Monday, July 16, 2018

Discussing Pushout: the Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

By Rebecca Coven

On Tuesday, July 10, the Future of Our Schools book group had our first meeting to discuss Pushout by Monique Morris. Morris begins her book by recognizing that when it comes to media coverage of issues surrounding police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, we tend to focus on the plight of Black boys. However, less attention is given to Black girls who often need support just as much as boys. Our discussion of Pushout forced us to not only consider how we can support Black girls, but to also question how institutions that we participate in (primarily schools or other educational settings) are “dominant structures” that perpetuate racial and gender hierarchies. We began our discussion by interrogating the ideology that middle-class, heterosexual, White femininity is normative, which renders Black femininity as a subordinated gender identity (not just to White women, but to all men as well). When Black girls express anger or frustration (emotions that don't fit with the passivity of idealized White femininity), they are often seen as disrespectful or out-of-line. We want to make room for the Black girls in our schools to express themselves and to be themselves, and this book helped us to think through how we might do that.

In her book, Morris urges readers to consider the following questions: (1) What assumptions are being made about the conditions of Black girls? (2) How might Black girls be uniquely impacted by school and other disciplinary policies? (3) How are organizations, systems, and policies creating an environment that is conducive and not conducive to the healthy development of Black girls? Using what we learned from Morris’s book, as well as our own experiences working in educational settings, we tackled these important questions during our discussion.

Personally, the discussion helped me reevaluate my own teaching practice and the assumptions I make about my Black female students. Often I assume that my female students are more responsible and more mature than my male students, and so I expect more of them when it comes to maturity and responsibility. If there is any playing or an argument among a group of students, I often ask my female students to “be the bigger person.” However, this removes blame from the male students and invalidates the female students’ feelings and experiences. It perpetuates the idea that Black girls’ well-being comes secondary to others’ - particularly to Black males’ (an idea that Morris argues Black girls internalize at a very young age). We need to do a better job of protecting Black female students. We need to focus on how to make our Black girls feel safe - both emotionally and physically - in schools. 

We concluded our discussion by sharing ideas for resources or changes that we would like to see in our schools or in the district in order to better support Black girls. Ideas included:
  • Training for school staff on how to recognize girls in crisis and how to support them; regular, continued workshops on this topic.
  • Pushing for the recruitment and hiring of more Black female educators, as well as creating pathways for Black female staff members (who are not currently teachers) to become teachers.
  • Mentorship (particularly near-peer mentors) programs for Black girls; access to female empowerment/female leadership programs outside of school.
  • Having spaces for educators and students to learn about issues surrounding gender justice together in order to create more trust.
  • Invest more money in staff, particularly in school counselors.
  • Our work should not just focus on empowering Black girls and helping them build leadership skills, but should also include education of male students about gender justice and how to treat girls.

A common theme throughout our discussion of how to support Black girls was restorative practices. We will further explore how to implement such practices during our next meeting on July 30, during which we will be discussing Discipline Over Punishment by Trevor W. Gardner. We will meet at the Workshop School (221 Hanson Street) at 3:30 pm. Join us!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Welcome to the 5th Annual Summer Reading Series!

It’s time again for the annual Summer Reading Series! For the fifth summer in a row, the Reading Series will be a place to deepen our relationships with each other; expand our political analysis, and inform our organizing and teaching in the upcoming year.  Education justice advocates around the country are asking about our Reading Series, and many are building their own and Rethinking Schools magazine just featured an article about this work.

Don’t miss out on a great summer of reading, discussing, and learning.   

This year, based on survey results, WE and TAG are excited to announce 16+ book groups. The nominating process yielded an exciting mix of classics and new releases, with a range of genres represented including biographies, science fiction, and a YA novel!  Groups will focus on labor organizing; racial justice; immigration; LGBTQ+ topics; pedagogy; capitalism; and more.  

This summer, we continue the tradition of bringing together people from all walks of life and all parts of the city -- parents, teachers, nurses, counselors, activists, community members, students, and anyone else!  All are welcome!  Please sign up here using the registration form.

Want to learn more about past book clubs? Read this article on the Summer Reading Series in Perspectives on Urban Education by WE supporting member Kathleen Riley, or check out the latest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Transformative Teachers, Final Meeting

Where are we going from here?

Being an educator in a new city is daunting. It is a challenge to navigate state and district systems, to connect with activist teachers, and to continue the work that was once begun halfway across the country. Being part of the Transformative Teachers group has reminded me of three things: 1) start with what you know in your heart is right; 2) remember your source of passion in the classroom; and 3) use and share your connections. So, where do I go from here? I start with social justice, I use poetry as a source of passion for both myself and my students, and I start connecting--both widely and wildly.

