Sunday, April 6, 2014

White Privilege, Race, Power and the Bigotry of Low Expectations

Over the past week, I've had the pleasure of being on a panel as a guest speaker at the University of Detroit and at the Detroit Food Policy Council's Race to Good Food Summit both in the World's Greatest City. In preparing for my guest speaker conversation, I had a revelation: many of my experiences around race have been repressed and pushed out my memory. As I began to unpack my own experiences, being told I was "sun-tan" by my white mother when I was asking a child or being pulled over while sitting in the passengers seat because "I fit the description" of someone the police were looking for I thought deeply about the ways in which I was forced into notions of race, privilege and identity. I asked myself "Who else has pushed such memories aside and what can we learn from each other?" There were great questions from our UDM brothers and sisters such as "Isn't race more entrenched in ideas of power?" and "How much of race has to do with conditioning?" I was honored to share space with two Ph.D's who were well versed in the topic but I've had some lived experiences that sometimes trumps academic credentials. I shared I never necessarily chose to enter into notions of race and class and growing up I frequently had to answer the question, "What exactly are you?" Those questions birthed my life-long quest to answer questions and identify my passion for serving people in so-called marginalized communities. How does this notion of race and power effect our schools and our students? How do these notions effect our food system? I'm only beginning to understand how I might begin to answer each of these questions; as our food and schooling systems depend upon our work to create equity and justice. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Black History Year: A Tribute to Tray'von and Jordan

"The more things change, the more things stay the same." This post is a tribute to two young brothers who lost their lives way too soon for no reason other than the color of their skin: Tray'von Martin and Jordan Davis. How does our K-12 educational system either support or remove these acts of racist violence occurring in our country? How are we preparing today's educators to confront notions of race and to break down stereotypes that have been prevalent since blackface and the minstrel show? We need to attack and de-mystify the images that we the people believe to be true. I propose that our schools become places to educate and eliminate these ideas. One year I was fortunate to teach a summer course with a group of young black men from our high school. It was amazing how much power and hope and love that group of young men had. Our courses in school can't just be about how every one is equal which is certainly a notable and honorable way of introducing primary year students into this notion. However, how are we getting young people active in eliminating these barriers while many still worship this thug lifestyle and outlook which so often gets associated with black people. I will share more thoughts on this later but right now lets all take a moment to honor these two young promising and honorable young men that left us too soon.... 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Starting with the Heart: Crucial Conversations

What I've learned in doing values work in both communities and schools is that there's conversations that were not having that determine the culture in which we live and work. These crucial conversations shape our lives and even in some instances can take someone's life. As a child of the 1980's perhaps no bigger event shaped my life than the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion where seven men and women lost their lives. The "faulty o-ring" was the part of the wing that could not withstand the temperatures in the atmosphere. As a result the Challengers wings caught fire and burst the entire shuttle into flames.  Upon further investigation NASA engineers had known for months that the o-rings were faulty. The obvious question becomes: why didn't the engineers simply say something about this? Well, at the time the engineers were afraid of questioning those executives and leaders that were higher up in authority and feared raising their concerns might cost them their reputation and their jobs. This is just one reason why we must have these crucial conversations in our organizations, with our loved ones, in our schools and communities; so how do we have these conversations when emotions are high, the stakes are even higher and there are opposing viewpoints? Stay tuned! 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Our Kids Deserve Better: Beyond College Admissions

With so much talk about how to make sure kids are college and career ready, I wanted to share an approach that I very much value. I'm sure plenty of people are familiar with the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools whose mission is to make sure that every single kid is college ready. I've spoken about KIPP in my previous post about particulary how KIPP graduates "stop-out" while in college.  I'm not entirely against KIPP schools - I just believe that there is a much better approach - one that get kids into college and promotes youth to be happy, passionate leaders and people. 

This is why I really enjoy the work of Dr. William Sedlacek ; at its core is the basis for developing more sound and meaningful people in this world. Are there other factors besides the ever-ominous grade point average that might also be an equal predictor of college success? And if there is - can we prove it? This is exactly the questions that Sedlacek researched at the University of Maryland. He wanted to know if there were other equally important factors that contributed to a young persons college success especially among people of color. His work is known as  non-cognitive variables - those factors and characteristics that youth should demonstrate during college and life to best be successful and happy. The eight non-cognitive variables are much better indicators of whether or not kids will be successful in both college:

Positive Self Concept or Confidence 
Strong self-feeling, strength of character. Determination, independence.

Realistic Self-Appraisal 
Recognizes and accepts any deficiencies and works hard at self-development. Recognizes need to broaden his/her individuality.

Understands and deals with racism 
Realist based upon personal experience of racism. Is committed to fighting to improve the existing system. Not submissive to existing wrongs

Prefers long term goals to short term or immediate needs
Able to respond to deferred gratification.

Availability of a strong support system 
To whom to turn in crises.

Successful leadership experience
In any area pertinent to his/her background (church, sports, non-educational groups, etc.)

Demonstrated community service 
Has involvement in his/her cultural community.

