Here’s How Schools Can Promote Racial Literacy

Color-blindness is out! The focused approach to race relations should be race-consciousness or racial literacy: the ability to read, recast, and resolve racially stressful encounters when they happen. People of color can face challenges regarding race, class, privilege, and power and often find themselves on the receiving end of harmful microaggressions — those subtle but painful race-based slights.

Typically, these slights rise out of erroneous but widely shared views of people based on race, synonymous with the construct that I call, “immaculate perceptions” — and are designed, mostly subconsciously, to underscore dominant and subordinate cultures. The aim of acquiring and promoting racial literacy is to prepare children, parents and teachers to identify unfairness and become academically assertive. It becomes a reading practice, a way of perceiving and responding to the racial climate and racial structures that individuals encounter daily. The classroom is a perfect place to start to promote racial literacy in our schools.

When we gain racial literacy in any context, we have the ability to:

  • recognize,

  • name,

  • challenge, and

  • manage various forms of everyday racism.

Achieving racial literacy means understanding many interrelated concepts. One example of this would be the ability to analyze barriers to equal opportunity in education that could include institutional racism in K-12 schools, the achievement gap, income inequality and other factors.

Beginning racial literacy: Dispelling “immaculate perceptions” about race

Elementary-level students might not have the cognitive or critical thinking skills to understand racial disparities that are not surface level. It is a teacher’s job to help rid younger learners of incorrect beliefs surrounding race.

Teachers should:

  • Provide curriculum that details historical events surrounding racism as well as the governing ideas that allowed racist laws and policies to develop.

Additionally,

  • Teachers should educate students about equality so that they better understand the similarities that bind humans together rather than focusing on differences.

Racial literacy requires a certain level of critical thinking in order to be able to assess situations or texts for inequalities. As such, students must have the ability to think critically before they are able to become racially literate. If teachers plant the seeds of racial literacy in elementary school, assignments and processes can become progressively more complex as students move onto middle and high school.

As students begin to develop advanced reasoning skills, teachers can ask them to think critically about texts read in class that demonstrate racial or cultural bias. Initially, teachers can model this technique by giving students an example of a text that has been approached with a critical eye and been found to illustrate racial inequality. From there, teachers can ask students to approach texts — literary, media or other formats — from a critical standpoint and facilitate discussions on racial inequities.

Deconstructing racial issues in literature, social studies and history

Teaching racial literacy reaches across multiple academic subjects. English Language Arts teachers can have students read texts containing issues pertaining to race, while history and social studies teachers can approach instruction by dissecting race from a structural standpoint.

Obtaining racial literacy will help to prepare students to engage in social justice practices. When we stop avoiding it, when we stop pretending it’s not there, when we stop thinking that it’s not an issue that deeply affects schools, we can advance race relations within a genuine respect for the strengths of our diversity.

Teaching and promoting racial literacy allows us to provide an authentic, quality and empowering education that fosters ALL students a more healthy, safe and inclusive learning environment, and helps schools to provide a world-class 21st Century education.

Why ALL Students Are “AT-RISK”

The label: “at risk” student…. What does this concept look like? Who does it look like, and  do we know when, where or how to make this determination?

we are the world kids

The term at-risk is often used to describe students or groups of students who are considered to have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school. The term may be applied to students who face circumstances that could jeopardize their ability to complete school, such as homelessness, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, serious health issues, domestic violence, transiency (as in migrant-worker families), or other conditions. It may refer to learning disabilities, low test scores, disciplinary problems, grade retentions, or other learning-related factors that could adversely affect the educational performance of some students.

While educators often use the term at-risk to refer to general populations or categories of students, they may also apply the term to individual students who have raised concerns—based on specific behaviors observed over time—that indicate they are more likely to fail or drop out.

When the term is used in educational contexts without qualification, specific examples, or additional explanation, it may be difficult to determine precisely what “at-risk” is referring to. In fact, “at-risk” can encompass so many possible characteristics and conditions that the term, if left undefined, could be rendered effectively meaningless.

