Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dreaming in Minnesota

Yesterday I went to a rally for the Minnesota DREAM Act, a bill that would give undocumented high school students who attended high school for three years in Minnesota to pay resident tuition at state colleges and universities here and be eligible for scholarships. From what I can tell, the bill has a lot of support in the state legislature, but Gov. Pawlenty has threatened to veto it. His argument: undocumented kids shouldn't have rights that residents of other states don't have. It's an incredibly disingenuous argument - these kids live in Minnesota, and they didn't choose to come to the U.S., they came with their parents. Plus, denying immigrants access to college almost guarantees that the brighter undocumented kids will be denied higher paying jobs, a twisted logic that helps anti-immigrant politicans continue to justify claims that immigrants don't contribute to society.

Anyway, the 700 or so high school students that attended the rally and meetings with state legislators were awesome. A group of students ran the rally and training, and I went around with five 9-10 graders to talk to two legislators from rural Minnesota. One of the kids was an immigrant (legal) and the rest were white Americans. Even though they didn't know any immigrants that wouldn't be able to go to college, it was amazing to see how passionate they were about the cause. They actually convinced one the legislators to support the bill (he was new and hadn't heard much about it), and the Republican (undecided) also really listened and took the kids seriously. It made me really hopeful about the Dream Act - how can you tell a group of kids that you don't want to provide opportunities to all students, regardless of how they came to this country. I know it's a very small piece of reform that has a lot of bipartisan support (and it still hasn't passed at the federal level, although a number of states have), but there was so much energy among both immigrant and non-immigrant students that has the potential to spawn a real movement for change.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Get a job

The school of bloggers might have found a place to live in Minneapolis! It even has a garden:

Now I just have to find a job ...

Speaking of which, I took the LAST and the CST yesterday. Having heard very negative things about the New York certification exams, I was pleasantly surprised by how much they seemed to focus on critical thinking and general understanding rather than knowledge of obscure facts.

Still, I found myself guessing a lot on the CST on topics ranging from the Gulf Stream to Reagan's Contra policy. I lucked out with the essay topic, which had to do with Lincoln, the Civil War, and slavery (which I just taught).

Meanwhile, I'm working on an online teaching portfolio. In the interest of preserving my anonymity I won't link to it here, but if you already know who I am, I would LOVE any sort of feedback. Email me at theschoolofblog AT gmail DOT com and I'll send you the link. Thanks!

Friday, February 23, 2007

The knights who say NAEP

Has cramming facts into my brain (such as the definitions of tundra and taiga) for the past week made me a little loopy, or did Beth from the AFT just endorse Core Knowledge?

Meanwhile, I have not had the chance to look too closely at the NAEP data, but I can believe that high schoolers' reading levels are comparatively low. However, I don't think the correct response to "today's students aren't reading as well as students in our parents' day" is "let's go back to teaching the way our parents were taught."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

50 degrees + sunny + February break ...

= I am in such a good mood right now!

Even the fact that I've been spending my free time this week studying for my 8 a.m. content specialty test (aka, what the hell is a Visigoth?) on Saturday hasn't dampened my mood.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Blogroll updated

It's been a really long time coming, but I have finally updated the blogroll. Thanks for keeping us company up there on the sidebar!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Homophobia and defensive teaching

The other day, in the middle of class, one male student called another a "faggot." I gave him the evilest eye I have, and he seemed genuinely shocked and confused by my reaction.

On another day during advisory, my cooperating teacher split the class into two teams and had them do the trust-building game where you have to get every member of your team standing on a small platform at once. One team was an even mix of girls and guys, but the other team was almost all male. While the first team succeeded by grabbing onto each other and carrying each other on piggyback, the second team refused to do anything like that because it was "too gay." (They lost.) I asked my CT later why he didn't say anything at the time, and he said, rightly I now think, that it's an issue that requires a much bigger conversation.

So in light of all these incidents, I've found myself engaging recently in "defensive teaching" when it comes to this issue. In our current events class I intentionally excluded articles on gay sheep and John Amaechi. I just didn't want to, or know how to, respond to the homophobic comments which would certainly come up.

Yesterday, we had a big debate over whether to use this image when talking about the causes of the French Revolution:

One teacher felt that the kids would not be able to handle it; they'd be hooting and hollering so much that they'd miss the point of the image. Another felt that they'd certainly remember this image and therefore the concept.

