Emanuel AME Church Massacre Requires a Response – White Educators and Allies’ Responsibilities

In this photo taken June 19, 2015, photos of the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., are held during a vigil at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington.
In this photo taken June 19, 2015, photos of the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., are held during a vigil at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington. Source: http://www.wjla.com/articles/2015/06/black-churches-targeted-because-of-importance-to-community-114888.html#ixzz3dtialzML

In the face of the tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, another in a too-long line of such racially based attacks, what can we do? Tragedies like these have me question the value of my work at Warner, and force me to evaluate where I am and what I am doing. As an education researcher and a member of the faculty, I know I have responsibility to respond to events like the terrorist attack in Charleston, SC. We know a lot about racism (and other isms), violence, and White supremacy at Warner – more than a few of us study these and related issues and teach about them; some of us experience them on a daily basis. Recent abuses by police officers that are being made visible with digital and social media are the most obvious, but there are many, many more avenues through which brutality is used on Black and Brown people and communities. We know that there are multiple levels at which racism operates (individual, institutional, societal). We know that violence is seen in many forms as well, in terms of inadequate education, health care, housing, and access to jobs; media images that cast Black and Brown people as one-dimensional, dangerous, and pitiable; and the too-tight coupling of schooling and prisons through criminalization of Black and Brown children and young people. Here, I’m hoping to add to conversations that don’t shy away from the realities of White supremacy and White privilege, that don’t try to shield White people from considering our parts in this awful moment in history, and that call what is happening what it is – racially based violence that shows how much hatred, shame, fear, and guilt exists in our country and society.

As a social and cultural foundations teacher (teaching “diversity” courses), a White researcher, and a White woman, emotional, visceral responses by many White people to such events are familiar. There is the denial that one is racist or complicit in the systemic racism that structures our schools and other institutions. There is guilt that paralyzes us into thinking that we can’t do anything of substance. There is despair at the enormity of the problem, leading to another form of paralysis. As an instructor, I know I have the responsibility to help students move past these feelings to a place where spaces of possibility are visible. For many of us at Warner, the delicate dance of avoiding raising students’ defenses while engaging in difficult dialogue that forces awareness is a constant act in teaching. Today, though, the reaction on my mind is something that prevents dialogue in culturally mixed classrooms (and other forums like community action groups, dinner tables, bars) from happening at all – the feeling that we don’t have authority to speak, as we are (privileged) White people. This kind of reaction paralyzes not only our learning, but our work as allies, as partners in dialogue and action.

I looked back at a 2012 Warner Blog post by my colleague, Professor Ed Brockenbrough, in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin. His suggestions for what teacher educators can/should do to work against White supremacy are sound, practical, and still timely. I’d like to offer, humbly, some additional thoughts for schools of education in general, and myself, White colleagues, and White allies committed to racial and social justice:

