When Your MLK March is Mainly White (15/365)

Sign saying "We Cannot Walk Alone... - MLK

89% of the people in Fort Collins, CO are white.

This is an important number for you to have in your head when I tell you I went to the MLK March in Fort Collins yesterday.

If I tell you 1.21% of the city’s population is African American, the picture might become clearer.

One could begin to take these numbers, consider facts like recent electoral math, and start to develop a rather bleak picture of the chances of any good dialogue or cultural proficiency happening in the city (or Colorado writ large).

I know that was my predilection as I stepped onto the square Monday morning. Then, it occurred to me that this overwhelmingly white crowd made up of people who are statistically likely to know 1 black person out of every 100 people they know in the city, well, they still showed up.

One of my fears and one of the things that is easiest to do in a monoculture is ignoring you are in a monoculture. And, as a queer man, I realize many rooms aren’t going to have a conversation about or consider the perspectives of marginalized groups unless members of those groups are there to speak up or make it too awkward to ignore their presence.

I can’t speak to the levels of cultural proficiency within the group of people who showed up to march yesterday morning. I can’t know if they’re showing up to their offices and classrooms today ready to be actively anti-racist. I can’t be certain their dedication to building a community of equity and social justice extends beyond showing up once a year to march a few blocks with homemade signs quoting Dr. King.

I can’t know any of this. What I can do, though, and what I’m choosing to do is believe the white people who showed up yesterday are willing and open to taking action toward these better versions of whiteness. The work of undoing systemic racism and examining personal racism cannot wait for those oppressed by those systems and beliefs to call for action or activate guilt that moves toward action. This comes from an internal individual drive to examine our own actions and complicity in supporting those systems and then doing the work.

This is what I believe the other white people showed up to do yesterday.

These Words Make Me Think Less of You (8/365)

Our kids.
These kids.
Our population.
The kind of kids we work with.
These kinds of kids.
Kids like ours.

Any of the above preceded by:

What you have to realize/think about/understand about…
Especially when you consider…
The thing about…
Taking into account the kinds of homes ______ come from…
Given what _____ go through…

Such talk robs our students of their personhood, their individuality, and their right to the best learning experiences we know how to create. These words are often followed by rationalized arguments for keep the top-shelf teaching for the other kids, the ones we refer to by name.

Take 5 Minutes for Civil Rights Today

You may have seen the following in your social media feeds:

ACTION ALERT: Through the Federal Register, the U.S. Dept. of Education is receiving comments on why it’s important to preserve and expand the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection. The Obama Administration published this request for comments on December 30, 2016 and it is essential that we flood Secretary DeVos with comments that explain why this data collection is essential for enforcing civil rights statutes and helping to protect all students. 
Comments are due on Tuesday, February 28. Please click HERE to comment.
All you have to say is: “The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) provides much-needed transparency and information on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. This data helps the U.S. Department of Education achieve its mission of ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for all students. Secretary DeVos must preserve, expand, and publicly share the results of the CRDC.”
Copy and paste on Facebook, but do not share.
This is a real thing.
Here’s some background:
The CRDC collects a variety of information including student enrollment and educational programs and services, most of which is disaggregated by race/ethnicity, sex, limited English proficiency, and disability. The CRDC is a longstanding and important aspect of the ED Office for Civil Rights (OCR) overall strategy for administering and enforcing the civil rights statutes for which it is responsible. Information collected by the CRDC is also used by other ED offices as well as policymakers and researchers outside of ED.
These data range from enrollment numbers to math course offerings to instances of reported bullying. And, for the first time ever, OCR is including school internet access as a  component of healthy civil rights:
2. Access to Internet While many school districts have used the internet to enhance educational opportunities, there have been concerns that schools and school districts do not have equitable access to high-speed internet. This equity concern occurs at both among and within school districts. For the 2017–18 CRDC, OCR is proposing to collect new information regarding internet access:  Amount of school bandwidth in Megabit per second [see Attachment A-2, page 69 (Data Group 1014)] Do many school districts already collect (or could they easily obtain) school bandwidth data that would allow OCR to determine the existence and scope of any such access disparity? Are there other data about connectivity that OCR should consider collecting to gauge access disparity?
The comments you make, published to the Federal Register, require agency staff to respond to the significant issues raised in comments:

How can I use the Federal Register to affect Federal rulemaking?

