Educate All Students, Support Public Education

December 7, 2012

For Young Latino Readers, an Image Is Missing

Filed under: Multiculturalism — millerlf @ 9:46 am

By MOTOKO RICH, December 4, 2012 NYTimes

PHILADELPHIA — Like many of his third-grade classmates, Mario Cortez-Pacheco likes reading the “Magic Tree House” series, about a brother and a sister who take adventurous trips back in time. He also loves the popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” graphic novels.

But Mario, 8, has noticed something about these and many of the other books he encounters in his classroom at Bayard Taylor Elementary here: most of the main characters are white. “I see a lot of people that don’t have a lot of color,” he said.

Hispanic students now make up nearly a quarter of the nation’s public school enrollment, according to an analysis of census data by the Pew Hispanic Center, and are the fastest-growing segment of the school population. Yet nonwhite Latino children seldom see themselves in books written for young readers. (Dora the Explorer, who began as a cartoon character, is an outlier.)

Education experts and teachers who work with large Latino populations say that the lack of familiar images could be an obstacle as young readers work to build stamina and deepen their understanding of story elements like character motivation.

While there are exceptions, including books by Julia Alvarez, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Alma Flor Ada and Gary Soto, what is available is “not finding its way into classrooms,” said Patricia Enciso, an associate professor at Ohio State University. Books commonly read by elementary school children — those with human characters rather than talking animals or wizards — include the Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen, Judy Moody, Stink and Big Nate series, all of which feature a white protagonist. An occasional African-American, Asian or Hispanic character may pop up in a supporting role, but these books depict a predominantly white, suburban milieu.

“Kids do have a different kind of connection when they see a character that looks like them or they experience a plot or a theme that relates to something they’ve experienced in their lives,” said Jane Fleming, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in early childhood development in Chicago.

She and Sandy Ruvalcaba Carrillo, an elementary school teacher in Chicago who works with students who speak languages other than English at home, reviewed 250 book series aimed at second to fourth graders and found just two that featured a Latino main character.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, which compiles statistics about the race of authors and characters in children’s books published each year, found that in 2011, just over 3 percent of the 3,400 books reviewed were written by or about Latinos, a proportion that has not changed much in a decade.

As schools across the country implement the Common Core — national standards for what students should learn in English and math — many teachers are questioning whether nonwhite students are seeing themselves reflected in their reading.

For the early elementary grades, lists of suggested books contain some written by African-American authors about black characters, but few by Latino writers or featuring Hispanic characters. Now, in response to concerns registered by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others, the architects of the Common Core are developing a more diverse supplemental list. “We have really taken a careful look, and really think there is a problem,” said Susan Pimentel, one of the lead writers of the standards for English language and literacy. “We are determined to make this right.”

Black, Asian and American Indian children similarly must dig deep into bookshelves to find characters who look like them. Latino children who speak Spanish at home and arrive at school with little exposure to books in English face particular challenges. A new study being released next week by pediatricians and sociologists at the University of California shows that Latino children start school seven months behind their white peers, on average, in oral language and preliteracy skills.

“Their oral language use is going to be quite different from what they encounter in their books,” said Catherine E. Snow, a professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. “So what might seem like simple and accessible text for a standard English speaker might be puzzling for such kids.”

Hispanic children have historically underperformed non-Hispanic whites in American schools. According to 2011 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a set of exams administered by the Department of Education, 18 percent of Hispanic fourth graders were proficient in reading, compared with 44 percent of white fourth graders.

Research on a direct link between cultural relevance in books and reading achievement at young ages is so far scant. And few academics or classroom teachers would argue that Latino children should read books only about Hispanic characters or families. But their relative absence troubles some education advocates.

“If all they read is Judy Blume or characters in the “Magic Treehouse” series who are white and go on adventures,” said Mariana Souto-Manning, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, “they start thinking of their language or practices or familiar places and values as not belonging in school.”

At Bayard Taylor Elementary in Philadelphia, a school where three-quarters of the students are Latino, Kimberly Blake, a third-grade bilingual teacher, said she struggles to find books about Latino children that are “about normal, everyday people.” The few that are available tend to focus on stereotypes of migrant workers or on special holidays. “Our students look the way they look every single day of the year,” Ms. Blake said, “not just on Cinco de Mayo or Puerto Rican Day.”

