Open Response to Dr. Ares on White Educators and Allies’ Responsibilities

In response to Emanuel AME Church Massacre Requires a Response – White Educators and Allies’ Responsibilities by Nancy Ares, published on June 23, 2015.

Dear Dr. Ares,

Thank you for asking for my feedback on the tragic and racially motivated killings in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. The tone of your blog and how you framed the issues within the historical, educational, and social context of American life is heartfelt, critically aware, introspective, and self-reflective. I applaud your courage for being so direct, truthful, and comprehensive in your social commentary. As a white researcher and academic, your honesty and introspection are needed, to not only spark an honest debate on race, racism, and white privilege, but equally important, to challenge all educators to see that it is their social responsibility to engage their students, of all levels, in dialogue on the issues and problems that we face as people of diverse races, ethnicities, and socio-economic groups. We need a level of dialogue that would allow all students and people to come to a deeper understanding of our connectedness as humans, and of the things that divides us and prevent us from learning from, appreciating, and engaging on meaningful levels with all people. If our common humanity and connectedness are not affirmed in our dealings with “the other,” we would be harmed and suffer from the unfortunate actions of people, be they black, brown or white who are experiencing existential difficulties.

As a Caribbean woman who immigrated to the United States at the age of thirty one, who became a naturalized citizen, and who moved through the American higher education system, from Brooklyn College, to Columbia University, and to the University of Rochester, I find myself becoming a critical observer of the American society and educational system. As a black woman who worked as an educator in her native country, St Kitts-Nevis, for eleven years, I was painfully aware of the insidious and corrosive nature of racism in America, even though I was not mired in its painful effects. However, as a black student and as a college instructor, I, too, was touched by its reach, and not having lived within its stifling and paralyzing atmosphere, I am able to “insulate” myself from its crippling power, even as I try to understand the crippling and limiting effects it has on my African American brothers and sisters, many white colleagues, and on my students of all races, especially my African American students.

When I teach classes on diversity and race, politics, and world literature, I choose close textual reading, and I use in-depth discussions to get my students to engage with issues of race and racism, as explored by writers such as Martin Luther King, Gloria Naylor, Brent Staples, William Raspberry, James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achebe, and others. As a person who did not grow up immersed in the effects of racism and prejudice, I found that I was able to adopt an objective stance, a contemplative distance, that allowed my students and I to push the envelope in a constructive, safe, and meaningful way. My classes are always diverse with a “critical mass” of white American and European students, black (American, African, and Caribbean), Asian, and Middle Eastern students. Sure, there were times when the white students were defensive and said that it was time to “get over” and bury the racial issues rooted in the past. The black students felt that white society’s inability to acknowledge past wrongs were deeply entrenched, painful, and a barrier to social justice. But, in the end they acknowledged that the discussions and the readings were cathartic, transformative, and humanizing. By reading their reflective essays, I could see the shifts in their thinking as they engaged emotionally and intellectually with the writers.

Like you, I have been troubled by the deficit models used as lens to explain the difficulties of the Black family in America, as well as the educational difficulties of black and brown students in American schools. As a Caribbean American, I am often puzzled by the lack of self-efficacy and self-assertion exhibited by many of my African American students. And there have been times when because of where I am from, some black students do not identify with me or allow themselves to see the connection that would allow me to be their mentor. Still, I did need not give up on them, nor refrain from encouraging them to strive to realize their potential. As a black woman who received her early education under the British system and within the context of colonization and the local Caribbean experience, I was able to see education and self-development as a human right and not as social indoctrination, social engineering, or social reproduction even within the effects of colonization because my teachers were fellow villagers who took seriously their role of educating the young. Many African American children do not have the “village” connection with their teachers and cannot reconcile that disconnection to come to see that all knowledge and experiences can and should be critically engaged with, so that education and the exposure to white writers or the ideas of the “other”, and the absence of the black voice, experience or contributions do not become a threat to the self. As you have observed, White America has failed to see the depth of black and brown people’s funds of knowledge, their intelligence, and their contributions to humanity. It is so easy to drink from the intoxicating well of ethnocentrism and lose sight of the complexity of the human experience and one’s place in the diversity of life.