Knowledge acquired in a field 
Unusual and/or culturally related ways of obtaining information and demonstrating knowledge. Field itself maybe non-traditional.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Creating and Sustaining a Culture of Numeracy

Anyone that knows me knows that I struggled in virtually every single math class I have ever taken in both public and post-secondary schools. As a matter a fact, its probably the reason why I scored so poorly on my GRE and has put a major pause on my attempt to obtain a PhD, but I digress. So its no wonder why I am both passionate and dedicated to not only reform traditional schooling but in particular math education in this country. Its probably safe to say that I am not alone in my disdain for solving binomials or finding the area of a triangle, but its also frustrating as a grown man that many of the math skills that I use and have used into adulthood have absolutely nothing with what I was taught in school. In this effort this post is dedicated to not focusing on problems or even revisiting national debates on whether Algebra I is the "gold standard" for determining whether or not students can successfully matriculate onto post secondary studies, as I have mentioned in my previous post, but rather on a declaration promoting our schools focus on promoting a culture of numeracy. We defined numeracy as "the capacity to bridge the gap between ‘mathematics’ and ‘the real world’, to use in-school mathematics out-of-school” and consider people to be more or less numerate based on “how well they choose and use the mathematical skills they have in the service of things other than mathematics” (Willis 1998, p.37) To this end, we developed a set of seven Numeracy Principles that schools and educators can begin to adopt so that we create more informed and empowered young people in this world and bring an end to useless content that many of us will never use on a day-to-day basis: 
  • Numeracy is everybody’s business and pervades a school’s culture.
  • All students can and must develop numeracy skills and dispositions and become powerfully numerate.
  • Numeracy cannot be developed solely by learning mathematical procedures; these must be embedded in guided, open quests, explorations, and investigations.
  • Numeracy connotes a familiarity and confidence with notions of change, chance, quantity, shape, and dimension.
  • Real-world relevance and connections—both cross-discipline and within mathematics— are the cornerstones to developing numeracy skills.
  • Numeracy requires effective communication, both written and oral.                                         
  • Numeracy, along with literacy, is a co-equal building block of human intellectual prowess.

Just as literacy is the foundation in which all other reading and writing skills will begin to flourish and grow, we believe that numeracy provides the very foundation in which all other math constructs can rest upon and create a more informed and empowered youth. As other organizations such as the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, are working towards a more just and equitable platform in which math instruction can take place: the question ultimately becomes: How do we get our kids to think of themselves as mathematicians and simply not doing, math like a hopeless drone. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Want to Solve Education? Partner Passion and Students in Communities!

The work that we did at University Prep High School was not only incredibly powerful because we accomplished our goals of graduating over ninety percent of our students and over ninety percent of those students matriculated onto college or post-secondary education (based on the Big Picture Learning Model) but powerful because of the way that we connected students into the community to design and to take control of their learning. Each one of my seventeen students (don't let the small size fool you this was the hardest work I've ever done in my life)  who were a part of my advisory, a  who stayed with me for all four years so we could bond and connect as a family, were required as part of their learning plan to identify their interests or passions and then be connected with a mentor in the community in which they would learn from. Additionally, students would develop a value-added project that would better help the organization or business operate: Learning Through Internship. One of my students, La-Sainte had a sincere and genuine interest in early childhood education. She completed a shadow day at a local day care and then after a brief meeting with her and her mentor she officially began her internship the following week near a gritty neighborhood on Detroit's westside.  Because our school required internships and projects rooted in the community La-Sainte did not have to attend "school" on Tuesdays and Thursdays which freed her and other students to do real learning based on specific interests. One of the first things we require students to do is to complete an internship anthropology which works as a way for students to really look and observe the way in which a specific organization operates. Questions such as "what kinds of people work here? is there a diverse population? is the work space clean? are people treated with respect? why or why not?" help to improve students writing skills as well as to begin to develop an awareness about work spaces and students role within them.

More importantly, these and other questions help students to begin to identify specific gaps within the organization and to think about what projects they can work on. For La-Sainte, she really became interested in the role of play in childhood development and the degree and quality to which it was and was not occurring at her internship. So after generating her essential questions, drafting and writing a research paper and project proposal, and building on her previous projects on DNA and human and brain development, she decided that as part of her Senior Project she would organized and facilitate what would later be called a Family Fun Day in which children, parents, family and friends would be welcomed to visit the day care for a day filled with fun activities all aimed at developing healthy and happy children. La-Sainte raised nearly $1,200 dollars for the event and had organized the facility to accommodate activities ranging from kids cartoon characters to local karate mentors providing free instruction to a mini-train complete with tracks in the parking lot and plenty of food and beverages to boot. La-Sainte was required to design and implement surveys to determine the effectiveness of her work in this area as well as well as draft a reflection paper and a rubric in which she would give herself a grade on the project. Its through this work with communities and mentors and organizations in which students can begin to see themselves as not only as agents of change but also realize that each and everyone has power to transform. For me, if we are to truly change education for all people not just black and hispanic folk but for all races and countries, we must began to build meaningful and lasting partnerships with communities that place youth in the position of designers and specialists in solving and identifying areas of needs. If you are interested in designing similar learning experiences for your students, please check out the following resources or feel free to drop me a line for ways in which you might want to develop aspects of this work in your own communities: