Thursday, October 22, 2020

"All Boston Public Schools Exist to Serve All Boston Students": Why I Support Dropping the Test at BLS, BLA, and the O'Bryant

 

Above: Boston Latin School, commonly referred to as BLS, which is considered by some the "top school" in Boston is also one of the Whitest schools in Boston. Below: The Kenny School in Dorchester (where my kids attend). It is home to the city's only elementary school marching band and is one of its most racially diverse schools.

Last night, around 1:40 am and after about 6 hours of public comment, the Boston School Committee voted 7-0 to support a one-year change to the admissions process at Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science (commonly referred to as the "exam schools"), which include suspending the entrance exam. 

Many Boston Public Schools students, parents (including myself), teachers, and community members (including Ibram X. Kendi, the Boston Branch of the NAACP, and the Boston Coalition for Education Equity) spoke out in support of the changes and encouraged the School Committee to make them permanent.

My testimony is below.

<<<

Hello. My name is Chris Martell. I am a BPS parent with two daughters at the Kenny School in Dorchester, a BPS Citywide Parent Council rep., a former classroom teacher and current education professor at UMass Boston, and someone who deeply believes in racial justice. I ask that you support the Working Group’s recommendations related to exam school admission.

My daughters attend what may be the most racially balanced elementary school in the city. It represents the diversity of Dorchester almost perfectly. It even has its own marching band. It’s a special place. Yet, every year students leave the Kenny and end up at very different BPS middle and high schools. I can only imagine how confused Kenny students must be when they enter the doors of BLS. They must wonder, am I still in Boston? They interact with far fewer of their Dorchester neighbors, or peers from Mattapan or Roxbury. There are noticeably far fewer Black and Brown classmates. I wish BLS was more like the Kenny. I wish its student population was a better representation of this city’s neighborhoods. I wish all Boston students had equitable opportunity.

The racial imbalance is not surprising knowing our city’s past. However, the current admission process heavily based on standardized test scores exacerbates our city’s structural racism. Before the McLaughlin case, while not perfect, the diversity of the exam schools more closely resembled our city. After the McLaughlin case, instead of creating an equitable system that adhered to the court ruling, that School Committee took a pass. I ask that this School Committee do the right thing today. Especially in light of this pandemic, which has only widened racial and economic gaps. You have a chance to experiment with a new fairer system.

Finally, while the Working Group focused on this year, I strongly encourage this committee to eliminate an exam as an admission criteria beyond that. Our exam schools were not always exam schools. We do not need an exam to confirm their prestige. All Boston public schools exist to serve all Boston students. Let’s create a new process that centers on racial justice. Let’s make our school system a national beacon for equity. Let’s do what’s right. Thank you. 

>>>

Above and Middle: Racial demographics for the Boston Public Schools and Boston Latin School (from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). Below: A map showing the projected shift of the new admissions criteria system. Students from Dorchester, East Boston, Roxbury, and Mattapan (neighborhoods with the largest Black and Latinx populations) would see increases, and students from West Roxbury and Roslindale (predominately White neighborhoods) would see decreases (from the Boston School Committee Working Group).

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Teaching Impeachment

On December 18, 2019, for only the third time in history, the House of Representatives impeached a U.S. president, when they charged Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The basic events outlined in the impeachment inquiry of the Trump-Ukraine scandal (which began with a complaint filed to the House and Senate by an unknown government employee whistle-blower) included Trump's conversation with the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggesting that an investigation of a political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden (who was on the board of the Ukrainian company Burisma) would yield a White House meeting, as well as discussions of a discredited theory that Ukraine was responsible for pro-Hillary Clinton interference during the 2016 Presidential Election (rather than Russian interference that favored Trump-which was a major finding of the Muller Report). Ultimately, Trump ordered the withholding/delaying of military aid to Ukraine (which was not released until after news of the Whistle-blower's complaint broke-and which the Government Accountability Office reported violated the law). During the impeachment inquiry, additional information was revealed about a targeted campaign by White House officials and the president's lawyer Rudy Guiliani to ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.



Above: The Senate Trials of Andrew Johnson in 1868 (top), Bill Clinton in 1999 (middle), and Donald Trump in 2020 (below).

Back in October, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Education Week, where I said, "School is where students are first learning how to do the work of citizenship. If a teacher doesn’t make their classroom a place to unpack, and ask, and answer critical questions about it, then we’re doing a disservice." I had also said, "Many of the social studies teachers I work with, whether they are preservice or inservice, are struggling with Trump in general, and how to maintain a level of fairness, and how to moderate classroom discussion that can get quite emotional, because he is a polarizing figure, and your politics tend to frame how you view him."

The antidote to a polarized and overly-simplified classroom debate over the impeachment trial is to have students root their investigations in the evidence, asking them to make their own interpretations (which presumably will be framed by their political beliefs and values, but also challenging them to consider how their beliefs and values frame their understandings; this is an important activity for students in perspective-taking, where they should be asked to consider how different people may view these events differently).

Today (January 23, 2020), I asked the history teachers whom I follow on Twitter to tell me how they are teaching impeachment, and here is what they are saying (I encourage you to follow their responses-and partake in the discussion): https://twitter.com/chriscmartell/status/1220413285075505153

It is clear that many teachers are asking students to place the Impeachment of Donald Trump within a historical context and take their own stances on the issues in the present. These are great examples of social studies teachers educating their students fro democratic citizenship.

