blog action day

Following up yesterday’s post, I pretty much sat there, knowing that I had more than my fair share to say about this topic. I can’t tell you how many times people think I exist in a world of pure hyperbole and hallucination when I tell them about the “ol’ factory”. The stories of these children’s lives only gets more insane the more I find out. Recently, I’ve read a few posts from a few bloggers who are already at a crossroads when it comes to teaching students who aren’t from their own background. Nevermind the eccentricities of national crisis, war, economic downturn, gentrification, rising unemployment, dirty politricks, and all the ills of the world for a moment, because at the root of it all is how we as citizens have a responsibility to our present and future leaders to teach them more than survival but success.

I’m not excluding myself from culpability either, but sometimes I feel like we as humans have started to rely on individualistic goals more than the collective, and that byproduct comes to my class every school day, more concerned with the ephemeral than the permanent, the cool rather than the collective, and wars rather than peace. Some of you may already be thinking: Jose, the kids you teach are just at that age. But there’s a difference. I don’t see these kids as any different from me, and even with all the problems they have at home, I don’t even give off a hint that they’re foreign, no matter how different they are from me. Yet, the frequency of students with problems at home has become a little more frequent than I’m used to.

My philosophy has always been that we need to give every child a fair shot at getting an education, even when mainstream society inherently doesn’t want them to. Do we just sit there and let the 10 – 15% who do well in our class be the “standard-bearers” for the class because we inherently favor them or do we as educators strive for more? Can we use the fact that many of our most impoverished and troubled students desperately seek a way out to inspire them and make them see in themselves something they can?

Then again, who will provide professional development on how teachers should care?

Who’ll draw up that PowerPoint? Who’ll make a bar chart / pie chart to show the percentage of teachers who care in a building versus those who don’t? Who will tell the truth? And will we give a school based on that factor as well? How can we get a professional developer to inspire teachers without sounding too Freedom Writers or Save-The-Worldish? Can we inject a little more positivity amongst the students instead of just throwing them shade all the time? And I do mean, we, because even I have to catch myself from being punitive.

How can we look at students as more than just numbers?

I just get heated when I see people who’ve never been in a classroom as grown-ups trying to explain to me how different they are compared to kids these days. Even I fell into that trap, but then I got to thinking how my elders thought so low of people like me, and that must be how some of my own students feel about the adults around them. And teaching in urban schools is certainly a different experience, but sometimes I wonder if the techniques we use to promote good classroom management keep students in a poverty mentality. I’m also slightly heated at many a teacher because, for all the accolades and praises some of them get, they still manage to treat children like the dirt beneath them.

So here’s a question for all of you:

How do we get more teachers to actually inspire in their classrooms? For non-teachers, what in our society do we need to change in order to inspire more children? As a student, who inspired you the most? Do we as a society do a good enough job of having equal treatment for all students?

jose, who really wants to know the answers to the questions, because I could be wrong …

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In a revelatory moment in the film The Express, an older Will Davis Jr. and Ernie Davis attend a local NAACP meeting, discussing plans to rally in the South. Just then, Ernie Davis discusses his fears about his political involvement, citing how Will has no understanding of the complex relationship between him and his school, and how Ernie might lose his scholarship and possibly his good standing with the team. Then, in the heat of the moment, Will Davis says, “It’s about more than running a football.”

Profound, and yet, a necessary reminder to those of us “in good standing” with our own jobs. All indications around us show that we have less privacy these days, and that can make us extremely guarded to the point where we don’t want to reaffirm our innermost and passionate beliefs. We could lose our jobs, our livelihood, and any chance of making any real changes. How effective are you if you’re in jail or you don’t have any financial backing?

Then, we also have these conflicts with our ancestors who we aspire to, maybe even without an understanding of the era they came from. The spirit of so many justifiably angry men and women from the past call our names in chorus, hoping we’ll get off our rear ends and rebel-rouse for the myriad of problems afflicting us and the human race. People all across generations, cultures, sexes (and genders), and classes have involved themselves in the struggle for true world peace and harmony. They risked everything from their digits to their lives in the hopes that people like you and me could have privileges they never had.

So do we speak up or sit down?

Prime example: Barack Obama. In my heart of hearts, I believe he does have socialist inclinations, and that’s a good thing, especially since many of our best programs are geared towards the betterment of Americans as a whole (social security, veterans benefits, and public housing come to mind immediately), but I also see that, as a Presidential nominee, he needs to cater to the majority of Americans, and any inkling of “anti-American” rhetoric will be reflected in his chances for the presidency, already a daunting task for a Black man with a Middle Eastern middle name. While I don’t agree with all of his plans, I understand why he approaches his campaigning the way he does. (It’s also why Rev. Wright, for all his credits, was wrong for getting at Barack.)

But the times are different now, too. Would Muhammad Ali have become so radical if he was getting paid millions, getting endorsement deals left and right, and have a publicist for his moves? Would Jim Brown have been as popular if he exposed his views the way he did back in his day and would ESPN actually interview him for more than 45 seconds? Notice that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have taken great political stances lately, but when asked for comment about their respective causes, they end with a broad statement about how they’re basketball players and not politicians (in the hopes that they won’t cross that line).

And that’s just on the surface of a very divisive issue. What can we do? What will we do? Where do you stand on your personal activism?

jose, who continues to blog about his passions …

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kidscrying.jpgLast week, I spoke extensively about one student who had some serious behavioral problems in his classroom, and how that’s a microcosm of what he’s going through at home. Whenever I look at kids like him, I know how to approach them because I’ve been witness to that environment. Unfortunately, because of program restrictions, I no longer work with the child after-school, but best believe I’m still paying attention to his progress.

