SEE YOU AT THE AERA ANNUAL MEETING IN WASHINGTON!

Posted by: on April 5, 2016
Cherry Blossoms DC

 

Are you heading to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Washington D.C.? It would be great to see you at the session titled Early Childhood Education for a Diverse Democratic Society: Promising Paradigms and Research Gaps. It’s on Friday April 8 from 4:05 to 5:35 in the Marriott Marquis, Level Two, Marquis Salon 1. All of the presenters are authors in the 2016 Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education (Routledge). My presentation is called A Social Justice Approach to Diverse Families.

 
Think too about coming to the Division K (Teacher Education) Business Meeting, which starts at 6:15 PM on Saturday April 9. It is always an interesting meeting attended by a lot of AERA participants committed to the issues and challenges of teacher education. The Division K  party starts after the meeting at 8:00 PM and it promises to be a lot of fun with a very lively group of people.
Have a great meeting. I hope to see you there!

 

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

 

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HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY ONE AND ALL!

Posted by: on February 28, 2016

HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY!

Hello readers of my blog! I first published this on Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17, 2013.  I love Saint Patrick’s Day, and I honestly believe that I can not improve on this blog! Here it is again in 2016. It includes one of the most poignant stories any friend ever told me — the story of a grandmother who had searched the fields every morning during the famine in Ireland to find some grain for her hungry little children. As an older woman, long-since arrived as an immigrant in the United States, she still cried before meals wishing she had been able to have this food when her children were young. How many immigrant stories exist in the United States today? Let’s all go out of our way this month to listen to some of them!

                Whenever I visit Ellis Island, or look over at it from Manhattan with the Statue of Liberty to the left, I think of my ancestors who came to the United States. Like so many people, I wish that I knew much more about them. Before my last remaining uncle passed away some years ago, he gave me his grandmother’s photo album. None of the people in it were identified, and he had no idea of who they were. When I look at that disintegrating album today, I see the faces of very serious looking men and women. They do not smile for the camera, and their faces reflect very hard work.  Some of the young men look pretty tough –they certainly don’t look as though they are afraid of a fight!  All the photographs reflect the lives of people who came to America from somewhere else. The fact that they were immigrants meant that they left a great deal behind – often parents as well as a way of life. Their hope was no different than the hopes of people around the world today – hope for opportunity and hope for safety.

The last time I visited Ellis Island, I walked over to some phones on the wall next to aging photographs. You could pick up a phone, look at the picture, and listen to the voice of someone sharing his or her immigrant experience. My favorite picture was that of an elderly woman pulling a donkey and a plow in a field. She was not smiling, and her face was lined with hard work and care. The voice on the phone was that of a man, her son, who talked about the day he walked across that field to say good-bye to her.  He was leaving for America. His mother looked at him and turned away. He never saw or spoke with her again. Leaving, and being left behind, is never easy. We endure such sad final partings because we must – either to seek for ourselves or allow others to see the freedom that lives in all our hearts and minds.

I often show my classes a beautiful film called A PLACE AT THE TABLE from Teaching for Tolerance. In that film, many different young people talk about the immigrant experiences of their families. A young woman with Irish heritage shows a picture of two of her ancestors, who took a boat alone to America from Ireland as young girls. Their parents were suffering the great potato famine, and took a chance on the girls surviving in America on their own. Indeed, these girls managed to survive the journey and make their way in a new land. This could not have been easy. Their young faces in the photograph  always make the think of all the children in the world today who are on their own, resilient enough to keep trying in spite of war, relentless poverty, and other very difficult circumstances.

Thinking of my ancestors, and of all immigrants, I always remember a story someone once told me.  I had a good friend in my graduate program who was about 20 years my senior. We often traveled to and from school together. One day, she told me the story of her grandmother, who had survived the great potato famine in Ireland. Every morning during the famine she would have to get up and carry three small children with her out into the fields to search for grain that might have fallen on the ground. After finding some, she would make a little bowl of cereal for her hungry children. Years later, when the children had grown up and her grandmother had joined the rest of the family to live in the United States; there was a new routine before meals. Her grandmother would look at all the food on the table before her, cry, and say, “Oh, if I had only had this food when I had the babies!” When she calmed herself and was more at peace, they would all begin to eat.

These are the stories that show us the face of human suffering, and help us remember the sanctuary that so many sought and still seek when they come to our nation. I always think of Saint Patrick’s Day as a happy day and a good time. But I also think about the compassion and generosity that would make such a tremendous difference to those who come to our nation today — from other places and other struggles. To welcome them with open hearts is to give them the chance that our own ancestors sought not all that long ago.

