, and learning, that will enable our next leaders to dedicate their life’s work to ensure the realization of democracy in its most pure form. It is within higher learning venues, that our gateways to change flourish, and learners, in pursuit of  their personal excellence, are bold enough to engage in the conversations to create a new culturally-proficient legacy.

This is a forum that allows learners to release the generations-long guilt, abandon any resentment, unmask  irrational fears, broaden perspectives, and participate  in a collective catharsis

We speak about Mexican deportation and Muslim bans, and that represents the darkest of potential of our humanity. This represents our fear of the inherent goodness and  inalienable rights of all to live, breathe and believe freely in the U.S. We are and should be stronger, a globalized model of leadership, that the whole world looks up to. Separatism, has no place here in this land and what we do here will be echoed throughout the world. Wake up children! Wake up people! We live in the United States of America!

With as many inter-racial unions as there are today, openly loving caring for and defending their rights to show that love why must we continue to oppress? Whether you are on the side of ‘white privilege’ or ‘black pride’, we must understand that this notion of defending either side is harmful ultimately to both. Whether you like it or not, approve or otherwise disapprove, it is unfair as parents, people, humans, for us to continue to adhere to beliefs that neither you nor I know from whence they originated.  Let us begin to cure this amnesia, and gather in support of new realities and  strengthen capacity for loving and living unburdened by the weight of racial tensions-whiteness.

Harvard Magazine recognized a new collection of writers, college courses and workshops designed to enlighten white people as to the “real benefits and the great cost of their property in whiteness”. It also noted a long tradition among the white race as a peculiar sort of social formation, one that depends on its members’ willingness to conform to the institutions and behavior patterns that reproduce it.

In addition to the notion of race as a social construct, people are drawn by the conditions of their lives in two opposite directions, one that mirrors and reproduces the present society of competition and exploitation, and another that points toward a new society based on freely associated activity. This internal antagonism plays itself out as a civil war within the white mind, between the desire of whites to wall themselves off from black Americans and their desire to overcome the boundaries that kept them apart. ‘NIMBY!’

Every group within white America has at one time or another advanced its particular and narrowly defined interests at the expense of black people as a race. That applies to labor unionists, ethnic groups, college students, schoolteachers, taxpayers, and white women.

Quite frankly, the system is truly rigged against certain groups of people, and the evidence of this has been masked under the reinforced illusions of negative stereotypes. Instead of viewing the reality that there are inherent obstacles to opportunity and upward mobility for some peoples, we prefer to cast blame, shake our fingers and attribute poverty and its correlated effects to those whose life circumstance reflect their own ‘laziness’.

So, this course is not designed to cast blame or facilitate any additional tension or divisiveness. It is the start of productive conversation, dialogue and facilitate an awareness among the next genertion of leaders who will shape policies, influence and challenge the ‘group think’ that perpetuates apathy and historic ‘Amnesia’. It is not possible to understand the reality of today or plan for brighter tomorrows, if we do not know who or where we were yesterday. Learners, equipped with the knowledge and awareness to create a more united nation, this course represents a cure for amnesia.






Why it Takes the Right Kind of Teacher to Recognize Gifts and Talents Within Student Diversity


I’ve written about my children before and once again, I will place a different slant on an already explored subject: THE GIFTED CHILDREN OF COLOR, within the public school system.

As a 3 year old early reader, my first born entered kindergarten at age 5. So fortunate were we that she had an excellent teacher who totally recognized her aptitude in that traditionally, play-filled learning environment.

Besides my daughter’s  she could have been trapped in the web-like boundaries placed many other children of color as they navigate the public school system. Having seldom before interacted with her teacher, we both felt it necessary to collaborate  in my daughter’s best interest. At first, this teacher let her read everyday to the class. She also consulted with the school principal who, upon recommendation, advanced my daughter, mid-year, into 1st grade.