Above: A graphic representation of the impeachment process. (Posted by Larry Ferlazzo, who has an excellent post on teaching the impeachment with additional resources)

Tips for Teaching the Impeachment of Donald Trump

To help teachers to guide students in examining these important current events (and soon-to-be historical events), I also have a few recommendations:

First, it would be helpful to start by teaching the overall impeachment process (see above graphic or this brief Ted video), as students (and citizens) often have a misconception that impeachment means removal from office. Help students see that while a majority of the House is needed to impeach, a very high threshold of 2/3rds majority is required to remove a president (something that has not happened in the past and with the Republicans currently having a 53-47 majority, maybe unlikely in this instance).

Next, I would suggest contextualizing the current impeachment trial, by comparing the issues, charges, and processes of the two prior presidential impeachment trials (and if those impeachments were justified).

Here are some good resources on impeachments in U.S. history:

http://historymatters.gmu.edu/impeachlinks.html

And, the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868:

https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/articles-of-impeachment-of-andrew-johnson/
http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/impeach/impeachmt.htm
https://www.archives.gov/legislative/features/impeachment

And, the Impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998-1999:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/articles122098.htm
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/clinton/chapters/5.html
http://movies2.nytimes.com/library/politics/clintonlewinsky-documents.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMwMgaqVxuY

Then, once students have a better understanding of the gravity of a presidential impeachment, they are more prepared to start examining this particular impeachment.

Resources for Teaching the Impeachment of Donald Trump

I suggest using the following inquiry questions with students:  

Was the House justified in their impeachment of the president? Should the Senate remove Donald Trump from the presidency?

To help answer this question, students might use the below sources in conjunction with sources that they find on their own (depending on the students level, this sources should be adapted for their reading levels; I recommend including 100 word excerpts for intermediate elementary, 200 word excerpts for middle school, and 300 word excerpts for high school).

Trump-Ukraine Scandal Timeline:
https://www.justsecurity.org/66271/timeline-trump-giuliani-bidens-and-ukrainegate/

A timeline of the Trump-Ukraine scandal from Just Security at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, which provides a strong overview of the events (it is also routinely updated).

The Whistle-Blower's Complaint:
https://intelligence.house.gov/uploadedfiles/20190812_-_whistleblower_complaint_unclass.pdf

The text of the unknown federal government whistle-blower's complaint to the related committees in the U.S. House and Senate.

Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between Trump and Zelenskyy
https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Unclassified09.2019.pdf

The White House released transcript of the telephone conversation between Trump and Zelenskyy, which Trump's actions are in question. 

Articles of Impeachment from the House of Representatives
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/10/us/politics/articles-impeachment-document-pdf.html

The articles of impeachment issued by the U.S. House in December 2019.

Donald Trump's Letter to the House of Representatives After Impeachment
https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Letter-from-President-Trump-final.pdf

The presidents response letter to the U.S. house after being impeached.
  

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Teaching Red Scares

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Palmer Raids. In response to what the federal government believed to be a "radical threat," Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer led the arrest of over 4,000 suspected leftists and anarchists and the deportation of over 500 people between November 1919 and January 1920. Many people, as a result of their political beliefs, were arrested and detained without warrants. However, at the time, there was initial political and public support out of the fear of the spread of communism (this was only a couple years after the Russian Revolution and just after Red Summer, where there was widespread White-led race riots around the country). Today, the raids are generally viewed as unconstitutional, as they involved direct violations of the First and Fifth Amendments and arrests of many people simply for their political beliefs.


 
Above: A clip from the PBS American Experience film "The Bombing of Wall Street."

In many ways, this also marks the 100th anniversary of the United State's first "red scare." While there were minor red scares in the period after the Civil War, the Palmer Raids in 1919 started the nation's first major red scare. The next major "red scare" happened in the late 1940s led by Senator Joseph McCarthy (often referred to as McCarthyism). Ever since, every few years, small "red scares" continued to occur, often targeting leftist groups, workers unions, immigrants, and civil rights leaders. Here are just a few to consider: The Sacco and Vanzetti Trial, pro-segregation politicians and government officials attacks on civil rights leaders in the 50s and 60s, and attacks on Bill Clinton's health care reform plan in the 1990s as "socialism now or later."

Above: A billboard accusing Martin Luther King of being a communist. This has been part of a long history of depicting social justice leaders as "trouble-makers," being part of foreign governments' plots, or being un-American subversives within the United States.

Today, there appears to be a new red scare in the works, as fighting socialism and communism is a major talking point in the Republican Party's and Donald Trump's 2020 campaign strategy (although the latter may not really know what communism or socialism are). Numerous writers have highlighted some of the similarities between past red scares and recent attacks on progressive and socialist politicians, the targeting of political leaders of color, and the use of federal law enforcement on refugees and migrants. In the context of past red scares, Donald Trump sees it as a good political tactic to target four congresswomen of color (including my representative, Ayanna Pressley) as troublemakers and socialists who are "incapable of loving this country" and should go back to the countries that they came from (which all four are American citizens; three were born here). Moreover, Lindsay Graham defended the president by calling the congresswomen "communists." Without learning about the use of communism and socialism in past political campaigns, it would be hard for students to fully understand its use by politicians today.

