Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality

Book groups have been hard at work!

14 of us gathered last week to discuss Rethinking School's Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality.  Our next meeting is Monday, August 1 at Giovanni's Room (12th and Pine Streets), from 6-8pm.  All are welcome!

Our work focused on generating questions and topics for us to think about and explore for the next three weeks.  Here's some of what we are considering as we move forward -

Meeting 2: August 1, 2016
Topic: Our Selves and Identities
Discussion Questions:
  • How can we help kids challenge masculinity norms?
  • What resources can we look at outside of this book to support us as educators?

  • Chapter 4
  • Select articles from Chapter 5 (individual choice)
  • Ch. 2 - Hello Kitty (p. 63)
  • Ch. 1 - The New Misogyny (p. 17)

Meeting 3: August 8, 2016
Topic: Our School (Workplace) Culture
Discussion Questions:
  • How do we talk and write about our students?
  • What’s distracting us from having a real conversation? (Bathrooms?)

  • Ch. 2 - It’s OK to Be Neither (p. 56)

Meeting 4: August 15, 2016
Topic: Our Curriculum
Discussion Questions:
  • What are the similarities and differences between addressing these issues with younger and older students?
  • What age-appropriate resources exist for teaching these topics to different children?
  • How can we “queer” or “open up” resources that we already use to help students rethink what they’re learning?
  • How do we address these topics as they relate to current events?
  • How do we get kids more excited about women’s lib?


  • Ch. 3 - Sex Talk on the Carpet (5th grade) (p. 130)
  • Ch. 3 - A Midsummer Night’s Gender DIversity (p. 211)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pushout, Meeting #1

First Meeting of Pushout: the Criminalization Of Black Girls In Schools, by Monique W. Morris

Our first meeting took place on July 7th . In our group: educators from public and private schools—teachers of students from pre-K to 12 and a high school counselor.  We discussed the many female students we have taught and counseled that are reacting to trauma or just trying to honor their own voice in the classroom—many times these reactions and attempts to grow into independence are treated as misbehaviors. Most of us have had personal experience in our schools of Morris’ contention that many African-American girls are treated as adults (especially when it comes to discipline) when they are still clearly children.

Acknowledging and discussing these truths connects us as educators and helps us realize the scope of this issue, but what can we do to change this situation for our students? We were able to speak honestly about examining our practice—realizing our own personalities and experiences factor in to our actions and reactions, and understanding how experience and relationship-building in our schools and with our students can help us grow as educators and also help our students.

We realize that school is often the safest place that many of our students occupy on a daily basis—so our stated goal is to keep ALL our students in school as much as possible. We resolved to come up with an action plan for our schools in September: real steps we—as educators and advocates—can implement to help our students stay in school and enable our schools to become safer spaces for all.

Reading for Meeting 2 (August 4 th ): Chapters 3, 4, & 5.

(Kristin Luebbert)

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood, Meeting #1

In our very first session with the book club "For White Folks Who Teach In the Hood and The Rest of Y'all too", we had tons of highlights worth mentioning. As facilitators we met beforehand and asked ourselves what quotes in the book stuck out to us? We also challenged ourselves to think how we can we engage all group members, and even those who didn't read the book. We pulled several quotes from each chapter of the book and created a quote gallery walk. For each quote, people were asked to respond and define it. At each station, there was great discussion flowing from every cylinder. It was amazing to see and hear discussions around some of the quotes. As I walked around to hear and even participate in some of the discussions, I noticed myself getting lost in excitement. Every single discussion seemed to plant the seeds for social change and development. I think there were two discussions that truly captured the zeitgeist of the room. As a small group, one discussion was centered around the quote in the book that said: 

“Years later, when I became a teacher, I learned much about the structure of urban schools and grew to become the embodiment of the very teachers who placed me in the vice that had squeezed all of the fight out of me as a student.”

I found myself immediately in a circle sharing my experiences with these amazing strangers I had just met. I instantly could connect to this quote because I can remember how my first day as a teacher changed me. It triggered a recall of the moment when I discovered I had slightly became a manifestation of the things I said I wouldn't become as a teacher. The conversation morphed into what we thought about the systems in place that prevent students from enjoying school. It was a great conversation!