  • Push beyond the boundaries to understanding that stem from growing up White and living in a society that is racist. Things like re-segregation of schools and neighborhoods militate against person-to-person interaction across races/ethnicities (see Frankenburg & Orfield’s 2014 seminal work). The invisibility of White privilege and institutional racism also shields people from recognizing White supremacy and endemic racism in our society (see Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995, on critical race theory in education). The US history we are taught in schools leaves out much of the history of Black and Brown people in this country and virtually all of the history of White oppression, genocide, and racism. The existence of an assumed ‘normal,’ ‘average’ (White) person, family, and community isn’t questioned. The lack of understanding in the larger White world as to what leads to these abominations is astonishing to me. The depth of the ignorance takes my breath away. Just imagine how Black and Brown people may find this flabbergasting (but not surprising). I’m not slamming White people, though many may feel that way. Still, I am NOT giving us a pass. The claims that, “I’m not racist,” and “Not all White people are racists” are largely true, but they mask the larger, historical, structural nature of institutions like schools, policing, universities, and jails/prisons. We are responsible for educating ourselves.
  • Recognize White supremacy and White privilege as the foundations of education. When I first started teaching social and cultural foundations courses, I assigned readings on social class, race, ability, and gender early in the semester, saving the more “difficult” readings on White privilege for later. I hoped that White students would be better prepared to address issues so close to home, that their defenses wouldn’t be triggered so easily. I hoped that students of color would feel affirmed in that these foundations of education were made visible and the subject of critical analysis. Over the years I have switched that order, starting the semester with White privilege and institutional racism. Rather than leaving these foundations of education invisible, I find that acknowledging them with my students and then moving on to their effects changes their understanding of how schools work. Sometimes inequities seem less daunting when their sources are made visible. Work by Allan Johnson on power and privilege; Margaret LeCompte and Kathleen deMarrais on the structures of schooling; Peggy McIntosch on White privilege; and Bryan Brayboy, Tara Yosso, and Dolores Delgado Bernal on forms of critical race theory have all been well received in my classes due to their combination of theory and practice. White students seem more receptive and students of color seem less apprehensive when these foundations of education are the starting point.
  • Assume and recognize the asset- and resource-rich nature of Black and Brown communities. We are bombarded with negative images of Black and Brown people. Media of all types – newspapers, online news sources, television, movies – beat the drum of deficit, danger, dysfunction, and despair as the only images of people and communities of color. Deficit assumptions also ground way too much social science research, too. For example, classic deficit-based studies by Moynihan (“The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” 1965; “The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians and Irish of New York City,” 1963)[1] have a long and still-present legacy in social science research. A recent headline in the University of Rochester’s daily online news feed announced that, “Stress in low-income families can affect children’s learning.” This is an example of the language that is insidious in the way it positions families living in poverty (aka Black and Brown families) as dysfunctional. Sure, stress leads to higher levels of cortisol and of course that is bad. But what about middle and high-income families that are stressful (distant caregivers, instability, etc., factors the authors list for the families they studied)? The silence about middle and high income (aka White families) is deafening and paints poverty as inevitably leading to dysfunction. As a White ally and researcher, I am more interested in understanding how families living under stress – poverty as the main example, along with racism – thrive, succeed, and achieve good health and wellbeing. The silence about those aspects of families is also deafening, but in a different way. That way is dangerous, a form of symbolic violence, and unnecessary. More recent work by Tyrone Howard (“HowDoes It Feel to be a Problem? Black Male Students, Schools, and Learning in Enhancing the Knowledge Base to Disrupt Deficit Frameworks, 2004), and Michael Rodriguez and Diana Morrobel (“A Review of Latino Youth Development Research and a Call for an Asset Orientation,” 2001) paint a different picture that positions Black and Brown as more fully human and as amazingly resilient in the face of oppression. These are the kinds of readings I find more useful in my classes and my research, and the kinds of assumptions that foster understanding, solidarity, action, and hope.
  • Engage in discussions of race that are wide-ranging and fraught, trusting those involved to help moderate a civil discussion. The scariest response I see when issues of White privilege and White supremacy are brought up is silence. Paulo Freire, a giant in liberatory pedagogy, saw dialogue as a humanizing act, essential in pedagogical settings that seek to uncover systems of privilege and to move together to action. My students have taught me that they are willing and imminently able to help navigate tense discussions. The most recent course evaluations in one course, Diversity and Equity in Education in a Global Context, had several students challenging me to be less careful in leading discussions, to allow the class to tackle the really touchy, uncomfortable, and “third rail” topics. My instinct has been to protect people’s feelings, to retreat to more academic discourse, or to squelch angry exchanges. I really thought I was taking risks and being somewhat courageous, but my students are saying no, let us go deeper, let us feel more, hurt more, struggle more so we can learn more. As a White educator, I know I am often afforded more leeway than educators of color in leading these discussions; my responsibility is to leverage that positioning into more and more difficult and honest exchanges. Dissent and grappling with ideas are critical to learning and teaching about thorny issues. While my example here is from classrooms, I have found similar dynamics in work with communities of color here in Rochester. This is not new information – dialogue and dissent as foundational for learning have been known for centuries. Still, we are seeing a resurgence of overt racism and a legislative context in which attacking central constitutional and human rights (voting; rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) is a daily occurrence.
  • Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is the oldest AME church in the south. It is referred to as "Mother Emanuel".  Emanuel has one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore, Maryland. Source: Charleston City Paper http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/TheBattery/archives/2015/06/19/heres-how-you-can-donate-directly-to-help-emanuel-ame-church.
    Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is the oldest AME church in the south. It is referred to as “Mother Emanuel”. Emanuel has one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore, Maryland. Source: Charleston City Paper http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/TheBattery/archives/2015/06/19/heres-how-you-can-donate-directly-to-help-emanuel-ame-church.