Above: (Left) A political cartoon by Sidney Greene in New York Evening Telegram in 1919. (Right) A 1960s comic book warning readers about the spread of communism.

So how should teachers approach these red scares in their classrooms? I would suggest three main ideas to keep in mind.

Connect Past Red Scares to More Recent Ones

First, it is important to teach red scares as part of a longer historical movement to target members of certain groups as un-American and to evoke fear of those groups. By having students learn about red scares, it not only offers a case study to help students understand how groups have been demonized for political reasons, but also allows them to critically analyze how politicians use language in the past. It helps students who did not grow up during the Cold War (where fear of communism was much more widespread) understand the history of anti-communism and anti-socialism (and potentially why it is still around today). To some degree politicians have used terms like communist or socialist as a "dirty word" or scare tactic. Teachers should consider asking students to connect red scares to other contemporary or historical examples where people in power use certain labels to alienate or cast doubts on their political opponents.

Show the Role of Race, Class, and Immigration Status in Red Scares

Second, it is important to show that class, race, and immigration status has long had a role in red scares. Starting with the Palmer Raids in 1919, the poor and working classes, immigrants, and people of color were often accused of being "reds" or disloyal to the United States, especially when these groups demanded equality or protested their segregation, economic injustice, or other unfair treatment. For instance, both Martin Luther King and César Chávez were all accused of being communists, including being investigated by the FBI. Some have argued that leaders of color being called "communists" or "socialists" is often a veiled racial epithet (Barack Obama certainly faced these veiled epithets as president). It is important for students to see a connection between racism and xenophobia, and anti-communism or anti-socialism. Americans have long had an appetite for enemies, which has been exacerbated by the media often portraying international events as "good guys" (United States) vs. "bad guys" (any nation that has a dispute or disagreement with the United States). Moreover, the fear of communism and socialism is often associated with non-European nations (whether it be Cuba, North Korean, China, or Venezuela; despite being a predominately White nation, the Soviet Union seemed culturally foreign to most White Americans).

At the same time, it is important for students to understand that American communists and socialists are often "small d" democratic (meaning they do not support authoritarian regimes or anything that resembles the governments of the former Soviet Union or Venezuela). In fact, communists and socialists have often been at the forefront of expanding civil rights, civil liberties, and workers' rights in the United States. There were many important democratic communists and socialists who pushed the United States to become a more just nation, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Eugene V. Debs, Paul Robeson, Bayard Rustin, Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, and Angela Davis (as well as contemporary politicians focused on social equity, such as Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

Help Students Understand the Differences Between Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism

Third, it is important for teachers to highlight the differences between the various economic and political philosophies. Americans know relatively little about the relationship between capitalism, socialism, and communism (and often conflate socialism and communism). It can been even more confusing for students, because socialism and communism are both economic and political ideas, and capitalism's emphasis on economic choice may led to false views that it is part of a democratic government (when it is not; many socialist nations have democracies (often called social democracies), like Sweden or Denmark; many capitalist states are authoritarian, like Turkey or Russia (For teachers and students, this maybe one of the better video economic system primers on the internet, and here is a good primer on modern-day democratic socialism).

It is also helpful to show students that some Americans have long questioned capitalism as an economic system. Especially, when many democratic nations around the world have socialist governments or maintain socialist policies (such as tuition-free or low-cost public schools and universities, government provided universal health care, restrictions on executive compensation, or state-controlled or highly regulated industries). In fact, in recent political polls, socialism has gained some increase support among Americans, especially younger Americans, seeing socialism as a better alternative to capitalism (possibly as a result of Bernie Sanders presidential campaign). This may have even led to the White House releasing a report in 2018 on the so-called dangers of socialism. While more Americans maybe considering socialist ideas, fear around a communist takeover of the United States maybe still relatively high (at least in certain polls and among a certain set of politicians think it may help reduce support for their opponents) despite few governments in the world still espouse to be communist. Helping students see that a communist take over has generally been a red herring, but also an effective political tool in history, which can help them develop a stronger understanding of the political and economic debates over the past century (and today).




Additional Teaching Materials

For more on red scares, below are several links to quality lesson plans and teaching materials related to the Palmer Raids and Red Scares across U.S. history.

Capitalism and Socialism (Crash Course)

Red Scare! The Palmer Raids and Civil Liberties (UCI Social Science Project)

Palmer Raids (Stanford History Education Group)

The Palmer Raids (UT Austin Immigration History)

The Bombing of Wall Street (PBS American Experience)

Postwar Red Scare (Gilder Lehrman Institute)

Smithsonian Magazine Article "Crackdown!" on the Palmer Raids

Library of Congress Resources on the Palmer Raids

FBI Resources on the Palmer Raids

McCarthyism (NEH Edsitement)

McCarthyism and Red Scare (C-SPAN)

McCarthyism (Zinn Education Project)


 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Why I Don't Use "Teacher Training" to Describe Teacher Education

Above: This is a class picture from when I taught my first social studies methods course as a doctoral student in 2009.

