Archive for April, 2013


April 28, 2013 Comments Off on BOMBS AT THE BOSTON MARATHON (PART II) General



The bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon took a terrible toll. Last week I reflected on the great importance of spectators and loved ones at the marathon – they literally carry many a marathoner to the finish with their generous presence and shouts of encouragement. I suggested that, since we were all ultimately spectators at this year’s Boston Marathon, we should do what spectators do best. That is – we should bring encouragement and hope not only those who suffered great loss in Boston but anyone in our lives who needs encouragement and support for any reason at this time.

As a teacher, I have given further thought to how we can and should help young students (and ourselves) to reflect on Boston and, in reality, the steady stream of events involving sudden violence in our society.  Young people are constant spectators to fearful events in America and around the world; we need to help them turn fear into more than apathy and increased political disassociation. Events like the bombing of the Boston Marathon can be addressed in the context of the potential of political activism to bring hope and change.

An important goal of public education in America has always been the development of good future citizens. As a teacher educator who has been increasingly focusing on social studies, I believe that we must help students respond productively to human-created disasters by re-focusing them on the power of citizens to struggle for the good that can come in the future. We can only move forward; moving forward means activism and personal involvement in the creation of social change for the common good.

This semester, I shared the book FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP: THE TRIANGLE FIRE AND ITS LEGACY (Marrin, 2011) with the students in my methods of teaching social studies classes.  The “Triangle Fire” of 1911 killed 146 workers, most young women ages 14 to 23 and recent immigrants from Italy and Russia. These deaths by fire in New York City did not take place in isolation; in 1911 over 50,000 people died on the job. These numbers included boys and girls who worked in every major industry from textile manufacturing to coal mining. Marin’s excellent book moves from the story of this fire to the stories of those known and unknown heroines and heroes who rose up to struggle on many fronts of human rights, including child labor and dangerous working conditions.  Their courageous efforts led to many of the rights we hold today.  Young people need a vision!  We need to tell them that we and they must also rise up against disaster to find ways to continue to struggle for human rights. Disasters must not paralyze us; rather they must inspire us to become activists for those in the world today and those who will come after us.

What will we say when our students, during the above discussion, bring our attention to the 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed at least 372 people (and about 900 remain missing) less than two weeks after the bombs in Boston? The issues of neglect of worker safety that arose in the Triangle Fire of 1911 remain in the present. Some of our students might think that this means we should be hopeless and just try to live our own lives as well as we can. We need to help them put continuity and change over time into perspective.  It is true that social problems such as greed, war, and violation of human rights persist over time.  However, events like the Triangle Fire and its aftermath of political activism demonstrate that the struggle for social justice does create significant change for the better. So, we must focus not only on the persistence of problems but the potential for every new generation of citizens to become activists who continue the political struggles of those who came before them.  Every movement for human rights in any given time moves us ahead and strengthens the potential for continued activism and change in the future.

The main point I would like to make as we all struggle with what happened at the Boston Marathon is that human cruelty in many forms, with accompanying disaster, has been present throughout history. Only people can have the courage to continue to overcome terror and hopelessness with their persistent, visionary movement forward to promote and protect human rights. Teachers, our students must learn this from us!

PLEASE NOTE:  Information related to the Triangle Fire in this blog was provided by a book for young readers that I highly recommend for all readers: Marrin, A. (2011). Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. (This book was a National Book Award Finalist).

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



April 21, 2013 Comments Off on BOMBS AT THE BOSTON MARATHON (PART I) General


I was so busy at work last Monday April 15 that I completely forgot the Boston Marathon was taking place. It was only when one of my daughters called with alarm to tell me there were reports of bombs at the marathon finish line that I remembered it was Patriots Day.  Of course I immediately shifted my computer to the news, where I saw replay after replay of the bombs exploding in the finish line spectator section. By now, we know that we were watching not only fiery explosions but lives ending and persons being unimaginably injured. A little boy and two young women were gone forever; many others sustained personal loss or injuries so severe that their lives would be forever changed.