Yet in certain technical, academic, and policy contexts—such as when federal or state agencies delineate “at-risk categories” to determine which students will receive specialized educational services, the term is usually used in a precise and clearly defined manner. States,  school districts, or research studies may create definitions that can encompass a broad range of  characteristic ‘risk factors’, such as the following:

  • Physical disabilities and learning disabilities
  • Prolonged or persistent health issues
  • Habitual truancy, incarceration history, or adjudicated delinquency
  • Family welfare or marital status
  • Parental educational, income levels, employment  or immigration status
  • Homes in which the primary language spoken is not English

In most cases, “risk factors” are situational rather than innate. With the exception of certain characteristics such as learning disabilities, a student’s perceived risk status is rarely related to his or her ability to learn or succeed academically, and largely or entirely related to a student’s life circumstances.  Attending a low-performing school could be considered a risk factor. If a school is under-resourced, under-funded and cannot provide essential services, or its teacher performance record is poor, the school could contribute to higher rates of student absenteeism, failures, and attrition.

If these factors are largely circumstantial, the best thing that we can do for these students, in order to meet their needs, is to address these circumstances.  Generally speaking, the behaviors and characteristics associated with being an “at-risk student” are, in most cases, based on research and observable patterns in student demographics and school performance. Numerous studies have demonstrated correlations between certain risk factors and a student’s likelihood of succeeding academically, graduating from high school, or pursuing postsecondary education.

Quite imprecise, I dislike the term at-risk because it may stigmatize students AND may perpetuate the very kinds of societal perceptions, and stereotypes that contribute to students being at greater risk of failure. If students from lower-income households are consistently labeled “at-risk,” schools and educators may respond by treating them in ways that could inadvertently perpetuate their at-risk status. And believe me, it happens!

Schools may enroll ELL students in specialized programs that separate them from their English-speaking peers. While the intention is to provide the specialized language instruction that the students need, the program may also give rise to feelings of cultural isolation, or it may lower academic expectations so that they can fall behind academically even more. Consequently, these students may drop out because they don’t feel connected to the larger school culture or see the value of education, or they may lose hope that they will ever catch up or graduate. Ever heard of “Pygmalion in the Classroom”?

Different individuals within the same demographic or risk categories may have very different innate abilities, familial resources, support systems, or other personal or situational characteristics that can lead them to be more resilient or successful than others; consequently, these students would be less “at-risk” than many of their peers. In this view, at-risk is an overly broad label that inevitably fails to take into account the true complexity of any particular student’s situation.

If we act on general assumptions, rather than diagnosing the specific learning needs of individual students and using that information to provide targeted academic support or more personalized learning experiences, we will certainly continue to be ineffective educators. Otherwise, we will continue to fail our children To help ensure that at risk students succeed, schools will need a clear understanding that collaborative, comprehensive, and community-based services, providers and resources must supplement, reinforce and co-exist along with the curriculum. The range of services offered to students and families must extend to areas beyond academics and more than a nurse in the building.

Establishing collaborative partnerships across systems is a great start.  With access to service providers and community-based resources at or near the school, student performance may result in more engaged, active learners. In turn, ‘AT RISK’ students graduate high school better prepared for college, career and life success.  By the way, aren’t all students “at risk” for academic failure?

 

 

 

 

DIGITAL INNOVATION & FAMILY ENGAGEMENT

blk fam

Harvard Family Research Project[HFRP], has discovered that there are programs out there that are taking family engagement to the next level. In fact, HFRP has an upcoming release of  Quilting Stories of Innovation in Family Engagement in which they have collected an array of success stories in family engagement practices and programs from around the country.

A common thread tying the stories together in this innovations quilt is the idea that supporting family engagement is a shared responsibility of families, schools, and communities. These stories highlight a coordination of efforts and the establishment of partnerships. Through these partnerships, diverse sectors and stakeholders work together and optimize their resources to support children’s learning and development anywhere, anytime.

school

 

Parentopia creates a blended learning environment for families of young children. With an ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) site in St. Paul, Minnesota, they have developed the first blended learning environment for parents and families of young children through the creation of Parentopia. ECFE offers families once-a-week parent education, early education, and parent‒child interaction with licensed early childhood teachers and parent educators. The program begins at birth and continues through age five. It is open to all families (universal access), and engages with families who live in the neighborhood.

Through the use of Parentopia, teachers have a virtual space for engagement with all families in classes and across the program through integrating communication, collaboration, and content-sharing tools for learning. Parents are able to continue learning about parenting through discussions with teachers and with the parents who are part of their trusted learning communities.

