For the Love of Learning

On Monday, Anita Fernandez reported on the first day of the federal trial on the 2012 banning of the Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson, Arizona. She noted, “The court room was packed and we have folks here from across the country.”  The judge is charged with deciding if the state of Arizona discriminated against Latinx students by banning classes that focused on Latinx culture.

The state argues that the Mexican-American Program courses “politicized students and made them resent white people.” (HuffPost, 6/27/17).

Teachers in the program note that the courses began as a way “to try to close the wide achievement gap between the district’s Hispanic and white students.” They worked on building the students’ self-esteem and note that those students earned higher test scores and increased their interest in school.

Take a look at the following clips from the Precious Knowledge film series about the Mexican-American Studies Program and the controversy around it. Start with clip 2  and then watch the rest of the clips on the playlist.

English teacher, Curtis Acosta, who’s speaking at the WLU Institute in July and is featured in the video at the top of this blog,  was first to testify on Monday. You can listen to him talk about the The Banning of the Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson, AZ in an interview on Education talk radio earlier this month. He explained:

“We wanted our educational experiences to revolve around love of learning, love of learning from one another, love for each other…From the root we were applying our own history, and the stories and speeches and poems reflected that type of action and advocacy through a socio-political lens. The students came to understand it was important to give back and be involved. … it’s an integral part of education.”

Here’s what happened In 2012. The Superintendent of Public Instruction ruled that the Mexican American Studies Program “contained content promoting resentment toward a race or class of people,” and dismantled the program according to Arizona state legislation, HB2281. This legislation made illegal any courses that: “(1) promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, (2) promote resentment toward a race or class of people, (3) are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, and (4) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.”  The state threatened to withhold millions of dollars of state funding if Tucson didn’t close down the program, so the Mexican American Studies program was closed. Read “The Dismantling of Mexican-American Studies in Tucson Schools,” CNN, January 22, 2012 for more details on what happened in 2012 and WATCH the video.

NCTE joined over 30 other organizations  to protest the initial banning of seven books that were taught in the program. In the end, 84 books were banned, as reported by Elaine Romero, who provides “the list.”

The Council supports ethnic studies programs in its NCTE Position Statement in Support of Ethnic Studies Initiatives in K-12 Curricula. 

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Sneak Peak: July 2017 English Journal

This post is written by members Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, editors of English Journal.

The work of teaching illustrates the adage that change is a constant. Teaching is framed by many constants: schedules, rhythms, routines, and expectations based in national memory and local nostalgia. And teaching is also marked by change: different groups of students every year, not to mention every 42 minutes or so; different texts and expectations driven by technological and social innovations. Teachers practice in spaces of praxis, spaces of simultaneous constancy and change.

In our daily lives, we may become accustomed to living in flux while fixed in amber, but for many educators, summer offers a chance for reflection. Away from the days divided by bells and evenings filled with student papers to grade, teachers may have time to think about what to keep and what to change. With quiet space and time to read, teachers can consider new methods and explore new texts.

Authors in this issue stretch our imaginations and offer opportunities to reflect on what works. Themes featured involve enduring aspects of English classrooms, for example, teaching writing, which is examined from five perspectives. Authors in this issue emphasize authenticity in student writing, investigate teacher and peer responses to student writing, and analyze student and teacher perceptions of argumentative writing in the context of the Common Core. While all of the articles share the topic of writing, this constant is complemented by the lenses through which it is viewed. This issue offers a new approach to literature circles as well as articles that highlight the arts. Poetry, another staple of English classrooms, is amplified through spoken words, and video games extend our definitions of texts.

This issue, which is situated in decades of previous volumes of EJ, is focused on interactions of students and teachers as our lives intersect with one another and with classic and contemporary texts. We hope that the combination of constancy and change helps you find new perspectives on established practices, and imagine how democratic classrooms can prepare today’s learners to lead tomorrow’s world.

juliegorlewskidavidgorlewski2Former English teachers, Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski work with preservice and practicing educators, and with educational leaders, to create instructional opportunities that empower students with language.

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June 2017 #NCTEchat: YA Lit – Complex Texts, Complex Lives

nctechat_grpahic_juneJoin Jennifer Buehler @ProfBuehler and members of #NCTEreads tonight, Sunday, June 25 at 8 pm ET, for a conversation around “YA Lit – Complex Texts, Complex Lives.”

