Category Archives: Education

My Kindergarden Freak Out…part II

Standard

I started drafting this post last winter… when I sill pregnant with Meena and overwhelmed with teaching full-time and juggling family life… as a result it sat in my drafts folder, but our recent decision to apply to an independent/private school sent me back here to finally complete this post!

Dec. 2014

Things with my son’s  school came to a head recently…I want to preface this my adding that I am currently 35 weeks pregnant… so the stress is not needed… after an awful situation regarding physically restraining my 5-year-old ( after he refused to take a time out), I had enough and pulled him out of that disorganized brand new charter and put him in our local public school.  Nothing unsafe has happened in the public schools and im grateful for the public oversight required of a public institution our taxes already pay for.

Welcome to my Kindergarden freakout!

Welcome to my kindergarten freak out!

The world of education has always felt contentious to me, but I never would have guessed that Kindergarten would feel like such a war! There has been a palpable difference between my teacher training and classroom experiences before and after the  “no child left behind” nonsense.

The problem is that it’s  policy makers and corporations making changes to education as opposed to the educators and professionals that studied human development and have experience with pedagogy.

As a result of our family’s experiences, I have become morally opposed to the way charter schools become approved in Rhode Island and I have always been opposed to “mayoral academies” and didn’t know we were stepping into that in the summer.

I am confident in my son’s resilience and flexibility and know he will be fine in most places. It’s not so much about what’s best for just my son, but now with baby #2 coming, for the whole family.  I don’t want to continue to feel this level of frantic confusion and stress so our local public school might be our best option for now. I have resigned myself to the notion that I (not alone anyways) can’t demand that a school stop using crap common core and bring back imaginative play, creative learning and recess. I cant on my own- force the public schools to stop teaching to the test and pushing screen time on students before they are ready.  I can’t force my own ideas about education on a system that puts business over what’s right for children.  This type of fight requires a collective of organized parents and citizens, one that will take time, will send us flaying and might falter, but might also ultimately win the type of education for our children that we can all be proud of.

Through this experience I have learned much- most importantly, I came out of this trusting my instinct even more ( a precious commodity these days I’ve learned) , being on my son’s side is really important being his voice and advocate, as my husband pointed out- we are his main source of support.

no child left behind

Teaching to the test-starting in early ed…

Is this what we are allowing to happen?

Is this what we are allowing to happen?

great piece on importance of recess:

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/10/06/let-children-play-schools-must-relearn-importance-recess

My son learning through play during the

My son learning through play during the “good ol days” of Pre-K

Wise words

Wise words

learning at the children's museum

learning at the children’s museum

Fall 2015

Where we are now is out of survival mode but back in “where is recess mode”. I reached out to the PTO about the crazy amount of homework for st grades and only 15 minutes of recess but I feel like by the time we get enough parents on board my poor child will be in highschool! So he will be off to an independent school for 2nd grade… to be continued!

READ the 1st part of my Kindergarden Freakout HERE: https://nowapproachingprovidence.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/hey-where-did-childhood-go-my-kindergarten-freak-out/

Advertisements

Hey! Where Did Childhood go? My Kindergarten Freak Out…

Standard

OH praise the heavens!!!  I am no longer freaking out about kindergarten options for my son. Partly because I am just numb with freaking out at this point, but also because we lucked out and got into a small ( just starting up) charter school close to work, that uses responsive classroom and will have curriculum written by folks from the RI Writing Project, a place I used to work at and love during my undergrad college years. But honestly, the best part of it for me is that 4 other kids that my son is already friends with are also going to attend.

old fashioned messy childhood...

old fashioned messy childhood…

Now, I know that being a teacher means that I might be super picky about schooling options for my children…  but I surprised myself  by what did and didn’t get included in the equation.

I didnt freak out :

-my kid generally attending a full school day, (he has been in full time childcare of a couple years now)

-Peers, making friends

-academic readiness ( kids get it when they get it…)

BUT, what  did freak out about was 2 things:

– No playtime ( 15 min of recess ALL day)

-Testing starting in November!