Later on, once we all met back at the table, we quickly shared out our thoughts from each quote. Every group wrote their responses down on chart paper to keep record of the conversations. All of the share outs were interesting. At the end, we asked the group to share questions they may have that will lead us in future discussions. We heard many, but one question particularly stuck out: Can/should white people teach students of color in an urban setting?

This question was dynamically the most intriguing that I've heard in a while and it's one that connects extremely well with the book. We discussed how white privilege, white supremacy and white guilt plays a huge role in an educational setting, so this question was a great summation of the conversation as well. Hopefully, we can have a more in depth conversation about this topic in the coming weeks! Below are the other quotes from our sessions.

(Fatim Byrd)

“Gallery Walk”
  • Selection of 5-6 quotes
    • P. 13: “Urban youth who enter schools seeing themselves as smart and capable are confronted by curriculum that is blind to their realities and school rules that seek to erase their culture. These youth, because they do not have the space/opportunity to showcase their worth on their own terms in schools, are only visible when they enact very specific behaviors.”
      • P. 41: “The entire system of urban education is failing youth of color by any number of criteria, the structure of the traditional urban school privileges poor teaching practices, these practices trigger responses from students that reflect ‘poor behavior,’ the poor behavior triggers deeply entrenched biases that teachers hold, and when this triggering of biases is coupled with the cycling in and out of white folks to teach in the hood, former teachers with activated biases leave urban classrooms to become policymakers and education experts who do not believe in young people or their communities.”
      • P. 23: “In schools, urban youth are expected to leave their day-to-day experiences and emotions at the door and assimilate into the culture of schools. This process of personal repression is in itself traumatic and directly impacts what happens in the classroom.”
    • p. 14 “I do not engage in the work of connecting indigenous and neoindigenous to trivialize the indigenous experience or exaggerate that of the neoindigenous. My point is to identify and acknowledge the collective oppression both groups experience and the shared space they inhabit as a result of their authentic selves being deemed invisible.”
    • P. 17: “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and i might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination - indeed, everything and anything except me.” (Ralph Ellison)
    • P. 35: “Years later, when I became a teacher, I learned much about the structure of urban schools and grew to become the embodiment of the very teachers who placed me in the vice that had squeezed all of the fight out of me as a student.”
      • P. 33: “The teachers’ venting sessions reminded me of my experiences in high school and how I was forced to obey rules without an opportunity to question whether they supported the way I learned.”
    • P. 24: “Urban youth are typically well aware of the loss, pain, and injustice they experience, but are ill equipped for helping each other through the work of navigating who they truly are and who they are expected to be in a particular place.”
    • P. 43: “The work for teachers becomes developing the self-reflection necessary to deconstruct the ways that media messages, other teachers’ negative (often exaggerated) stories, and their own need to be the hero affects how they see and teach students. The teacher must work to ensure that the institution does not absolve them of the responsibility to acknowledge the baggage they bring to the classroom and analyze how that might affect student achievement.”
      • P. 15: “In this work, the term white folks is an obvious racial classification, but it also identifies a group that is associated with power and the use of power to disempower others.”
      • P. 20: “I engaged in a Twitter debate with one of these educators recently and was astounded by the fervor with which he defended his school’s practice of “cleaning these kids up and giving them a better life.” With that statement, he described everything that is wrong with the culture of urban education and the biggest hindrance to white folks who teach in the hood.”

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

In the recent week, we have seen the intensifying of the call for action and justice with a mass re-activation of social protest against the continued injustices of the US police state. As we continue on with this book club, I hope that it allows us space to gather ourselves, build momentum, and contribute in both the street-level protests and beyond. 

I had this idea of writing up a neatly written synopsis on our last meeting from what I understood; we covered a lot of ground. There's a very amateur-ish scribing that I put together in one of the photos. From dismantling myths of racial progress to accounting for the internalizing of traumatizing logics about ourselves and our choices that hide the system's role in creating it...