After all, many of our children come from environmentally abusive backgrounds, and environmental issues in the urban ghetto usually get glossed over. People are quick to blame their environment on the victim when almost all of the evidence shows that our condition stems from oppressive policies stemming back to when this country was first founded. It’s hard to point a finger when the policies don’t just stem from one particular face, but a whole institution. That’s the critical part of understanding how our children can be constantly subjected to the road less wanted.

For instance, people blame poor urban families for their own health issues, everything from diabetes, heart failure, asthma, obesity, and high blood pressure. Yet, the foods we get here are usually in poor condition. I thought the food here was alright, until I visited the Farmer’s Market on 14th St., where I was astonished to see real and fresh vegetables. Real lettuce, with actually red tomatoes, and truly green broccoli and ripe pickles. Natural apple juice, and freshly picked oranges. Usually the first stop that these items make is the more affluent places, where the customers presumably live a healthier lifestyle but conversely where the produce makers will make top dollar for their produce. Meanwhile, a poor urban mother could a) settle for the less than pleasurable and unkempt vegetable aisle or b) go to the canned foods and boxed food aisles. After all, processed foods are much cheaper than organic food, even when the organic food’s quality has been severely diminished.

School LunchThen there’s the issues our children’s parents go through. Imagine all the history of denigration they’ve gone through: Reaganomics, crack infestation, needle and blue cap infiltration, gun warfare, massive rape and abuse, police brutality, immigration, English acclamation and retention, prison industrial complex promotions, rent hikes, gentrification, asbestos paint, lead-tainted water, declining hospital service, and abject poverty … and that’s just in my neighborhood.

Many of them have a good from 8-6, then come home and work on their families until 11pm. We have Third World conditions right here in America, and Hurricane Katrina only highlighted that temporarily. Little do people know that the Lower 9th Ward wasn’t pretty before the Hurricane, so what does that say about America’s response to places like that, Watts in California, East St. Louis, Southside of Chicago, Chinatown in NYC, and a thousand other places where poor children of all colors are all subjected to a lack of money and hence care.

Yet, when the children get to school, malnourished and uncared for, they act out. They’re acting out, stealing from each other and screaming at their teachers. Of course, that’s when teachers and administrators who don’t understand where these loveless children come from want to treat them for every possible disorder and dysfunction on Earth. I admit that some of them that do come from this background really need more substantial help than any teacher in the current public school system can offer. Many of these children don’t really have a disorder, and it’s been proven that if you just talk to some of these kids like human beings, those disorders start going away. And even if they’re not getting mistreated for some disability, they’re getting mistreated in the classroom. Some people who don’t belong near a classroom but see the value in looking like they’re making a difference let their inherent classism and racism shine brightest and thus build mistrust for an education for kids who need it.

None of this is new. To the contrary, the miseducation of our youth has gone on for centuries. And people wonder why poor people won’t take out loans to get a new home since money’s meant nothing but trouble for them. Pregnancy and STI prevention information isn’t a deterrent to those who have no self-esteem or self-worth. Thug rap went from reporting what’s going on in the streets to just living life on the fast lane because there’s no future so they live for the present. Colleges are easier to get into but harder to successfully get out of with the increasingly expensive tuitions and steady drop of governmental financial aid (which works well for a booming college loan market). With slave wages for the increasing population of immigrants from the West, South, AND East and a depreciating job market, it’s no wonder why the rich continuously get richer while the rest of us unknowingly have remained on the same plateau of poverty.

2PacThe one argument that everyone uses against me when I discuss these multifaceted issues is “But Jose, you made it. You lived in the same environment these people did, and yet look at you now. You’re successful and have a promising future. Why can’t they make it?” And usually, this person either comes from a household where the parents are successful and have been for generations, or a family whose grandparents were successful, and that story didn’t pass onto the person who asked me.

Their point usually starts with how some families they’ve seen concentrate more on getting 200$ sneakers an rims for their cars instead of investing in the stock market. They’ll see people rockin’ gold chains and wearing inappropriate clothing wherever they go. What I also believe they see is exactly what they want to see and not what’s truly there.

I contend that the factors that led me to where I am today were nothing short of fortunate. I had a mother who, with her flaws, pushed me in the right direction, a set of schools that were top-notch in their own respect, whether private or public, a good amount of people who believed in my own ability, and a genetic intelligence and stubbornness that could have prevented me from making some of the decisions I made but they did. If anything in this paradigm fell out of place, I wouldn’t have been as successful.

These opportunities I’ve worked hard for and have been granted haven’t made me any more complicit with what’s around me. I still struggle with different health issues like many of my neighborhood brethren do, and it’s something that I have more information on now. People don’t often break that seal until they’ve tasted a certain echelon of society. I am a firm believer in self-determination and making something out of nothing, but that’s exactly it. I don’t believe in alchemy. As a math person, I think there are simple solutions to some of the problems that afflict us, and it’ll be worth it if we can find those solutions.

Not everyone’s has been as fortunate as I am, though, which is why I fight for them. The images we see of the bling and the pomp are usually a very small percentage of truly poor people, and that’s what we don’t really see. Many of the little gadgets we see the kids have are second hand illegal devices, and liquor stores on every corner surface because it’s the one legal potion people use to get away from their daunting troubles. Change doesn’t happen by just sitting there; we need to be that change.

jose, a proud supporter of blog action day

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