    Counteract the re-segregation of our society and develop cross-cultural competencies. Reading widely and from outlets that publish work by scholars of color, watching videos, and having guest speakers in class are all powerful parts of teaching about diversity and equity. Nothing can replace face-to-face interaction, though. Numerous Warner instructors engage students in fieldwork as parts of our courses, not to mention student teaching, and counseling and administrator internships. A note of caution from my own experience: I remember supporting a doctoral student at another university in assigning master’s students, almost all White, to “urban” field placements. This student was deeply committed to racial and social justice, considered her self a knowledgeable ally, and recognized the power of human relationships. She asked about sending students to welfare offices, hospitals, homeless shelters, and the like. The shock on her face when I suggested community centers, churches, and recreation centers was stunning. To be frank, I had only recently encountered work by Gonzalez and Moll (2001) on funds of knowledge (practices, networks, assets, resources developed in communities as they negotiate stress and oppression) that made me recognize the dangers in placements where people of color are positioned as needing help, as broken, and in need of “redemption.” Seeing my students and graduate assistants’ (as well as my own) successes in learning and relationship building based on asset-based, resource-rich knowledge of Black and Brown people and communities affirms the need for humility and for entering communities as learners rather than redeemers.

As educators and researchers, we have opportunities to foster critical changes our schools and society. Further, being White, to my mind, brings particular responsibilities if we want to be active allies and participants in combatting racism, White supremacy, and continuing inequity and violence. Some of those responsibilities include being humble, knowing that we don’t/can’t know some very important things, recognizing the nature of racism in the US institutions, accepting that White supremacy and White privilege affect us and not just people of color, and entering communities as learners. I am very interested to hear other people’s thoughts.

[1] See http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2011/11/moynihan_report_a_critique_by_herbert_gans.html and http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ101853 for critiques of Moynihan’s reports.

Warner School Student Emerald Amory-Williams Offers an Open Response to Dr. Ares

We Know Better: Response to Zupan Op-Ed, November 2012

Dean Mark Zupan of the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business is rightly deeply concerned about the state of education in the Rochester City School District. (See guest essay by Zupan in Democrat and Chonicle, 11/24/2012.) However, I respectfully disagree with the proposal he makes: vouchers for students and families to use at any school that they choose, public or private.

As a researcher and teacher of education, I argue that there is much more to this story than costs or whether higher spending will lead to improvements. The high per-pupil-spending in the RCSD is easy to critique, especially in light of the long term outcomes we know about – educationally indefensible graduation rates, differential education provided to particular groups of students (i.e., students with disabilities, students of color), and general lack of preparation for college and work. However, if we put that spending in context, we see a more detailed picture. Rochester ranks in the top ten nationally in districts serving students living in poverty. Along with poverty come all the social, economic, environmental and educational problems we know about but have a hard time generating the political will to address. Couture (2007) writes, “The lack of one resource, in this case economic capital, can lead to deficiencies in other resources, specifically social and educational…poor and minority students who find themselves in many inner city public schools are often the recipients of inadequate education … This may be a matter of racism, but it also seems to be an issue of economics, which certainly play out in racist societies” (p. 3).1

Simply looking at per-pupil expenditures ignores the larger contexts. The New York Supreme Court recognized these facts in their 2005 decision in Coalition for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, holding that the State’s school funding system was unconstitutional, depriving NYC students of their constitutional right to the opportunity to receive a sound basic education. The City was awarded additional monies because of the economic disparities between their communities and those in other parts of the State. Similar disparities between RCSD schools and their suburban counterparts exist, with Rochester communities being blocked from access to resources and opportunities. These disparities pose large challenges to District schools and families. Professional, committed teachers and administrators struggle in this context that hobbles them with standardized curricula and testing while they work to be responsive to the students and families they serve in a system of schooling designed for the White middle class.