 

The ability to include family members who can’t attend the face-to-face classes allows information for learning and engagement to be extended and shared and for all family members to feel involved. The virtual platform then offers opportunities for individual enhanced learning and engagement with the program and with teachers―for social engagement, support, and the building of social capital with a community of peers―and for a wider community of families and staff to be built through blended offline and online interactions. HFRP is currently implementing that platform that was designed through a program‒university partnership and observing the contextual factors required for full, organic use of hybrid learning in a community-based non-formal education program (e.g., staff technology comfort and competency, support for content and platform updates, value of instructor presence in parent use, and administrative support).

What makes this practice innovative?
This is the first attempt to offer a blended engagement and learning experience to families in an early childhood parenting experience. We should seriously consider adopting this kind of engagement. We can examine and measure its impacts on parenting and parent well-being and indirectly on children’s outcomes. Because of the continuous, universal access, community-based, and school district‒sponsored nature of the ECFE program, it should become a national standard and a new best practice.

Unlike other programs that may be short term, ECFE builds relationships with families that continue actively for up to five years, and for many families for their whole lives. And because ECFE is a product of the schools (and many families stay within the school district for primary and secondary school choices), and since much of engagement is based on trust and familiarity, the blended learning and engagement experience has the potential to strengthen early relationships between parents and school staff and the school district that can be a “head start” to the family‒school engagement efforts down the road.

Now, that is innovation at work in the best interest of  children and families! This is exactly the type of initiative that I have been asking for, and the exemplary practices needed for meaningful partnerships with families! What do you think?

 

Cosby’s Preventive Maintenance Plan

 

 

 

Just days after a deadlocked jury released Mr. Bill Cosby from criminal sexual assault charges, the news is that he plans to embark upon a national tour, a series of Town Hall events. First, who would come and would people pay, or would anyone attend at no cost at all? This man, a beloved iconic figure, with groudbreaking accomplishments under his career belt, is now rendered a ‘fallen son’. Though many of us, including myself, practically cut our teeth on this man’s comedy, movies and tv shows,  memories will forever be fond in our hearts. Unfortunately, whenever a wave of nostalgia comes over, as we contemplate Bill Cosby’s life and worldview altering impact, there will surely be an afterthought,”…BUT HE…”.

Having not be proven guilty of the sexual assault charges by a jury of his ‘peers’, the judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial….this time. What confuses me is that since so many women accusers have come forth with allegations of Cosby’s unethical sexual advances and assaults, I can’t understand what took so long to bring these women to the fore. I think that the impact would have been greater if the claims were made during the height of his career. He certainly commanded more celebrity power,  influence and his pockets were certainly fat[ter].

Most of these claims alleged that his misconduct occured at least 10 years ago. He was younger, not yet declared legally blind, and still a very viable commodity in Hollywood, in academia and probably politically, too.

Playing the devil’s advocate, if he spent so many years abusing female engenues, wouldn’t there have been rumors, gossip or some scuttlebutt around town, or among Hollywood insiders? And where were his friends at the time? His co-stars? People talk, and why weren’t there rumors that spread, or why was there never any coverage in the National Inquirer, Liz Smith or any other columnists…ever? Not a hint! No one is THAT good.

I am not doubting that this man had abused some of these women to some degree, male ego, a grab here or there??? Why not cry out afterwards or tell someone close to them, if not proceed to the nearest police station to restore their faith in justice or defend their rights as women to say ‘no’ and lucid when they do so? I understand the inner turmoil they must have felt and the wavering feelings of self-blame and self-defense. I understand that there must have been fear that people would not believe, would cast doubt and blame the victim, and the feelings of shame. A strong, intelligent woman would not allow that to happen. She must have done something to provoke the actions. There could have been responses from others that would mimic their disappointment in her, not him.

He could have forewarned them by reminding them that they were doing drugs, and who would believe them once that was discovered. He could have reminded each one that he has influence and power and it would be his word against hers. Who would believe a relative unknown, powerless female against the word of America’s favorite father and great philanthropist, too. All of these scenarios are possible, maybe even probable. Yet, that still doesn’t explain why more than 40 women didn’t come forth separately, and years ago. The laws of probability says that out of 40, at least 5 women would step forward, take to the streets and the court of popular opinion to raise ‘holy hell’. Damn the celebrity!