My daughter performed all grade level work, but after about three days, wasn’t having it. She was miserable in her new class. So we moved her back where she felt supported, and had already made friends. After her return to kindergarten, we still didn’t want her talent to become lost amidst the future crowded public school classrooms.

I met with the teacher and principal again, and this time I was made privy to a little known Gifted and Talented program at another school. It is now the end of her first year at school, and that program was in high demand. Although it was summer break, I was so very encouraged by that teacher’s dedication to my daughter’s education. With great resolve, we made an appointment to interview for this program.

At her 1st interview, conducted by the district coordinator, we were told that she recognized no exceptional ability, and that the program had also reached max enrollment. My child was reading at a 2nd grade level in kindergarten! No??!!!  Floored and in disbelief, this wonderful teacher, still packing up for her vacation, kept in touch with us. I gave her the news and she insisted that we return to that office, now with her and the principal’s recommendation in hand. They miraculously found a spot for my daughter and the rest is history. My daughter spent all of k-12 in accelerated learning, was awarded Valedictorian, grad of Penn State in Mech. Engineering, earned wings as an Air Force Pilot, now an IP[Instructor Pilot] a Major and is still shattering all ‘glass ceilings’, with a Master’s degree in Diplomatic Relations. She was the poster child for public education. It takes the right kind of teacher to recognize gifts and talents among students of color!

Now, here are some statistics:

Nationally, more than 80 percent of teachers are white; at the same time, students of color make up more than half of public school students. And often, the demographic disparity between white teachers and their students of color shows up in the data.

For example, 1 in 4 black boys with a disability was suspended during the 2013-2014 school year, compared with 1 in 10 white boys with a disability. For black girls, it was 1 in 5, compared with 1 in 20.

At high-needs schools, behavior problems are one of the early warning signs of a student’s probability of dropping out. The National Center for Learning Disabilities analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education and found that students with learning disabilities drop out at nearly three times the rate of students overall. And for black students, dropping out is even more likely.

There exists a double stigma these students face that is a key factor in their graduation rates. It’s not only the academic challenges that can affect these students’ self-esteem and motivation to learn. For black students, there’s also the awareness of racial biases and discrimination.

In the 2014-2015 school year, about 37 percent of black students with a disability left high school without a regular diploma, compared with 23 percent of white students with a disability — a 14 percentage-point difference.

If teachers aren’t aware of the stereotypes that minorities and special needs students face, and aren’t cued into that, the cycle continues.

To interrupt cycles of generations in which students of color fail to graduate high school or complete the basic k-12 education course requirements, we must logically begin with pre-service and in-service teacher training. Teachers must be provided opportunities, within their graduate coursework, to explore and  become  aware of their own biases — implicit or explicit. Soon-to-be teachers ought to be required to take courses in the exploration of culture and diversity to prepare them for the variety of school environments in which they may work. Cultural responsiveness can only approach authenticity and empathic sensitivity, with greater assurance, by teacher prep programs largely devoted to this exploration, examination, and experiential learning… just plain old practice[within safe spaces where the impact upon  diverse populations are controlled]. In other words, teachers need to build their capacity before they interact with diversity as leaders at the school level.

In order to identify a student’s giftedness or school, do we view giftedness as an exception to the group, racially, culturally, or only an exception within your specific group? We must be willing and open to spot intelligence within all groups, races and cultures. A narrow lens, which has framed the public education system, held black children to be viewed as possessing less intelligence and greater problematic behavior than whites. If a black child demonstrated unfamiliar or negatively associated  behaviors or attitudes within a school setting, discipline and discouragement was the strategic go-to. It reinforced negative stereotypes by the masses, and was attributed to academic incompetence, or intellectual disability. Thus, special education placements  ran rampant in public schools, as their idea of appropriately educating students of color. Schools test and refer for identification of disability far more often than  to identify accelerated ability, intelligence or aptitude among children of color. A true dilemma! Therein lies the problem…not them, but us[educators].

