Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Important (and boring) Work of Accountability

Sorry, dear reader, for putting you through my thoughts on accountability. You've guessed it... that's what we're working on right now. But it's made me think... accountability is the one thing that school folk see as important, yes, but HELL NO, don't put me on the data team, puh-leeze. Yes, data is considered pretty boring, but it's also faceless and straightforward, impersonal and to the point. You can stick it on a graph. You can't stick a kid on a graph... you can't account for the fact that she didn't have breakfast the morning of the test because she got up late... you can't consider that he's had a head cold for the past couple of days, or that he's suffering from asthma... you can't chart the way he feels about this test you've put in front of him...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Accountability Reciprocity

"The child and the school are accountable to the state for test performance, but the state is not held accountable to the child or his school for providing adequate educational resources."
- Linda Darling-Hammond
So true... NCLB makes children, their families, teachers, school administrators, and school boards accountable for so much and yet what is the government doing to help? We discussed questions we have about NCLB today and mine came from a deep place of anger... there are schools in my district who are in program improvement, have been there for years, far beyond the number of years it takes to be "taken over". Well, NOW WHAT? Those kids are still not getting what they need. This is a DAILY occurrence. We cannot wait until there is a new president. We cannot wait for NCLB to be renewed. WE CANNOT WAIT. The time is now.

Monday, July 28, 2008

No child left behind?

There are so many aspects of NCLB that leave children behind... Questions I have:

  • Is the testing culturally relevant?- Honestly, have you looked at some of those passages. They aren't really accessible to kids who live in the inner city, much less new immigrants. 
  • What about other types of assessment?
  • Are we assessing kids on standards that will help them be successful in the 21st century?
  • So I found out today that the written legislation is over 1,000 pages long... so WHO REALLY READ IT BEFORE THEY VOTED ON IT? Bi-partisan, my ass.
I have been on a real roller coaster around NCLB- I've accepted it not-so-reluctantly as a survival technique. I mean, it ain't goin' away, so why fight it. And now, armed with the knowledge I've gained over the past few weeks, I wonder how to fight it... or get around it... or Machiavelli it?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Obama's in my affinity group... Part Deux

Or, as Mark, who is also in my affinity group puts it, simply:


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Happy 90th Birthday, Nelson Mandela (a day belated)

"I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunity... It is an ideal for which I hope to live for. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

These are the words Nelson Mandela spoke in his own defense at his trial for treason in 1964. As we all know, he was sentenced to life imprisonment...

I had never heard this speech before yesterday. I was listening to Talk of the Nation, a show titled "Nelson Mandela's Lessons of Leadership". True to form, my ears perked up at the word "leadership" (yes, I've been duly brainwashed by my program but, I swear, it's a good thing.) I heard different people who have known Mandela at different points in his life attest to his incredible leadership; I heard the perfect model of integrity (a la Stephen Carter.) I've come to acknowledge that true integrity, as defined by Carter, is not so easy:
"Integrity, as I will use the term, requires three steps: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong." (from Integrity, p. 7)
Many folks think they have integrity, but I believe it really is difficult to attain. Step 1 seems easy enough, but only in some situations. Consider the multitude of difficulties involved with step 2. True integrity requires action. And not covert action (see step 3.)

Mandela definitely has all three. Read the quote above. Right there, in 53 words, he embodied true integrity.

Happy 90th, Mr. Mandela. Thank you for teaching us so much with not just your words, but your actions as well. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why we laugh...

We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.
- Japanese proverb

Yesterday afternoon my workgroup mate and I had a really good laugh about nothing educational, deep, profound, or sophisticated. We laughed in a way that made our eyes well up with tears and our jaws and stomachs hurt. And it felt really good. Really, really, really good. Apparently we needed it. Or, we were just so tired and strung out on sugar that was all we could do. 

I would recommend you do that in times of stress, but it's not something you can fake. It just has to happen, no matter where you are or what you're doing. But you certainly can't fight it.

