Category Archives: K-12

What Educators Can Learn from President Obama’s Back to School Speech

petchauer

By Emery Petchauer

We now know that President Obama’s recent speech to America’s youngest citizens was not, as some feared, a 4-page/18-minute ideological conversion into “socialism.” In the words of comedian Steve Harvey, “Now that we done got that out the way,” we can turn to a bit more productive and realistic dialogue including what educators at all levels can learn from the speech. Here, I think, are three important lessons:

New media and technologies. President Obama (and his speechwriters) demonstrated awareness that new technologies, media, and related gadgets such as iPhones, Twitter, and Google are now everyday facets of students’ lives. These—and their widespread implications on learning—are no longer just optional ways to improve instruction. Rather, teachers must understand the habits of body and mind that new media produce in students and the educational imperative to design learning experiences based up them. In other words, it is important not just to understand what exactly Twitter is but also understand that it reconfigures a) how people think about their social relations and b) those very real social relations.

Vicarious models of success. Instead of giving only vague and general advice to students, the President supplemented his advice with a few vicarious models of success in the forms of students Jasmine Perez, Andoni Schultz, and Shantell Steve. Within these examples were clear appeals to different ethnicities, geographical locations, challenges that students might face, and avenues of professional success. While the inherent limitation of the speech format did not allow for much beyond these quick examples, they illustrate the larger point that students benefit when they see people who they believe are “like them” overcome obstacles on their ways to success. Structuring learning activities and environments so that students have direct contact with vicarious models of success does more to increase students’ classroom engagement and persistence than telling them repeatedly they “can do it.”

Honesty. The President’s statement that “Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute” is not news to students. However, someone in a position of power engaging in this kind of truth telling is. This sentiment is true for different reasons: sometimes shortsightedness on the part of students hinders them from seeing the relevance of assignments; sometimes teachers simply make assignments boring. Regardless, telling the truth and naming this unfortunate feature of learning environments puts both teachers and students in a position to move past it. Beyond the narrow realm of homework, honesty is seldom an unstable educational starting point. 

In closing, let me be clear and state that compared to variables such as teacher quality, educational resources, and curricular (ir)relevance, the President’s speech can do little to significantly change the 2009-2010 school year for students. This does not mean that he should not have given the speech; indeed, it was a kind and appropriate gesture to the country’s youngest citizens, and I hope that students will be deeply inspired by it. Another cohort who should be inspired and educated by the speech is those who stand at the front of the classroom, self included.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

 

 

Understanding the “Tools of Whiteness” (Notes from AERA, Part 2)

By Emery Petchauer

petchauerA common figure in teacher education is that roughly 90 percent of public school teachers in the United States identify as White. As the percentage of ethnic minority students continues to rise, teacher training and professional development often include diversity training or a focus on multicultural education. Alternative routes into teaching such as Teach for America, which place teachers most often into “urban” (read: ethnic minority) classrooms, also devote a significant amount of training time to these areas. Though this focus on diversity in professional education is a good starting point, I often think that it is a major error in reasoning to think that the mere existence of it will affect teachers in any meaningful way.

These currents in teacher education, in my estimation, are what make the work of Dr. Bree Picower of New York Universityso important. Her work illustrates how some white preservice teachers actively maintain dominant racial hierarchies in the midst of multicultural training by using what she calls “Tools of Whiteness.” This means that when white preservice teachers encounter ideas, theories, or perspectives that might cause them to re-examine notions of privilege, power, or oppression, there are systematic ways that they can actively resist doing so. 

The phrase “Tools of Whiteness” is particularly revealing when we consider the social mechanisms that buttress dominate (and dominating) ideologies such as white supremacy. Tools such as hammers and screwdrivers are small items with even smaller counterparts (nails, screws), but they are the fundamental units that make sophisticated and towering structures resist forces that might alter them. Similarly, it is unexamined assumptions and taken-for-granted notions that maintain complex ideologies.