Self-awareness is crucial to the examination of experiences, whether white or black. In our engagement with knowledge and information, we must always strive for personal transformation, not reproduction. Students at all levels of the educational system must be led to question assumptions, suppositions, arguments, claims, information, and ideologies. Students must learn to identify fallacies, illogical thinking, to see hidden agendas, and manipulations. Students must be able to see the contingent nature of life, to understand plurality, relativism, and what constitute logical thinking, in order to move beyond dualistic thinking. Sadly, I do not think that the educational system is facilitating the thinking that would allow all students to deal with and appreciate the complexities of a heterogeneous society and world.

From my experience, the majority of students of all races want to have a deeper and more clarifying experience in education. They want to grapple with the difficult issues, the ideologies and beliefs and come to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. They value the opportunities to see subjects, as inquiries into the human experience, to face difficult truths, and in doing so, to understand themselves and “the other” in the process. Students of all races, I believe, are reaching for a more liberating experience that a transformative education can bring. And as educators we have to have the moral courage to help young people of all races, religion, and socioeconomic levels, to see that it is only through an education that is centered in open dialogue that all people could see their common humanity and strive together to deal with our human nature and the human condition, all of which are difficult and complex experiences.

Like you, I believe that as an academic, I have an opportunity and a responsibility to work for social change. I agree with you that education is the key to effectuate change. If the young, white man who killed the nine black people in the AME church had a deeper understanding of the historical events that gave rise to Rhodesia, apartheid South Africa, and America, he would have understood that his ideas, conceptions, and assumptions were wrong and that Blacks have as much of a right, as Whites, to be Americans, to strive, to participate, to govern, and to belong to America.

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

Preserving Public Education: The Foundation of Our Democracy

This is my speech given at Preserving Public Education: The Foundation of Our Democracy, an event organized by teachers from several area school districts. Approximately 650 people were in attendance.
Spencerport, New York
March 19, 2015

We face a crisis in public education. But, not because the schools are failing. In fact, given the high childhood poverty rate in our cities and the extreme segregation in our schools, one might conclude that the schools are doing well. Rather, we face a crisis because education policy in New York is increasingly made not by school boards or educators but by the rich and powerful, most of whom are unelected and unaccountable.hursh1

We face a crisis because our education system is being taken over by wealthy philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, who uses his foundation to fund organizations to develop and implement the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core would not exist if Gates did not provide the initial $200 million to create it. Or the $2.3 billion he gave to 1,800 organizations to support the Common Core. Or the $3 million he secretly gave to help fund the Regents Fellows to work with former Commissioner King on implementing the Common Core. Or the profits Microsoft will earn as their tablets are used to deliver the Common Core curriculum and assessments.

We face a crisis because Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has received $32.1 million to create, administer, and grade the Common Core Exams in English Language Arts and Math. Pearson seems to create most of the world’s exams, including, in the United States, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Stanford Achievement Test, the Miller Analogy Test, and the Graduate Equivalency Test (GED). Pearson received $63 million to develop the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC exam. Pearson designs, administers, and grades the state’s teacher certification exams including the video and portfolio assessment of student teachers, for which students pay $300 per test. Pearson has the contract to design the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment or PISA exams. Pearson publishes most of the K-12 textbooks used in the United States under different imprints, including: Scott Foresman, Penguin, Longman, Wharton, Harcourt, Puffin, Prentice Hall, Allyn & Bacon, and Random House.

hursh2We face a crisis because politicians like Governor Cuomo has taken almost $5 million from hedge fund managers to push through legislation increasing the number of and funding for charter schools. Just last week in New York City, hedge fund managers held a private all day meeting called “Bonds and Blackboards” sponsored by the Walton and Gates Foundations to promote investing in charter schools, where, indeed, if you are wealthy, there is money to be made. Cuomo has proposed giving more money per student to charter schools plus additional funds for space. Further, the Governor wants to give a 75% tax credit for donations of up to $100,000 to charter, private, and parochial schools.

I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. In response, we need to demand transparency in how education policy is made. We need to spend money not on standardized tests but on developing assessments that provide meaningful information to the students, parents, teachers, and community. We need to demand that public funds go to public schools and not to line the pockets of charter school investors. We need to demand that educators are supported and not undermined in their professional responsibilities. We need to demand excellent schools for our children.