On a recent morning, Ms. Blake read from “Amelia’s Road” by Linda Jacobs Altman, about a daughter of migrant workers. Of all the children sitting cross-legged on the rug, only Mario said that his mother had worked on farms.

Publishers say they want to find more works by Hispanic authors, and in some cases they insert Latino characters in new titles. When Simon & Schuster commissioned writers to develop a new series, “The Cupcake Diaries,” it cast one character, Mia, as a Latino girl. “We were conscious of making one of the characters Hispanic,” said Valerie Garfield, a vice president in the children’s division, “and doing it in a way that girls could identify with, but not in a way that calls it out.”

In some respects, textbook publishers like Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are ahead of trade publishers. Houghton Mifflin, which publishes reading textbooks, allocates exactly 18.6 percent of its content to works featuring Latino characters. The company says that percentage reflects student demographics.

Students should be able “to see themselves in a high-quality text,” said Jeff Byrd, senior product manager for reading at Houghton Mifflin.

But Latino education advocates and authors say they do not want schools to resort to tokenism. “My skin crawls a little when this literature is introduced because people are being righteous,” said Ms. Alvarez, the author of the “Tia Lola” series, as well as “Return to Sender.” “It should be as natural reading about these characters as white characters,” she said.

At Bayard Taylor, another third-grade teacher, Kate Cornell, said that she would love to explore more options featuring Hispanic characters. “It would be more helpful as a teacher,” she said, “to have these go-to books where I can say ‘I think you are going to like this book. This book reminds me of you.’ ”


May 23, 2012

Teaching Untold Stories During Asian Pacific Heritage Month

Filed under: Multiculturalism,People's History — millerlf @ 1:23 pm
Posted: 05/23/2012 Huffington Post
Moe Yonamine