But then Keeanga dropped this today and I thought what better to focus on than taking our readings and bringing them to our current reality:

Please continue to use this forum as a space to reflect on the book or pre-emptive questions that we can continue using in our book group. If you would like to publish as a blog post, let me know! Read more at offered Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 in the last session as "to be read", Keeanga sent me an email this morning adding Chapter 5 as significant.

So check out the photos, which include some questions we hope to carry into future dialogue and get prepared for our next session, on July 19th5-7pm.  

I also think it would be great to begin a conversation here about ways you have contributed (physically, financially, socially, etc.), or are seeking to contribute to this current moment in the movement. As we move toward the DNC, we are seeing a significant rise in actions, all useful, and all pointing us to new visions. There are lots of roles we all can play. 

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Meeting #1

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Meeting #1 

While it is very clear who Paulo Freire is referring to as the oppressors and the oppressed, it becomes murkier for us as present day educators. Many group members noted that the system in which we are forced to operate under often forces us to become oppressors, which creates an uneasy feeling (this point was often tied to administering mandatory standardized testing). We then discussed different ways that educators can attempt to embrace Freire's theory of everyone taking on the role of both the student and the teacher, despite education reform which has made that difficult. Some ideas referenced Dewey's child-centered learning theories, and included examples of reaching valuable conclusions on the students' terms rather than trying to force them to learn. Additionally, we discussed to what end we are educating students, and how difficult it is in reality to get people to essentially abandon the world as they know it in order to adopt Freire's radical principles.

(Ben Dobkin)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Teacher Wars

For our first meeting of The Teacher Wars book group, 8 of us met at Janene Hasan's house in South Philly. It was an eclectic group including teachers from neighborhood public, charter, and private school teachers. As a bonus, we had one grad student in political science and one professor from CCP.  We centered our discussion on quotations from the book and talked in pairs. For our next meeting, we're going to begin a timeline of the people and events in the book. Who are these people? What were these events? How does it all tie into the controversy of public education? Come to our next meeting to find out!  It will be Tuesday, July 19 from 3:30-5 at the Santore Library (932 S 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147) (note the time change!)

​You can also join our Facebook group by looking up The Teacher Wars book group.

(by Jenn Pour)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Secrets of a Successful Organizer - Meeting 1

Seven people gathered to discuss the first four lessons in the amazing Labor Notes "cook book," Secrets of a Successful Organizer.

We spent our first meeting practicing the greatest skills an organizer can master - listening.  Participants paired off with a person that they did not know well.  They listened and talked  with the objective of introducing each other to the group.

Many of us noted how easy it was to read the book.  "Secrets" has a global appeal, even though it is written from a workplace-issue perspective.   We used Secrets to spur on and ground our talk about organizing. The book was a good resource for helping us identify our strengths as well as the "holes" in our organizing. We saw the need to improve  our 1:1 organizing conversations.

We discussed Philadelphia's educational organizing landscape among both "Reformers" and progressives and searched for potentially unifying issues among stakeholders across Philadelphia.  We also acknowledged that while we are doing some of the activities suggested, we predict greater success in our organizing if we followed through on all of the book's suggestions.  We enjoyed getting to know each other and can't wait to have other people join us.

Evicted (Matthew Desmond), Meeting 1

The first meeting of the book group reading Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, was on July 30th.  We are asking the following as we meet together this summer. 
  • What needs to happen in our society to address deep poverty?  
  • Why isn't housing a basic human right?  
  • Why is public education compulsory, but we evict the same children from their homes on a regular basis? 
  • Why do we make people suffer, as a society, when we have so much?  
  • What is the role of institutionalized racism in the housing crisis?  
  • How can we fight against the privatization and profit making that is rapidly taking over public facilities (i.e. housing, schools, prisons, etc.)?  
  • What can be done to better regulate the housing industry and how?
  • How can we empower people to get to the point of being able to take personal responsibility?  