In the realm of teacher education, Dr. Picower illustrates through empirical research how Tools of Whiteness generate from three main areas: teachers’ emotional experiences, existing dominant racial ideologies, and performances of identity. In other words, when teachers are challenged to think beyond their current white-normative ideologies, they draw from these three areas to avoid, refute, or subvert issues that would have them do otherwise. Findings such as these illustrate the important point that it is less passive resistance and more active protection that sustain dominant ideologies in teacher education.

It is important to note that it is not the intent of this research to demonize teachers who hold such views nor suggest that all phenotypically white teachers hold them. Essentially, the concern is for both the students and teachers. Paulo Freire reminds us that oppression dehumanizes both the oppressed andthe oppressor. In this way, having a better understanding of Tools of Whiteness helps teacher educators better strategize how to create learning experiences and curricula that will enable their preservice teachers to see the inadequacies and inaccuracies of their views and the need to develop more inclusive ones.

Related Links:

New York Collective of Radial Educators

Social Justice Teacher Plan Book

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

 

Reframing the School Safety Debate (Notes from AERA, Part 1)

by Dr. Emery Petchauer

petchauerLast month I participated in the 2009 American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting along with thousands of other educational researchers. Each year the meeting is an incredibly stimulating time for me, especially since it comes late in the academic year. One element of the meeting that always stimulates my own intellectual work is hearing research that is a bit outside of my own area of expertise, but that asks piercingquestions and attempts to answer them in creative ways. In this two-part entry, I want to give attention (albeit streamlined) to two researchers’ research agendas from AERA that are doing just this.

If the ideological lines within the issue of school safety could be drawn to create two camps, one would be those who believe that hard-nosed, zero-tolerance policies (including surveillance cameras and metal detectors–as modeled by correctional facilities) are necessary to keep schools safe and remove the “bad apples” when necessary. On the other side of the ideological line would be those who share the same ultimate goal but believe that such policies criminalize youth, make schools look more like prisons, and create dehumanizing learning environments.

Dr. Decoteau J. Irby’s work on school safety and violence emerges from a penetrating understanding of the competing ideologies and discourses on the topic. With such an understanding, he de-politicizes and reframes the issue in a way so that educators, researchers, and policymakers on both sides can see it in common ways and actually work together to make schools safer and more humanizing.

Dr. Irby does this by framing school safety according to the concepts of net-deepening and net-widening. His recently completed dissertation at Temple University applied these concepts in an empirical examination of the changes in the Philadelphia Public School behavioral codes and system of punishment over a 15-year period. Essentially, the study illustrates (a) how over time and according to recent educational initiatives aimed at urban schools, the behavioral code expanded to define and include more student behaviors as deviant (net-widening), and (b) how the penalties for infractions have became more severe (net-deepening). As an example, the study illustrates how a behaviors such as running in the halls were not classified as deviant in the past, and how other behaviors such as cursing at a teacher can now receive more severe punishments through classification as verbal assault instead of simple disrespect.

An approach such as this that gives us new ways of seeing also makes research easily translatable and transferable into the public domain—a quality that is too lacking in educational research. As the Obama administration and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will have to make some clear decisions with No Child Left Behind in the near future, it is research of this nature that they should review to inform their decisions.

For more information about Dr. Irby’s work, I invite readers to contact him directly at decoteauirby@yahoo.com.

In part 2 of this entry, I will give attention to Dr. Bree Picower at New York University and her work on the “Tools of Whiteness” explaining how White teachers in urban settings maintain dominant racial hierarchies.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

Arne Duncan on Tour and the Next Generation of Educators

By Emery Petchauer

One important area of concern that received little attention during this year’s monumental presidential election was education. Other than a brief nod during one debate — during which both candidates represented cursory and almost identical positions — education and the looming future of the No Child Left Behind Act was indeed left behind.

Currently, understanding the future direction of public education in the United States revolves around President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The improvements that Duncan is planning stem from a proposed $140 billion stimulus (sound familiar?), a large portion of which is intended to help states maintain and create teaching jobs and other positions in schools. Duncan plans to venture out on a listening tour across the county to hear firsthand what people in local places and spaces think.