“They’re Latinos … I think they’re some kind of farm workers.” “No, they’re Asians with name tags.” And then a student in a quiet voice walked by me slowly and muttered, “I think something really bad is happening to them.” 2012-05-23-Photo1_JapaneseInternmentPhoto.jpg Japanese Peruvians en route to U.S. Internment Camps. April 2, 1942. U.S. Army Signal Corps Photo. National Archive. My students at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon — one of the state’s most racially diverse schools — studied each black and white photo posted around the room, inspecting the background and the facial expressions — confused, anxious, frustrated. They began a journey to uncover the hidden story of the Japanese Latin American removal, internment, and deportation during World War II. Most U.S. history textbooks now acknowledge that beginning in 1942, the U.S. government rounded up more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent — even those who were U.S. citizens — and sent them to internment camps. What the textbooks fail to include is that the United States encouraged that Latin American governments do the same thing, and turn over their own internees to U.S. authorities — and that these internees went on to become refugees with no country to call home. Even before Pearl Harbor, in October 1941, the U.S. government initiated plans to construct an internment camp near the Panama Canal Zone for Japanese Latin Americans. The United States targeted people it deemed security threats and pressured Latin American governments to round them up and turn them over. Beginning in 1942, 13 Latin American governments arrested more than 2,300 people of Japanese descent in their countries — largely from Peru — including teachers, farmers, barbers, and businessmen. The U.S. government transported these individuals from Panama to internment camps in the United States, confiscating passports and visas. Most remained in the camps until the end of the war, when the government deemed them “illegal aliens.” Meanwhile, the Peruvian government refused to readmit any of its citizens of Japanese origin, thus hundreds were deported to Japan. 2012-05-23-Photo2_Art_Shibayama.jpg Art Shibayama holds a portrait of his family who was interned by the U.S Government. (c) Tyler Sipe, PRI’s The World Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a good opportunity for teachers — and all the rest of us — to explore important untold stories like this one. I learned this history by coincidence 14 years ago. I was on a bus from Portland to Tule Lake, California, site of one of the largest Japanese American incarceration camps. My former middle school teacher, who had first taught me the history of Japanese American internment, had asked me to join her on this pilgrimage, which included hundreds of survivors. “I am from Japan,” the elder sitting next to me said in Japanese. “But I am originally from Peru.” An elder sitting in front of us turned around and said in English, “He looks very familiar.” As I translated their conversation, it came out that they were both young boys interned at Tule Lake. “I know him!” said the Japanese American elder. “He was my friend!” Grabbing the Peruvian man’s hand and shaking it firmly, he explained that they played baseball together often but that one day his friend disappeared. His friend spoke Spanish, so he could never ask him what he was doing in the camp. The Peruvian Japanese elder’s face beamed with joy as the two continued to shake hands, not letting go. “I am so glad you are safe,” he said. As I absorbed this moment between the two long-ago friends, I was struck with joy and at the same time, anger. How could this be that through all of my education there was never even a mention of this? I remembered elderly people I knew and loved in my home island of Okinawa. These elders were Okinawan by ethnicity but spoke Spanish. I remember that some of them told about their childhood days in Peru. Could they too have survived such a past? From subsequent research, I discovered that large numbers of Okinawans migrated to South America beginning in the late 1800s as the once-sovereign Ryukyu island chain was brought under Japanese control. By World War II, the majority of immigrants to Peru were Okinawan. There was also a large group in Brazil. As a result, many families in Okinawa today have relatives from South America including my own, but stories of their migration and their lives thereafter remain largely untold. My own questions turned into my inquiry as a history teacher. How can I teach my students to imagine the experiences of people from another time and make connections to today? Back in the classroom, as part of our study of the internment of Japanese during World War II, I showed the class a map of the detention centers and incarceration camps. Immediately, students saw Portland on the map and a hush spread through the room. I walked over to one of the photos posted on the wall and said, “This is the Expo Center.” Shouts of disbelief rang through the room. The Expo Center is in North Portland near our own high school, now used for large community events and cultural festivals. I explained that many people from Portland were affected and the Expo Center was a detention center used to round up Japanese American families from our own area. I developed a role play — included at the Zinn Education Project website — to spark the students’ curiosity. The students’ job was to represent characters with different perspectives and to present to the Commission on whether or not Japanese Latin Americans should receive redress for their forced removal, internment, and deportation. In each class, students passionately debated, staying in character. The student judges delivered various decisions but all concluded that this history must be taught. In one class, Nikki said, “How are we supposed to make sure that this doesn’t happen again if we don’t talk about it?” She went on: “If we don’t teach the kids, they’re not going to learn from all of the mistakes that have been done … just like with the Native Americans here and the Aboriginal people in Australia.” Joseph, who played a member of the Congressional Judiciary Committee, approached me after class: “It was so hard to have to make the decision … This is really people’s lives. You can’t make it all better by any of this. It’s not enough.” How then do we “undo” injustice? I believe it is through empowering young people to imagine a different world. In my classroom, students filled the room with interruptions and passion to call out the injustice they see and to say how this connects to their own lives. What’s more, they stood up for how it should be, how such acts of racism, hatred, and violence should never occur. Steve stated it best, writing, “We can’t afford not to learn this history and histories like this. It has everything to do with us because injustice is all around us — whether it’s racism or war…. The only thing that separates doing the right thing and the wrong thing is learning from the past.” During this commemorative month to raise awareness of Asian/Pacific Island peoples, I draw hope from my students who are leading the way to unlearn the past and imagine a more just world for all people.

January 23, 2012

Rethinking Columbus Noted in New York Times Editorial on Tucson Banning of Ethnic Studies

Filed under: Multiculturalism,Racism — millerlf @ 8:21 am

Rejected in Tucson

Editorial Published: January 21, 2012
The Tucson Unified School District has dismantled its Mexican-American studies program, packed away its offending books, shuttled its students into other classes. It was blackmailed into doing so: keeping the program would have meant losing more than $14 million in state funding. It was a blunt-force victory for the Arizona school superintendent, John Huppenthal, who has spent years crusading against ethnic-studies programs he claims are “brainwashing” children into thinking that Latinos have been victims of white oppression.

As a state legislator, he co-wrote a law cracking down on ethnic studies, and as superintendent he decided that Tucson’s district was violating it. School officials in Tucson and elsewhere strenuously disagree, saying he misunderstood and mischaracterized a program that brought much-needed attention to a neglected part of America’s history and culture. They say it engaged students, pushed them to excel, and led to better grades and attendance.

But their interpretation collided with that of Mr. Huppenthal, whose law prohibits programs that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “promote resentment toward a race or class of people” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Unless two students win a federal lawsuit arguing that the loss of the program violates their First Amendment rights, Tucson school officials and students are going to have to enrich their curriculum another way.