We began our discussion talking about the author's perspective and presence (or lack thereof) in the narrative.  The author is Harvard sociologist, Matthew Desmond.  Some in the group thought that the white characters were described more sympathetically in the book and more back story was given about their lives; others did not find this to be true.  Overall, we agreed the author successfully removed himself from the narrative in order to produce a somewhat unbiased report of the housing crisis in Milwaukee.  However, we also discussed that bias is always going to be somewhat present in any story told through the "lens of another."  We also questioned if the author could have done more to be a "political agitator" about the terrible truths he uncovered.  Others believed that was not his role and would have conflicted with the purpose of the book.  We also questioned what the people who were featured in his book would think about it, if they read it?  

We then discussed the role of the landlord in the narrative.   The landlords often had a complicated relationship with tenants.  They were not demonized and the author presented a complicated view of their roles in their tenants lives.  For example, one landlord bought her tenant groceries and helped her out a few times.  The tenant became $800 behind on their rent and was evicted.  The same landlord drove the tenant she was evicting to and from eviction court.  This scenario led to a discussion about the depths of hopelessness and despair that affect the lives of many people that live in deep poverty.  There was a sense of fatalism among tenants about eviction. It was commonplace and inevitable in their lives and not much could change that.  We wondered how people can be empowered from the bottom up.   A historical connection was mentioned about how people during the Great Depression would band together against landlords to avoid evictions.  How can we make this happen today?  This led to the point that some neighborhoods are so transient that there are no "community keepers" in them to draw people together.  Mixed income neighborhoods tend to be stronger because there is more stability and people are better able to "put up a fight" against perceived injustices.  

This idea led to the agreement that rent rates are too high.  “In 2013 between 50 and 70 percent of poor renting families spent half of their income on housing and between 25 and 50 percent spent at least 70 percent on it.” In December, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies released a study showing that 21.3 million households spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent, a 7.5 million household increase since 2001, while those paying more than half their income numbered well over 11 million."( from Evicted)  Most in the book group had operated under the assumption that rent rates in poor neighborhoods were lower and housing was more affordable in these areas.  We were shocked to learn from our reading that rent rates in poor neighborhoods are just as high as rent rates in any other area of the city. This is true in most large American cities.  Also landlords are involved in the nefarious practice of raising rent rates when they discover a tenant has a housing voucher, in order to make maximum profit.  Housing vouchers are also known as "the Holy Grail" of housing, with only 1 in 4 people who qualify for one actually getting it.  Plus landlords did not bother to do much to make properties livable for tenants and most lived in squalid conditions.   In the book it mentioned that the worst properties in a landlord's portfolio made them the most money!  Why is this allowed?  Why is the housing industry so unregulated?  We also talked about the huge monetary judgments landlords can receive against poor tenants, that can collect an interest rate of 12 percent a year.  It makes it impossible for people to ever come out of deep poverty because even if they receive money or become gainfully employed, their wages are garnished to pay huge debts to landlords.  The system is set up to keep the poor down and the "haves" profit off their misery.  The housing crises is also becoming big business.  Moving companies, sheriffs, lawyers, judges, the landlords themselves, everyone is making money off of evictions.  There needs to be more protections for tenants, they need to know their rights and be empowered to stand up for them.  But how?

The role of personal responsibility in housing was addressed.  It was mentioned how conservatives often harp upon the fact that one one should be able to work hard to succeed in life.  Others mentioned that stories of exceptionalism, often touted on the news and in society, are very damaging to the poor.  The American ideal that one should be able to pull themselves up from their boot straps is just not true for everyone.  The myriad of factors that cause deep poverty make it a situation that is very hard to get out of.  Hundreds of years of institutionalized racism and structural inequalities has made it very difficult for people living in deep poverty to escape the system.  Serious reparations in our society, such as making affordable housing for all, need to take place.  We also discussed how the constant instability of people who are regularly evicted makes it very difficult for children to achieve in school because they have no consistency in their neighborhoods or schools and are constantly in flux.  This makes it hard for them to cultivate meaningful, supportive relationships with others outside their family unit.  

Related readings sent by members to the blog:

From Sara- 
What An Affordable Housing Moonshot Would Look Like (cited above)

From Erica-
How A House Can Shape A Child's Future

Thank you to everyone who came out!  Our next meeting is Thursday, July 14th at 6 PM at the Philadelphia Writing Project (42nd and Spruce).  

(by Liz Walls-Asto)