On this tour, I hope Duncan hears from current college students who are intending to major in education. If he does, he will get a glimpse of some major problems that must be addressed during his tenure. One of these is the incongruency among states’ certification requirements and tests. He will hear about states such New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia that either adhere to different passing scores on certification exams, often change their passing scores, or use different exams altogether.

Hopefully, Duncan will hear that confusion is the least important result of these policies. These incongruencies create more obstacles for talented, new teachers who desire to leave their certifying states and teach in high need, urban areas in neighboring states. Like all bad policies, these incongruencies ultimately harm groups who need help the most: children in high need urban and rural schools.

I also hope that Duncan will see that some states such as Pennsylvania are transitioning into bizarre certification models — based upon no clear research base — that will make it absolutely miserable for college students to major in education. For starters, such models mandate a cemented course sequence, leave no room for electives and attempt to dictate the qualifications for faculty employment in teacher education programs. Without question, such models will decrease the number of gifted college students applying to and completing the major.

Some might suggest that any pressure put on states from the federal department of education is both undesirable and unconstitutional. My response would be that in the last 50 years, the federal government has increasingly stepped in and steered states straight when they have been off course.

Look no further than Supreme Court cases that not only declared racial segregation illegal but later outlined other measures for desegregation and related penalties. Today, strong-arm federal influence is happening on the daily through the No Child Left Behind Act. All of this means that Arne Duncan should and will have a say in teacher education at the state level, and I hope he hears from students in those programs as he makes decisions that will shape the next generation of educators.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

Being Black, Male and Educated in Today’s World

By James Ewers

There are far too many black males being portrayed as useless citizens in our society.  We see pictures of us being sent to jail or being expelled from school.  Some of us still turn a blind eye to what is going on around us.  The CNN Special, “Black in America” pointed out that African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, yet we commit 49 percent of the homicides.  That statistic should send a sobering message to all of us, black and white, who see ourselves as difference-makers. 

 

 

Obviously, we as African Americans have come a long way since the days of segregation.  While our gains educationally have been significant, we still have a very long way to go.  The achievement gap, according to some, has increased between black children and white children.  Some of this achievement gap data is being played out every day.  Recently, I went to the public library to check out some books and made a casual observation about who was in the library.  While some may disagree, there is more value in some African American homes placed on an Xbox and a Nintendo Wii than getting a library card and using it.  It doesn’t matter how proficient your child is on either game as the more compelling question is, can they pass the third grade proficiency test?  I don’t have anything against these games. However they can’t be put ahead of education.

 

 

We can’t undo the past yet we can be better forecasters about the future of our young African American boys if we become more proactive.  Educating African American boys might arguably be the single greatest priority in our communities. The biggest piece in this educational equation is that education must be viewed as invaluable in our quest for success.  It can’t be seem as a maybe but should be seen as a must!  National statistics show that young black boys are more likely to be suspended or expelled before completing high school than any other group. 

 

 

There are some factors that have led to this statistic being what it is.  First, a dearth of successful African American role models has contributed to young male students not seeing enough of us and they therefore think dreaming big dreams is out of the question. Therefore invariably when you ask a young African American boy what he wants to do, he will give you the name of a sports star or a music star.  As a product of the legitimate old school, I knew as much about Dr. King, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Whitney Young as I did Jim Brown, Willie Mays and Jessie Owens.  Maybe we need to invest in copies of Jet, Essence and Ebony so that our boys can see successful African American males in business, the military, education, law and medicine. 

 

 

Behavior has also contributed to this dilemma. Fighting and destroying school property only creates a negative opinion about young black males. Simply put, knowing how to comport yourself will put you in a favorable position with the education community. Another factor is the lack of diversity training in many of our school systems. There are teachers who are simply ill-equipped to interact successfully with young black males. It is my thinking that diversity training should be mandated for every school system.