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

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WISHING YOU A HAPPY AND SUCCESSFUL NEW YEAR 2016

Posted by: on January 1, 2016
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Happy New Year to one and all. This message is written to wish you the kind of happiness and success that is completely in your grasp, in spite of any sorrows or setbacks or challenges you will face in the year to come. I am referring to the way in which Viktor Frankl envisions success and happiness in his beautiful book Man’s Search for Meaning:

 
“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself…Happiness must happen, and the same holds with success: you must let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and to carry it out to the best of your knowledge” (1986, p. 12).

 
What will our commitment to a cause greater than ourselves be in this New Year? Responsible citizen participation in public actions and activities that serve the common good? Stronger fair and democratic practices in our workplace? Compassionate involvement in the lives of the weak or the poor? An insistent search for social justice in situations that seem to defy our every effort? Such commitments empower us even when we have reason to question our effectiveness. The happiness and success that ensues might not make sense to everyone in a competitive and highly consumerist society. Still it is always within our power to follow our conscience and do what is important rather than what looks important to others. There are so many great causes from which to choose!

 
Warmest good wishes for that kind of happy and successful 2016!

 

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

Photograph of the Sea of Galilee was taken by the author in June 2015

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FINDING PEACE IN MORAL OUTRAGE

Posted by: on December 9, 2015

 

Winter for Blog

As the holidays approach, the words PEACE ON EARTH begin to appear. It’s hard to align those beautiful words with national and world events. We have to recognize the sorrow of all those who mourn for loved ones killed in sudden attacks of terrorists or of deranged individuals with personal access to dangerous weapons of mass-murder. We have to honor the memory of so many who have died those violent deaths without warning. And in the United States we also have to ask ourselves why young people are being gunned down in the streets in police-based encounters– young people who so often have been underserved, ignored, or even brutalized by the social institutions designed to help and protect them. Such institutions can include the poorly-resourced schools that marginalized them or pushed them out. These are terrible situations. Yet, we don’t want to give up hope, we want to bring light to the world, we want to continue to work for peace – but realistically how can we do that?

 
The best answer for me is in words written by the late Dr. David Purpel in his wonderful book Moral Outrage in Education (2004). In his belief, the first step in continuing to work for peace is the realization of the limitations of what any individual can accomplish. We can and should be morally outraged about the all-too-present lack of justice in our world, and we can also seek to balance our outrage with personal responsibility for contributing to a peaceful society. The opposite of enacted moral outrage can be hopelessness and inertia – conditions that produce absolutely nothing. Why is it that so many people believe there is really nothing that anyone can do to solve our complex social dilemmas? I think that too many of us feel that we have to somehow magically solve huge problems right away. If we can’t do that, we feel like failures. The alternative I suggest is to continue to act strongly and publicly on our commitments to social justice while accepting the fact that failure is always possible. This requires humility. Once we have it, we can have the courage to try to change the world – we can believe that a just endeavor is always of value regardless of the immediately visible outcome. There is always something that can be done – and we can always be willing to seek that which is within the power of our actions and intentions. In that light, this quote from Dr. Purpel offers encouraging insight:

 
“…I want to address the importance of humility…it is important to draw a line between humility and despair, for it is one thing to be realistic and honest about our capacities and another thing to surrender to a consciousness of determinism and fatalism. The humility I speak to is not about modesty or self-deference but about the acknowledgement of the mystery and awesomeness of the human condition as well as our present, social, cultural, and personal crises. I have concluded that there is an inverse relationship between the significance of a problem and its openness to a solution – Problems surely can and should be ameliorated, suffering and pain reduced, justice and equity increased, peace furthered, violence lessened, meaning strengthened. To accomplish even such limited gains is exalting and exhilarating for as The Talmud** teaches, “It is not for us to finish the task—but neither are we free to take no part in it.”

 
So this holiday season I suggest that we continue to hope for PEACE ON EARTH, and to do so with a sense of moral outrage that sustains our continued determination throughout our lives to contribute to the peace that builds a just society for all people.

 

** Dr. Purpel here based his philosophical work in the Jewish tradition. I want to recognize all faith traditions as well as those who choose not to have one. My own belief is that the essence of this quote holds truth for all – the fact that we are unable to completely solve the dilemmas of social justice does not excuse us from a powerful life-long effort to do so.