On the flip side of this dilemma, when a student earns unusually high grades on exams and assignments, the initial reaction has frequently been to assume dishonesty, cheating, or luck. Consider that mindset permeating an entire school culture. Throughout his or her school day, an exceptionally gifted child continues to be second guessed and doubted. It will wear off onto that child, and other children will receive the same message, as well. Without sincere acknowledgement, encouragement and recognition, they stop trying, stop engaging and anger, disappointment, and disillusionment soon follows. Students act up, act out, are absent more often, and eventually drop out, unprepared for life outside and beyond the classroom. These scenarios all are made possible by the lack of cultural proficiency and bias on the behalf of  underprepared educators.

With the best of intentions, educators have biases that creep into their interactions with students of color. It is largely under the surface, and when they believe they are being fair-minded, unbiased, it slips out, and seeps into the learning spaces of students. It is important that these biases are identified, examined and conscious decisions, communication, practices and perspectives guide pedagogical methodology, and instructional delivery in the best interest of all children. Academic achievement, successful learning outcomes and life and career excellence should be an expectation and not an exception for students of color. It should be communicated as such, too!

Cultural sensitivity comes from a position of strength, value and a desire to build upon that which is already there. It is empowerment, with an understanding that everyone comes with unique and equally valuable sets of beliefs and experiences-all of which are relative and subjective. A cultural difference is not a deficit, but strengths to be acknowledged, appreciated and celebrated.

When teachers understand how a student’s background can affect his or her behavior in the classroom, they can build better relationships and diminish the effects that double stigma has on their students. In a classroom of 30 students, so many have gifts and talents, but it takes the right teachers to recognize them!


Child Sexual Abuse: An Educator’s Guide

You are an educator and some time during the school day, a student comes to you and says that he or she has been sexually abused. If receiving that news isn’t devastating enough, he or she tells you that it was a colleague or other school staff who was the alleged abuser. What do you do?
Educators play an important role in the lives of children who come to school everyday, and the children who trust and feel most safe with the adults at school, will often make personal disclosures. Those revelations offer insights into your students and their lives, both in and out of school.
Child sexual abuse{CSA} has serious and multiple negative consequences. Educators must be prepared to respond to disclosures of this nature. When a child alleges abuse by a colleague, we are challenged to determine truthfulness and the appropriate role to take in this situation. I get it! You don’t want to believe that a fellow staff member, someone with whom you work, could actually breach any trust, compromise safety, and take advantage of a child in that way. Anger, disbelief, fear and the desire to defend your colleague are understandable initial responses. With serious consequences for the child who may be ostracized, rejected or have increasing mental health difficulties, an educator’s role, as a professional and mandated reporter, is to protect the child.
Skepticism is more likely when students have had prior academic, emotional or behavior problems, and unfortunately students with such vulnerabilities are most likely to become the targeted victims of sexual abuse. Research has shown that children who are disbelieved or unsupported after sexual abuse disclosures have worse long-term mental health outcomes. They are more at risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and developing negative self-images.
Educators are not personally responsible for investigating the truth regarding any allegations. Educators do have two very important roles:

REPORT Each state has reporting laws, and  educators are mandated reporters-mandated to report disclosures or reasonable suspicions of child sexual abuse to Child Protective Services. There is likely an established protocol and procedures to help you in this process. Failure to report can have serious consequences for you and your school, and more importantly, the child. Mandated reporters can lose their licenses and/or face criminal charges for failing to report.

SUPPORT Provide practical and emotional support to children who allege sexual abuse by a colleague, while they continue to attend school with as much safety and comfort as possible, under the circumstances. Parents school personnel and the student should discuss the creation of an environment free from judgment and embarrassing questions.