Federal agencies are required to publish notices of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register to enable citizens to participate in the decision making process of the Government. This notice and comment procedure is simple.

  1. A proposed rule published in the Federal Register notifies the public of a pending regulation.
  2. Any person or organization may comment on it directly, either in writing, or orally at a hearing. Many agencies also accept comments online or via e-mail. The comment period varies, but it usually is 30, 60, or 90 days. For each notice, the Federal Register gives detailed instructions on how, when, and where a viewpoint may be expressed. In addition, agencies must list the name and telephone number of a person to contact for further information.
  3. When agencies publish final regulations in the Federal Register, they must address the significant issues raised in comments and discuss any changes made in response to them. Agencies also may use the notice and comment process to stay in contact with constituents and to solicit their views on various policy and program issues.

If you are someone like me who cares deeply about civil rights, then please take the five minutes to tell the Department of ED why knowing who is in our schools and how they are treated is still important information for our country.

The Conversations I Want to Have

All to All

As of June 15, my contract on my day gig will be up, and I’ll need to find some other way to keep my dog fed. As much as I’ve been thinking about geography when grappling with what this change means, I’ve been thinking about what kinds of conversations I want to be in and which ones I want to leave behind. With five and a half months left on the calendar, I’m gaining clarity.

The conversations I most want to sustain and move forward are those around equity and purpose. The first means all equities. I want to talk about the kid in middle school who realizes he’s gay and can’t access educational and social experiences like teachers’ use of heteronormative language and not feeling comfortable asking his crush to the school dance. I want to talk about the fact that if most school leaders say they invited their honors or gifted and talented-labeled students to participate in a program then I can be almost certain they didn’t invite students of color. I want to talk about how students in rural schools don’t have the access to arts, cultural institutions, and educational opportunities their urban- and suburban-dwelling peers have every day. As many flavors of equity as we can bring to the table, that’s what I want.

In all of my grad school experiences, I have asked and searched for an answer to the same question to no avail, “What is the pedagogy and practice that drives this institution of learning?” Silence each time. I ask a similar question of principals and superintendents, “What are the three things we are working toward this year?” Silence (usually uncomfortable), and then a garbled answer.

Thus, I want to improve conversations of purpose. For any action, program, or scheme; I want to help make sure there’s an answer to “Why are we doing this?” Similarly, for all askings of “What are we going to do?” I want to help organizations and people look to their agreed upon purpose for helpful guidance. If you don’t know your mission statement, then it’s probably not your mission.

The conversations I’m willing to step away from are simple. Anything that starts with, “How can technology…” Technology should not drive the question. It should be considered as an answer to a possible problem, and it becomes boring to be in room after room and seen as a person who is there to bring up technology before he brings up people and relationships. In the conversations I’m seeking, I hope to enter fewer rooms with that presumed persona in the same way a master carpenter probably doesn’t want to be “that lady who loves talking about saws.”

This post is part of a daily conversation between Ben Wilkoff and me. Each day Ben and I post a question to each other and then respond to one another. You can follow the questions and respond via Twitter at #LifeWideLearning16.

#CharlestonShooting: Maybe it’s Time for You to Stop Talking

The victims

The nine people fatally shot at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church:

Clementa Pinckney, 41, the primary pastor who also served as a state senator.

Cynthia Hurd, 54, St. Andrews regional branch manager for the Charleston County Public Library system.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a church pastor, speech therapist and coach of the girls’ track and field team at Goose Creek High School.