I never use the phrase "teacher training." Those who work with me also know that I try my best to encourage them to stop using it as well. I have been a teacher educator for over 10 years (notice how we do not usually say "teacher trainer"), and I have always had an uneasiness with describing the process where teachers learn (and continue to learn) to teach as "training." I think that it problematically frames teachers' work as overly simplistic, involving little thought and creativity, and something that can be learned in a relatively brief period of time. It does not encapsulate the intellectual flexibility or the crucial problem solving skills that teachers need to do in their work.

This post is my public service announcement on the issue...

What is Training?

Merriam-Webster defines training as:

1: to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient; to form by instruction, discipline, or drill
2: to make prepared (as by exercise) for a test of skill
3: to direct the growth of (a plant) usually by bending, pruning, and tying

These definitions of training can help us break down why it is not the right term to describe the complex process that teachers experience as they are learn (and continue to learn) to teach. Embedded in the definition of training are several problematic ideas that are implicit and are important to unpack.

First, the word training means "to make fit." One interpretation of this is similar to qualified or proficient. However, I would like to instead use "to cause to conform to or suit something." This view of teacher training is the reason why early schools of education were called normal schools, and they were designed to establish a set of norms among all teachers and to standardize their practices (also see how gender played into the whole normal school idea). The second part explains how this "fitting" occurs through "instruction, discipline, or drill." The drill and discipline components clearly imply that repeated behaviors will lead to the intended outcome of becoming a proficient teacher. Additionally, discipline means "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character" (interestingly, it also means "punishment," which all teachers know from their school discipline policies).

The idea that teacher learning is to conform to a singular view of education is problematic. It implies that the best teachers can be molded using some sort of formula and that they "follow the rules." Instead, we know that some of the best teachers go against the grain. We know that they do not always fit in with the instructional or institutional norms around them. We know that they take pedagogical and curricular risks. Moreover, we know that the educational system is not equitable; the best teachers also work against that inequity. They center their work on social justice and ensuring that all their students are challenged and supported. They engage in culturally relevant pedagogy. Teachers need to be agents of change in their classroom around issues of pedagogy and curriculum, as well as fairness and equity more broadly.

Second, the word training means "to prepare" through "exercise" usually for some sort of test (such as an athlete trains for the Olympics). This view of teacher training portrays teaching as not involving intellectual flexibility or continual adaption to changing conditions (granted, teachers are like Olympians in many other ways). I will use the example of a driving license as an example; once a person passes a road test then the state says they have the skills necessary for operating a car. Within this logic, a teacher should be able to pass a test or some other sort of benchmark, and then they will have most of the knowledge necessary for teaching.

The idea that teacher learning can be mastered by repeated practice or that quality teaching can be easily measured is problematic. It implies that we know what certain behaviors teachers need to be effective. Instead, we know that measuring quality teaching is not only very difficult, but even the definition of quality teaching is highly contested. We also know that teacher learning continues to occur well beyond teacher preparation and that it involves continually adapting to new sets of conditions, such as changing students, teaching methods, or curricula. There is no one test or benchmark that says someone has mastered (or is even proficient) in teaching.

Third, the word training means "bending, pruning, and tying"; this is clearly a definition intended for gardening. However, it is still applicable to this argument. If we use the analogy of a tree to describe how a teacher grows, we would want to avoid "training" teachers in this sense as well.

The idea that teacher learning is something that can be forced in a certain way (like the gardening of plants) is problematic. It implies that teachers need to be shaped by others. Instead, teachers are the drivers of their own professional learning. There is evidence that the most meaningful teacher professional development involves learning collectively and collaborating with peers. At the same time, teachers are impacted by the decisions of others. They do not get to control the level of social programs available to their students or the amount of resources available to their schools. In many ways, like trees, teachers may feel as if they are constantly being figuratively bent, pruned, or tied by others in their day-to-day work. I see this with the preservice teachers who I teach, but also among the experienced teachers whom I work work with (I have documented some of this in my longitudinal research on teacher development; see here and here). Many teachers today identify an over-emphasis on standardized test scores, prescribed mandated curriculum, a lack of resources, and schools without dedicated time for social studies, science, art, or music, as stunting their professional growth (similar to how this definition of training influences, perhaps even stunts, the growth of trees).

While there may be some professions where training describes their professional learning (i.e. auto mechanic, athlete), it is not the case for teachers.

What Is Education and Why Make a Distinction?

I am certainly not the first to draw a distinction between training and education. Outside teaching, many people have made this distinction about their fields (see one here from business or one here from the military). In fact, this same argument was made by G. Patrick O'Neill's article in his McGill Journal of Education back in 1986. He argued that education, not training, best depicted the intellectual, emotional, and social development that teachers undergo (and that teacher training and teacher education should no longer be used interchangeably).

My purpose in this post is to raise awareness and hopefully lead teachers and teacher educators to stop using the term "teacher training," and instead use "teacher education" or more specifically "teacher preparation," "teacher development," or "teacher learning" as the terms to describe how teachers learn.

Merriam Webster defines education as 
1: the action or process of educating or of being educated; the knowledge and development resulting from the process of being educated

Education is a much more applicable term for what teachers experience as they learn (and continue to learn) to teach. It represents a much more complex process. It makes clear that it happens over time (perhaps over a lifetime or career). It is not some that comes from rote memorization or repeated behaviors, but rather development that occurs before and during the practice of teaching.