 

 

Talking About Bullying Is Not Enough

Bully Movie ImageThe movie, Bully, is a powerful exposé of the pain inflicted by bullying. It chronicles the insidious degradation that children and families experience when students misuse personal power to attack their peers and educators fail to marshal their power to stop the bullying. The movie is also a reminder that we don’t have many answers when it comes to solving this problem. As a researcher and a prevention educator in the field of bullying, the point must be made that this movie offers all of us the opportunity to begin a dialogue about this problem, but by itself, this movie will not change anything.

The controversy surrounding the MPAA rating of Bully highlighted the fact that many people believe that showing this video to youth under the age of 18 will change the behaviors of those who engage in bullying. It is important to realize that single event programs are not an antidote to bullying. They heighten awareness and sensitivity for a short time, and perhaps even temporarily motivate children to change their behaviors, but in the long run, one-time presentations do not work. They are a good springboard for conversation, but they will not solve the problem of bullying in our schools.

As an educator, one of the most difficult moments to watch in the movie is an attempt by an educator to get a victim to reconcile with his tormentor. It was a perfect example of the failure to understand bullying. Bullying is the systematic and systemic abuse of power. In order to reduce bullying, we need systemic change that alters the power dynamics. Whereas most efforts to reduce bullying have focused on the bullies and their targets, and on changing them, systemic change is about changing the context in which bullying occurs. It means shifting power away from those who misuse it and increasing the power of those who can protect those who are targeted.

Continue reading “Talking About Bullying Is Not Enough”

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”

It’s Elementary!

On the Monday evening of April 2, Warner’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) and Allies Special Interest Group screened the film It’s Elementary, shining light on how educators can address LGBTQ issues in the classroom. Throughout the movie and into the panel discussion, I began thinking about this idea of ‘teaching’ students about LGBTQ issues. As a Warner student, this topic was addressed in a number of my classes and in one case, a few of my fellow students asked the question, ‘Why do we need to bring this up with children?’ Beyond my own beliefs about social justice, eradication of oppression, tolerance and promotion of diversity, this question is important to deconstruct on a different level. This question is worded in such a way as to suggest that children are too young to learn about ‘sexuality.’ First, this implies that the heterosexuality that is reinforced in schools is not a ‘sexuality,’ yet somehow only homosexuality is a sexualized term. Second, the implication with this statement is that children are living independent of homosexuality and it is this implication that I challenge here.

Given reports that ten percent of the population will identify as LGBTQ, this means that one in every ten students in your classroom, one in every ten teachers, one in every ten administrators and staff and one in every ten people you meet on the street will in some way be a member of the queer community. So, if every one in ten students are queer, then does homosexuality not already exist in the classroom? This denial or simplistic view of children as asexual is not only inaccurate but is an erasure of the experiences of these queer students in particular. How can you as a teacher ignore ten percent of your students? Not only will ten percent of students be queer, but given the increase in gay and lesbian adoptions and family planning options, students who are heterosexual could be coming from a queer-headed household as well. Whether one wants to admit it or not, queer individuals and families have a growing presence in our schools.

It’s Elementary demonstrated that students, even in elementary school, are familiar with the topic of homosexuality and especially with the misinformation and stereotypes that the media portrays. In the film, students referenced afternoon talk shows and popular movies as their source of information about homosexuality. In terms of homosexuality in schools, even elementary students mentioned the ways in which words such ‘gay’ are used in a derogatory manner in the hallways on a regular basis. Therefore, students are very familiar with the topic and it is this permeation of anti-gay language in the hallways that especially makes it a school issue. Some may attempt to argue that ‘sexuality’ is a private matter, but when hateful speech is used to bully peers in the school environment, it becomes a school matter that educators have a responsibility to address.

At the panel discussion after the film screening, a panelist made the point that school administrators can sometimes demonstrate this denial of queer issues by implying that those issues do not exist here. This denial is a huge disservice to queer students, particularly those who are at risk for depression or dropping out of school. The avoidance of taboo topics in general places students at risk, all for the sake of adult and parent comfort. Some parents, administrators, and teachers seem to forget this concept that ten percent of the population is a part of the LGBTQ community. Therefore, the truth is that students are here and they are queer. So, we can either admit that they exist or contribute to the deafening silence of oppression.

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