Archive for November, 2012

HONORING TEACHERS AS ADVOCATES FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE (PART I)

November 25, 2012 Comments Off on HONORING TEACHERS AS ADVOCATES FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE (PART I) General

HONORING TEACHERS AS ADVOCATES FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE! (PART I)

My blog is turning now to a discussion of the third stamp on my website – a picture of the Capitol dome in Washington DC on an envelope with the words LETTERS SHAPE OPINIONS. Teachers, as United States citizens and professionals, have the opportunity and obligation to stand up, speak out, and let their voices be heard.

People sometimes say to me, “Nothing I do will make a difference.” Here is my response – everyone with whom we come into contact is affected by our commitments and enthusiasms. If we are active advocates – then every single person who knows us knows at least one active advocate! That in itself makes a difference. The secret of perseverance is getting out of the habit of acting on behalf of others only when we think “it will make a difference.” Every action makes some kind of difference – and apathy makes a difference as well! We should not base our actions on the anticipated response – we should base them on our courage, commitment, and adherence to personal and professional ethics.

All educators sometimes need to have experiences that renew their sense of the critical importance of activism on the part of citizens and professionals in a democratic society. Fortunately, I recently had the absolutely wonderful opportunity to attend an authentic naturalization ceremony conducted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for people from around the world that was held during a session at the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies in Seattle. This was followed by a featured panel discussion with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and author Gerda Weissmann Klein (moderated by Eric Liu). I was moved to tears throughout this beautiful session. Gerda Weissmann Klein spoke so movingly of her experiences as a Holocaust survivor and her deep appreciation of her own naturalization and subsequent American citizenship. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor showed us that she continues to carry a copy of the U.S. Constitution with her at all times – she took it out of her purse and held it briefly against her heart. Both women reminded the huge audience of teachers that their work was absolutely critical in preparing our future citizens!

After the naturalization ceremony, we watched a brief video of President Obama welcoming the new citizens to the United States – he described this nation as a land of liberty, justice, and opportunity. Watching this video and then experiencing the profoundly moving panel discussion, I found it absolutely unbelievable that anyone would ever question that educators need to have a commitment to social justice. To be a citizen is to be constantly involved in the work of democracy – to be a citizen and an educator is to use that involvement to inspire those who must do the work of democracy when we are gone.

Justice O’Connor was asked – how can we best be involved as active citizens? She suggested that we start with our public schools and our active interest in our school boards and what they are doing. She further suggested that we get our young students involved in real projects that help them to see how citizenship works. My next two blogs will explore these and other ideas related to teacher advocacy for children. Advocacy is not something extra! Advocacy stems from active citizenship that gives us authenticity and integrity as teachers!

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

HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE BROWN DECISION (PART III)

November 18, 2012 Comments Off on HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE BROWN DECISION (PART III) General

HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF BROWN (PART III)

My blog has been reflecting on the postage stamps featured on my website. The second stamp (middle) honors school desegregation in the United States. My belief is that the Brown decision, followed by the Civil Rights Movement, supports for all time the critical role of educators in their pursuit of social justice for the children of the United States. I argue that the Civil Rights Movement is dynamic and ever-living U.S. “history” –past, present, and future.

During a recent presentation on teaching civil rights to young children at the conference of the National Council for the Social Studies in Seattle, I reminded those in attendance that the Civil Rights Movement fostered dramatic social changes without cell phone, Internet, Power Point, or email! The great spirit of the movement became powerful through all the people who sang and met and talked and marched in human solidarity. I believe that great spirit has remained, but only people have the power to keep it vibrant and alive though a passionate commitment to civil rights – a determination to see and say what is wrong and to pursue what is right with tireless dedication. Teachers can not only lead the way for other professionals – they can lead our children by example into the knowledge and belief that people do have the power to stand up, speak out, and change society for the good of all.