We're all fools whether we laugh or not, so we may as well laugh.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants and Reverse ELD Strategies

I am on a constant quest to connect educational technology to every piece that I am learning in this program. I often refer to those of us who are my age or older as "digital immigrants" because we have not grown up with a constant stream of digital media like those who are currently college-aged or younger (they are digital immigrants.) (These, by the way, are not my invention. They belong to Marc Prensky who wrote a really great article titled "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants". Interesting stuff... go read it...) 

Today we discussed the strategies needed to help English Learners access the core curriculum, and my mind starting going to all kinds of different places. Aren't English Learners and Digital Immigrants, in some ways, alike? ELs and DIs are both trying to learn a new language while trying to make sense of things in that new language. ELs often come here with a structure for learning in their brains already, as do DIs. But here's where my mind started to spin: if DIs are the teachers, and DNs are the students, then shouldn't strategies be applied by the students to help teachers along with all things tech? Whoa. 

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Berkeley Experience

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack 
And you may find yourself in another part of the world 
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile 
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful 
 And you may ask did I get here? 

And you may ask yourself 
How do I work this? 
And you may ask yourself 
Where is that large automobile?  
And you may tell yourself 
This is not my beautiful house! 
And you may tell yourself 
This is not my beautiful wife!
- "Once in a Lifetime", David Byrne/Brian Eno, 1980, Talking Heads

So, I started my day running the oh-so-Berkeleyesque gauntlet: folks striking (AFSCME), people slowing down to show their support, then the tree sitter craziness (check out this Open Letter to the Tree Sitters that I found) to which Thing 1, who is 7, said, "I want to be a tree sitter." Drop him off at camp, go right back through it (this time slowing down myself to honk and show my support for AFSCME.)

Class, lunch, more class, then...

And, then...

I went to the Chancellor's house. Uh-huh. The Chancellor's house. Check it out:
I sat on the back lawn and enjoyed a good beer and fine food, a lovely speech by the Chancellor and a great presentation from two of my cohort members. I chit-chatted with many cool edu-geeks, honored the man who is sending me through grad school (in partnership with my parents), and even exchanged a few words with the Dean of the Graduate School of Education.

Then I came home, put Thing 2 in time out for not helping to clean his room, then helped him clean his room, vacuumed, managed dirty clothes, refereed a wrestling match between hubby and Things 1 and 2, kissed the Things good night and tucked them in, and now here I sit.

In the end, sometimes I feel like it's "once in a lifetime", but it's really just "same as it ever was."

Why do people read? Part Deux

A good point that one of my classmates/colleagues made today was about why people read. He said that it was really all about communication, and that for every reader, there is a writer- someone trying to communicate something. Reading is all about attempting to make sense of the world, and the pursuit of truth. It is so much grander than phonics, decoding, comprehension, and Dick and Jane- but those things are part of it, too. 

This program has really re-energized my love of reading. I had really gotten to a point of just listening to books while I knit. Now I love reading, and I think it's because of the social aspect of it. It's like having a book club meeting every day about important and relevant topics. I think that we really need to push that part of reading to engage and encircle our disenfranchised readers who so often are kids and adults of color. 

So, I'm going to say it again... Yay! Oprah!

Why do people read? What type of reading is done in school?

Why do people read? People read for very different reasons, I think that is obvious, but I also feel that those reasons can be boiled down to two things: to get information or to be entertained. And yes, at first it seems that you could split that up between non-fiction reading and fiction reading, but, hey, honestly I know a ton of folks who read non-fiction for entertainment (me among them.) There is a social aspect to this as well that can overlap both of the other aspects. This socio-cultural aspect could be the one thing that could get a reluctant reader to get interested.

What type of reading is done in school? I think that in my district, not enough of the right reading for the right reasons is happening... instead of reading for information or to be entertained, folks are reading because they have to and that, in itself, is a block to the other two. Forget the socio-cultural aspect of it, that just isn't emphasized...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

You've got to be taught...