You can ensure physical, emotional and social safety in these ways:

  • During your interactions with the child and other students, convey neutrality, yet acceptance regarding the allegations, no matter your personal feelings about it.
  • Validating difficult feelings shows your emotional support of students. If a student expresses anger, you can respond with,” I see that you are very angry.” This type of mirroring and clarifying shows that you acknowledge the student’s emotional state. You hear them, and don’t judge them because of their feelings.
  • If the abuse occurred in the school, refer the child to an outside setting for trauma-focused assessment and treatment rather than providing mental health services in the school.
  • At all times, maintain confidentiality.
If other students find out about the allegations, they will probably have strong reactions. They will likely either side with the student who made the allegations or disbelieve and bully him/her. Children should be directed to a professional to ask questions, express their feelings, and  help them to sort this out.
Educators can also take additional steps, such as:
  • CREATE a safe learning environment for students by reviewing school policies to ensure students are protected from verbal or physical threats or any form of harassment.
  • Discuss with students the effects of social media and cyberbullying. Let them know that when someone discloses personal information about a student online, they place everyone at risk.

Though you can’t control what students say or do outside of school, inform students that if this incident receives wide media coverage, they are better served and protected by being silent and not responding to requests for information or comments. Members of the media  may approach educators, as well, and the same rule applies, at least until the case has been formally concluded. Prohibit students from communicating with the media during  school hours and while on campus.

As the proper professionals work to resolve this alleged misdeed[s], and work to ensure student safety, restore trust of the parents, students, and the community-at-large, the educational staff must remember why they  chose a career in education. Whether working in a school was an accidental decision, an economic necessity or a deliberate career choice, while you’re here, your first duty is to protect the children, respect their families, become familiar with the community and commit to empower all those whose lives will be positively impacted by a quality education.

Finally, sexual misconduct is a horrible crime no matter the perpetrator, and the involvement of children is far worse. Sexual abuses constitute another form of bullying, and no one wants to believe that the bully is a teacher or anyone working in a school. To learn that any such act involves an educator, whether alleged or substantiated, professional ‘courtesy’ should not prevent mandated reporters from honoring a moral or professional code of ethics. Your duty is to protect the children first- even if the allegations are proven false.  It must be reported, as it is far better to err on the side of caution, rather than failing to take action in the best interest of a child.

How Educators Can Employ Motivational Interviewing Techniques With Reluctant Parents

Brief Description

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a client-centered, directive method designed to enhance client motivation for behavior change. It focuses on exploring and resolving ambivalence by increasing intrinsic motivation to change. MI can be used by itself, as well as in combination with other treatments. It has been utilized in pretreatment work to engage and motivate clients for other treatment modalities.

The goals of Motivational Interviewing (MI) are:

  • Enhance internal motivation to change
  • Reinforce this motivation
  • Develop a plan to achieve change

The essential components of Motivational Interviewing (MI) include:

  • Emphasis of two essential dimensions related to an individual’s ambivalence to change:
    • the importance of the change
    • the confidence that the change can be accomplished
  • Inclusion of open-ended questions encouraging the client to talk about circumstances surrounding his or her referral, as opposed to the standard evaluation that includes administering a number of structured interviews asking closed-ended questions.

Examples of the types of open-ended questions that might be used are as follows(questions amended for families in the school context-fill in blanks):

  • What worries you about your….?
  • (How) has ….. presented problems for you in the past?
  • What kinds of things would need to happen to make you consider changing ….?
  • What are the things that would prevent you from changing your[level of engagement] ….?
  • What are your concerns about…..at this time?

Utilization of reflecting listening statements  focus on the client’s language around change. The goal is to evoke from client(parents/adult caregivers) their own reasons, needs, desire, and abilities to change.

Through this approach, you will develop a shared understanding of what it means to engage families while obtaining a shared vocabulary you will need to work effectively within your learning setting and the classroom. You will be able to learn from one another by sharing questions, successes and challenges related to family engagement. As collaboration deepens and you continue to learn about and enhance engagement practices, families will grow stronger and children will be better prepared for school success. You will benefit, too, as you develop new skills and your work becomes even more rewarding.

Tips on How Teachers Can “Draw and Attract” Parent Participation

Provide a short biography about yourself and your interests. Parents seldom have opportunities to get to know their child’s teacher, and conversations during  brief encounters often focus on the events of the day. Sharing some particular details about your special talents and interests can lessen any “stranger” anxiety and make parents feel more at ease.