Kozol notes that, in many urban areas, “The city turns repeatedly to outside agencies – including religious charities, health organizations, medical schools and educational foundations – soliciting help in much the way that African and Latin American nations beg for grants from agencies like AID.”2 Cristo Rey, the network of Catholic schools that Zupan points to as a model for urban education, is an example of a religious organization seeking to improve education for “economically disadvantaged” students. The Jesuit Alumni Network subsidizes the schools. They serve only students who are economically disadvantaged. The curriculum (initially developed by the first group of teachers but modified as the student body changed) is a college preparatory one with high academic standards and extended days and school years. They have an impressive record – 90% of their graduates go to post-secondary schools (Cristo Rey website). However, there are four areas of concern that research studies have highlighted:

1) Paying for a Cristo Rey education: This is the most troubling and, to me, unethical aspect – Through contractual agreements with local businesses, students are required to participate in the Corporate Internship Program (CIP) one day each week. 74% of the cost of their tuition is paid through the CIP.3 They work in entry-level clerical jobs, with their pay going to the school. While work experiences certainly help students prepare for some aspects of life after high school (though they are limited to entry-level positions), requiring students to work at low wages to pay for their education is hugely problematic. As one student noted in an interview, “If this CIP is such a good thing, why isn’t it at [other schools]? We have to earn the right to be educated every day. Those students have the right to be there every day” (p. 13). Indeed, students are penalized for missing work, but not school. Teachers who questioned the program were fired. Thus, while teachers and students are distressed, the companies that hire student/workers are happy, and the CIP program is profitable.

2) Limited admissions: The admission requirements have been exclusionary from the beginning as non-readers, students with severe disabilities, and those involved in gangs were declined admission. As time has passed, teachers have grown increasingly concerned because the student body grows more and more elite, with higher motivation for school, higher test scores, and more operating at or above grade level. As a result, rather than educating all students with limited access to college preparatory curricula, a central goal for the Network according to their publications, Cristo Rey schools exclude students whom they assume will not succeed in their system.

3) Avoiding teachers unions: In a review of the 2008 book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner City Schools and the New Paternalism4, Louise Bol notes ~20 characteristics of schools, including Cristo Rey, that adopted what the book’s author calls paternalistic education. The list includes the elimination or decreased power of local teachers’ unions, along with using “unconventional channels to recruit committed teachers.” Like other such efforts, the protections and benefits unions offer teachers are sidestepped, giving increased control of hiring, evaluation, and firing to administration. While the role of teacher unions is a contentious one, the scope of which is beyond this essay, the relationship or lack of one between Cristo Rey schools and unions is troubling.

4) Assimilationist practices: Paternalistic education involves, among other things, rigorous curriculum, specific performance outcomes, creating college-going cultures; strict attendance rules, and teaching students how to walk, shake hands, speak ‘appropriately’ (as in white middle class style): “These paternalistic schools go beyond teaching values as abstractions: the schools tell students exactly how they are expected to behave, and their behavior is closely monitored, with rewards for compliance and penalties for noncompliance.”5 We know from a well-established body of work that, when students’ cultural and social identities are denigrated or ignored, healthy physical, psychosocial, and academic development suffers. This seems like a very high cost to expect students to pay.

Overall, this model of schooling does what many educators and education researchers know and fear – it undercuts public schooling, limits access to education to those who are seen as potentially successful when given the financial help (or in this case, the ‘right’ to work as cheap labor), requires teachers to work longer hours for less pay with less job security, and narrows what counts as “appropriate” student behavior, thereby continuing the marginalization of students who are ‘different’ from an assumed norm. We know that this approach does not work, with substantial evidence from many parts of the country. I don’t in any way mean to make excuses for the state of education in the RCSD – again, it is educationally indefensible – but this model has known negative consequences. We can do much better, especially in working with families, communities, teachers, counselors and administrators as partners in improvement rather than problems to avoid.