I'm leaning toward not including it, just because I don't know how to handle their certain homophobia. But by not including it, I'm denying them something I believe has educational value, and also the opportunity to deal with this issue.

But is my CT right? Is it impossible to let students know that it is simply NOT OKAY to say some of the things they routinely say in class about homosexuality without having a major conversation? And in the meantime, should we just avoid it at all costs? What hope do I have of changing kids' minds when this is an acceptable Super Bowl ad?

Has anyone had any success with this?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On just an ordinary day like today

I have to give a shout out to this post (via this post) on a day like today, when, fortunately, we had ample heat and no leaking radiators, but unfortunately, the doorknob fell off the door, locking us in the classroom.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Overheard in Global Studies

  • One student [after taking a sip of other student's Starbucks bottled beverage]: That tastes nasty!
  • Other student: It's mocha. White people drink it.
And ...
  • Question: What did you find interesting about today's lesson [about the Bill of Rights]?
  • Student: I plead the first.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

More on the v-word

Utah is channeling the spirit of Milton Friedman, who was, I believe, the one who said "a [voucher] program for the poor is a poor program." It will be interesting to see what happens there.

Friday, February 09, 2007

From the Onion

Teacher's Leave Of Absence Shrouded In Legend
February 9, 2007 Issue 43•06

MOBILE, AL—Students at Adams Middle School have been feverishly speculating about the true circumstances surrounding seventh grade history teacher Mr. Benson's unannounced second-semester leave of absence—now approaching one month—raising the mysterious disappearance well into the status of legend among the student body at large.

Read on.

Meanwhile, this is what Chris is probably doing right now.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Common sense

Today I learned a very important lesson on SCAFFOLDING: It's not just a buzz word, it's actually a very important thing to do.

Moving on in our revolutions unit, today we had the kids look at quotes from Tom Paine's "Common Sense" and relate them to Enlightenment ideas such as natural rights, the idea that government should be limited, and the idea that all men are created equal. It sounds pretty philosophical but the kids actually got a good grounding in Enlightenment ideas last semester.

However, plain-spoken as old Tom thought he was being, the quotes went way over our Monday-groggied students' heads. Here were some of the quotes we used:
"Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil"

"Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance [later event]."

"The exalting [raising] one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature."
During A-block, the kids were totally lost. We wised up during B-block and did a little pre-reading activity before getting into the complicated language. When we do this lesson with C-block tomorrow, we're going to try a strategy I learned in my literacy class last semester: "Syntax Surgery" (you can find a good description somewhere in here). Basically, you put up a piece of difficult text on an overhead transparency and "think aloud," using a marker to model rearranging syntax and isolating the important nouns and verbs, while the kids copy what you do. Once they get the idea, they can try it on their own.

School of rock

Have you ever noticed that when you’re working with kids, you’re suddenly propelled back to the time when you were their age? My best friend from high school – the one who was probably most influential in my life at the time, the one I skipped school with, drove maniacally with, went prom dress shopping with; in short, was a teen with – just got in touch after many years to tell me she’s engaged.

The fact that she got in touch through the Facebook, which was not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye when I was in high school (which wasn’t that long ago, really), was a real mindf**k (as my high school self would have said).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I knew about the wooden teeth, but ...

I have to agree with He Who Can't that it's a good thing I teach Global.

The revolution begins

Is it racist to call somebody white? For our first lesson in our revolutions unit, we wanted to make sure kids understood what the word means – not just the definition, but all its historical connotations. We passed out a bunch of images and had them discuss whether or not each one was “revolutionary.” Some images we showed them:

When they got to this one, I heard a lot of confused/uncomfortable murmuring:

What I kept hearing was, “it’s a bunch of white people,” followed by “you can’t write that, that’s racist.” Is it racist simply to point out that they are white? One kid said “writing down that it’s a bunch of white people is just like saying a bunch of black n-----s.”

The students’ confusion came from their surprise at seeing white people protesting for free speech – a freedom they did not realize was ever denied to white people. (This photo actually comes from the student Free Speech Movement in the early ‘60s.) But their discomfort came from being asked to write what they noticed about the photo, and not wanting to state the obvious.

I feel like if I want to understand how my kids think about race, it's important to understand why they were so uncomfortable with that, but I don't.