Standing up for the rights of others does bring a price, but the price is far outweighed by true and enduring honor. I had the opportunity to reflect on this during my recent trip to Atlanta to present at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Soon after arriving at my hotel in Atlanta, I walked down Auburn Avenue visit the graves of Dr. and Mrs. King in the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. I had not had the opportunity to visit the grave site since its renovation after the death of Mrs. King. As I entered the site, a young African American woman stood at the graves alone. She handed me her camera and asked that I take her photograph with the graves in the background; she posed proudly while making a victory sign with her hand. Then an African American family walked into the area; I watched as a grandfather took a picture of the father, mother, and two young boys in front of the graves. The family was serious and proud; after taking the photograph the mother closed her eyes and prayed for several minutes facing the graves. These simple experiences had a powerful impact in me – they served as a reminder that courage and commitment to the common good gives hope and strength to others well beyond any lifetime.

The Kings struggled and suffered for the great contributions that they made. The honor that comes from enduring commitments such as theirs transcends all discouragement – but those who shed a great light still leave a great deal to be done. We must often carry on the great work of others even when we see that the world has resisted the changes they sought to make. For example, my hotel in Atlanta did not even include the King National Historic Site on its list of “nearby attractions.” Hotel employees from whom I sought directions to the site expressed reservations about me walking there alone and warned about “panhandlers.”

As I walked down Auburn Avenue I saw not only its glorious history but also the run-down aspects of many buildings on the street. The overall condition of the street, which was in stark contrast to the richness reflected in the Georgia World Congress Center where my conference was held, stood for me as a reminder of economic and racial disparities in the United States. I wondered how Dr. and Mrs. King would feel about their burial site at this point in time, and decided that there could be no greater honor for them than to remain where they were, serving as a continual tribute to a place where spirit overcame greed and courage accomplished the impossible. Their graves stand proudly beside the struggle that continues, reminding us not to give up hope in the power of people to create meaningful social change. The King historic district is a constant call to all of us to respond to what is really true, really important, and really possible. And, it is a steady reminder of the racial and economic injustice that must still be challenged and overcome. Every time I visit this beautiful site, I am renewed with my tremendous respect for everyone, now and then, who continues to fight for equality and justice in the United States and around the world.

Teachers, we must continue to model engagement with the critical issues of civil rights for our students! This will give them the example and inspiration necessary to become the citizens of the future with the courage to seek justice for all. In my next blog, I will be moving to my third stamp as I reflect on the power and importance of advocacy and action.

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

HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE BROWN DECISION (PART II)

November 11, 2012 Comments Off on HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE BROWN DECISION (PART II) General

HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE BROWN DECISION (PART II)

This blog entry continues my focus on the middle stamp on desegregation and my discussion of the critical importance of the Brown decision in teacher education and teacher practice. I am pulling a thread from all my former blogs into this one. I believe that teachers must be committed to social justice as protected by the Constitution of the United States. Their commitment should be demonstrated daily in their classroom practice and professional actions.

The Brown decision of 1954 created a central role for all teachers and administrators in the protection of equity in public schools. There is considerable evidence, since 1954, that there has been a great deal of resistance to Brown and the provision of equal educational opportunity. I believe that this resistance continues to be powerful and evident in overt and covert ways.

All future teachers are being prepared to teach in a public school system that is politicized and unequal, in spite of a Supreme Court decision that is over fifty years old. It is not possible for those teaching in this controversial situation to be neutral. They can either play a part in reinforcing inequality, or they can stand against it. I believe that we educators are absolutely required by our code of ethics as well as the constitutional commitments of our nation to stand up and speak out for equal treatment and equal educational opportunity for all children of this nation.

What does this look like in classrooms? First, we look to the “teacher talk” as it reflects a commitment to equal opportunities for children. Teachers should refuse to engage in denigrating and biased discussion about any students. Their discussion of problems and challenges should reflect an ethical commitment to the best possible outcomes for every child. The words “I want to support the goals of the Brown decision and I am committed to equal opportunities for children” should be clearly present in all conversations related to their professional practice.

Then, we look to “teacher action” as it reflects a commitment to standing up for children. Observers in a classroom should be struck by the fairness, kindness, and compassion that they see. Teachers in any setting should have a deep interest in and respect for diversity that is reflected in every aspect of their classroom. They should take advantage of every opportunity to stand against any forms of discrimination that harms and marginalizes children in any way. Teachers should be able to demonstrate their cultural competence built on understanding of differences and similarities and their commitment to equal educational opportunity evident in their powerful engagement of all children in the best possible classroom circumstances. No visitor to any classroom should be able to clearly identify forms of unfairness, bias, or cruel treatment of any child.

