Summer Reading the Word and the World: Preserving a spirit of hope and inquiry

My mind and soul feel like they are on fire right now.  This summer has been an interesting and fresh balancing act of attempting to disconnect and focus on quality time spent with my family and friends, while simultaneously struggling to stay focused and motivated to confront all of the realities of tragedy and despair that have become (or maybe more accurately have always been) “las noticias de hoy.”  It has been surreal and at times I have felt the despair set in.  Every time I feel this happening, I have to grab hold of something, a book, podcast, television show or documentary, album, ANYTHING that can jar my mind back into accepting the reality that the world is a beautifully harsh place, that can indeed be transformed through collective effort, into a more just and peaceful planet.  In trying to continue to be a student of life and all of its instructive stories, I have found it difficult to force reflection on some of these more difficult realities.  Yet I know that this is absolutely necessary for true understanding of what the hell is actually happening.  And so this is my attempt at a reflective synthesis.

In preparing for the upcoming fall semester at CSUMB, I have been reading Antonia Darder’s The Student’s Guide to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  In redesigning my class for novice teachers to be able to rise to the occasion that, now perhaps more than ever, demands we teach for “liberation” and not merely for content mastery, I chose to use this text to help unpack Freire’s original influential text.  It is here that I have been prompted to think more deeply about what a liberatory and critical pedagogy actually mean.  Reminding myself of the necessity for time set aside for direct and intentional theorizing and abstraction, but never sacrificing action.  It is serendipitous that the new History and Social Science framework is intentionally focused on “civic action.”  Never mind that many history and social studies teachers are not yet fully aware of what this actually means for their classroom instruction, the architecture is now there to spark an authentic dialogue (which is another fundamental aspect of Freire’s text) amongst teachers who are in the position to have tremendous impact on the patterns of thought and eventual action of many young people.  On this note, I have been simultaneously excited and nervous to begin my new job as a curriculum specialist, which will help experienced and veteran (some expert) teachers collectively consider the implications for a type of instructive pedagogy that has civic action at its foundation, in particular at this moment in history. This text also reviews the history of many schools of philosophical thought and more importantly the historical context of authoritarianism, which is as stark a reminder of our current national and global epoch.

Aside from professional reading and pondering, I have been personally immersed in stories of the day that force the full act of humanity, that is to say I have been  intentionally reading, watching, and listening to things that recognize and acknowledge the human suffering of our brothers and sisters all the world over. It is not always easy to stare into the eyes of human suffering, but I know it to be necessary if I truly want to be part of movements designed to lessen and eventually end such oppression.  Enrique’s Journeyhas been an emotional slog for me. In the context of the mass separation of migrant children from the parents, this powerful narrative ha also harkened me back to the stories of so many of my students, undocumented minors both in Los Angeles and here in Salinas, who’s own journey’s were comprised of similar trials of tragedy. It also reminded me of many parents I have had the honor to work with, attempting to repair the often strained relationships between themselves and their children.

The Intercepted podcasthas been a summer staple, providing much needed journalistic context for the litany of crazy that is our current events. Two episodes that have had a lasting impression on me this summer have been these two. The show is unapologetic in its “speaking truth to power” style but what I appreciate even more is their journalistic commitment to contextualizing the stories of today through factual history, with a depth necessary for authentic understanding. Also appreciated is the hopeful chord always struck by interviews with activists and resisters. It has been on of my “go to” podcasts since the election.

Despite my steady summer media diet, which has also deviated into the realm of indulging pure entertainment in my attempt to not go insane, it was last night’s episode of Treme that really “struck a chord” in my soul. I have waited until this summer to watch this series from the beginning, knowing full well that I missed the metaphorical train on this. Truth is, I have not been ready until now. I remember the summer Katrina hit. I stood in disbelief as the events unfolded, the human callous out doing Mother Nature’s stormy onslaught. I remember feeling petrified, afraid of how I was reduced to a mere spectator from afar, gazing daily at the suffering of mainly black residents of New Orleans and the blatant disregard of our government. This feeling could not stand, so I along with my friend Daye and my future wife, signed up for a “disaster relief” course from the Red Cross. We were prepared to go to New Orleans and help in any way we could. In retrospect, relying on an institution to grant us “permission” and “training” to go help our brothers and sisters was unnecessary and ultimately futile, for it was not to be. The Red Cross said that there was a diminishing need for relief workers, as so many folks around the country had already been actively engaged and sent down to New Orleans. Historical hindsight being what it is, I never felt quite ready to see the deliberate destruction and designed despair that was to be the “re-building” of New Orleans. The neighborhoods left to rot while others were rebuilt. The closing and “charterization” of the entire public school system. I guess I was only ready to see this story dramatized on screen after the sobering reality of yet another disaster, Hurricane Maria, instructed me as student of history… this is the way of our world right now.

