Monday, July 20, 2015

Multiplication is For White People

First Meeting Discussion Summary
(Editors Note: Next Meeting! Wednesday, July 29th, 6:15-7:45pm- it's never too late to join in. No reading required, though it may help!)

We mostly discussed the introduction to the book "Yes, Diane. I'm still Angry" and posed the question to the group, "Are You Angry?" and connected it to the Helen Gym's outcry "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention!"

Frustration over how the public, who engages in teacher-blaming, doesn't actually understand our ANGER and how it comes from passion.

Anger about the position teachers are put in when working in high-needs schools, when "Caring for" over-takes the balance with "Instruction of" children.

Importance of being a "cultural ally" and finding points of solidarity with students who don't look like us. Also mentioned was Delpit's (and others) debunking of Ruby Payne's "Culture of Poverty" backed by old and recent research that supported childhood development before-school-age is comparable between white and African American children. But we discussed that Factors of Poverty cannot be eliminated from the equation of how students perform in school, and branched into a short thread about school culture and climate.

Disgust over the "good school and bad school" labels and how teachers get praised when they have finally "climbed their way into a good school." Also charter schools were mentioned briefly in this thread.

Awareness of being different from the student population and observing teachers who some how achieved a level of "solidarity" with the students for a variety of reasons: same-race, gender, rapport, experience etc..

Questions about whether teachers are products of "lack of cultural awareness, cultural responsiveness" or "by-products of a structurally-racist system"?

Shared the definition of "Structural Racism" from ItAG:

According to Lawrence and Keleher (2004) Structural Racism is the normalization and legitimization of an array of entrenched dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color which reinforce existent racially developed societal structures. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “color” to endure and adapt over time. This definition reflects the distribution of material and symbolic advantage and disadvantage along racial lines while acknowledging the realignment of socio-political institutions developed throughout time to maintain continuity of racialized power systems.

Citation: Lawrence, K., & Keleher, T. (2004). Chronic Disparity: Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Racial Inequalities/POVERTY OUTCOMES/Structural Racism. Lecture presented at Race and Public Policy Conference in Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation., Berkeley.


  1. I enjoyed our first discussion yesterday. I thought an excellent point was made about there being many life stressors, not just poverty, that can affect a child's performance. However, time and time again it has been shown that socioeconomic status can have an effect on student achievement. I think that as educators, who often come from different backgrounds than our students, we may find it difficult to comprehend the extreme stress that poverty can place on a family. We may become angry when parents do not show up for meetings, or children are not fed. However, it is our duty to try to come from a place of compassion, not judgement. Many of us have no idea what it is like to experience the type of life many of our students deal with on a daily basis. My first year teaching in North Philly I had a "problem" student. He was bright, a fantastic artist, but he was just not interested in school. I met with his mother and she told me flat out that she was a recovering crack addict. She had lived on the streets for a while and was now clean, and trying to make things rights again. However, she told me she was sorry that her son was not applying himself, but it was all she could do to keep herself straight and survive day to day. She apologized, but felt she could not handle dealing with his schooling in this moment. I was blown away by her honesty. And then it dawned on me... it was not this mother's job to help me reach her son in school, it was my job as the teacher to help him achieve.

    There are many factors that can impede a child's readiness to learn on a daily basis. If one is hungry, or tired or feeling anxiety about events at home (regardless of SES), it is nearly impossible to focus on the task at hand. To the refrain of "These kids can't learn." Of course they can! However, it is our job to meet them at their individual starting points. Many teachers can become frustrated when a child cannot learn at the level they are instructing to the whole class. They may become disruptive, or be labeled as lazy. It is a massive undertaking, but essential to focus on what they CAN do and use that as a starting point to help them grow. The first year the district rolled out Math In Context, there was a lesson about building towers in there. I started the lesson with my class of 7th graders, and many became frustrated. Then it dawned on me, the lesson was based on squaring numbers, a concept taught in earlier grades. I had made the initial assumption that the kids would know how to do that, but they did not. So I backed it up and taught the basic skills first. Did we achieve the grade level lesson? YES! Did it take twice as long as the Planning and Scheduling Time Line suggested? YES! Nia made the point that there is so much content to cover, we never get time to teach anything in depth. I find myself picking and choosing, what is a skill that is necessary that I can go deep with versus a skill that they may see again or is not that crucial in life that I can spend less time on (box and whisker plot, anyone?). These are the struggles many of us face on a daily basis.

    I greatly enjoyed our discussion and look forward to the next meeting!

  2. "If we are serious about democracy, if we are serious about providing equal opportunity for all citizens, if we are serious about equity and justice, then we have to undo any model that obliquely serves to replicate a racist past." Lisa Delpit, pg 119

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