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

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TEACHERS AND COMPASSION FOR FAMILIES

Posted by: on November 6, 2015

 

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Bernard Malamud once wrote, “We have children because we believe we can love.” I think this is true – the desire to love and to share love with children seems to be engraved in human hearts. This desire, however, does not always come with full knowledge of or preparation for what parenthood will entail. How many of us can truly envision the dimensions of work and patience and resilience that will be demanded of us? Even when we were witnesses as children to the financial or emotional struggles of our own parents, we often cannot truly understand the vulnerability faced by all families until we have children of our own. It is never easy to be a parent or a family — all parents and families deserve recognition, respect, and compassionate support.

When we are asked the question, “What can teachers really do?” one of the many answers is that teachers can model deep regard and respect for the family of every child. In my recent chapter titled A Social Justice Approach to Diverse Families published in the Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education (Couse & Recchia, 2016, p. 305) I define parents “…flexibly to indicate the adult or adults who have major responsibility for the child and who are the primary source of communication between home and school.”  This definition was created to avoid unwieldy terminology or unintended exclusion of any form of family. As Berman and Enjoli (2010, p. 305) indicate – if you consider yourself a family you are a family! In my chapter I also consider the term “diverse families” to be all-inclusive – every family is considered to “…be part of the world of diversity in which we all live.” Any conceptualization of a “normal” family (often a family with White, married, heterosexual, and economically privileged parents) inevitably creates the idea of “diverse others” that can support bias and differential levels of respect and compassion.

Isn’t it time for all of us as educators to stand up to the deficit-based assumptions that exist about so many families of children who attend our schools? This does not mean that we must blindly accept parental or family circumstances or behaviors that are upsetting or difficult for us. It does mean that we always need to remind ourselves that they “had children because they believed they could love.” There are many ways that we can show every parent or family member our acknowledgement of his or her capacity to love through compassionate support that enhances their confidence in their ability to be a loving and effective parent.

Every family is unique. If we take the approach of inquiry, we can always locate funds of knowledge and better understand the funds of identity of the families of children in our classrooms. An approach of inquiry requires us to relinquish blanket judgments (e.g. “Parents who don’t care about education”) and to make a genuine effort to communicate with and learn more about families. A friend of mine who is a principal once said, “Every child brings his or her very best parent to school.” Our students love and depend on their families, even when we might be tempted to judge them as inadequate. If we as educators are willing to reach out to all families for the sake of the children in our schools and classrooms, we may well encounter a wealth of knowledge that improves our daily practice. For the sake of children – for the sake of families – for our sake as educators who want to move the world forward – let’s do it.

Reference

Couse, L. J. & Recchia, S. L. (2016). Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education. New York, Routledge.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator and advocate for children

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BLOG AT REST UNTIL NOVEMBER!

Posted by: on October 26, 2015

Fall cornfield

Hello and thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading it. My blog has been “resting” since July because of a significant number of professional and publication responsibilities. I will resume my blog in early November, so please come back and visit soon. Thanks and have a great day!

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Visiting Yad Vashem in Israel

Posted by: on July 12, 2015

My photo Janusz KorczakMy photo Yad Vashem Childrens Memorial

 

“And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)… that shall not be cut off.”

(Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)

 

On my recent trip to Israel I had the opportunity to tour Yad Vashem – “…the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is today a dynamic and vital place of intergenerational and international encounter.” (Quote from museum website).

During my tour, I was especially moved by the children’s memorial. “This unique memorial, hollowed out from an underground cavern, is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust. Memorial candles, a customary Jewish tradition to remember the dead, are reflected infinitely in a dark and somber space, creating the impression of millions of stars shining in the firmament. The names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin can be heard in the background.” (Quote from museum website).

As I walked out of the children’s memorial onto the beautiful museum grounds, I passed a sculpture of the compassionate face of a man surrounded by many children. The children were suffering and very sad. Wondering who he was, I took a photo of the sculpture so I could ask our guide when we met up later in the tour. She told me he was Janusz Korczak, a doctor who had cared for 200 children in an orphanage in Poland at the time of the Holocaust. As the extermination of the children in his care by the Nazis came near, Kolchak’s influential friends urged him to save himself. His reply was always the same; “You wouldn’t abandon your own child … So how can I leave two hundred children now?” (p. 82). Ultimately he walked with his beloved children to awaiting freight cars and died with them in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

Although I had not heard his name before, I discovered later that both Bruno Bettelheim and Alice Miller had considered him one of the greatest educators of all times. “When the United Nations declared 1979 “The Year of the Child” it was also named “The Year of Janus Korczak” to mark the centenary of his birth.” (p. xi)

The unrelieved horror of the Holocaust, starkly present throughout Yad Vashem, is lightened only by the recognition of those who, like Janusz Korczak, held brilliant moral ground in the face of brutal and murderous hostility. “In a world of total moral collapse there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values. These were the Righteous Among the Nations. They stand in stark contrast to the mainstream of indifference and hostility that prevailed during the Holocaust. Contrary to the general trend, these rescuers regarded the Jews as fellow human beings who came within the bounds of their universe of obligation.” (Quote from Yad Vashem website).