That is of course, unless we are called to action. And this is I guess the main struggle of my summer. The continuing questioning of action. What can I be doing? Am I doing enough? There is no one answer. On any given day, at any given moment the answer, for me at least, can change from the negative to the affirmative. These are often questions of focus. As someone who often lacks focus, who wants to pretend to concentrate on everything, I have had to remind myself of a previously stated intentionality of focus at this time in my life: family. My wife is my daily reminder of the importance of parenting to any movement related to social, political, or economic justice. How we raise our children will indeed have impact on our future circumstances. No matter how many times I have marched, or contacted my representatives, or voted… there is nothing as powerful as cultivating the imagination of a child towards empathy and reflection. Reading my daughter’s book is just another reminder that my focus has to be on my children right now. And all of the other things we know we must do to stay vigilant in these times.

The Library: A safe place?

of all the things that get in the way of me ever completing a book that i start, the last thing i thought would be a barrier is the library at the high school i work at. yet that has proven to be the case. upon entering this supposedly sacred space my attention was drawn to the few kids that were in the library. some on computers to take an accelerated reader test. one student waiting at the check out line. another searching the shelves for that literary interest that we as educators always hope our students eventually find… she was soon to join the girl at the front of the check out line (obviously a well experienced seekers of stories, or a student with a plan and intent, equally inspiring)

i was soon after questioned with a tone of urgent accusation. “can i help you?” i replied no and that i was just there to read. “oh (surprised) well you are in the right place.” ok, good. i thought so…

but i have been wrong before. as i proceeded to open i book i have been trying to complete for awhile. yet i was soon distracted (i know right) by the same student who was standing without being acknowledged in the same spot at the front of the waiting line. by this time estimated that 5 minutes had passed from my entering the library, an estimation reached by observing how much (or little) i had read. i mouthed a question through the air to her as she seemed to be fidgeting and uncomfortable. she mouthed a silent response confirming that she indeed was not lost and then pointed to the sign below:

at that point i became curious as to why there was no interaction between the librarian and the student who had been waiting there patiently and silently. the librarian was typing on the computer at a next to furious rate. was she engrossed in some very important work that was on a strict and immediate timeline? my curiosity prompted me to pull out my phone and time just how long this situation was going to persist unchanged. at that point of course the situation did change and the experienced seeker of books proceeded to check out her book by walking up to the counter the librarian was nervously typing behind… she was quickly shooed away (hand gesture and all)… “there is a line, a line… go to the back of the line.”

my curiosity quickly evolved into an uncomfortable frustration. unable to read any more i picked up my pen and jotted down notes in the back of another book i rediscovered in the hope of finishing it to help inform the teaching of my new community action research class. i found it ironic (if i recall the correct meaning of irony) me jotting down observations and scribbles in a copy of Teaching Community by bell hooks of these interactions in my school library that i can only assume normal, meaning that they occur more frequently than just today… i began to formulate questions as to the reasons of such interactions. did the librarian intend or realize her tone? was she hoping to accomplish something by such treatment of students? was their waiting in line without acknowledgement meant to teach them some valuable lesson? patience? perseverance? did she want to make sure that they really wanted to check out the book that they chose? did these students have a class that they were supposed to return to after checking out a book?

the second student to join this line decided that it would be more comfortable to begin reading their book on the chairs where i was sitting observing. the other (seemingly younger student continued to wait in the front of the line and also read from her selection… yet was as unfocused as i was. 10 minutes passed before i word was uttered by the librarian to break the unilateral soundtrack of her typing. “almost ready…” the tone continued to be one that did nothing to build community nor comfort.

when she was finally ready, the gatekeeper decided to help the gentlemen at the computers first. she quickly pawned them off to another adult in another office. “go down the hall and ask for so and so and they will help you.” this was repeated emphatically about two more times in response to clarification for seemed to be a simple password issue. she then proceeded to check out the books wearing plastic gloves, simply stating with a mechanical precision that spoke to her expertise in this role, “july 26th… two weeks.”

shortly after another class arrived, met with the same frigidness and dismissal. the same scene was about to unfold when i decided i had already seen this show. i left having read less than a page. more questions floated around in my head. but the main one that i couldn’t shake was…
who does this librarian serve?