Jennifer Buehler is the author of Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives. In this text, Jennifer Buehler shows how to implement a YA pedagogy—one that revolves around student motivation while upholding the goals of rigor and complexity.

Here’s what we’ll discuss during the chat:

Q1: Why do you teach YA lit?

Q2: How do you engage students in the study of YA as complex literature?

Q3: What are some texts that lend themselves to unpacking and analysis of complexity?

Q4: What classroom tasks do you use to cultivate agency and autonomy in teen readers?

Q5: What forms of assessment blend both personal and analytical responses to YA lit?

Q6: How do you advocate for YA lit in your school and the wider world?

We hope to see you tonight at #NCTEchat!

kellytumy

READ the Map!

This post is written by member Kelly Tumy.

Young adult literature has earned a place in secondary classrooms, but are we doing enough to recognize the different elements in this genre, allowing students to experience the complete book?  Examining what YA authors do when they create maps to use in their narrative spaces and taking time to really read a map will open new avenues for every kind of reader in our classrooms. Have you ever really looked at a map? I mean, really looked at it, and not just looked at it, but examined it, READ it? YA authors have, and their maps have real purpose linked to their narratives that is just waiting to be discovered.

I had the opportunity to develop and present a workshop this year with a geography professor from the University of Houston-Clear Lake—Dr. Jeffrey Lash—who opened my eyes to the wonders of maps. I had always been curious about why maps were included in many of the YA books I read, but the intent didn’t dawn on me until I was in a session with Jeff, and he asked us to read a map. Read a map?  Don’t we just look at maps and draw conclusions and find our way?  I was shown such an enlightening path to working with maps that I knew I wanted to go back and re-read books with maps and make map-reading a part of the learning environment for both teachers and students.

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Credit: Jordan Saia (jordansaia.com)

Choosing books was easy as Six of Crows had just come out, and I was intrigued by the double map in the front of the book.  I then added Snow like Ashes, We Were Liars, and City of a Thousand Dolls. Starting with some popular YA sites like Book Riot, I found some articles that actually address how maps become a part of a book’s narrative.  Then, making connections between how the setting influences the narrative, why the map was included, how characters change over time, and how the maps influenced my understanding of that character and those changes, I began seeing how maps shaped each narrative.

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Miriam Forster, A City of a Thousand Dolls

But the real gem of doing this work was the collegiality and the cross-curricular connections I was able to make with Dr. Lash. He dutifully read all the books I sent him; he shared map resources from National Geographic and took all the participants, including me, on some incredibly deep map-reading exercises.  Building on the work of Phil Gershmel, we navigated the shores of Ketterdam from Six of Crows with a new lens—a geography lens. We read the map and learned how to identify and analyze patterns, regions, movement, and hierarchies.  We practiced comparing places and interpreting how elements on the map were connected or influenced each other all the while making connections back to each narrative. In We Were Liars, we explored the fictitious yet ominously real island off the coast of Massachusetts inhabited by an incredibly wealthy family. We made comparisons, we made associations with another famous family, and we examined how the island changed over time based on traditional and nontraditional inhabitants. In short, we gave the narrative dimension by examining, reading the maps. Lash shared he was not a reader until a middle school teacher gave him a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition complete with a fold-out map, and then he was hooked—all he wanted was a book with a map to explore, read, and keep him engaged in reading.

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Six of Crows Leigh Bardugo

What are we doing to keep learners engaged in reading?  I never would have believed that maps would have such an influence on me as a reader—I took the road less traveled and found something new about the YA genre that I love.  Teachers need to remember that literature will always create a sense of place—how we examine that place outside of traditional language arts study will determine the number of children we engage and how many lifelong readers we grow in our classrooms.

Kelly E. Tumy is the curriculum director for English language arts and social studies for the Harris County Department of Education in Houston, TX. She is currently the vice president for membership and affiliates for the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts and a passionate advocate of young adult literature in the secondary classroom. 

erinoneillcarlos

What Happened to Carlos?

This post is written by member Erin O’Neill Armendarez, NCTE’s Higher Education Policy Analyst for New Mexico.

One semester years ago, after noticing a student’s uncharacteristic absence, I asked the students who usually sat next to him, “Where is Carlos?”

“Oh, he was deported, ma’am,” was the casual response. Deported? Wait. Carlos — not a US citizen?