Knowing that many of my students are talented and bold spoken word artists, I signed my school up to be part of the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement’s (PYPM) slam league. I also know that many of my students are craving outlets for change…ways to change themselves, ways to change their families and communities, ways to change this beautifully crazy world. And this, this is precisely where I can leverage transformative teaching practices. In addition to utilizing social media and other means of connection to reach out to potential colleagues, networks, collaborations, I also plan to rely heavily on the ‘voice and storytelling’ domain of transformative teaching to support students in using their realities and experiences to enact change and create justice.

I hope to inspire my students to take their poetry from the stage to the recreation centers, boardrooms, and council meetings of their communities in order to address the socio-political issues they care so deeply and passionately about. Spoken word poetry is nothing new, but each and every one of my students’ voices is a new chance, a chance to not only have stories heard, but also to fulfill the innate need for people to speak up for themselves and attempt to right what they feel is wrong in our city. Who knows, maybe my students will create the next iteration of the guerilla poetry movement. We’ll see…my students will decide what they want to do with their words. Let’s all be ready to listen up!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Direct Action

L.A. Kauffman’s Direct Action : Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism describes organizations and movements that have employed direct action tactics from the 1970’s to the present.

Our book group – which included people who have participated in the movements and organizations covered by Kauffman – began by discussing the positive aspects of the book – the in-depth coverage of the history, dynamics and tension of specific movements and organizations. We appreciated the detailed history of a specific segment of organizing over the last 50 years, as well as the analysis of some of the internal struggles and contradictions within that organizing.

Most of our discussion however centered on what was missing from Kauffman’s account. We agreed that despite claiming to tell the story of “the reinvention of American radicalism,”  Kauffman centers her attention on white middle and upper-middle class movements, organizing, and organizations generally defined as “progressive” or “left.”  Kauffman leaves out a rich organizing and movement history led by communities of color, immigrants, undocumented people, indigenous communities, and poor and working class people of all races.

Kauffman notes in her introduction that she will not discuss the labor movement, but offers no rationale for that decision. No attention is paid to either traditional labor organizing – and the multiple forms of direct actions like strikes, picket lines, and other work actions – or to more recent efforts to organize low wage workers, undocumented workers and other marginalized workers.

The history told by Kaufman effectively erases working class struggles and struggles by communities of color from the last 50 years, by giving only marginal attention to Black Lives Matter, indigenous climate justice groups, and the effort to fight mass incarceration and police brutality, while leaving out very significant movements over this period.  

Absent from Kauffman’s history of “protest and the reinvention of American radicalism” are immigrant-led movements, including the massive 2006 protests across the country culminating in the first Day without an Immigrant on May 1st, as well as the Dreamers’ movements.

Poor people’s movements are also omitted. For decades, poor and homeless families in the welfare rights movement, the Union of the Homeless, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, the new Poor People’s Campaign and countless local organizations in every state in the country have waged squatter’s campaigns, engaged in housing takeovers, established homeless encampments (tent cities), held massive unpermitted marches at both Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and led demonstrations and sit-ins at shut-down factories, government agencies, welfare offices, state capitol buildings, water companies, health insurance companies, and more. No mention is made of any of this powerful organizing which has brought together poor and homeless people of every race and background to confront power and to demand the human rights to housing, healthcare, education, employment at a living wage, water, heat and food.

Similarly omitted is the rich history of organizing around the rights of low wage and immigrant workers in both rural and urban areas, including the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ national boycott campaigns and marches, Jobs with Justice, the Fight for 15, Black Work Matters, and a whole array of other organizing by domestic workers, day laborers, African-American farmers in the South, service workers, farmworkers, health care workers, and more.

A passing mention is given to indigenous-led climate justice organizing -- what seemed like a footnote in comparison to the significant coverage given to upper-middle class, white “progressive” environmental organizing. While the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) is mentioned, very little time is spent on either IEN’s work or the movements of which it is a part.  Omitted are the decades of climate justice organizing rooted in communities of color, indigenous communities and poor communities, including the struggles of Katrina survivors, Idle No More, Standing Rock, the fight against mountaintop removal, multi-racial, working class anti-fracking struggles, fights against environmental racism, and indigenous communities defending their sacred lands and waters.