Now, though, Cosby is older, not bringing in the bucks and quite frankly, doesn’t have too many more years to be among us. Could it be the money card? Now that these women have found each other, are they looking for a paycheck, because at his age, what good would it do to place him in jail? He is already a prisoner within his mind, because of the loss of vitality, popularity, and his former appeal has been limited to older women. He is a grandfather, but with an awesome and rich legacy to be left behind. Would anyone really sentence him to prison, should a guilty verdict ever be delivered?

Bill Cosby’s guilt has not been proven, nor has his innocence. So, his next move for now is to travel and teach young men  to avoid being the subject of charges of sexual assault or harassment. On the surface, a good idea. Deeper – the worst idea of the century!

All in all, Bill Cosby has been America’s most famous doctor, tv dad, and now he has become the target of some personal vendetta. He may have pissed off someone who asked a favor of his ‘influence’ to help open doors, launch a project, loan money to which he refused. Feelings were hurt and here we are now.

Or, there is another theory…the historically- systematic character assassinations and the targeted destruction of charismatic,  successful and positive men of color, whose otherwise unblemished life and legacy will not be allowed to be written as such. Limit positive black male role models and limit potential  of young black men to follow suit or believe it is possible for them to live productively. Don’t change the narrative!

Listen, we all are human, and ‘he without sins…’. But this man has been an activist, a philanthropist beyond any level to which we are aware. He has been a consummate family man, in his professional life. No ‘blue’ humor! No blue movies! It is unimaginable as to the millions, maybe billions that he made for the NBC network, not to mention JELLO brand. Cartoons, based on his life with family and friends during his growing years! This man was mocked by comedians about his dislike of profanity used on stage. He was the picture of ‘family’ values. Research his giving, donations, and causes he supported…all positive!

My cousin attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut with one of his daughters, or it was his son, Ennis. I forget, but all girls, one boy and he died. One wife, and she is still there. It is just hard to believe that the way Hollywood gossips, that when he was Numero Uno salaried artist who, by the way, launched many careers, he was not ‘de-throned’ when it would have had maximum impact.

Perhaps, it is just my own prejudice for what he did to challenge narratives and debunk negative stereotypes of the black family in America. Long before ABCs ‘Black-ish, which I absolutely love for both its humor and the subtle messages they deliver each week, there was Bill Cosby. No matter the ‘questionable’ allegations, he will always be the African-American role model who instrumentally became the change many wish to see. Noteworthy, not newsworthy or notorious, but a  benevolent man who enjoyed a very private celebrity in an industry where privacy is rarely enjoyed. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Bill Cosby, our ‘Dr. Huxtable’!

 

Common Myths About Dyscalculia and Math Learning Disabilities

What is dyscalculia? Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in math. Kids with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding number-related concepts or using symbols or functions needed for success in mathematics.

It’s not as well known or understood as dyslexia. But some experts believe it’s just as common. Experts don’t yet know for sure if dyscalculia is more common in girls or in boys. But most agree it’s unlikely that there’s any significant difference.

Dyscalculia goes by many names. Some schools refer to it as a mathematics learning disability. Doctors sometimes call it a mathematics disorder. You may even hear kids and parents call it math dyslexia. (The term math dyslexia can be misleading, though Dyscalculia and dyslexia are not the same.)

They often don’t understand quantities or concepts like biggest vs. smallest. They may not understand that the numeral 5 is the same as the word five. (These skills are sometimes called number sense.)

Kids with dyscalculia also have trouble with the mechanics of doing math, such as being able to recall math facts. They may understand the logic behind math, but not how or when to apply what they know to solve math problems.

Who says dyscalculia isn’t common?

Here are five common myths about dyscalculia—and the facts to debunk them.

Source: Common Myths About Dyscalculia and Math Learning Disabilities

Now That Parents Came to School, What Do We Do With Them?

Parenting takes a lot of skill and patience and is always a ‘work in progress’. The social skills, cognitive potential, and behavioral functioning that a child acquires during the earliest years are fundamentally dependent on the quality of their interactions with their parents.  Equally important is the quality of interactions between school staff, teachers, and parents of student learners in pk-12 education settings.