Of course, all professions involve some level of both training and education. Teaching is no different. However, it requires much more education than training to be successful. For instance, teachers must be trained to use a grade submission web portal, how to search the Internet efficiently for resources, or about their school's procedures for dealing with problematic student behaviors. Yet, these types of trainings are not usually (and should not be) the focus of teacher preparation programs, as they would not prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom and all of the complex variables that teachers need to consider and address.

Problematically, several new teacher preparation programs have actually bought into the assumptions embedded in "teacher training" and have built their courses around the behaviors or repeated practice that they believe make an effective teacher (interestingly, these preparation programs also view the learning of PreK-12 students in a similar way). One of the best example of this is the Relay Graduate School of Education, which NYC principal Carol Burris analyzes quite well here (notice even the author falls into the "teacher training" trap in the title, when I think she means education-as she makes clear throughout the article).

Teaching requires an education that helps develop teachers' critical thinking around how should students be assessed on their learning (or should we even have grades), how to design a well-crafted lesson plans or adapt another person's curricular materials, or understand the complex psychology that underpins students' behaviors and possible ways to support all of their students (including considering if school discipline procedures may be inequitable for certain students).

We cannot not simply train teachers, as if teaching is a simple set of tasks and behaviors. Instead, teachers must understand both the art and science of learning, so they can be continually adjusting their teaching practice and engaging in their work as intellectuals. As one writer analogized it, "Don’t just teach him how to catch a fish. Educate [them] about the art and science of fishing." Teachers must not only be prepared for the basic tasks they must perform in the classroom, but for everything else that happens around those. It is about how a teacher creates and assembles lessons, not memorizing the parts of a lesson plan template. It is about how a teacher challenges their students to think about perspectives or ideas that they have not considered, not using the best method for having students call out answers.

This is certainly not a new debate. Education has long had a division between those who work from behaviorist and constructivist perspectives. Each philosophy has different concepts for how to build an educational system that best educates students. Subsequently, that same debate has also persisted within teacher education. Teacher training is much more aligned with a behaviorist view of learning to teach, while teacher education better describes how constructivist-oriented teacher educators understand their work.

Why Is This Important?

Language is important as it frame how we understand the world. This is especially true for the language that we use to explain teaching and learning. As Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006) reminded us, the language often used in education oversimplifies the process of teacher learning and practice. It often frames learning in terms of a basic transmission from teaching to student (which it is not), or in the case of teacher education, from teacher educator to teacher. This has all sorts of negative ramifications on how the general public or politicians (who make laws about teaching and learning) think about education. I find particularly compelling Kevin Kumashiro's argument that these misconceptions about teaching and learning have become so taken-for-granted that they are seen by many as common sense, and that they have been used for political, rather than educational means. For instance, conservative educational thinkers have used these common sense framings to shape the current educational conversation (and ultimately influence the current system) within their view.

As I said at the beginning, this is a PSA. My hope is that I influence a few more more people to stop use teacher training (I know it is an uphill battle), and especially to stop using it simultaneously with teacher education, or teacher preparation, or teacher development. I hope that this can encourage a more important conversation about how we view teacher education, teachers, and, ultimately, the students they work with.
 
 Above: A recent group of graduates from the BU Social Studies Education Program. I'd like to think we helped educate, not trained, them to be great teachers.





Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Teaching Immigration

Above: The Great Hall and the "pens" at Ellis Island Immigration Station.

"The United States is a country of immigrants." While this statement is only partially accurate (as it does not recognize that many Americans are either ancestors of the first people to inhabit this land or were forced to come here as a result of slavery), it is certainly routinely stated in U.S. history classrooms (and the media). Immigration has long played a prominent and positive role in the quest-for-freedom narrative template of American history (For more on narrative templates, see the work of James Wertsch here, here, and here). Using this narrative template, students (and people) place events within a larger story that the United States was established to help people escape oppression elsewhere and join a nation that is constantly striving to protect individual freedom here (See the Neil Diamond song "America" for a good example of this (video below), past presidential speeches on immigration issues, or most textbook chapters on the topic).


Of course, we know that the American story is much more complex and that for many groups this nation was the vehicle of their oppression. Immigrants have long been used to create hysteria and further certain political goals. Perhaps dating to the United States' founding (including statements by Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton-yes, the guy from "that musical" and an immigrant himself), anti-immigrant propaganda has been spread through the media and politicians have used it as a wedge issue (including in party platforms) Recently, despite large declines in undocumented immigration, reducing immigration became the signature campaign promise of Donald Trump's campaign. As I write this, there is a standoff between the President and Congress over the funding of a Mexican border wall expansion, which has partially closed the federal government (now the longest in history and also widely unpopular with the American people).

How should teachers approach immigration during these troubling times for immigrants? Without a doubt, the current president's rhetoric and action has made teaching this part of the American story much more complex. Unlike previous presidents, Trump does not describe this debate as part of our ethos as nation of immigrants ("but also laws," which they always add) and within that time-honored quest-for-freedom narrative template, as Clinton, Bush, or Obama did. He does not present the experiences of present day immigrants as their attempt to seek freedom here from oppression elsewhere (interestingly, as Trump's own ancestors did, when they immigrated from Germany and Scotland to the United States).

