Archive for October, 2012

HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA (PART II)

October 27, 2012 Comments Off on HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA (PART II) General

HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA (PART II)

This blog entry continues the discussion of the first of three postage stamps featured on my website. The beautiful words HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA serve as an important reminder of our American tradition of respecting those who dedicate their lives to the education of children.

At the end of HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA (PART I) I ask what we teachers should do now about what often feels like the loss of honor and respect in the ways we are viewed by others. Too often, I believe, we respond to this difficult situation by venting our frustration with children and families or by complaining about unfair measures of student performance and teacher accountability. Our frustrations are real, the effects of social, economic, and political neglect of children are devastating, and flaws in standardized testing and proposed measures of teacher accountability can be documented. We have every right to speak out publicly about these problems! Yet, I argue that we must do so within a foundation of advocacy for children and commitment to social justice. To advocate for children with a sense of justice is to put our professional problems before the public in the context of strength of commitment and hope for a greater America. We can shake off those unfair accusations of being a self-serving profession that fights accountability while failing to teach all children successfully. Instead, we can truly emerge as a profession that is fighting not only for our students but for the fundamental ideals on which this nation was founded.

Social justice can be viewed as a basic sense of fairness.* What do all people need in our society in order to survive and to meet their basic needs? Once this threshold is established, we must recognize that people exist in our society whose basic needs are not met. The next step is to decide on the ways in which we should address such injustice. Whatever one’s ideological and political position may be, it is still possible to imagine a threshold under which a democratic society will not allow any citizen to fall.* * Critics of the idea of social justice often point to human failings, glossing over documented social wrongs to blame victims for the chaos those wrongs have created. Advocates for social justice are not looking for “hand-outs.” Rather they seek the right of every individual to get access to the skills and resources that lead to independent well-being in the context of a caring social community.

Children, our students, cannot be blamed for the society into which they were born. When they come to school bearing the burdens of their social inheritance, it becomes our responsibility to try to educate and protect them. The more we stand up and speak out on their behalf, claiming their right to basic social justice, the more powerful we will ultimately become. Power does not come without tension, criticism, and controversy. However, it is time to establish the teaching profession as one characterized by courage and outspoken commitment to children. Teachers will benefit, schools will benefit, and children will benefit! Ultimately our nation will benefit.
Let’s stand up for something every day and move the world ahead.

Stay tuned for my next blog focused on the middle stamp celebrating public school desegregation on my website. I’ll start sharing my thoughts on why the Brown decision of 1954 provides a powerful rationale for the presence of child advocacy and commitment to social justice in the daily practice of every teacher.

*My reference for this idea is author John Rawles. I frequently refer to his book JUSTICE AS FAIRNESS: A RESTATEMENT (2001) (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press) when I write and teach about social justice.

**My reference for this idea is author Kenneth Howe. I frequently refer to his book UNDERSTANDING EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY (1994) (Teachers College Press) when I write and teach about the Brown decision and public school equity.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children.

HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA (PART I)

October 20, 2012 Comments Off on HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA (PART I) General

HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA (Part I)

The first of three postage stamps featured on my website has the words HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA. This stamp celebrates the National Teacher Association 1857-1957. I chose it to serve as a reminder that we have an American tradition of respecting those who dedicate their lives to the education of children. I was a child in school when this stamp was created, and I can attest to the high regard in which children and their families held teachers. I was amazed when some of my friends told me their families had invited teachers for dinner during the school year. It seemed unimaginable that such an important person would go to someone’s home to dine with them! Some of the wonderful teachers I had as a child remain with me in a very real way. They had an immeasurable influence on my life. And I thank them for that!

We know that teachers work in a very different America today. Everything must change, of course, but why do so many teachers find that the honor and respect that might be theirs has eroded or disappeared? The answer is complex and could be traced to a wide span of social, political, and economic changes over time. I am writing today not to discuss the reasons why I think these changes have taken place (although it leads to fascinating analysis), but to share my ideas of what we teachers should do now to re-establish our honor and strength within our profession as well as the public.

Teachers work every day with the ramifications of the ways in which society cares for and about children and families. For many American teachers, this means daily work with children who are poor, who lack adequate medical and dental assistance, whose stressed parents do not or cannot provide optimal care for an endless variety of reasons, and whose communities may be characterized by chaos or violence. It does not stop there! Children whose families are more privileged and seemingly stable can also be affected by a host of social problems as well as what the American Academy of Pediatrics calls “affluenza” – a selfish and morally empty focus on purchasing and consuming goods as the central value of human life. Add to this picture the incredible pressure being placed on teachers to meet the standardized testing demands of No Child Left Behind or other federal initiatives, and you can understand why the profession may be losing its appeal for talented high school and college students who might have considered it. In fact, for the first time in my career, I am hearing highly respected teachers, administrators, and professors say that they will not allow their own children to select education as their major area of college studies.

What should we do? We can neither turn back the hands of time nor gain honor and respect by complaining about our students, our schools, or state and federal policies. We need to gather our strength and publicly articulate a professional stance centered in advocacy and social justice. Stay tuned for “part two” of this entry: WHY AND HOW ADVOCACY AND COMMITMENT TO SOCIAL JUSTICE CAN REASSERT THE HONOR OF THE TEACHING PROFESSION.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children.

With Liberty and Justice for All

October 14, 2012 Comments Off on With Liberty and Justice for All General

Liberty and Justice for All

Every day, young students across America recite the Pledge of Allegiance – ending with “…with liberty and justice for all.”  These words embody the American dream for our child population – the promise that they will experience freedom in a nation that has established a fundamental commitment to equality and fair play.  I find it astounding that anyone would argue that a teacher in an American public institution should not proudly and publicly embrace and uphold the democratic principles of liberty and justice reflected in the pledge. Teachers, I believe, have the civic responsibility to understand and uphold what liberty and justice look like in educational practice.

Yet, in the past few years the emphasis on social justice in teacher education has been strongly challenged. I believe this challenge has included significant misrepresentation of how and why social justice is included in the preparation of teachers. The fear apparently exists on the part of some that the idea of social justice might be “coercive” – forcing teacher education students to give up their first amendment rights or academic freedom to pretend that they have political beliefs with which they actually disagree. This fear can veer into what I consider specious discussion of social justice being “liberal” as opposed to “conservative”, or “Democrat” as opposed to “Republican.”

I think it is very important to clear up any confusion over the relationship of social justice to teacher education and practice. My fundamental argument is that the promise of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights – the essential national promise of social justice – stands apart from partisan politics and personal political beliefs and values. Social justice, as I see it, is the civic responsibility of every American citizen. How then could anyone argue that the fundamental concepts of the American democracy – liberty and justice for all – should not be embraced and upheld in teacher education as well as teaching practice in every school in our nation?

In my next three blogs, I’m going to continue to explore the social justice controversy by answering three questions related to the three postage stamps featured on my website. How and why should teachers be honored? Why is the Brown v. Board of Education decision fundamental to teacher education and practice? Why is standing up and speaking out so important for educators?

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore, a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children.