This is just the most minimal of overviews! But I want to emphasize that we do know justice when we see it in classrooms. We also know discrimination when we hear it in talk and see it in action in classrooms. I do know that it is very hard to teach and that it is very easy to criticize teachers. We should honor teachers and strive in every way to respect their challenges and suspend quick judgment. But it can truly be said that powerful commitments to justice and equality that are fully in place in classrooms do make a tremendous difference. We must never forget the first and most important ethic of teaching: NO CHILD SHOULD BE HARMED IN THE PROCESS OF EDUCATION!

In my next blog, I am going to reflect on my recent trip to Atlanta, Georgia for the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). My visit to the graves of Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King gave me a great deal on which to reflect in terms of Brown and social justice for children in America.

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

HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE BROWN DECISION (PART I)

November 4, 2012 Comments Off on HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE BROWN DECISION (PART I) General

HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE BROWN DECISION (PART I)

My blog continues to base a discussion of the central role of social justice in teaching and teacher education on the three postage stamps I selected for my website. My last two entries discussed social justice in the context of the first stamp HONORING THE TEACHERS OF AMERICA. Today I am shifting the social justice discussion to the second (middle) stamp DESEGREGATING PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

I believe that the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of the Supreme Court in 1954 centered teachers and schools at the heart of the fight for equal educational opportunity for all time. One only has to view the FIGHTING BACK segment of the Emmy Award winning EYES ON THE PRIZE documentary film series to be shocked into realization of the tremendous past white resistance to implementation of the federal mandates of Brown. Little Rock High School, surrounded by federal troops and angry mobs, reminds us still of the hatred and deep-seated prejudice that belied America’s identity as a land of opportunity for all. That battle is changed today, but it is ongoing.

I argue that powerful overt and covert social and political forces continue to try to unravel the possibilities of what should have been one of America’s greatest moments in the 50s and 60s – a powerful national re-commitment to a just and equitable public education for every child in this nation. Teachers today should counter these forces by holding forth and speaking out for the continued promise of Brown.

Many great scholars of history and education continue to help us understand what Brown could have been or should have been in terms of implemented federal and state policy. Many of these scholars will tell you that no one at the time of Brown was able to adequately predict the tremendous resistance to equal treatment of children that would take place in public schools and communities around the USA. I am always angry when people say “Brown didn’t work.” My response is that the people of America “didn’t make it work” – they did not unite with the common purpose of meeting their civic responsibility to support integration and equal educational opportunity.

Many people outside of the field of education, including many with a strong influence on educational policy, seem to assume that the schools today are politically neutral. In many cases, this might be in part because some children, including their own, are enjoying the finest schools that America has to offer. It can be surprisingly easy for those far removed from public school inequality to scoff at a focus on social justice for teachers. They may really believe that, if we could only attract “the best and the brightest” to the field of teaching, there would be no need for educators to involve themselves in equity politics.

However, such views turn a dangerously blind eye to the fact that every student preparing to teach in America today must be prepared to teach in a discriminatory and inequitable public school system that has resisted the promises of Brown. Their choices will range from some of the most privileged, wealthy public school districts in America to the many school districts where children who already live in extreme poverty are experiencing overcrowded classes that lack even basic resources such as books and paper. Every teacher in America must know that such disparities are unjust! Many dedicated, highly qualified teachers right now are trying to cope with impoverished and challenging circumstances in schools that place a lie on the lips of anyone who says “the Civil Rights Movement is over” or “people who talk about Brown are just living in the past.”

People do sometimes ask me when I am “going to stop being stuck in the Civil Rights Movement.” My answer is that I will be only too proud and overjoyed to move forward when the ongoing fight for civil rights and equal educational opportunity for children has been won in America. For now, that fight is far from over. Brown demanded that public schools become political centers of advocacy and social justice – and we teachers must rise up to meet that demand. Whether we teach the wealthiest or poorest children of this nation, we all should still stand up and speak out for all our children. This will bring controversy and trouble for sure. But controversy and trouble wrought by a quest for what is right might just awaken the moral conscience of a nation that should have the best and the most equitable public school system in the world.

In my next blog entry HONORING THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE BROWN DECISION II, I will focus on what I believe “honoring Brown” should look like in the values, beliefs, and practices of classroom teachers.

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