Considering this historical and political context, in this post, I explore possible ways that teachers might present immigrants and immigration, so that it helps students have a more complex understanding of the nation's past and how that influences the present.

Above: Downtown Framingham, which has long been an immigrant community.

However, I should note that this topic is very personal for me. For most of my career as a high school social studies teacher, I taught in Framingham, Massachusetts (above). Framingham is a former factory town and historical hub for immigrants. First, it was the English (who settled on Nipmuc land), then the Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans, migrants from Puerto Rico, and today it is home to many newcomers from Brazil, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Every year when I taught U.S. history, I attempted to present a story of migration that began with the Indigenous people and then eventually waves outsiders in different periods that continued to the present day. The overarching question that I wanted my students to answer was, has the United States been a nation of freedom for migrants/immigrants (and, if so, for whom and when)?

 
Above: (Left) My great grandfather (with hat; as a child standing behind his tenement in Holyoke, Mass.), whose family immigrated from Québec in Canada and (Right) my great grandmother (on right, in an family portrait taken in Chicopee, Mass.), whose family immigrated from Galicia in Poland.

I also approach this topic as a descendant of immigrants. My ancestors came to Massachusetts from Québec (and before that from France) and Poland. Whether it was taking trains south from Montréal to work in the paper mills of Holyoke or taking a boat and arriving at Ellis Island to later join relatives working in the factories of Chicopee and Springfield, my ancestors bought into the quest-for-freedom narrative. They benefited from the United States. They found stable work and housing (as they were barely surviving as farmers in Québec and Poland at the turn of the 20th century). However, they were also discriminated against because of their ethnicity and language once they came here (I have found numerous examples of family members who were listed in census records as child laborers; my relatives were often told in Canada and the U.S. to "speak White," which meant speak English). At the same time, especially for my French Canadian ancestors, they were settlers and colonizers who took land and killed Native people (which is an important part of the story that must also be acknowledged). As a White American, it is essential that I examine the positive and negative impacts of my family's journey here.

Based on my experiences as a teacher (and teacher educator) working in immigrant communities, and descendant of immigrants myself, I argue that teachers should consider three important ideas when teaching immigration in their social studies classrooms.

1. Migration/Immigration Should Be Taught Across the U.S. History Curriculum

While immigration occurred throughout much of American history, the topic is often studied by students only during units on antebellum and postbellem industrialism (and this is reinforced by state standards). While those periods were certainly important (and when many White Americans, as well as some Asian and Latinas/os trace their family's first journeys here), it is only one of the major waves of immigration. By only studying immigration in those periods, it neglects a longer historical arc of immigration.

Above: Migrants/immigrants not from the turn of the 20th century; (above) a painting of the Mayflower, which brought English immigrants, and (below) a plane bringing maids from Puerto Rico to New York.

It is essential that teachers portray the people who came as the result of English (Spanish, French, Dutch, etc.) colonization as immigrants. Otherwise, students may consider these groups as the original people here (erasing the millenniums of Native history before them). It is also important to incorporate the history of forced migrants from Africa into the larger narrative of immigration and make clear ways that enslaved peoples' experiences contrasted to those of immigrants (as the two are rarely presented this way, it may even lead some to see their experiences as tantamount, as we have seen written in some textbooks or described in politicians' speeches). It also prevents students from seeing that forced migrants' and immigrants' experiences were related. While plantation owners forced enslaved people (and later exploited their ancestors through sharecropping) to produce raw materials in the South, factory owners exploited immigrants in the factories that made finished products from those same materials.

2. Migration/Immigration is Not Only in the Past

While immigration is often taught as a historical topic, it is less likely to be taught as a current day political, economic, or geographic one. However, immigration has a strong impact on our current and future society. The nation relies on immigration economically and socially. Immigrants have influenced American culture (including our music, art, and sciences) and how we understand our political system. For many Americans, our identities are often closely related to our ancestors' origins. Unlike other nations were the vast majority of people share the same ethnicity, our cultural diversity is at the heart of who we are as a nation. Yet, teaching immigration as an event of the past may leave students with a sense that historical immigration is in no way connected to the people who come today and the people who will come in the future.

Above: A picture of the Rally for Immigrants, Washington, D.C. in 2013.

It is important for teachers to make regular connections between past and present immigration and immigrant groups. First, it helps students see that immigrants faced some similar experiences, yet it can also help them see how not all eras of immigration were the same. They will be able to see that certain immigrant groups may have had more or less political and social power depending on their group and the period (for instance, English settlers in colonial New England had a very different experience (were able to take Native land and establish their own governments and communities) than Latina/o immigrants today (who are dramatically underrepresented in the local or national governments). Second, it may allow some students to develop a sense of empathy or solidarity with present immigrant groups based on their families' or ancestors' immigrant experiences. My first teaching job was at a Catholic high school in Boston, where a large percentage of students were of Irish descent. There was clearly a significant amount of Irish pride within the student body and I was often able to engage the students in immigration studies by having them compare and contrast the Irish immigrant experience with the experiences of other immigrant groups. Within this, it is also important to continually bring in the role of race, class, and gender in the immigrant experience, by helping students see that immigrants often face intersecting oppression depending on who they are and where they came from.