This hit me in my gut, this no play time thing, because what I assumed everyone knew was that children learn through play! Not to mention that everyone seems to be talking about the plague of childhood obesity, not enough time in the outdoors, too much screen time, ect… I just didn’t think our public schools would also be contributing to these national problems… I innocently assumed that attending elementary school today would be like when I attended elementary school in the early 1990s… oh silly me!

my dream treehouse…ahhh the '90's :)

my dream treehouse…ahhh the ’90’s 🙂

Even some of our much coveted alternative charter schools were only offering 15 min of recess ALL day.  Sheeesh! Most folks remember free play time as being the main tenant of their early school years.  All this led me to ask , ” Hey! Where didnt childhood go?”

Our neighborhood library if often packed with children and pre-teens gaming on computers, yet our parks, playgrounds, backyards and side streets are silent.  not that long ago, I remember the ways my friends and I basically ran the streets in the afternoon and evening hours.  we spent time climbing trees, exploring the woods around our homes, rode bikes, played basketball.. we spent so much time outside!

will playdough go out of business?

will playdough go out of business?

Although many of us had gaming systems at home, we prefered to roam outdoors.  Some parents raise the issue of safety especially in a city- but we had the same possible dangers of traffic, strangers and peer fights, back in the 1990’s but we still played outside.  These risks are always going to be there, but the opportunity to roam, freely and independently as a young person has a short window of time.

I feel like kids are more likely to get poison ivy than in serious trouble while playing outside, but fear seems to have grabbed a hold on the almighty parent imagination. It makes me very sad to think that the days of a “free range” childhood have come to an end.  I don’t want to raise my children in a world of fear and strict boundaries.  But, what does one do when your the only household that is okay with your child roaming freely, playing outside while other parents keep their kids in impossibly busy schedule or close to home?  All these would be easier to digest if it didnt also happen to coincide with restricted outside or free play time in schools.  I cringe to think of the long term  health and social effects on this generation in the years to come.

images

 

____________________________________________________________________

Other writers exploring this issue:

Why is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans?       http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201401/why-is-narcissism-increasing-among-young-americans?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Freedom-to-Learn+%28Freedom+to+Learn%29

Decision to Make?  Ask your Body:  http://lauragraceweldon.com/2014/01/16/decision-to-make-ask-your-body/

_________________________________________

 

Unknown

Decline in play: From   http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html

Over the past several decades, we have witnessed a continuous and, overall, dramatic decline in children’s freedom and  opportunities to play with other children, undirected by adults.  In other essays I have linked this decline to the well-documented rise in depression and anxiety among children and adolescents (here) and to the recently documented decline in creativity(here). Free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their own lives, solve their own problems, and deal effectively with fear and anger—and thereby protect themselves from prolonged anxiety and depression.

                                       Play, by definition, is always voluntary, and that means that players are always free to quit.  If you can’t quit, it’s not play.  All normal children have a strong biological drive to play with other children.   In such play, every child knows that the others can quit at any time and will quit if they are not happy.  Therefore, to keep the fun going, each child is motivated to keep the other children happy.  To do that, children must listen to one another, read into what they are saying, and, in general, get into one another’s mind so as to know what the other wants and doesn’t want.  If a child fails at that and consistently bullies others or doesn’t take their views into account, the others will quit, leaving the offending child alone.  This is powerful punishment that leads the offender to try harder next time to see from others’ points of view.  Thus, in their social play, children continuously practice and build upon their abilities to empathize, negotiate, and cooperate.

———-

more on the cognitive benefits of play:     http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html

What do you think?

 

 

Sure I’ll Teach at an All-Boy-Catholic School. Im Muslim. That’s Close, Yea?

Standard

Teaching at a private all boys catholic schools is surprisingly not a culture shock… “Remember that we are in the holy presence of God”  is on the speaker before annoucements.

kitten's feelin the holy presence...

kitten’s feelin the holy presence…

Kinda like my elementary school in Kuwait expect we sang the kuwait national anthem too…

so we wont give ya citizenship, but yall still gotta sing our anthem, k?

so we wont give ya citizenship, but yall still gotta sing our anthem, k?

Pali wha? no u cant have citizenship!