1 Couture, B.A. (2007). A Freirean critique of the Cristo Rey Network’s transformation: Assimilation or liberation? Proquest Dissertations And Theses 2007. Section 0112, Part 0533 109 pages; [Ph.D. dissertation]. United States — Illinois: Loyola University Chicago; 2007. Publication Number: AAT 3295451.
2 Kozol, J. (1991). Savage inequalities: Children in American schools. New York: Harper Perennial.
3 http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2006/10/pdf/extended_learning_report.pdf
4 Bol, L. (2008). Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 22, 2008
5 Whitman, D. (2009). Appeal to authority: The new paternalism in urban schools. The Education Digest, 74(7), 55-61.

A Closer Look at School Choice

By David Hursh, Warner School Professor and William Cala, past interim Rochester City School District Superintendent

Dean Zupan, in his guest essay in the Democrat and Chronicle, compares the RCSD with a local parochial school, McQuaid, and the 22-school network of Cristo Rey Jesuit Schools, claiming that private schools are more successful and cost-effective in educating students. Further, he states that Cristo Rey schools do not “skim the cream” from the public schools, that is, only enroll the above average students from the city. Therefore, he concludes, city school students should be given “credits”— usually called vouchers— to enroll in private schools.

A full response would include providing evidence that such market models have not been successful in improving schools as a whole and that similar models, such as charter schools, have, on average, not performed better than public schools. However, I will focus on Dean Zupan’s claim that Cristo Rey schools enroll a student population comparable to the urban districts in which they are located. Common sense tells us this is unlikely to be the case.

First, private schools are not required to accept students with disabilities. In comparison, public schools must educate all students, regardless of ability. The RCSD, partly as a consequence of poverty, has an increasing number of students with disabilities, now near 20%. Placements within schools can cost well over $30,000. RCSD also has a large number of students in restrictive environments such as residential placements that can cost over $100,000 a year. Prior to the 1970s, public schools were not required to educate all students. However, with that requirement, which we should all favor, the per pupil cost has increased significantly. Such calculations seem not to be included in Dean Zupan’s analysis. It’s easy to reduce your per pupil cost if you do not enroll students who need more services!

Furthermore, Dean Zupan observes that the RCSD has one of the highest per pupil spending rates of US cities. He omits that Monroe County is highly segregated and unequal with the poor and people of color living in the city. Rochester has eleventh highest poverty rates in the US. One of the consequences of poverty is a high number of children with disabilities, and family and youth violence. Typically, 400 Rochester adolescents are either in detention centers or jail, all of whom, by law, must be provided with an education and services.

Moreover, the RCSD has a large number of English Language Learners who have either entered the United States as immigrants or, at about 2,000 families per year, arrive as refugees. This requires that the district hire additional educators who have expertise in working with beginning English learners.

Second, Christo Rey schools require that students work in job placements developed by the school and that the students’ earnings be given to the school to help pay for tuition. In Rochester, many urban students work so that they can contribute to their family income. Only more middle-class families are able to forego additional income.

Third, Christo Rey, like many private and charter schools, has a “no tolerance” policy. While “no tolerance” may sound good to the public, it means that the school can throw out any student who poses a problem. Private and charter schools can often boast of a high graduation rate for seniors because students who might not graduate have been expelled and returned to their urban districts.

Therefore, the likely consequence of Dean Zupan’s proposal is a widening gap between the private and the public, as private schools cream off the more advantaged urban students, and urban schools educate the rest. Ultimately, a market solution is no solution.

Closing Schools: What We Know About Community Participation and Influence

I have watched with interest as the Rochester City School District begins the school closure process to shutter an undetermined number of schools based upon deteriorating facilities and declining enrollments. Although this is becoming more common in areas across the country, as many of you know this is not new for Rochester. In fact, each of the last few superintendents has discussed (and some have followed through with) closing schools.

Having studied the process of school closure in one urban community with Warner alumnus Mark Lavner (Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Support Services in the Canandaigua City School District), with a particular focus on community member participation in and influence over urban school closures, I wanted to share some important findings with those in the Warner School community who might serve as community advocates, teachers, administrators, or parents of students in these schools.