Tywanza Sanders, 26, who had a degree in business administration from Allen University, where Pinckney also attended.

Ethel Lance, 70, a retired Gailliard Center employee who has worked recently as a church janitor.

Susie Jackson, 87, Lance’s cousin who was a longtime church member.

DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, a retired director of the local Community Development Block Grant Program who joined the church in March as a pastor.

Myra Thompson, 59, a pastor at the church.

Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a pastor, who died in a hospital operating room.

Remember when those who symbolically shut down the Internet when they threatened to filter what we could pirate online did nothing when someone else threatened who could feel safe in a church?
That was today.
Today I saw a social media feed that included my friends, former students, and colleagues of color posting under #CharlestonShooting about institutional racism. They were using social media to elevate and amplify attention to the problem. They were filling virtual spaces with physical anger, outrage, pain, and need for justice at what had happened in the real world.
By and large, my white friends and colleagues were not.
They were tweeting about pro-tips. They were posting about #ISTE15. They were writing about #edtech. They were enjoying the unbearable being of whiteness.
I was too to some extent. As much as a empathize with my black and brown friends in these too-frequent moments of horror, I cannot sympathize.
I am statistically safer when a police car passes me as I walk in my neighborhood at night. My educational attainment was all but locked up when I was born. And now, I will enter churches with less fear.
These things hurt my heart. I thought the terrorism was why I was feeling angry as the unaware posts scrolled by today. It’s part of it, but it isn’t all of it.
I am angry because I have heard, read, and seen many of these people talk about how #edtech, #connectivity, #techquity can do things like “level the playing field” in education. This is one of those opportunities they’re talking about, and they aren’t doing a damned thing in these public spaces that have afforded them some levels of success, power, or prestige.
Chris, who wrote here, theorized that the people I’m feeling disappointed in don’t know how to speak about these events in public.
This makes sense. Rarely will I engage in arguments and disagreements on social spaces. Public spaces don’t feel like spaces where I am safe to be vulnerable about issues that matter deeply to me personally. Those are conversations I need to have 1:1 with as many words or characters as it takes.
When it comes to truths, though, when it is about institutionalized racism, privilege, power, and class; those are statements of fact which I have no difficulty sharing.
And that’s what I’d like to see happening with my white friends who have been silent today because they are not in a place where putting their name to these truths feels safe. I’d like to see them finding the words of those who don’t have access to the same networks of friends and followers. Then, I’d like to see them sharing, liking, retweeting, reposting, re-whatevering those voices that are easily and dangerously unheard.
I’d like to see them decide to use the #edtech hashtag tomorrow for posting messages of actual equality and justice made possible by the same devices and connectivity they have touted as game changers and field levelers in keynotes and workshops.
They can start by looking at this twitter list of people of color in edtech compiled by Rafranz Davis and this list of my fellow members of educolor from Christina Torres and then follow all of them without reservation to bring some sense of equity to their rolls.
And in the long term, when they talk about technology and equity, they can ask educators to make their first posts about something of substance toward justice like the Voting Rights Act or how nine people were murdered as they sat in a place of peace and prayed.
Technology can be a game changer. It can level playing fields. It will not do it left to its own devices, and it will almost certainly contribute to shoring up online divides that mimic those of the physical world and allow for hate to hide.
If you are talking about #techquity and not willing to do anything for true #equity, there’s very little you have to say I care to hear.

#wellrED Week 2

José, Larissa, Scott, and I got together Thursday night in an on-air google hangout to discuss Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children for the second week running. While the schedule said we’d be talking about “Part 1” of the book, our conversation focused only on “The Silenced Dialogue.”

It was a thought-provoking hour of conversation that I’m still mulling over, and likely will be until next week’s conversation. You can read about the catalyst for the reading group here, and join the group here.

As for my part, I’m enjoying having a space to look forward to each week where race, ethnicity, culture, privilege, equity, power, and other critical issues that are easily overlooked in education is the set focus.