The book left us wondering what Kauffman’s definition of “American radicalism” is. It could be argued that true “American radicalism” is embodied by multiracial movements led by poor and working people united around class demands and racial justice. That brand of radicalism involves an immense base of people who, for the most part, have not been politically active and turns them into lifelong leaders and organizers with an explicitly anti-racist, anti-capitalist structural analysis of power. That brand of “American radicalism” builds toward a revolution.  
It is that version of the history of the last 50 years of direct action that we would like to read.

Post written by: Jennifer Cox

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Raising Race Questions- Fourth Meeting

Meeting #4: intro & ch. 1-2 of "Raising Race Questions"

Our fourth meeting was the first in which we discussed Ali Michael's book, and we found it took Delpit's concerns about a lack of reflection about race in education and shifted the conversation to just how we, as educators, can bring that conversation to the forefront.

We started by having a partner discussion about the stages of racial identity development (p. 45-58) based on a model developed by Helms. We noted that as white educators we have had varying experiences that have shaped our own racial identities, but that we appreciate the cyclical approach that Michael brings to Helms' model. 

From there we moved to a whole group discussion based on this quote from page 44:

"What's complicated about having a positive racial identity as a White person is that it's not about feeling good about being White. It's about knowing that I'm White in the context of a racist society that favors White people. It's about understanding how being White affects my relationships and opportunities, and how not being White affects people of color. It's about proactively learning about and confronting racism outside of us and within us."

We discussed various personal experiences we have had as educators that relate to this quote, and eventually started generating questions about how to make schools better for students, teachers and parents of color. Our questions were grouped into three categories proposed by Michael (p. 23-25): Questions about teaching, pedagogy, and logistics; Questions about students as racial beings; Questions about oneself as a teacher. We closed by coming back to the idea of why it is important and difficult to talk about race. Next week, we look forward to further developing our own inquiry questions and deciding how we will pursue these questions in our schools this year. 

Join us next week on Tuesday from 4-5:30 at the A Space to discuss ch. 3-5 of "Raising Race Questions".

Just Mercy, Final Meeting

The "Just Mercy" book club had it's 2nd and final meeting yesterday, August 2nd.  Very small attendance of three, but good discussion.  The topic of criminal justice reform is quite complex, but the need as delineated in this great book is urgent and ongoing.  However, there have been 2 favorable Supreme Court rulings regarding juveniles which we agreed were directly related to Bryan Stevenson's work over his career.  Information about these rulings can be found at There was discussion about how important language is in terms of labeling individuals who have served time in prison, and even related this to how important it is to both think & reflect on how we speak to our students.  

We don't have any particular next steps related to our reading & discussing of this book.  I believe we will all recommend that it is an important book to be read.  We ended by discussing some service learning topics and resources.

Next Steps for Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal

The final meeting of the group reading Undocumented, by Aviva Chomsky, met on Thursday, July 27.

Next Steps for Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal

At the last meeting for the book Undocumented, we looked at and discussed a series of political cartoons and read Sarah Stillman's piece, The Mothers Being Deported by Trump. Here are our next steps:

What will we do as a result of reading this book and participating in the book group?
  • Have conversations with our colleagues about issues related to immigration
  • Include more content about immigration in our teaching and give students space to talk about how immigration has affected them
  • Look for places in our teaching where we can reframe the narrative around immigration
  • Look for more research to counter racist assumptions around immigration
  • Follow how rhetoric is used to cast immigration and sanctuary in a negative light and counter this negativity
  • Getting to know our colleagues to see if they are involved outside of school and if not, make suggestions about how they can get involved
  • Have conversations with people to help push their thinking
  • Get more involved with the Caucus of Working Educator’s Immigrant Justice Committee
  • Take notes from the book for myself and then use them in conversations to counter stereotypes or fallacies
  • Get more involved in my daughter’s school
  • Work within my political organization – DSA – to push for Medicare for All that includes undocumented immigrants
  • Have more one-on-one conversations in school to make sure everyone has had the chance to be trained since the professional development session around immigration and immigrants will not reach all school personnel and will miss many (security, police, lunch aids, administrative support, cafeteria, cleaning staff, substitutes, bus folks) who interact in multiple ways with students
  • Continue to work with New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) and the Pennsylvania Immigrant and Citizenship Coalition (PICC)
  • After the professional development session check in with building representatives to make sure all staff have the opportunity to learn the material and offer to teach people like the secretary
  • Eventually remind the SRC that all staff are important to schools and to the education of children and so all staff need to learn and be involved in professional development
  • Have a more intentionally open mind to listen more to immigrant families about what would be useful to them in the schools
  • Continue to teach about immigration and immigrants and to challenge students to challenge the sound bites
  • Look for more ways to support at-risk immigrants
  • Continue to share information