Invite parents to complete a brief questionnaire. Not only can parents be an invaluable source of information about their own children, but they can bring special interests and talents to share with the entire school community. You may want to ask parents to fill out a questionnaire on the first day of school[periodically throughout the school year], during home visits or invite them to take it home and return it at a later date. Some questions to ask might include:

  • Would you be interested in being a “guest” in our classroom? Could you be a story reader? Teach a song? Help with an art project?
  • Is there a special topic that you would like to see incorporated into the curriculum? (e.g., adoption, new siblings, moving to a new home)*****
  • Is there a special interest or talent you would like to share with the children? The staff?
  • What is the best way to reach you during the day?
  • What is your availability during the day?

Once you have identified parent concerns, addressed needs, established a working relationship, you will want to build upon this foundation and sustain developing partnerships. Here are some ideas for supporting ongoing parental interest and involvement that many educators have found to be successful:

Make the most of drop-off and pick-up activities. Even though these times can be tumultuous, don’t miss out on opportunities to engage parents. Greet with enthusiasm and when possible, acknowledge their arrival in some special way. For example, prompt the class by saying “look who’s here – let’s say hello to Sarah and Mr. Henry.” This serves several purposes: it makes Sarah feel welcomed, makes her dad feel more at ease about being there, and teaches (and models) the importance of greeting and acknowledging others.

Share a detail or two. When speaking with parents, be sure to add some specific information about their child’s progress. “She’s doing fine” is not nearly as satisfying to a parent as “You wouldn’t believe how much fun she had creating clay animals the other day!”

Host a variety of special events. Try to plan activities such as informal breakfasts, picnics, class trips and fairs featuring educational books and toys throughout the school year. Eliciting ideas for these events from parents may encourage them to be more involved in developing and planning. Be sure to consider whether parents have preferences about when during the day or evening these activities should take place.

Communicate frequently. Whether in person (parent-teacher conferences,), through printed materials (flyers, newsletters, school bulletin boards) or online (school Web sites, group or individual e-mails) , try to make frequent contact with parents. And be sure to ask parents whether the information being shared is useful and how it can be improved, both in terms of content (e.g. about school activities, upcoming events) and format.

High expectations count. Help make parents aware of the school’s high standards for achievement, learning goals, curriculum and strategies for helping every child succeed. Don’t be reluctant to invite parents to become involved in decision-making and planning ways to help the school community meet these goals.

Celebrate achievements though work sampling. Create portfolios, scrap books, and/or other collections of children’s experiences in the classroom for parents to look at whenever they visit the classroom.

Encourage peer networking among parents. A good way to start building parent networks is by creating a parent contact list .Be sure to include teachers, aides and other relevant school personnel. Eliciting help from a few parent volunteers may be especially helpful as this will encourage them to take ownership of this activity.

Identify and make useful resources available to parents. Some parents will need reassurance and guidance about behavior management. Some will have concerns about motor skills or language development. A few will have questions about signs of risk for learning disabilities, and others will want guidance about how to cultivate special skills and talents in their children. Try to be prepared to lead parents to these and other types of resources, either through a lending library in the school, through local agencies or via helpful resources on the Web.

Invite parents into the classroom. Extend frequent invitations for parents to visit their child’s school and spend time in the classroom. Whether parents are invited to be silent observers or to help with activities, these visits can be most helpful and enjoyable. (And think about how special a parent will feel receiving a note from the class thanking them for their visit!)

Motivating change is not a one-way street, and does not exclude or exempt educators from engaging in capacity building of their own, and altering any immaculate perceptions they may possess regarding parents and students’ families. Expanding diversity in school dictates expanding cultural responsiveness and proficiency on the behalf of educators! The one constant in life is change and MI techniques encourages self-reflection, listening, questioning, and motivation for making the changes we wish to see. Be the agent of change and BE the change first!