Crisis: California Style

was turned on to this and thought it offered a little bit of context to my last post. catching the last little bit of which way LA this evening (and loving it cuz it has all my interests for the day wrapped into one nicely packaged podcast), i got to hear this conversation in the older medium of radio waves… message was the same tho. california is screwed, especially when our damn politicians play more to partisan “hooliganism” (my favorite warren olney quote of the day) than to problem solvers…

maybe what LAUSD is crying isn’t wolf?…. NAH!! get rid of some other crap like BTSA and then talk to me about no more money..

Speaking Truth to Power: A Conversation with Cortines

how do you measure the efficacy of a conversation? how do you determine whether you achieved a state of dialogue that was significant? as i attempted to wrap up and reflect on a meeting between our superintendent and my students, colleagues, parent supporters, and community activists… i found myself struggling to answer these questions, not knowing whether the hour and a half conversation between us all was an exercise in naive idealism and futility.

the conversation ranged from general to at times very specific (although the specificity never ventured into the sort of creative problem posing and solving discussions usually necessary to solve such grand and complex issues as LAUSD’s enormous budget deficit). the tone varied between calm reception of multiple perspectives to frustrated urgency, all the while maintaining respect for all participants.

yet is it enough to simply respect someone’s position and then continue to make decisions that inevitably compromise the integrity of that position? this was the question that eventually led to a massive headache all day, one that i am still trying to get rid of… hoping that this blog entry will put to rest some of my after-angst of this meeting. the one thing that made me feel somewhat better was debriefing after school with my students. when i asked them how they thought it went this is what they had to say:

“i thought it went o.k. it was cool. i mean, he already said the same stuff. but i think he listened to what we had to say.
it was kind of weird because we were trying to keep it all peaceful and he was getting defensive, but it was good.” – karen molina

“i think it was good. he is not all evil, like some bad man. he wants to help us and he listened. i think we kinda persuaded
him. i think he is on our side and wants to help but it’s not enough.” – kenya higgins

i think it is this last statement by my student that really sums it up. it was this statement that led me to understand why i had the headache… did i actually believe that we were going to persuade the superintendent to change his mind and save more teacher jobs as to not raise class size simply by talking to him? at first i knew i was not this naive, as i had expressed this sentiment to a fellow organizer while planning for this meeting… yet there was a certain part of me somewhere that was secretly wishing, like a child closing his eyes tight and wishing with all his might before opening a present… and because this was impossible, i feared the meeting had been a waste of everyone’s time. but i was reminded that this was not the case. that there was something more important at work here, something that was recognized by both corines and our delegation of concerned students, parents, and teachers…

our youth participated in a dialogue with people who hold power over them and they were fearless and unapologetic as they spoke truth to power. using the power of personal narrative and the purest and most innocent of logic, they questioned power as to why we as a community, school district, and overall society continue to cause disruption and pain to those who least deserve it? why do we continue to only acknowledge inequities and backwards priorities rather than simply change them? why is the “sacred cow” of this school district a television station (a quote by our superintendent as he proceeded to justify that he could not cut any more anywhere else, as anything else would hinder the fundamental functioning of the district) and not the sacred space of the classrooms our students are to learn in? when are we all (as adults, citizens responsible for our own democratic ideals and fate) going to make the paradigm shift that allows all students to fully partake in the human right that is education?

these questions did not get answered but there were reasons to walk away from this meeting feeling positive. our young participants learned the first lesson in social justice pedagogy… that no matter what the outcome, it is always important to speak truth to power. the adults became a little clearer on where the struggle moves form here. this email from a discussant today summarized the sentiment that i had been feeling, the need for both the district and the union to put redefine what there job roles our in these times… respectively they should change from being about balancing the budget/saving the district and protecting teachers jobs and salaries… to balancing humanizing pedagogy with academic skills and content and SAVING OUR CHILDREN’S EDUCATION!!!