This would also be an important place for teachers to discuss the differences between migrants and immigrants. While migration is a broad term that describes any group that moves from one place to another (it can include the ancestors of present day Native people, people who were forced to come to the United States through the slave trade, or Central American refugees fleeing crime or violence in their homeland), immigration implies migration withe specific intent on settling in a new place. Immigration often implies voluntary and with the expectation that is will most likely be permanent.

3. Make Migration/Immigration Personal for Students

People researching their own genealogy is possibly more popular than ever. With the digitizing of government records, it is now easier than ever to trace your family's records (See U.S. Census records, Ellis Island passenger records, slavery records, Freedman Bureau records, Japanese American WWII relocation and incarceration records, ancestry.com, and Mormon Church ancestry records). Since many of these records are free, it is easier now to have students investigate their family's histories in school. Moreover, students can benefit from assignments that have them interview family members about their family histories and their relatives experiences during certain historical events. For most Americans, genealogy research will expose immigrant or migrant histories; it can help them learn when and how their relatives came here from Asia or Europe, or trace their migration from Black communities in the South to the North and their ancestors slave or freedom status.


Teachers should consider engaging their students in critical family histories, which research their immigration stories, but also their ancestors forced migration (through slavery and Indian reservation and board school records) or involvement in colonization. This is the best way to help students realize their personal and family connections to the immigrant experience and the role that discrimination or privilege may have played into it. Christine Sleeter has described critical family histories as an attempt to situate your individual family stories within a wider analysis of social power relationships and culture.

My hope is that if we better have students examine a much more complex story of immigration, then as citizens, they will be better informed around the immigration-related issues that arise. It is difficult to understand the present, without understanding the past. This is especially true when it related to the topic of immigration.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Teaching About White Supremacy in the Trump Era


Over the past year and a half, I was quite busy creating an elementary social studies curriculum and was on hiatus from blogging. I return to blogging about social studies and education with this post related to the events from last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, and teaching about White supremacy (and the upcoming "Unite the Right 2" event in Washington, D.C.).

Before becoming a Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandies wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” While this related to his views of corporate transparency, I find this quote particularly helpful in framing the teaching of White supremacy and racism in the classroom. There may be a worry among some teachers or parents that students are not ready to learn about White supremacy (or racism more broadly), or that by teaching about White supremacy, it may actually lead to more racism. Yet, sunlight is the best disinfectant in regard to racism and White supremacy. By learning about White supremacy in the past and present, how it functions, and ways to work against it, students will be better prepared for a world where it has control over so many social factors. At the same time, I also argue that in our current era, it may be more difficult than before for teachers to teach about White supremacy.



Over the past two years, there have been several high profile events that have exposed White supremacy to many Americans who were previously unaware of it. As a private citizen and later a candidate, Donald Trump routinely used racist rhetoric (including his negative portrayal of African Americans, Mexicans, Central Americans, and Muslims), which appeared part of his political strategy and was likely a major factor in his electoral victory. As a president, he has continued this rhetoric and attempted to enact certain racist policies (such as this, this, and this), which may influence his ongoing support by some groups of Whites). While some may argue that Trump’s language and actions are unusual for an American president, I would argue that he is simply illuminating the White supremacy that has long permeated American society, including its government (he may simply be expressing what many politicians, including some past presidents, thought, but did not express publicly for fear of the political ramifications). Concurrently, there has been the rise of the Alt-Right, which is an attempt to unite a series of far right ideologies under a core belief of White nationalism. Alt-Right groups were responsible for the "United the Right" event in Charlottesville that included a nighttime White supremacist rally that used Tiki torches to imitate Nazi rallies of the past and an attack where a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people. Finally, there has been a dramatic increase in reported hate crimes, with many specifically targeting Latino/a and Muslim Americans (which has been labeled by some as the Trump effect), over the past two years.


These events have presented some very difficult issues for social studies teachers (and teachers in general) who routinely make current events a focus of their classrooms. Many teachers have a fear that if they ask students to critically evaluate the words and actions of Trump (in the same way that they did for Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton before him), they may now incite emotional (and possibly uncontrollable) discussions in their classrooms, or worse, be labeled as trying to politically indoctrinate their students. Yet, if teachers are not engaging their students in civil discussions and critical analyses of Trump’s words and actions (the same discussions that all democratic citizens should be having), then they are missing an important opportunity to help their students make sense of the current political climate and its implications for our country (and its future).

To make clear, when teaching White supremacy in the age of Trump, it is important to draw careful distinctions between the larger ideological movement and the president. While Trump's language and actions are certainly guided by White supremacy (including his defense of White supremacists in Charlotteville as "very fine people on both sides" and his re-Tweeting of White supremacist anti-Muslim videos from Britain), to simply conflate the two would be a mistake; it would not only alienate some conservative students, but also possibly prevent any productive classroom discussions or inquiries on the topic. In fact, this should not be a partisan issue (and numerous members of Trump's own political party have condemned his stances on a number of occasions when he used racist language and or engaged in racist actions; see here and here).

So, how should teachers help students understand White supremacy and its role in history and present day? I suggest teachers focus on three things when addressing issues of White supremacy in their classrooms.


1. Place White supremacy within a historical context, but also connect the history of White supremacy to the present day.