Our case study involved interviews with School Board members, district administrators, and community members, as well as a review of district documents and newspaper articles. We found that:

1. district administrators streamlined participation in the process through committee membership and public hearings;

2. the development of an “objective” process, involving categorization of schools by characteristics such as the state of the building, economic reuse of the building, and student enrollment trends, served to legitimize the process;

3. parents representing schools in higher income areas influenced the process through both formal and informal mechanisms;

4. parents representing schools in lower income areas influenced the process primarily through alliances with external (powerful) groups.

Beyond these findings, I offer three important implications relating to community participation in and influence over school closure.

1) Speaking out at School Board meetings, while an important symbolic measure of participation, was the least influential activity as Board members told us by that point they had already made up their mind and the burden was much higher to “convince” them of something that they hadn’t alreadon through public hearings.” (Finnigan & Lavner, 2012, p. 144)

2) We often focus on formal mechanisms to influence a policy decision, e.g., speaking at a formal hearing or attending a formal meeting, however, informal mechanisms can be even more powerful. Informal communication in this case occurs as individuals or special interest groups share their views through public or private conversations, letters to the newspaper, or e-mails or phone calls to School Board members or district administrators.

Another excerpt from our article,

“As one Board member noted, ‘‘Because they yell at you at Board meetings… the press assumes that that’s where the protest is coming from when, in fact, what’s happened is that the effective protest has already occurred, and it’s over.’’ Community members who were ‘‘politically more aware’’ and would call up or arrange personal meetings were found to be the most influential. Another Board member concurred, ‘‘It seems to offend participatory democracy. It is vastly more behind the scenes than it is anything else.’’ (p.147).

3) Political power can be gained through leveraging linkages between schools and other community groups. In fact, in the community we studied the following were influential: “an active PTO President, direct contact with Board members and district officials, meetings with large numbers of parents in attendance, letter writing and email campaigns, and contact with elected officials. The ability to influence the decision was a function of the inherent power of these individuals or groups, resulting from the formal role individuals or groups had within the community (i.e. PTO President, prestigious business organization, established think tank, neighborhood association, etc.) or the resources they could generate” (p. 148).

With the exception of the mobilization of large numbers of individuals in support of a school (i.e., strength in numbers), schools and community members will likely generate more influence over an urban school closure decision through a range of informal participatory practices and community alliances.

Finnigan, K. S., & Lavner, M. (2012). A political analysis of community influence over school closure. The Urban Review, 44(1), 133-151.


Teaching Trayvon Martin: Three Strategies for Teacher Educators

Every year as a faculty member in an urban-focused, university-based teacher education program, I pose the following questions to the teacher certification candidates and certified teachers in my classes: What is your vision of social transformation, and how far are you willing to go in your capacity as classroom teachers to achieve it? Sadly, the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida is the latest of a never-ending series of tragedies that underscores the urgency of these questions. As teacher educators, it is crucial that we seize this moment to encourage and support classroom teachers’ efforts to end white supremacist violence in the lives of youth of color.

Those who deny the permanence of white supremacy in America will surely concoct a litany of excuses and justifications for George Zimmerman, the man who has admitted to killing Trayvon Martin. As demonstrated time and time again, white supremacy is amazingly adept at defending itself by denying its very existence. Regardless of whatever preposterous defense may prevail on Zimmerman’s behalf, the details of Trayvon Martin’s final moments paint a clear picture of a young man who became yet another casualty of American society’s enduring, well-rehearsed, and unforgiving assault on black bodies. That advocates for redress on Trayvon’s behalf are forced to make the case for the obvious—America’s suspicion of and contempt for young black males—detracts time and energy better spent on strategizing our collective responses for justice. Consequently, I will not devote more time to asserting the obvious. Readers who want to debate the “merits” of the case against Zimmerman are encouraged to do so in other spaces.

What I hope to do in this blog entry is to engage fellow teacher educators in discussions of the roles that we can play in the aftermath of Trayvon’s death. The public outcry over Zimmerman’s audacity and the Sanford Police Department’s complicity has turned the murder of Trayvon Martin into a potentially powerful teachable moment. The following are strategies that teacher educators can use to help teacher certification candidates and certified teachers transform this tragedy into a springboard for critical thought and collective action.