Last week, I switched from the print to Kindle version of the book. You can track highlights and comments here.

More importantly, consider joining in the reading. The book is a collection of essays, so you can easily jump in mid-book. Next week, we’ll be talking about pgs. 48-69. Join the hangout or the twitter chat. Maybe just post to the discussion board. Either way, let’s elevate the conversation and critical thinking around these important issues of practice.

127/365 These are My Questions about Equity and Social Justice

I had the privilege today of participating in the Coffee Talk that opened today’s programming at the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC).

Forgoing keynotes or panel discussions, conference organizers decided to pull together folks from different backgrounds but of similar interests to have conversations and then spread those to the larger group.

When I showed up, I realized today featured a different setup entirely. In an attempt to meet the wants of attendees (it is democratic, after all) organizers had collapsed the different coffe talks into one and then encouraged attendees to take part in a modified fishbowl.

Coffee talkers began in the center of a set of concentric circles. We could say our piece or not and then vacate our seats for attendees to jump in and participate.

It was an altogether difference scenario from that for which I’d prepared myself.

For the first hour, I sat and listened. The larger audience and set of speakers compounded my worries that I wouldn’t have anything to add.

As speakers took turns speaking theire thoughts into the mike, I knew I didn’t have any pronouncement that was necessary to lay upon the layers of declarations that had come before me.

I started listening for a different reason – What questions did these pronouncements raise for me.

In a room of people who spend much of their time considering democratic education, social justice, equity and all that accompany these thoughts, it struck me as a place to deploy questions.

Mine were as follows:

  1. How do we better understand those who disagree with us – whether on the importance of equity and social justice or on the path to these goals? It strikes me as less than enough to be against those who disagree with us. If there is hope for progress, we must come to a place of understanding. This is not an argument for abandoning our principles and beliefs. Rather, it is a call to ask questions of those who disagree so that they might consider their beliefs more closely through their answers.
  2. How do we prevent the drive for equity from meaning we are all equally unhappy? Not unlike a toxic relationship, those who speak of privilege and power often do so in a way that makes me think we are struggling to make those who aren’t us feel the unhappiness we have known rather than striving for equal happiness and joy.
  3. How do we remember adults are not fully formed? Several times during the conference and in general dealings with adults, I’ve noted tones of voice in comments that are less forgiving, less caring, and less empathetic as adults speak to adults than I think those same adult speakers’ voices would hold were they speaking to young people. We’re all unfinished. We are all growing, and we are all imperfect. How do we remember this as we help each other become more perfect?
  4. What does it take to pause and appreciate the small movements and moments of success as we work toward our ideals? This is tough. The race is difficult and the road is long. Because of this, we often lose track of the milestones we pass. When those with whom we disagree make small concessions, we must learn to pause and appreciate such movement. If not, we’ll lose the patience necessary for moving forward.

If we can consider and craft answers to these questions, I think there will be greater hope of progress in the walk toward more democratic systems of education. Maybe.

Image via m.gifford

52/365 What Do These Pictures Do to Inform our Conversations about Race?

In a recent class, a colleague was describing the Chicano civil rights movement here in Colorado. As she detailed the events, she ended with, “…and then it went nationwide.”

I paused for a moment. Why hadn’t I heard about this movement when I was growing up in Central Illinois? Had it truly gone nationwide?