From time to time, I still wonder about him.  Occasionally I find myself remembering an essay written by a student from Juarez, Mexico, who often crossed the border to visit family and friends. His essay described an afternoon in Mexico when suddenly the loud, staccato sound of automatic weapons fire sent the entire street into immediate panic. Finally summoning the courage to explore, my student encountered two strangers lying dead on the street, haloed in rings of blood.

“How did that make you feel?” I wrote in the margins of his essay, fumbling to prompt him toward some larger purpose. “I don’t know,” he said when we discussed it. “It just happened. It happens a lot.”

Right. Okay—pretty good structure, development, and punctuation — we will give the essay a pass.

With my nose to the grindstone teaching, I did not know much about the DACA program, New Mexico law with respect to undocumented students, or even why an undocumented person would not do the obvious thing —  get into the citizenship pipeline and out of the spotlight.

Now I find I have to think about these things, because I care about all the students who have a legal right to be in my classroom, about their ability to learn and their freedom to come to class without having to worry about whether their parents, grandparents, or siblings will be unlawfully questioned, apprehended, and taken to one of the nation’s detention centers before the evening meal.

After ICE raids in February 2017 coincided with “A Day without Immigrants” activities, absence spiked almost 148% in Las Cruces public elementary schools. Officials saw a connection and immediately made a public announcement that schools and buses are considered “sensitive” spaces where inquiries and arrests would not be made without a warrant or some other compelling reason.

Newer, tighter federal regulations probably will not cause families to voluntarily send their undocumented members back to wherever they came from, as the risk of returning for most far outweighs the risk of staying. Many families immigrated to avoid ongoing, life-threatening violence in their communities. Alternatively, they immigrated to avoid the desperation of poverty and to take advantage of the chance to work and to meaningfully contribute to a society where a stable, prosperous life might be possible. Nevertheless, this new climate of fear could keep students in the shadows indefinitely as they and their families do their best to avoid sudden detention or deportation.

Whatever we might believe about public rhetoric and federal policy with respect to undocumented immigrants, I hope we can all agree on this: children should be in school. To learn and to grow as they should, they also need to be cared for by stable families able to meet their basic needs.

Yes, our schools are already populated with too many children whose parents are US citizens struggling below the poverty line; too many children in our nation’s schools are exposed to horrifying trauma and crime. New Mexico hovers at the top of the national rankings for child poverty and for violence against children. However, addressing the needs of one group of children should not necessitate abandoning the needs of another group. Kids are kids.

The needs of all children should be prioritized. Children of refugees often have trouble learning and focusing in school. The American Psychological Association and other mental health agencies have convincingly documented the depression, anxiety, and PTSD suffered by refugee students scarred by past trauma and the constant threat of separation from loved ones. If that were not enough, many immigrant children are bullied at school because of obvious differences in dress or ethnicity.  Some suffer the humiliation of having their spoken English mocked by classmates.

Children have no power over their own legal status; they are completely dependent on the adults around them and on our legal system. For a variety of reasons, legal status can be virtually impossible to get for many family members of documented immigrants and US citizens. In the best of circumstances, for many it would (and in fact does) take decades. Meanwhile, for their children enrolled in classes in the United States, the very real possibility of deportation or detention (de facto imprisonment) looms.

As educators we are not able to solve all of these complex problems. But at the very least, we should be willing to welcome each and every student who is legally admitted to our classrooms, unlike an Albuquerque high school teacher who posted on Facebook that she believed undocumented students should be deported to “better serve American citizen students.”

Before posting, she probably did not think carefully enough about how her words would hurt her students, kids who were already hurting in ways she knew nothing about.

As educators we are constantly searching for the best ways to serve all of our students. Although it can be a struggle, we strive to offer the best possible educational opportunities to every single one, offering them a haven against violence, prejudice, and ignorance.

I understand educators will have varying opinions on this topic. My point is that until the recent ICE raids, I never thought carefully about the issues undocumented immigrants — including students — face beyond their struggles with our perplexing idiomatic expressions and our less than intuitive system for spelling in English.

Now I want to be sure that all of my students are able to attend all of their classes. I want to be sure they know they are truly welcome, respected by all in my classroom and on campus.

It is my job to support their dreams with high-quality educational experiences no matter where they came from or how they got here. While I do not know where they have been, I know what they might become if given a chance.

Erin O’Neill Armendarez teaches writing courses at New Mexico State University Alamogordo, a community college in southcentral New Mexico. 

Please read NCTE’s 2015 Resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented and Unaccompanied Youth.