1) Engage teachers in rigorous examinations of white supremacy. The gravity of Trayvon Martin’s murder and the subsequent silence that surrounded it cannot be fully grasped without a critical understanding of white supremacy as a systemic arrangement of power that has privileged the lives and interests of white Americans from this nation’s inception, and that continues to do so despite social and political struggles for racial equality. Framing the historical and systemic nature of white supremacist power in America is crucial for helping white educators—specifically those who bristle at critical analyses of white supremacy—to understand those analyses as critiques of oppressive systems of power, not as indictments of individual white people. A critical examination of white supremacy can also help teachers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to understand that while white supremacy privileges white people over racialized others, it can be reproduced by a multicultural cast of characters that aligns itself with white supremacist power structures (e.g., someone like George Zimmerman). In my experiences as a teacher educator, work in critical race theory by scholars like Gloria-Ladson Billings, William Tate, and Adrienne Dixson, analyses of privilege and power by Allan Johnson, and racialized examinations of white teachers by scholars like Christine Sleeter and Gary Howard, have been great resources for teachers who are learning to grapple with the realities and repercussions of white supremacy. A rigorous understanding of white supremacy is a prerequisite for teachers who want to stand against the white supremacist domination of youth of color.

2) Help teachers to connect youth of color to resources and strategies for negotiating white supremacist oppression, both individually and collectively. Learning to resist is not just a political undertaking—it is also a pedagogical act. As Paulo Freire’s groundbreaking work has taught all of us, just as the oppressed have to learn the terms of their oppression, they can also learn to create the conditions for their liberation. Teacher educators who are committed to social justice must find ways to support classroom teachers’ efforts to facilitate analyses of and resistance against white supremacy with youth of color. Continue reading “Teaching Trayvon Martin: Three Strategies for Teacher Educators”

Educational Policy Reform in Rochester

Charter schools. Unions. Pay for performance.  Equitable Student Funding. Budget cuts. These are controversial issues that have been circulating the Rochester City School District for months now. As a graduate student at Warner and a school counseling intern in the city, I have heard many positions and opinions on these topics, many of them emotionally charged.  However, I know that I don’t have all the sides to the story, and to make a well-informed argument, you must be able to address the counterargument. I fell in love with Rochester when I moved here two years ago, and as a resident of the city, I am concerned for its future and hope to gain a broader perspective on these matters.

The issues surrounding reform in schools are not confined to Rochester alone.  Regarding the parting of Cathleen Black from her position as chancellor of the New York City schools, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew was quoted last week in the New York Times saying, “it was hard not to wonder whether the debate over school reform has reached a point where debate is no longer possible” (Mahler, 2011, p. WK3).  It is true that opinions have become so polarized that intelligent and friendly discussion is often difficult. Is performance-based pay the way to increase and promote higher teaching standards, or do unequal classrooms and a defective evaluation system make this option unfeasible? Do unions protect the civil liberties of teachers, or are they an obstacle to reform efforts? These questions often leave people on one side of the argument or the other.

Whether you are a proponent or opponent of school reform, my time at Warner has taught me that before making an informed decision, one must consider the issues on a deeper level. When discussing educational policy reform, there are a few things to keep in mind:

First of all, we must agree on the facts.  In her discussion on charter schools and education policy debates, the Warner School’s own Dr. Kara Finnigan highlighted the importance of being an intelligent consumer of research and getting the facts straight. The Associate Professor of Educational Leadership stresses that “it is critical that you do your own homework to understand the complexity of the policy issues at hand – and most importantly, be wary of anyone who says that they are providing you with the ‘overlooked facts’ around any policy debate” (Finnigan, 2011).

Second of all, the issues surrounding education are never as simple as they seem. From the outside, the solution seems simple enough.  But once you delve further into the dynamics and circumstances at hand, it becomes clear that our problems with education are deeply rooted.  Poverty, politics, committees, and values are just small pieces to this complicated puzzle. There is no one party to blame or one way to fix the issues; the problem is systemic.