Then I got curious as to what the Hispanic population looked like by the numbers near my hometown. I’d several friends who identified as Hispanic when I lived in Florida, but couldn’t remember any from my time in Illinois. I took to the Internet. Here’s what I found:

Hispanic PopulationIt seemed from this picture that I had a reason why the movement going nationwide hadn’t resonated as profoundly in the Midwest. This got me curious. Here’s what else I found:

American Indian PopulationAnd…

African-American PopulationAnd…

Asian PopulationThese were things I could probably have described generally if handed a blank map and asked to color in the distribution. It wasn’t until I started considering these maps with regard to the “national” conversations we have about race, ethnicity, and culture I’ve witnessed and participated in as I’ve moved around the country. Some things I’m thinking:

  • While general patterns of cultural dominance and oppression appear regularly across the map, the cultures in question, how they interact, and how they shift those patterns is vastly different.
  • A person with limited geographic mobility living in any of these spaces of greater density of the ethnicities reported above is likely to live with a skewed perception of race in America and limited access to people of other backgrounds, thereby limiting the fulfillment of Allport’s Contact Hypothesis.
  • When we talk about race in America, we’re all having different conversations and are rarely aware of those differences.
  • Integration, equity, and civil rights are going to require varied approaches if we are to find that “more perfect union” we talk about so much.

If I were in a social studies classroom, I’d be building a unit around these maps and the questions they raise for my students and me. If I were in an English classroom, I’d be asking how these distributions might influence my selection of texts and how I approached helping students access them. If I were leading a school, I’d open a faculty meeting with these images and ask how they might help us think about how we are preparing students for the larger world and their citizenship in it.

And, I’d throw one more map into the mix to make it interesting…






48/365 No School Should be ‘On Silent’

A warning from a teacher during a school visit: Don’t be offended if the students don’t acknowledge you if you say hi in the hallways. They’re on silent and know they’ll get a demerit if they acknowledge your presence.

The offense is not felt at the cold shoulder from these middle school students. They are, after all, only following the rules, and what are schools for if not rules?

The offense comes on behalf of these students. At a time in their lives when norms of socialization a forging connections with others is as salient and important a skills as anything they’re learning in math class, they’ve had their legs cut out from under them with the threat of a demerit if they practice these nascent and important skills.

The silence in this school is championed by adults who claim the rule keeps the students focused. They’re not wild, crazed adolescents when they get to class if they never get a chance to work themselves up.

The counter-argument (well, one counter-argument) is that these students will never know how to de-escalate themselves when they’re outside the restrictive confines of the school and find themselves upset, energized, or otherwise worked up by something in life.

The more important argument against such repressive policies as this and others similar to it in schools across the country that put on or could put on the “no excuses” moniker is what such rules teach students about themselves. The implied lessons of the rules and how they sustain cultural power structures are dangerous and dripping with thinly-veiled racism and classism. In this school, the vast majority of the students are Latino and African American. The teachers – white.

Looking around, no one seems aware of the implied message of dominance and submission that lives within the rule of silence. There’s likely no malevolence in the rule. These teachers, to a person, will likely profess their love of the children in their care, and could probably list myriad ways they’ve worked to help students become more successful.

Creating structures where students are silenced in any way as a replacement for the often difficult task of discussing social norms, answering difficult questions and having to repeatedly model what’s expected is a cop out of the highest order and it does, students, schools and teachers a monumental disservice.

Let’s imagine the school in our example as what it could have been. Rather than a multitude of rules posted at every turn, students and visitors are greeted by a sign upon entry that reads, “Welcome to our community of learning.”

What the visitors can’t see upon entry are the frequent conversations in homeroom, advisory or whatever the common community space is of these students that focus on helping students articulate what a community of learning means and what it means to be a member of that community.

Rather than warning away possible offense at not being acknowledged if we greet a student, our host encourages us to introduce ourselves to students and to let her know at the end of the day if we have any conversations that serve as particularly good models of participating in a community of learning so those students can be acknowledged for representing the school well.

Fostering this latter community is work, much more work, than the first example. It requires adults who see themselves as authorities on helping students build community and citizenship, and it means a curriculum stocked with explicit socio-emotional supports alonside academic content. At a foundational level, a school that sees itself as a community of learners must also be a place where the adults engage in frequent conversation reflecting on who they want to be and how well the school is doing at reaching this goal.

It is much more work, but it is work with an eye toward equity, community, and being the better versions of ourselves.