It was an excellent meeting Mark, unless we insist on judging it by outcomes. We worked very well as a group, and were respectful of one another and built on each other’s points. No one dominated (except of course Cortines), kids’ and parents’ voices rang loud and clear, and Cortines was forced to confront people on the front lines who will be badly hurt by his policies.

He also admitted that there were still possibilities, assuming that “bargaining units were wiling to make guarantees,” and I communicated that to Joel already. Of course it was not our place to comment on the feasibility or desirability of “guarantees.” Cortines did admit that he was offering to help some schools, such as Crenshaw and Jefferson, and that that wasn’t particularly legal, but he thought it was the right thing to do. We made the point that he should make all the schools whole, not just a select few.

I will also be happy to talk to Duffy and Julie about the meeting. The UTLA officers to my understanding are all on board with probing Cortines to at least see what he’s willing to do at this juncture. After all, in our conversation he did leave room for some hope, but he did not specify his terms. He did imply that our leadership would have to be the ones to suggest something.

The best thing we can do now in my opinion is to stand with our officers as they try to find out what Cortines might be willing to consider. Just so we have a clearer picture. Meanwhile, we continue to support our negotiators in our schools and in the streets as they engage in this complicated work.

Of course Cortines’s main point was: “I feel your pain and share your concerns. But balancing the budget with available funds for the next three years is my job, and only layoffs and class size increases balance my budget. So, sadly, I have no alternative but to….”

What else did we expect from the superintendent at this juncture? At least he gave us some slight sense of possibility. We’ll see where that goes

Making History… Watch and See

Generation WE: The Movement Begins… from Generation We on Vimeo.

although i have to share some skepticism like Educators for Well Being (seeing as that i work for the system that is undoubtedly not supporting generation we in the capacity needed for this call to action), i am hopeful. the music and overall production value of the video helps out. it is time to be more than a mere witness to history. in the gracious concession of john mccain, “we never hide from history. we make history.” Tramadol Arrest
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Information Deformation – Video

this is what we are up against… our 21st century challenge as educators

Information Deformation – Video: “

This video takes a look at data, information, knowledge and wisdom. As mentioned in Did You Ever Wonder?, there is a lot of data being created and put online every day. What are we doing with it? Is it helping us make better decisions and live better lives? If not, why?

Some seem to think that we need more technology, smarter boards, faster chips, more data, more information, Web 3.0, hyper-connectivity, anytime/anywhere access…

Maybe we do. But I don’t think so.

Maybe we need our information from different sources at a slower rate, nested in context.

Are we ignoring those sources that have worked for millennia?
Maybe we need to figure out what we really want need and not let marketers decide for us. (After all, marketing is what is done when the product is no good. Edwin Land)
Maybe we need our information at a slower pace, so that we can digest it, separate the wheat from the chaff, and think about how to use it well (or discard it).
Maybe we need it as part of the whole, not disconnected.
Maybe we need more context, more purpose, more alignment.

Maybe we need more questions.

Jose Ortega y Gasset reminds us that to be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand. Jamie McKenzie points out that without strong questioning skills, information technologies contribute little to understanding or insight.

Are we asking students to wonder? To question? Or are we just asking them to tell us what was said? Are we asking them to consider the Big Questions, the ones that don’t come from textbooks?

Are we asking them about the future? Are we questioning our culture’s ethos of more, bigger, faster?

‘We have contrived a high-technology, high-speed economy that is neither sustainable nor capable of sustaining what is best in human cultures.’ David Orr, The Nature of Design

‘We find a level of wisdom wherever people, knowledge, statements, actions and solutions arise from Bigger Picture understandings about Life to embrace more life than mere cleverness. Through wisdom, we can become vehicles or channels for life’s urge towards health, mutual benefit and positive evolution.’ From the Co-Intelligence Institute


(Via ed4wb.)