Third and last of all, we need to keep the students in mind.  They are our future and the ones we serve.  It is our duty to provide them with the best education possible and ensure they graduate with the skills needed to succeed in college and the workforce.  By staying informed and engaging in intelligent and respectful debate, we may actually take advantage of this “teachable moment” and model for them the appropriate way to overcome conflict and find resolution.


Finnigan, K. (2011, March 21). Charter schools and education policy debates [web blog]. Retrieved from http://warnerperspectives.org/?p=966. (2011, April 11).

Mahler, J. (2011, April 9). The deadlocked debate over education reform. The New York Times, p. WK3.

How Athletics and Education are Mutually Exclusive

I love this time of year. This is the time of year where the snow begins to melt and the sun starts to shine, when it is no longer dark outside at 5pm, and when my utility bills starts to creep down to an affordable price. Additionally, last Thursday’s commencement of the Division I NCAA Basketball Tournament began what is the best four weeks to be a sports fan each year. Over the course of the next 30 days March Madness will ensue, the Major League Baseball season will start, as will the NHL playoffs, in a normal year NFL free agency would be in full swing, and my once again relevant New York Knicks will begin their journey in the NBA playoffs. While we as a nation prepare to spend countless hours in-front of the television idolizing our sports icons, we must also be aware of the effect the multi-billion dollar enterprise of American sports has on our nations youth, particularly in poor urban areas.

As Jonathan Kozol illustrates throughout his book Savage Inequalities (1991), youth growing up in poor urban areas are often told their only way to a better life is through athletics. Children are told that if they practice hard enough, they will earn a scholarship to college and shortly after be paid millions of dollars to play professionally. For any youth, specifically for one from lesser means, this dream is a difficult one to let go. Yet, the reality is that very few high school athletes get the opportunity to play in college, and even fewer move on to play professionally. Let us take basketball for example. According to the NCAA, 3.1 percent of student-athletes on their high school basketball team go on to play at any level of college; and only 1.2% of student-athletes on their college basketball team go on to play in the NBA. This means that only 0.03% (3 in 10,000) of student-athletes on their high school basketball team will go on to play in the NBA(1). Even if they make it into the NBA, most will not have sustained careers. In 1999, the average career length of an NBA player fewer than 5 years(2). Even when a student earns an athletic scholarship, it is unlikely to cover the expenses of college. In 2008, the average athletic scholarship was less than $11,000 a year(3). The truth is that a college freshman is 22 times more likely to be the recipient of an academic scholarship than he or she is to have been awarded an athletic scholarship. Despite the fact that we often tell kids that their best way to a sound education and a better life is through athletics, this is not the case for the overwhelming majority.

What is even more troubling than the message we send our youth about the possibilities of athletics, is the disconnect between athletics and education within schools. When schools face budget cuts, physical education, recess, and inter-school athletics are often times among the first programs cut(5). For example, South Carolina just proposed a 15% cut to state funds for physical education in school(6). Additionally, according to the American Heart Association, only 71 percent of elementary schools nationally have recess for students in K-5, a number that is drastically lower in urban areas (28% in the city of Rochester)(7). This is troubling not only because of the health and educational benefits youth reap from physical activity, but because of the message it sends to youth about the lack of association between school and athletics. The message that we are sending to our kids, specifically in urban areas, is that athletics and academics are mutually exclusive. Our priorities are broken. We are telling our students that athletics have no place in school, but that athletics are the only way to success. Given this contradiction, why should we expect many of our students to value education? If we are telling our urban youth the only way to a better life is through athletics, but we are not providing the opportunity for athletics at school, can we really expect them to value school?

Work Cited

1) http://www.ncaa.org/wps/portal/ncaahome?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/ncaa/NCAA/Academics+and+Athletes/Education+and+Research/Probability+of+Competing/Methodology+-+Prob+of+Competing

2) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,990035,00.html?promoid=googlep%29

3) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/sports/10scholarships.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

4) http://www.pitchengine.com/pathwaycommunications/8-facts-about-college-athletics-and-scholarships–what-every-high-school-athlete-needs-to-know/81212/

5) http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,176168,00.html

6) http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9LV731O0.htm

7) http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011103120316