To say that Arizona’s Anglo and Hispanic populations have had multiple points of collision and misunderstanding is putting it mildly. Arizona (the state that also showed some of the most bitter resistance to a federal Martin Luther King holiday) enacted the first in a recent spate of extremist immigration laws and spawned the Minuteman border-vigilante movement.

If Mr. Huppenthal wanted to diminish resentment and treat Hispanic students as individuals, he picked a lousy way to do it. His action has Hispanic critics saying they feel their culture is under attack — and has students in a well-established, well-liked program feeling dejected.

For Tucson school officials, this should not mean the end of teaching texts like “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “Rethinking Columbus.” It is a challenge to draft a new curriculum whose honesty and excellence all of Tucson’s teachers and students can be proud of.

June 7, 2010

Comparing Oregon to the New Texas Social Studies Standards

Filed under: Multiculturalism — millerlf @ 8:28 am

Rewriting social studies: Bash Texas’ curriculum, but is Oregon’s much better?

BILL BIGELOW June 05, 2010

You’ve probably read the horror stories coming out of Texas about its new social studies standards. The Texas Board of Education has rehabilitated Sen. Joe McCarthy, erased the 1848 Seneca Falls women’s rights declaration, and required that the inaugural address of Confederate President Jefferson Davis be taught alongside Lincoln’s.

No doubt, the victory of right-wingers on the Texas Board of Education is troubling. With 4.7 million students, the Texas market is huge and the Lone Star State’s standards exert a powerful influence on the nation’s textbook industry.

But all this Texas-bashing implies that standards everywhere else are good and fair and true. In fact, other states have their own conservative biases and deserve the same critical scrutiny that Texas’ new standards are receiving. Oregon’s social studies standards — adopted by the Oregon State Board of Education in 2001 and currently being revised by the state’s Department of Education — are no exception.


On Teaching Black and Latino Male Students

Filed under: Multiculturalism — millerlf @ 8:21 am


Interview with Ron Walker, executive director of The Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color. Recently, the COSEBOC released a document entitled “Standards and Promising Practices for Schools Educating Boys of Color,” as a blueprint for how to better serve students with an African-American or Latino background.

To read the full report go to:

Standards and Promising Practices for Schools Educating Boys of Color

Why did you and your organization decide to write this report?

If you notice how it’s titled, it says “Standards for Schools Educating Boys of Color.” Because of the great disparity, relative to the achievement gap, the intention of our organization is to develop means, strategies, and tools that will help contribute to eliminating the gap.

This document is meant to complement, not to replace the existing. It’s meant to really fill the spaces in areas that may not be touched upon in the general approaches to teaching kids every day. It speaks to certain dimensions such as culturally relevant pedagogy, culturally relevant practice—things that bring children of color in greater touch with their culture. That requirement is so they really have the opportunity to understand their identity, their roots, and so forth. It also presents a great opportunity for the instructor and the school to have a full appreciation for the many cultures that represent the school.

How can teachers shape their curricula to better fit the needs of students of color?

You’ve got to know who’s in front of you. It’s a conscious act to get to know kids. Every kid has a story—I bet when you went to school, you had a story. And I’d bet that the teachers you either gravitated towards or got the best out of you knew something about you, which speaks to the power of relationships. One of my mentors, Ted Sizer, used to say, “You can’t teach somebody you don’t know.” How true, how true.

Being a former teacher and former principal, I’m fully aware that today is even more challenging than ever before. But, I think that step of getting to know these kids, building a relationship is critical. And let me also suggest,—because teachers have stories, too—that they have to get to know themselves, as well.

Also as a former teacher, I know there were some things that I didn’t want to do or I didn’t really do well. But I had to know that about myself and I had to acknowledge that.

The willingness of teachers to be reflective professionals helps because you start to see your weaknesses or what bothers you. You’re more likely to either find ways to adjust or adapt, or to share that responsibility with someone else on your team who can do it a little bit better.

How important is professional development for teachers? Is good professional development key to undergoing some of the reforms suggested in the report?

Absolutely. Good, solid PD is the lifeblood of creative and successful schools because they are on the razor’s edge. It keeps teachers sharp. Good, well-developed, thoughtful PD that takes into account where people are across the continuum of their learning styles and experiences validates and affirms. It keeps people fresh. It gives people a chance to create and contribute to their own development.

I would contend professional development needs the people who live in that school to be the stakeholders. They need to play an active role in developing it which is why having learning communities that are really functioning entities makes sense.