It is essential for teachers to help students place White supremacy within the much larger historical context of the country (i.e. European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, race in the colonial era, slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the War on Drugs, the L.A. Riots, Hurricane Katrina), but also connect that history to the present day. This is to help students see that White supremacy, as an ideology, has existed across U.S. history and was not ended during the civil rights movements or as a result of Barack Obama's election (as some people have suggested), but persists in our current society.

I recommend explicitly teaching about both overt and covert White supremacy. It is helpful to provide examples. For instance, rallies like "Unite the Right," spray painted swastikas, or the Charleston Church Shooting are all examples of overt White supremacy. The perpetrators of White supremacy are very clear that racial hate motivates them. However, there is also covert White supremacy. This is where White supremacy is much more nuanced or hidden. It may be perpetrated in a way that does not make racial hate as obvious. For instance, the 1988 Willie Horton political advertisement is a good example, as it intentionally used race to convince a group of White voters (through their racial fear) to vote for a specific political candidate. Or, it can be carried out by people who are not even aware of their White supremacy. For example, numerous studies have been done on implicit bias, which are unconscious and automatic features of prejudiced judgment, or microaggressions, behaviors or statements that do not necessarily reflect malicious intent but can inflict insult or injury. This may impact how White police officers react to certain situations involving people of color or how a person of color may be routinely overlooked for job interviews. This type of White supremacy is far more systemic and structural. It means that people of color must routinely justify their abilities or even their existence to Whites. While students may be much more familiar with overt than covert White supremacy, it is important that they are provided with examples of both. Covert White supremacy leads many White Americans to support racist actions or policies (without even recognizing the underlying White supremacy). It presents a "less ugly” racism and often frames White supremacy using “common sense” language (for instance, in arguments opposing affirmative action, you may hear, "if you support fairness, why would you support something that gives a preference to some groups over others?" It re-frames a program that is meant to support groups disadvantaged by racism as actually disadvantaging the dominant group). For some, this covert White supremacy can eventually becomes overt (See this piece on the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville).

2. Allow practice using critical media literacy on past and present racist images and writings.

It is also important for teachers to have students practice using critical media literacy to analyze racist images from the past and present (I recently gave a presentation at the New-York Historical Society about this, which include some examples of how race is presented in the media and how young learners may experience it-within a larger discussion of teaching difficult history at the elementary-level). It is important for students to not only be able to critically evaluate the media in their own world, but also cases of White supremacy from the past. For instance, Malcolm Cawthorne and Kathryn Leslie have used an interview with a White nationalists in their class at Brookline (Massachusetts) High School to help students see how people in our current time may hold overt White supremacist ideas. Or, Jeffrey Morgan, an English teacher, had students analyze White supremacist propaganda found on the Internet. However, these teachers also connected the present day to a long history of White supremacy in the United States. Whether it be overt White supremacy, such as when 30,000 Ku Klux Klan members marching on Washington, D.C. in 1925, or covert White supremacy, like how most White people in the American South accepted and supported Jim Crow Laws in their daily life. Teachers might have students analyze political cartoons about immigrants in the early 20th century or racial depictions of the Japanese during World War II, but then ask students to look for similar examples in the media of their current world, such as in the news media or how certain groups are portrayed on social media posts. It is important to show that there were-and are-people who engaged in purposeful acts of White supremacy, but also people who were-and are-complicit in a system that allows it to continue.

3. Provide students with possible ways to work against White supremacy. 

Finally, it is important to avoid fostering in students a fatalism around White supremacy (or a belief that it cannot be changed; that Whites will always hold prejudice toward others and maintain a racist system). The best way to do this is to provide tangible ways to work against White supremacy. Without tangible ways to reduce White supremacy, students may be left thinking "there is nothing that I can do."  One way teachers can do this is to expose students to the many different resources for anti-racist understanding and action, both covert, such as Harvard's Project Implicit, the Weldon Cooper Center's Racial Dot Maps, or the Mapping Police Violence Project, and overt, such as the many organizations that keep track of hate groups, including the SPLC's Hate Watch and Hate Map, and the Anti-Defamation League's Hate Crimes List. The final step it to help students (and your fellow colleagues) access possible ways to take that knowledge and work for change. This included community resources, like the Southern Poverty Law Center's Community Response Guide to Hate, articles and books on doing anti-racism work, and professional development from groups like Teaching Tolerance on teaching about anti-racism. The United States has long struggled with its White supremacy past and it will take education and action to work against it in the future.

Additional Resources:

Below are a few additional resources that can help teachers in their approach to White supremacy in the classroom.

An article from The Atlantic on how teachers are addressing issues related to the Alt-Right in the classrooms:
https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/04/the-alt-right-curriculum/521745/

Strategies for teaching about Charlottesville from the Anti-Defamation League:
https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/after-charlottesville-teaching-about-racism-anti-semitism

A lesson plan from PBS Learning Media on understanding White supremacy:
https://ca.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/iml04.soc.ush.civil.lp_whsup/understanding-white-supremacy/#.W1ZCfH4yVZ0

A lesson plan from AFT Share My Lesson on Charlottesville and White supremacy:
https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/when-hate-headlines-resources-k-12-educators-288511

An article from Nikki Brown in the Washington Post:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/08/13/teaching-white-supremacy-in-the-age-of-the-alt-right/