 

 

Valuing education means talking about it in our homes, then our boys will have an increased chance to become an educated black male. Of course being black, male and educated brings on increased responsibility and opportunity. If you have these three characteristics, you have a chance to be a change agent each day. For those of us who are blessed to have a college degree it means that we must do more. Here are two ways of thinking about being black, male and educated. I believe the vast majority of people will give us the respect that we have earned. I would like to believe that our opinions about matters of the day are valued and valuable. On the other side are those who fear us because of our color, our maleness and our education. We become instant threats to some who are unwilling to accept us because we bring new ideas and inclusion to the process. Maybe in the end that is the dual role for those of us who are black, male and educated; that is, we are both respected and feared. 

 

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apologies Abound and CNN’s Black in America: The Inescapable Nexus

By Dr. Pamela D. Reed

On July 28, in the year 2008, the United States House of Representatives, almost 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, passed H. Res. 194, offering a formal apology for the centuries-long, government-sanctioned enslavement of African Americans and for the generations of Jim Crow segregation and for the institutionalized discrimination that followed and that persists in this, the “land of the free.”  Florida, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia had done so previously.

            Just a few days before the passage of H. Res. 194, in an ironic bit of timing, CNN launched its much-hyped documentary chronicling the plight of the contemporary African American people, Black in America.  Most would read these two headlines and would not connect the dots.  Well not this writer, for whom this seeming historic coincidence bears critical scrutiny.

            For four hours CNN documented the mixed bag that is Afro America.  To be sure, there is much to be proud of for America’s descendants of chattel enslavement, whose forebears, as the House resolution bluntly states, “were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage” for almost a quarter of a millennium.  Which brings us to what I see as the major problem with Black in America:  There was no substantial, meaningful historical context presented.  Unless you count the meeting, with cameras rolling, of the two sets of Rand offspring:  the ones descended from slaves and the ones sired by their slave-holding forefathers.   But I digress.

            In the face of incredible odds, African Americans have flourished in this country, in spite of the past.  As the CNN report documents, more Blacks are attending and completing college than ever before.  The so-called Black middle class is burgeoning.  Moreover, for the first time ever, an African American man, albeit not a descendant of enslaved Africans, is actually within reach of the American Presidency.  That’s the good news.

            This notwithstanding, recent studies indicate that only 1 in 2 of today’s African Americans will graduate with a high school diploma.  This is particularly alarming since the high school graduation rate serves as a societal bellwether and as an indicator of future skill and income levels.  Indeed, the Center for American Progress (CAP) reports that by 2006, after steadily declining in the 1990s, the poverty rate for African Americans had increased to nearly one-quarter of its population, 24.2 percent to be exact.  This is in stark contrast to the 8.2 percent of impoverished Whites.  The CAP analysis, The State of Minorities (April 2008), went on to report that the unemployment rate for African Americans, 8.3 percent, is double that of White America’s 4.1 percent.

            And still there’s more.  The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act revealed that, in 2006, of the 322,356 home-purchase loans made to African Americans, 172,055 were “high-cost.”  That is a whopping 53 percent.  Only 150,301 were at the market rate.  In a rare instance of being outpaced economically by Blacks, the subprime rate was only 18 percent for Whites.

            Then there are the staggering incarceration disparities between Blacks and Whites in America.  Much has been written of it; however, it is clearly crystallized in a Washington Post article “New High in U.S. Prison Numbers” (29 February 2008).  It broke to the world the news of the findings of the Pew Center of the States report, One in 100:  Behind Bars in America 2008:  “One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group.”  Truth be told, this is a new low.

             I won’t even go into allthe dismal statistics relevant to the healthcare disparities in America. It’s too depressing. The AIDS pandemic in Afro America, which has been likened to that of some developing African nations, cannot be ignored here, though, as many contend it has been by the federal government.  CNN’s Black in America sounded the alarm regarding the skyrocketing rate of HIV/AIDS infection among African Americans, particularly women between ages 25 and 34, for whom AIDS is the leading cause of death.