You recommend that teachers expose their students to a wide variety of viewpoints, traditions, and cultures. For teachers who are bogged down with curriculum mandates and testing goals, how can this be implemented?

Anyone who’s taught long enough knows that it ain’t easy. There’s not a quick fix, and yes, there is a challenge of making kids ready for a test. But I’m of the mindset that this is why you need talented teachers working together in learning communities to create units and lessons that are sensitive to the cultural, racial, ethnic, and socio-economic makeup of schools. Number one, it invests that young person in that work because you’re saying, basically, “I see you. I see you being a mathematician. And I know a little bit about the mathematics that it took not only to build the pyramids in Egypt, but in Guatemala.” If the teacher makes these references—I know my juices are gonna be stimulated if I’m a kid. So, it’s not easy, it’s not quick, but I think it’s important, particularly if we want to be globally competitive. Globally competitive, in my mind, means understanding what the globe looks like and knowing who the people are who reside across the globe.

You suggest teachers must be aware of their own cultural heritage and values. How can schools encourage prospective teachers in this regard?

Often times, when I do professional development, there’s a little activity I do from a book by Patrick Lencioni, which is called Five Dysfunctions of a Team. There are three questions that I often start a presentation with. The first question is, “Where were you born?” The second question is, “How many siblings do you have, and where were you in the birth order?” And the third question is, “What was the greatest question you faced growing up?” And I’ve done this with superintendents, principals, and teachers because it begins to tell a little bit about who you are and your perspective. Your [personal] geography can be helpful, as well.

But certainly, the third question about what challenges you faced growing up, is very, very revealing. It’s not a trick question. It just is what it is. I might ask a teacher, “Tell me a story about a challenge you overcame. Tell me a story about a circumstance where you came in contact with somebody who was outside of your comfort zone.”

The answer reveals a lot about how people think and how people see the world. At least at the beginning stages, I think you want to have them see that they’re a part of a world community with differences and similarities.

They’re certainly going to know what their stretches are and what their strengths are, and that will help them as they begin to interact and engage with kids who may not look like them. You’ve got to understand yourself before you start to lay the gospel on someone else.

What initial assumptions do teachers sometimes make about students of color? How do those assumptions shade the way they teach students of color?

When you don’t know anybody, when you don’t know their story or background, you might fall prey to focus on stereotypes and limitations. You might get caught up in the fact that a student comes from a place of poverty and presume that he or she doesn’t come from a culture where education is valued. And you might assume that because a kid who talks with Ebonics doesn’t understand how to use the King’s English. You might assume that since poverty is an issue, maybe this student doesn’t have a lot of books and maybe doesn’t read.

I think you have to look at Square A and say, “OK, what do I not know about this group of students that I should know in order to frame, form, and develop a curriculum and my teaching strategies?” You’ve got to read the data, and data being not only the numbers, but all around. You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to be willing to listen to these kids, in a way that maybe they haven’t been listened to before.

If a school is slow to adapt to some of the changes you recommend, what can individual teachers do to better facilitate learning for all of their students?

Someone once said, “You’ve got the choice between being exemplary and being cautious, but you can’t do both.” I do understand the pressure on individual teachers, particularly if they’re new. But I’ve hired new teachers that were courageous, that were willing to take a risk. So ultimately, the decision is left with the teacher. And the question the teacher has to ask is, “What do I want to contribute? If I believe this is my calling, what do I want to do to make a difference in the lives of kids?”

If I asked every teacher to start with “Why are you here?,” some teachers will tell me what they want to get [out of the experience]. Other teachers will tell me how they want to get it. But then you’ll have some teachers that will tell you, very clearly, “I am here because I want to be a difference maker. That’s why I’m here.” When it comes down to it, at the end of the day, when the shades go down, that’s the decision that each teacher has to make for him or herself: Why am I here? And if they answer, “I want to be a decision-maker,” then I think you’ve got something. That’s what school leaders and schools need. In the end, if the school doesn’t adopt these ideas, and groups of teachers don’t adopt these ideas, but you’ve got that one teacher in the corner who says, “I’m going for it,” which happens in some cases, I believe that the individual can make a difference in spite of the system.

One thing in closing: I do believe that the educator, the teacher, after the parent, is the second most important person in a young person’s life. I think teaching is critically undervalued for all that it does to shape, mold, and nurture. I give that first place to the parent, and then teacher is right there.

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