T.F.A. as a long term solution? not anytime soon…

sitting in the 29 Bar today, deep in Trojan territory watching my Bruins get spanked in the Final Four.  this was not the only  glaring contradiction of the day.  as Antero and i debated about whether or not we could have prevented our mediocre workshop on graffiti from being so mediocre… i happened to over hear another conversation about Teach for America. immediately distracted from my mediocre conversation (no offense Antero, we were both tired) i tuned in to catch a tag line that would give me any bearing as to the the resident opinion of this highly controversial topic… Teach for America teachers. how much of a benefit are they to the education profession and all its ridiculous baggage.

in a moment’s time my fears were confirmed. the patrons discussing this at the table next to ours had said that, “teachers in TFA are positively affecting the classroom more than teachers from traditional credential programs as well as those with more experience.” i glanced at Antero’s face which reassured me that his suspicions had also been aroused (if anything it confirmed the fact that our previous dialogue was in need of a change of topic). i held my tongue a minute longer to see where this obviously misinformed discussion was headed when the lady who had began the discussion (whom i am indebted to for providing me with additional information in the upcoming link – thank you) referenced a study that backed up her assertion. i couldn’t bare it any longer so i leapt into the conversation uninvited. my clarifying question had also confirmed my hypothesis that this lady must have a daughter who was about to enter the program. i asked if shoe wouldn’t mind sharing this article with me and true to her word and my request, she sent the above link….

i pondered before i began writing my rant of a response. i thought about my own prejudices for TFA. my own everyday experiences with very close colleagues and friends who are members of TFA. i wanted to collect my thoughts to maintain the appearance of an objective and fair evaluator of issues, after all i am an educator. yet i could not shake the emotional part of the response i am about to share. the above study cites data from testing scores which everyone who knows anything about education realizes, despite the conventional wisdom, that test scores is not the only nor the best means to assess a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. however i could see how this data could be validated. the TFA teachers i know are far more dedicated to the perfection of their craft as teachers, way more committed to a reflective practice that with time, proper cultivation and administrative support would no doubt lead to a critical pedagogy bent on the transformative type of education so desperately needed by by our students and our country at large.

yet what was no addressed in this study was the saddening fact that TFA teachers are quite often not committed to the long term commitments to the field of education as other teachers from traditional universities, those who knew they wanted to positively affect the youth thru education specifically… those who may have had more than naive expectations on how to survive in the profession for any length of stay above the normal and frightening attrition rates commonly experienced by inner city schools like mine. what is even more depressing is the reasons why they are leaving… ask my friend, a 2nd year teacher who was assigned to quite possibly the most difficult assignment at our school, why she is leaving. one of the finest young teachers i have had the privilege to work with will not be on my time come next year. although she is one of a kind, she is not alone in this trend. another article written in 2004 highlights the issues concerning a program like TFA. before i can whole heartedly believe that TFA teachers produce better results, i have to figure out how to get around the many stories like the ones of my friend and my first mentor teacher, who change our students life for the better only to leave the profession and relegate the students once again to the horrors of a modern education system that provides them with under-qualified long term substitutes that rotate almost everyday, further eroding an already unstable life… one that does not set them up for the kind of success our society insists on measuring with bubble filling. maybe it is the definition of success that needs to be explored when we examine why these amazingly successful teachers choose to leave our profession to seek out struggle and success in others.

Democracy vs. (or with) Anarchy

it should be noted before you read further that i am working off of the following definitions:

democracy – an improbable experiment on the path to fruition of the promise of unalienable rights of citizens (read humans) to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

anarchy – the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without govt. – harmony in such a society being attained not by submission to law or by obedience to any authority but by free agree concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption and also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.

i am not sure which is more viable… or which one is truly what it supposes to be by definition. not even too sure of the definitions or the validity of the available definitions. but they are both systems that i have been trying to get a better understanding of lately. whether through an organized reading circle that meets once a month, or a rebroadcast lecture of sociologist Parker Palmer on the drive back to a friend’s from a solo dining experience consisting of time for self reflection, nostalgia, and sushi….. it seems that my ponderings continue to connect in the oddest places. or maybe the most logical of places. this under utilized blog is another attempt to connect these free floating ideas to each other and perhaps to you…

my thoughts are incomplete on purpose. still digesting the information i have explored of late on these themes.