            This modern-day “black plague” is particularly dangerous because the primary modes of transmission are behavioral, i.e. sexual intercourse, drug use, etc.  Hence, it is far too easy for some, particularly in the church, to write it off as some sort of divine penance.  Further, many fear that as AIDS becomes known as a “black disease,” still fewer dollars will be spent for medical research in this area. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Blacks were, well, mistreated. 

            Even the American Medical Association (AMA) has owned up to this, issuing an apology of its own last month. The nation’s largest organization of physicians is seeking forgiveness for generations of race-based discrimination against Black physicians, who for many years were denied entry into this professional enclave. In a written statement, the National Medical Association (NMA), the organization of Black doctors in America, graciously accepted the apology, but stressed the deadly legacy left in its wake. 

            This medical redlining, “a litany of discriminatory practices, [has] had a devastating effect on the health of African-Americans,” says Dr. Nelson L. Adams, NMA president.  “These persistent, race-based health disparities have led to a precipitous decline in the health of African-Americans when compared to their white counterparts and the population as a whole,” added Dr. Nedra H. Joyner, chair of the NMA’s board of trustees.

            Is this all accidental, this being the chasmic gap between Blacks and Whites in America?  Of course it’s not.  This is the shameful legacy of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and continuing racial discrimination in this country.  And this is why the House of Representatives, with no mention of restitution, whispered their long-overdue apology.  That is to say that there has been little to no media coverage of this historic resolution.  Bringing to mind this time honored question:  If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

            But what does all this mean?  The short answer is this: it will take more than apologies to right the wrongs that America has heaped upon generations of African Americans. Regret without redress is just not enough. Not when these past transgressions undeniably led to the present uneven playing field.  And more importantly, if the present high school graduation rate for African Americans is any indication, the future looms large.

         Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

AAUW’s Recent Report, Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education Sparking a National Debate

By Dr. James Moore, III

In recent popular publications, such as Newsweek and New Republic, the gender equity discourse has changed focused. In these magazines, the authors suggest that girls are no longer educationally disadvantaged, due to their academic successes throughout the educational pipeline. These publications further suggest that boys are now the disadvantaged group, due to their declining academic performance. After reading these publications, one may leave thinking that decades of efforts to improve school outcomes for girls have come at the expense of boys.

Recently, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) unveiled a landmark report entitled, Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education Sparking a National Debate. It uses national data (i.e., NAEP scores, SAT scores, ACT scores, and high school grade point averages) to highlight girls’ educational outcomes in the last 35 years. In this report, its authors (Christianne Corbette, Catherine Hill and Andresse St. Rose) focus on the relationships between girls’ and boys’ academic progress. The authors use national data to examine educational trends for these two groups in elementary, secondary, and postsecondary settings.

After reading Where the Girls Are, it is clear that AAUW produced this report to shatter the notion that boys are disadvantaged educationally, because of girls. The report reveals that girls in general have made significant educational gains, as well as boys. There was not any significant differences between the two groups’ education progress, when you examined within group data. However, the report did reveal clear differences based on race/ethnicity and family income. For example, African American and Hispanic students – both girls and boys – scored significantly lower than their White and Asian American counterparts.

Based on these findings, both race and class have once again emerged as salient variables. Like many other studies, I was disappointed that the report did not develop this part of the document. To me, the authors missed an opportunity to expand the discourse beyond issues of girls. How might we expand this discourse to capture the authentic voices of people of color (boys and girls) and low-income populations? How can organizations, such as AAUW, help facilitate this dialogue among educators, researchers, and policy makers? If the report focused only on women and the different ethnic groups in America, what story would the same data tell? And, how would the narrators (or authors) tell the story?

In my opinion, racism and classism are alive and well in American society. I see them play out a lot in the lives of so many. This is clear, based on my research (see my website: http://www/education.osu.edu/jmoore).  I look forward to engaging you in civil dialogue on the aforementioned questions.

 Dr. James Moore, III is director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male at The Ohio State University.