Historically, most of the education was the task of parents and the rest of the family. Before the establishment of compulsory education, parents were expected to assume full responsibility for the upbringing of their children, including their formal education. The latter is now a primary responsibility of the school. It was left to parents as to whether their children were formally educated or not. It is now recognized that formal education and schools can’t do it alone, and we are realizing the importance of parents and the cooperation with them as, also, one of the responsibilities of the school.

A recent study found that bad parenting can be passed on to the next generations in the family. The more unpleasant the parent’s childhood was, the more likely their children’s will be troubled, as well. Most programs that aim to enhance parenting skills are typically geared towards mothers, even though research has shown that when fathers are actively involved in their child’s lives, children are less disruptive and better adjusted. Parenting skills programs still target mothers.

Schools are the perfectly suited 21st Century setting for parenting education, since all parents have some connection to schools and for a number of years. However, relations between home and school leave much to be desired. It can be said that ‘parent education’ is not necessarily the approach as much as is ‘cooperation’ with parents in education. Either way, parents have so much to learn about schools and also child development. Educators, likewise, have much to learn about their students, the home and the diversity of families.

Parents need to know how their interactions with their children affect their development. Most people will tend to create the types of families they grew up in, and many unhealthy patterns are continued. Families need support in order to maintain healthy status. They are not always able to create a healthy atmosphere that contributes to a healthy family. They may need help from the outside, and school programs can offer information and opportunities to learn new skills, techniques and parenting strategies. Interpersonal skills, communication and coping strategies can be introduced, modeled and practiced as parts of parenting support and education programs. Academic related strategies are not all that we wish for parents whose children attend our schools.

The comprehensive growth and development that embodies the ‘whole’ child approach, is not limited to 8am-3pm Monday-Friday, but encompasses a child’s lived experiences 24/7. Therefore, parents must be involved in the learning that takes place in school settings, and educators at school must be involved in the learning that takes place in the community and home environment. ‘Involved’ does not imply that we get ‘all up in people’s business’ or try to control what happens at home, or dictate to parents the ‘right’ way to do their jobs. Instead, we collaborate in partnership and connect with parents to align with similarly congruent purposes-to rear a well-adjusted child whose growth and development is optimized by healthy, supportive and safe environments-at home and at school.

We help parents to be the best versions of themselves, encourage children to grow into the best versions of themselves, and commit ourselves to being effective communicators and culturally proficient professional educators.

What do we do with parents once they’ve come to school?  We educate for when parent education works, parents have the information to be a good parent, and develop more confidence in their roles as parents.

Parents have the power to create change, and should be seen as the most important contributors to bringing about long-term change in children.

We can teach parents how to reduce the impact of marital conflicts, or ‘baby mama drama’ on their children and how to create a non-adversarial environment. How a child responds to behavioral redirection from a parent depends on what they think about that parent, whether they see the parent as involved in their life, and if they believe that the parent really cares about what he/she is doing. We wish to improve not only the child’s behavioral problems but any maladaptive patterns of interactions within the family.

All parent education efforts and programming initiatives have benefits for parents, schools, communities, and most importantly the children, who themselves are so very dependent upon the quality experiences within each environments. Cumulatively, the impact, positive and negative, influences, and contributes to the comprehensive development, and life trajectory of youth.

“June-teenth” Anyone???

On this day, June 19, 1865, the lawful practice of slavery in these United States of America was officially abolished, terminated, never-more. This is a very important day in our national history, but you can almost bet that very, very few people know the meaning-the significance- of this date in the lives of not only people of color, African-Americans, but it is a symbolic date for all Americans.

We all are aware that  holding African people in bondage was a practice of the  grossly inhumane treatment of people of color, Africans, then African-Americans, from the very founding of this nation. To date,  we remain a nation unwilling to reflect, examine, reconcile or teach about this major part of U.S. history. Yes, we do teach about slavery, pre-Civil War era in our nation’s K-12 public and private schools, but we spend a yearly average of one 40-minute instructional period fully devoted to this part of our nation’s past.