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
- from South Pacific

The day I realized what this song was about, South Pacific stopped being that entertaining war musical/love story and became what it should be considered- a strong commentary on race. Let me back up a little and let you know that I was raised on showtunes. My mom is a HUGE FAN and she LOVES South Pacific, I'm sure partly because it takes place in Hawaii, where my dad is from. She was a nurse, Nellie Forbush, the main character, is a nurse. And hey, the tunes are catchy. 

This song has become, in some ways, a rallying cry to remind me of where all that racism is coming from because, (watch out, here comes another showtune reference) as they sing in Avenue Q (I warned you), "everyone's a little bit racist." Uh, yeah, AT LEAST a little bit. You're not born that way, you're taught to be that way. And I honestly don't think most parents do it intentionally. In some cases, they don't even know they are racist themselves, since racism is so institutionalized in this country.

So here's my quandary. We are raising our kids carefully. We do not use ethnic slurs, we don't tell ethnic jokes, we don't stereotype (please note that we were "taught" biases just like everyone else, we are not perfect, by any means), we are really careful about the TV our kids watch and other media they are exposed to. BUT, let's consider the state of society today. Sure, we can be racial allies in the home, but then we send our kids out into the world and what do they see? Black and brown kids struggling in school because of a lack of cultural understanding. Black and brown adults criminalized/demonized in the media. Etc., etc., etc. This list could go on and on. Now I have to undo the bad lessons my kids are learning out there.

I've already had the "gay" discussion with my 7-year-old. He told me that the kids at school were calling him something bad, but he didn't know what it meant. I asked him what it was, and he said "gay". I told him that people often use that word to mean something bad, but it isn't bad at all. Then he asked me what it meant, and, honestly, I considered telling him what my mom told me when I was young, "It means happy." BUT, because my son is living in a different time, and actually knows folks in the LGBT community, I told him that it's when there are two moms and two dads in a family. He got it, and that was the best I could do for a 7-year-old. 

Basically, I am preparing myself to have more conversations like this as he grows. I just hope that he always asks us when he doesn't understand.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"... and miles to go before I sleep..."


I've got a whole lot of cranial mileage to make around this whole teaching and learning piece, not just tonight, but throughout my career. In some ways it's good to know where you stand on things, but in other ways it hurts to see that the road is long. Really freakin' long.

The other day, my eldest was saying that he is smarter than the youngest. I told him that wasn't necessarily so... he was older and had had more experiences and had more knowledge, but he wasn't necessarily smarter. Then I kicked it up a notch by telling him that I wasn't necessarily smarter than him... I just had more knowledge, BAM! had had more school, BAM! had read more books. BAM! And he STILL looked at me and FLAT OUT denied what I had said, examples and all. 

"No, Mama, you're smarter than me. Yeah, you are."

Sheesh, it starts early, this construct of smart/knowledge, prove/improve.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Now what?

We "finished" our module on race today. OK, so we've reached the end of that part of the reader, but, honestly, that module will never be finished for any of us. It's been challenging, the talk of white privilege and generally, how messed up our society is. One person brought up that some people come to this program and get to talk about race for a week, but for people of color, it is a conversation that is ongoing. 


So, once again, I'm going to ask you all to consider where you are on the "color line". I'm developing a survey that will place folks on a line and I am hoping that you will help me in this project. When I am done with the survey, I will post a link to it, and it is my hope that you will share it with others. 

Take a stand. Think about things that are painful or make you uncomfortable. Talk about things that make people squirm. Just do it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

My Crystal Ball

Probably one of the best things this program is doing for us, in my opinion (and, granted, we are only 2 weeks in, and there have been a lot of great things), is assigning us the task of writing and presenting our vision statements- how we believe education should be, our vision of the future.

In considering this, I've had to start with a bit of digital media which inspired me onto this path I'm now trodding: 

Every time I watch this, I cry. I think of the great disservice we do to our students by not preparing them as best we can for the future. I say as best we can because we don't know what the future holds. When I was in school, I wasn't taught to recycle. Or to use a computer. I was taught to never talk to strangers, but I was still allowed to walk home from school alone. My teachers and parents didn't know that we'd run out of space for our garbage and resources for creating more of that garbage, that practically every job would require some technological knowledge, that kids would be solicited online... So it is up to us to consider the past, take a hard look at the future, and fashion the best possible preparedness plan for the children.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

One for the record book...

