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 NYT.com 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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Preview for Discipline-Over-Punishment's Third Meeting


We are looking forward to meeting again tomorrow Thursday, August 2nd from 4-6 pm at One PA, 5027 Baltimore Ave

We will be focusing on chapters 6-8 using the following guiding questions:

  1. What connections do you seem between "twenty first century leadership skills" and restorative justice?
  2. In what ways do think RJ can or cannot apply to younger students? What pieces of the principals can be modified for younger settings?
  3. What ideas have you gained to address some the challenges we foresaw at the beginning of the book? What questions remain unanswered?

See you tomorrow!

Tamara and Kendra

Americanah Final Meeting

Our last book club meeting on Americanah was a spirited discussion full of insights, laughter, and passionately differing opinions and reactions. Some of us thought the protagonist Ifemelu was sympathetic and woke,and some thought she was annoying and petty. Some of us loved the brave and hopeful resolution of the love story at the end, while others wished the book did not focus so much on Ifemelus boyfriends. Some of us felt that it was hard to remember the details of what happened over the course of the book, while others found the writing to be vivid, compelling, and real. One thing we could all agree on, though, was that Adichies Americanah is beautifully and masterfully written and very thought-provoking.


Americanah addresses a number of complex themes, including race, class, the American dream, transnationalism, immigration, assimilation and acculturation, mental health, trauma, gender roles and relations, interracial and cross-cultural relationships, and romantic and familial love. Here are some of the insights and questions that arose from our discussion:


  • Transnationalism - In an increasingly globalized world, transnationalism has become more common. We could even say that transnationalism is an essential component of the contemporary American novel. Historically, the American Dream has been about making it big in the US and staying in the US. Ifemelu makes it big in the US but ultimately returns to Nigeria because she feels that something is missing in her life. What does that say about the American Dream?


  • Complexity - People can be woke(conscious/aware/enlightened) about some things but not others. They can be enlightened and also confused and naive. Its not all or nothing. Case in point: Ifemelus blog makes a number of good points about race in the U.S. However, after she breaks up with her white boyfriend, she states in her blog that romantic loveis the key to solving the race problem. However, she herself failed in her interracial romantic relationship, and she states in the same blog post that American society is structured to make sure that interracial romantic love does not happen. Is she saying that racism will always exist? Even if we hypothetically consider an American population that is primarily mixed and interracial in the future (as a result of widespread interracial romantic love), that in itself will not actually eliminate racism (structural, institutionalized racism and preference for light skin and straight hair will persistfor example, Brazil).


Hierarchy - Hierarchies are universal in human societies. In the US, the social hierarchy is primarily based on racism and white supremacy, though class is also a crucial component. In Nigeria, class (wealth) dictates the social hierarchy. There is an innate human tendency to rank some people above others, to dominate/oppress. Even if we wishfully and hypothetically envision a future without racismwill there be some other -ism or form of discrimination that will take its place to maintain the social hierarchy?

Love and Home/Culture - Ifemelu’s return to Nigeria is not only driven by her romantic love for Obinze but also an affirmation of her love of Nigeria, even with its many problems. The two are intertwined—loving Obinze also means loving and choosing Nigeria as home.

From Pundit to Artist - While in the U.S., Ifemelu writes a successful blog on race relations in the U.S. as an outside observer (journalistic/anthropological). When she moves back to Nigeria, she writes a very different yet also successful blog viscerally depicting life in Nigeria—its beauty, ugliness, and contradictions (“poetry” as Obinze puts it). This homecoming and the development of her blog in Nigeria mark her coming into her own as an artist.

Post written by: Amy Chin-Arroyo