We neglect to tell children, at critical ages in their development and before their worldviews are rigidly formed, about the most horrible sins committed in this country. Yet, we explore, in great depth, the cruelties, genocide, and the inhumanities of other countries against its own people or other human beings. Our versions are cloaked under the umbrella of religious beliefs or political ideologies to explain the rise of ‘terrorism’ and ‘radicalization’ of their citizenry. Quite the irony, though! According to news sources and political propaganda, the internal strife within foreign nations have existed maybe 50 years, at best.

Our inhumane treatment of other human beings, our citizenry, 1/4 citizenry, persisted more than 246 years. That is generation upon generation of the practices, policies, procedures,, and perspectives, which, by now, are deeply entrenched in this nation’s collective sub-conscious. By the way, in the state of Texas, for example, post Civil War, they continued to enslave blacks for at least three years. After the Emancipation Proclamation was officially signed, it wasn’t until two years that ‘slaves’ were freed. That is but one such example of the refusal to relinquish such powers over others; a way of life. Entitlement?

Before the 1st draft of our U.S. Constitution, upon which we still rely, and are governed by, there were enslaved humans in America. When the pilgrims arrived on this soil, as political refugees, explorers and immigrants, they brought the 1st Africans with them. They were not met with savages as some wanted others to believe. They encountered indigenous peoples already living and inhabiting the country. In 1865, slavery was no longer a legally sanctioned practice in the slave holding states, but the practice did not end there, on that very day or in that same year.

In the minds of many whites, they became entitled to ‘own’ people as property. They had learned that in order to detach themselves from emotions, or empathy for these people, they had to convince themselves and everyone else that those practices were not wrong or cruel at all. Thus was borne negative imagery, stereotypes, and segregation, etc…. As we progressed a few more generations, people began to acknowledge some of those policies, rights and practices, decreed in our founding documents that impacted people at all levels of society,  were designed in preservation of the ‘acquired’ entitlement, privilege, and dehumanization of blacks was immensely wrong, self-serving and sinful.

Pseudo-scientific research was provided to slave-owners and whites in general, and even though free people, there was still resentment of these persons who no longer had to ‘obey’ as subservient pieces of property, and the cessation of  free labor. I compare the subsequent actions, and residual discontentment with progress to a child who lost a former friend, and now that this person left, they wanted to prevent anyone else from becoming friends. So, what kids do is they ‘bad-mouth’ that person-everywhere they went to prevent happiness, and make themselves feel better. Also, in the back of their minds is the hopes for their misery to bring their return. But, it doesn’t happen! This brought more anger, and so there was an escalation- laws like Jim Crow, voting restrictions, and a host of others.

Here we are with unacknowledged, untaught, misunderstood HIS-story in the 21st Century, and there is divisiveness to no end. What happens when you grow accustomed to a certain way of life, a way of looking at life, and others, is that when things begin to change, we will often resist. It is not an easy challenge to exercise bravery and confront mistakes and then actually change that which goes against the very things we inherently understand are wrong. We make excuses, we pretend we don’t see it, we look to someone else should there be fault.

June-teenth is a significant day for the U.S., on par with The 4th of July. Independence day, yes! Independent of remnants, not yet! America has never been great, except at bullying and hood-winking others whom they quietly consider ‘inferior’, until the goals are met. At that point, friendship, camaraderie and supportive intent disappears. I love our nation, but we must take an honest look at ourselves, and try to take a look from someone else’s perspective in relation to that which we consider ‘different’ or ‘diversity’. Fortunately, we can get there. We can be great, but honesty precedes greatness.

It won’t be easy, but anything worth having is usually not very easy, simple or uncomplicated. We are worth it, we can and must cultivate the empathy required to broaden perspectives, reflect, revise, and reimagine the values upon which this nation was founded. With the sincere desire for a peaceful tomorrow, we must fully examine yesterday and begin the work today.

Our children don’t have to repeat the mistakes we have made, because we all do. In order that they learn to act, believe and relate to one another differently, we will demonstrate to them exactly what the mistakes were, whom they harmed, how we have covered them up, and then they will better understand how to avoid them. We can end the cycle, and start when they are young. Teach age-appropriate truths,  no omission of cause and effect in any aspect of life impacted by human beings. Cultivate compassion and empathy, and out of these emotions comes tolerance, respect and appreciation of the historic symbolism of June-teenth in America.

Intent, impact; cause, effect.

Bring Juneteenth to school!