Once this kind of damage is done to people anywhere, I find it most helpful to think about how the tragedy might inspire us to create more good in the world.  So, as I think sadly about Boston, my mind turns to the wonderful role that spectators and loved ones play in any marathon anywhere.  By my count I have completed 17 marathons over the years and it has truly been the spectators on the course and the loved ones at the finish line that carried me along all 26.2 miles. You don’t know how important those spectators are until you experience their generous cheering first-hand. I still recall my first New York City Marathon in 1979. It was so hot that day that there were fire trucks on the route with hoses aimed at the runners. By 20 miles, I could not imagine taking another step. How would I ever make it back to my family waiting for me at the finish line?  It was the warm encouragement and cheering of spectators all along the way that pushed me through.  “You’ve got it!” “You look great!” “Good for you!” “You can do it!” Words cannot express what it means to hear those voices during a marathon.

It gets really exciting toward the end to hear spectators yell “Just one mile to go!” Of course, I’m so tired at that point that I can’t imagine actually going for another mile. What helps me then is knowing that someone I love is standing near that finish line, watching every runner to be sure he doesn’t miss me when I pass by. My wonderful husband helps me get to the race, and then tries to get to several different points on the course to cheer me on. When I racewalked the New York City Marathon in 2011 he first stood on an overpass to see me come off the Verrazano Bridge and then took a subway to 4th Avenue and 72nd street in Bay Ridge to cheer me on. While I continued over ground, he again took a subway to meet me at the Brooklyn Academy of Music around the 9 mile marker and then using his seemingly unlimited transfers and knowledge of the New York subway system, he greeted me once more at 16 miles as I came off the Queensboro Bridge in Manhattan. Finally, he waited excitedly near the finish at Central Park to give me three cheers as that glorious finish line finally came into sight. Loved ones at a finish line are a very powerful magnet for struggling marathoners who are heading home. And spectators help every mile along the way!

This year we were all ultimately spectators and loved ones at the Boston Marathon finish line. There is nothing to be gained by focusing now on that terrible scene of horror. It is time to set out to do what spectators and loved ones do – find a way to help someone struggle through difficulty to obtain a valued goal. Some of us can give real support and comfort to those who were there, who were hurt, who lost family members, or who were terrified and traumatized. The rest of us can urge others on toward a finish line of their own – friends or family members who are ill, who have lost their jobs, who are bereaved, or who are just in need of help and support for any reason.  This is a good time to remember just how important it is for us to hear voices of love and encouragement as we face the struggles of life.

As long as we respond to this tragedy by seeking good for others and helping the world get through its seemingly endless struggle with violence, all of us can turn our daily actions into a lasting memorial to those who died or suffered because of the bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Please note: My husband Marvin Fein, also a marathoner, kindly assisted me in writing this blog. Thanks for everything Marvin!

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


April 14, 2013 Comments Off on I PAINTED THIS PICTURE IN 1966! General


Bz Schneller 1966

A really wonderful thing happened recently. A fantastic former high school friend got in touch and let me know that she had found the above illustration – painted in 1966—in her attic.  During our high school friendship we had distinguished ourselves as possibly the most ardent local fans of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but then became newly interested in folk music. The painting above was my watercolor re-creation of a folk duo called the Holy Modal Rounders (we called them the “HMRs”) who hailed from the Lower East Side of New York City. I don’t recall how we first became aware of the Holy Modal Rounders but we found them mysteriously fascinating. In those days, well before the advent of the Internet, we would discover new groups by sifting through piles of “LPs” (long playing records) in the nearby music stores that catered to a folk audience. We had our own guitars too, and premiered in a fledgling coffee house that first allowed all comers on the stage but later moved to a much more sophisticated group of folk artists.