If we come to believe during our lives that that we all have a universe of obligation, places such as Yad Vashem call us to reflect on the opportunities for righteousness that exist in our own daily lives. One opportunity that is certainly present in the lives of teachers as well as many other professionals and citizens is the recognition of suffering in children that stems from callous social disregard for poverty and discrimination. Our compassionate and caring response can create a universe of hope for children. Janusz Korczak says this best in his book Loving Every Child: Wisdom for Parents. He writes:

“If a child has a life where cruelty has become the norm, what a powerful effect would be the memory of that person – perhaps the only one – who showed kindness, understanding, and respect. The child’s future life and sense of his self could take a different course, knowing there was one person who would not fail him.” (p. 28).

As troubling as the world can seem in so many ways, it is encouraging and comforting to know that our simplest acts of “kindness, understanding, and respect” have tremendous power in the lives of children. If we do not fail them, then possibly we will not fail our responsibility to the future of our nation and our world.

Quotes about Yad Vashem are taken from the museum website http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/about/index.asp

Quotes from the book are taken from Korczak, J. (2007). Loving Every Child: Wisdom for Parents. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

The author took the photographs of the sculpture of Janusz Korczak and the entrance to the Children’s Memorial.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator and advocate for social justice for all children http://standingupforsomething.com/

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SHOES ON THE DANUBE IN BUDAPEST

Posted by: on June 2, 2015

 

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On my recent river cruise from Budapest to Prague, I was able to racewalk every morning on different scenic paths along the water. It was raining on the first morning we were docked close to Budapest, but I happily ventured out along the Danube on a path leading to the magnificent Parliament building. As I walked, I noticed something ahead that looked like shoes lining the wall edging the river. I stopped to look at what turned out to be about 60 pair of bronze sculptured shoes placed randomly on the wall along the water. I guessed from the style of the shoes that they were from the World War II period; then I noticed candles and flowers among the display. Because the shoes were very similar to the concentration camp photographs of piles of shoes that I had seen in the past, I felt certain that this was a Holocaust memorial of some kind.

 

As I stood there a woman walked up to the shoes and stared at them sadly; I asked her if she could tell me more about them. She explained that Jews of all ages had been lined up along the water and shot into the Danube. I later discovered that the brutal ruling Arrow Cross Party for Jewish activities had forced multi-aged groups of people to the edge of the Danube in 1944 and 1945; firing squads shot them in the back at close range so they fell into the river to be washed away. Sculptors Gyula Pauer and Can Togay later created this moving memorial of shoes belonging to children, women, and men – erected in 2005 in memory of the victims. *

 

What was incredibly moving about this memorial, apart of course from the terrible events on which it was based, was the way it personalized the vicious murders. Each shoe had a living quality – you could just envision the person who might have been wearing it. Even as I initially stared at the shoes in the rain, before I knew anything else about them, they made me think of the importance of each human being and the ways in which each loss of a single person could never be replaced. The sculptors had created a design with incredibly powerful impact – simple shoes that stood alone because the lives of their owners had been taken from them. They represented the gifts that every person brings to life, and the empty space they leave behind when they are gone.

 

The ultimate message in these lovely and lonely shoes for me is the importance of respect and activism for human rights. For most teachers and education professors and writers, such respect and activism plays out in relatively simple but profoundly important ways. Every day provides many chances to reach out, to affirm, to encourage, to comfort, and to stand up for others. Quiet courage and determination can help us to find windows of opportunity to defy what is cruel and inhumane with our words, our intentions, and our compassionate actions. Children learn the best lessons about human rights from the gentle and strong adults who enact them – adults who honor and respect other people even in the most trying and difficult circumstances. Such adults are not struggling to become wealthy or famous – rather they are struggling to create peace, respect, compassion, and human rights in the simple spaces that may well be the most important spaces of all.

*The information about this memorial was taken from the following website http://visitbudapest.travel/articles/one-of-budapests-most-moving-memorials-shoes-on-the-danube/

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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A WINDOW ON THE WORLD!