Picture 6.png
Originally uploaded by trumom
Well, my own record book, actually.

I've managed to raise over $4000 for the fight against breast cancer, and all before the deadline. I'll walk my 60 miles in the beginning of September with my friends (Team BFF- Breast Friends Forever.)

Raising money for a worthy cause has taught me a few things about folks:
  • If you JUST ASK, the worst they can do is say "no". OK, there's much worse, I'm sure, but I haven't come across it. Not even many "no's" really. (Phew!)
  • The hardest part is asking. Once you do it a few times, it gets easier.
  • If it's a truly good cause, and it's already well-known and well-publicized, raising money is pretty easy. (Now, I wonder if I should take my fundraising know-how and pick a more difficult cause to raise for.)
  • It makes it easier on me if I can offer them something. Like a chance at winning something. Something nice... 
If you'd like to help the cause, visit my donation site at:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Obama's in my affinity group.

Our courageous conversations today around race have empowered me, but I want to do more. Right now, I need to work on myself a little more in defining my identity and how that plays out with, especially, the way I raise my children. I want it to be acknowledged that people like me are not either/or. I want biraciality/mixed-raciality to be acknowledged.

My program has (thankfully) created a mixed race affinity group- there are only 3 of us, but at least we are a group. We talked about so many issues around not fitting in with either race, choosing one over the other, our experiences around growing up "not either/or", being asked "What are you?"

We talked about Barack Obama and how he has made a difference in our lives by acknowledging his biraciality through honoring both his African-American and White sides. He is not either/or. We take great pride in the fact that he'd be in our affinity group.

So, how has White privilege, or lack thereof, affected you? If you are White and reading this, you may still not realize that you have special privileges. Think about that. It could be little things like when you go into the drugstore, you can find make-up in your shade of skin tone. Or maybe if you get pulled over, you are sure that it's not because of your race. Just think about it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Not either/or

I was asked this morning by the coordinator of my grad program, "So, how do you identify yourself?"

My answer: Chinese. What I should've said was "Today, I feel Chinese." (of course I couldn't really back that up with any reasoning, it's just a gut feeling)

As a biracial individual, I have often felt I had to choose one or the other. I am finding it increasingly more important to carve out my own path and be myself and to build up my biracial identity, because that is who I am and what I come from.

We worked on a poem today titled "I Am From". Here is my start:

I am from casseroles and dim sum

Corn fields and sugar cane

Golden hills with swaths of black

Temporary humidity, more-constant fog

Tradewinds sometimes

I am from the sweet smell of plumeria and sweet peas

Daily rain and weekly thunderstorms

Dairy Queen and Matsumoto’s

A couple of continents’ worth of cicada song

I felt it was so important to include, AND TAKE PRIDE IN, all the places/people/things I am from: Mom's casseroles to Dad's dim sum; the corn fields of Illinois, the sugar cane of Hawai'i, the dried and burnt landscape of Northern California; the cicada of Illinois, Hawai'i, Taiwan, and Japan. 

I am a complex story, as is everyone else...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"Just the facts, ma'am." vs. "... the rest of the story."

It is so very important to know where folks are coming from. We read each others' autobiographies today and it was an eye-opening experience. I found myself wanting this autobiography for everyone I know. Instead of getting snippets of folks' histories, I'd rather have it all packaged up in a nice, neat way (how antithetical to the way I usually work.) Granted, you can't put everything in an autobiography, but it's nice to know the basics, or the foundation, so to speak. 

As for today, I'm stressed by external things right now, not by this program really. Work politics came roaring back into my life this afternoon. I have to keep that one in perspective. Hubby and Thing 1 are leaving on our "family vacation" tomorrow morning, and that brings up a whole other set of issues...

But, the sun will set tonight, and, I'd bet, it'll rise tomorrow.