I think the painting is actually of the cover photograph of a Holy Modal Rounders LP – one I played over and over again as I drew or wrote poetry and songs (instead of doing my homework). What I remember most when I look at the painting after all these years is how seriously I took its creation back in 1966. Folk groups were not just folk groups to me – they represented new life, new freedom, and newly-felt creativity that might otherwise never have emerged. The 60s were an amazing and formative time for adolescents – truly a revolutionary period of time in the United States. We teens still had lots of problems, as did our families – but there was a spirit of freedom and possibility in the air!

My university students today tell me that my (ancient) generation is often characterized as one that still thinks that “things are possible.”  If this is true, and I hope it is true of me, it must be in part because my generation did see change in action. People worked together in a profoundly moving way – there was violence and chaos but also a sense of hope and possibility. I think it is the hope that good things can happen and that it is possible to create change which we need to try to develop in every one of our students. The music is different, the modes of communication are different, and, of course, people are different. But there is continuity over time. It is still the sense of possibility founded on belief in our  power to affect change that helps us all paint the portraits of hope that remain with us through all seasons.


April 7, 2013 Comments Off on SAY THAT THE RIVER TURNS (PART II) General


River Itchen watermeadows, Winchester, Hampshire, England

Several years ago I was invited to be an after-dinner speaker at the annual gathering of an organization; many of those in attendance were not educators. I spoke about the great need for educators to be advocates and shared my thoughts on the importance of the ways in which teachers talk about children in school and society.  I explained my belief that this talk can be the vehicle of hope and inspiration; it can also be the vehicle of disparagement and dismissal. As the dinner guests were leaving a man came up to speak with me. He said that he was not an educator, and that he was absolutely astounded at the topic of my talk. “Why,” he asked, “would you even think it necessary to say that teachers should speak about children with compassion and respect? I would think expect that to be second-nature to anyone who chooses the teaching profession!”

When people ask me questions like this, I answer carefully. Yes, without question, there are countless teachers for whom advocacy and compassion for children are second-nature.  My goal is never to disrespect teachers or disregard their very considerable challenges in today’s world. Yet, I believe that the profession of education has a great deal of work to do in addressing ethical issues inherent in the way that teachers talk about children. The primary ethic that “no child be harmed in the process of education” can be unknowingly violated when unexamined teacher conversation reflects disparagement of children – disparagement that is often based on their personal and cultural characteristics and the conditions in which they live. There is no question that some children come to school with more advantages than others.  We live in a society with social, economic, and cultural/racial stratifications and inequalities.  However, the school does not have to replicate the stratifications and inequalities of life! Rather it can challenge them by upholding an articulated level of respect and high expectations for all children. It is that respect and those high expectations that the talk of teachers should always reflect.

Teachers ask me good questions about my writing on the ways that teachers talk about children. Most frequently, they ask if I am suggesting that they not be truthful about the challenges and problems children bring to school. My answer is that we should be truthful! However, even as we acknowledge the truth, our talk as teachers should reflect our own sense of efficacy and our determination to teach successfully. It is the sense of dismissal – the message that there is really nothing we can do in school for certain children — that concerns me. For example, there is a big difference between saying, “The kids in this school come from poverty; they are way behind and will never catch up” and saying “Our children are living in poverty; this has an effect on their learning but we are determined to do everything we can to build their success.”

A few years ago, one of the students in my social policy class at Teachers College drew my attention to the poem SERMON ON THE WARPLAND by the great poet Gwendolyn Brooks. She felt that Brooks had captured the link between talk and possibility with these words:

“Say that the river turns and turn the river.”

Since then, I have displayed these words in my office with more of the poem:

“And several strengths from drowsiness campaigned
but spoke in Single Sermon on the warpland.

And went about the warpland saying No.
“My people, black and black, revile the River.
Say that the River turns, and turn the River”.

We can and should acknowledge the barriers to child success and well being in the context of advocacy and social justice. But even as we do so, we should “say that the river turns and turn the river” – say that there is hope for all these children, and bring hope to life in school!

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