Posted by: on May 14, 2015

Ceski Krumlov window

 

To my great fortune, I recently enjoyed a river tour on the Danube from Budapest to Prague. One of our stops was in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. There we had the opportunity to visit the home of a young single mother who lived with her parents in what was formerly Communist housing. She had made us coffee and a delicious cake, and spoke with us about her life. It was so interesting and moving to hear not only about former political struggles but her present struggle – a struggle of women around the world – to balance caring for her little boy with working hard to prepare for employment with adequate income. Also moving was her description of the corporate changes that were resulting in unfair treatment of older employees. In fact, her 59-year-old father had just lost his job after working for a company for many years. This, she explained, had become a common occurrence. The companies stranded older employees who were facing years of probable unemployment before they were entitled to any retirement support. Of course, younger employees who received less pay were replacing them – and Slovakian companies were also beginning to outsource jobs to nations with cheaper labor. The young woman knew of several cases of mental illness and suicide that were linked to the loss of employment in older age.

 

Walking from her building to the bus, my heart was filled with a deep sense of the many ways that people everywhere are struggling with common social issues and problems. At the core, in many cases, are persistent problems of greed and lack of care and respect for all people as valuable human beings. These problems are clearly evident in callous treatment of older employees for corporate gain. Also at the core is the unfinished women’s revolution. Women, unlike men, are faced with the realities of pregnancy, childbirth, and years of significant and time-consuming responsibility for young children. They want to work, they seek work – but face many overt and covert barriers. The young woman we visited us told us that the three-years of maternity leave for which women were eligible in Slovakia also presented hardship – many companies were using questionable strategies to avoid hiring women who might become pregnant and take years of leave. Companies got around laws forbidding interview questions about future plans to have children by telling women that they had the choice of answering the questions. However, the women knew that refusal to answer was likely to result in a loss of consideration for the position.

 

Even the most complicated global problems begin with small steps toward solution. There is no end to the good that can be done by anyone who tries to make a contribution to social justice for those who are increasingly marginalized by economic and gender inequality and merciless corporate greed. Knowing, caring, and acting where we can will accomplish a great deal. The whole world is waiting!

 

(The photograph was taken by the author and is of a window in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic)

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

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WRITE A HANDWRITTEN CARD OR LETTER TODAY!

Posted by: on April 24, 2015

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I recently attended a memorial service for a very nice neighbor and member of our community. Many people spoke about the personal impact that he had on their lives. He had been a talented and highly regarded therapist but most people spoke of the one kind act for which he was something of a celebrity. He wrote people thoughtful handwritten notes. Apparently he was highly suspicious of the Internet and very committed to kind, warm human exchange through personal interaction or handwritten form. Listening to everyone speak about the impact of his handwritten letters, one might have thought that he had walked around the community handing out hundred-dollar bills. It was amazing that so many people at the service considered the receipt of a handwritten note or letter to be an unusual and absolutely wonderful event.

 

So much conversation about handwritten notes brought me back to my days of student teaching in a large public school in New York City. Of course this was before cell phones or email existed, yet so many of the teachers would express their appreciation for parents who sent nice handwritten notes on colorful stationery with their children in the morning. My student teaching supervisor, a retired New York City principal, told us that it was imperative for us as future teachers to keep several boxes of stationery in our desks. Whenever anyone helped us or did something kind for us – a custodian, office secretary, another teacher, a parent – we were to write a note as soon as possible to thank them for their kindness. I have followed this suggestion and, for years, I have passed it on to my undergraduate students preparing to be teachers. I hold up a box of inexpensive colorful stationery in class and say, “This can change your whole career!”

 

I think it is important for all of us to remember that email and texting are very convenient tools for rapid and efficient transmission of communication and information. They are not, however, a substitute for face-to-face talking or wonderful, warm handwritten letters. A great idea I think is to ask ourselves, “Is this a moment for a quick electronic communication or is this time for a nice phone call or handwritten letter or card?” As you might guess, I do write a lot of cards and letters. I love to write to people but I also think of it more and more as a form of active resistance against everything in our society that can reduce our sense of community and humanity. Letters mean something to people! Our hearts tend to lift when we shift through our daily automated junk mail and see a handwritten letter with a real stamp.

 

Thinking back to the memorial service, I am sure that  my former neighbor would have loved it. It was entirely human and genuine, and simply involved people speaking to and with one another. He had accomplished a great deal in his life. But somehow it was the time he took to write notes and letters to those all around him that touched so many hearts of friends and neighbors the most.

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