Pali wha? no u cant have citizenship!

either way its whatevs cause really folks:

a. RI has the highest unemployment rate and I need a consistant jobby job

im sayin though

im sayin though

b. i needz jobby job

unemployed-lol-cat4

c.  because jobs

AND

d.  When was the last time I was in a space where my nationality/religion/idently /gender was represented anyways? (Bah!)

Just call me the Undercover Muslim/Arab/Palestinian… I’ve gotten pretty used to it over the years.  I  went to school in Johnston Rhode Island which is the Jersey Shore’ revivals for most italian american’s per capita.

pauly D went to my school

pauly D went to my school

…I have big hair and brown eyes, I’m Italian. right!

So, I just rolled with it till I couldn’t anymore… which was approximately 11th grade when I spazed out at classmates via shared journal writing.  The 2nd intifada broke out and I needed an outlet.  Hearing homegirl complain about some chick stealing her BF  or something was my trigger.  I let loose. Found it necessary to detail all the ways in which my peers were losing their lives halfway across the world due to US government funded occupation.   There may have also been a bit of shallow suburbanite white picket fence bashing too… meh.  I was 16.  My love of spinach calzones aside, Im fairly sure that blew my italio-americano cover.    

  Opps.

yummmm

yummmm

I managed to fly under the radar as an undercover Muslim just up until 9-11 which was my senior year in high school.  When I found myself engaged in a heated discussions about biased and misinformed media depictions of the Middle East.

“How do you know?”  came up a lot.

“Cause I am Palestinian and that’s now how my family is.”

“Oh! I thought you were Pakistani or something…”

____________________________________________

The best real life thing that was said to me ( i swear im not making it up) during this time period was in senior math class when Miss Cheer Captain said to the entire class:

Daria pretty much sums it up...

Daria pretty much sums it up…

“Oh, I know its those Palestinians. [that blew up the twin towers] They are always blowing stuff up.”

To which I replied, “Um, I am Palestinian and you don’t see me blowing shit up right now, do you?”

“No your not! Your an A-rab.”

To which the sweet, well meaning little blond math teacher replied,

“We are not gonna talk about it girls, take out your math books.”

Cover blown.  Again.

It wasn’t like I actually wanted to stay under the radar on purpose or anything.  I was just trying to be a ‘normal’ young person.  One that could just be herself and chill and whatnot.  Expect when I realized that most other ‘normal’ young people got to be in spaces that also represented or at least acknowledged them.

512yEiaj1rL._SS500_

Now, as a grown-up, I recognize and respect that awkwardly sensitive time in young people  ( well, in all people) when they are trying to piece together their place in the world.  I recognize that it was those formative moments,- when I refused to keep my mouth shut- that inform my work as a teacher/mother/person in the world.

death_to_all_arabs

Check Out More A-rab comedy here!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0KAbBlzFbU

It’s a journey…

One that encourages an underemployed PalestinianAmericanMuslim to say “Sure.  I’ll Teach at an all-boy-Catholic School.

Alhamdulah!

How Uncivil! Ray Kelly Protests, Providence Student Union, and Why Liberal Politics Suck

Standard

The following post was penned by my partner and fellow creative resistance specialist ( cause yeah, i can make terms up…) Christopher Rotondo:

Reflections on the Providence Student Union (PSU), Ray Kelly, and the Nature of Protest

images

Recent organizing efforts and protests in Providence, most recently, the protest of New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly at Brown University, have not only received the ire of reactionary conservatives, but also established “progressive” voices. Certainly, the conservatives have a lot to lose in capitulating to the demands of groups like the Providence Student Union (PSU) or the organizers of the Kelly protest. Those with opposing ideas of how society ought to be must confront each other. The more dismal component of these debates and contests however, are those allegedly “progressive” voices, who, from the sidelines of any struggle, use their privileged access to the media to denounce the  methods or tactics of organizers. It’s important that this debate between these progressives (and so-called “civil rights leaders”) be settled in favor of an analysis that values justice over civility, promotes the liberation of oppressed people rather than defending the “rights” of oppressors.

Ray-Kelly-Protesters-on-Street-584x442

So much of the criticism, and in some cases, outright dismissal, of the Providence Student Union (PSU) is focused on their tactics. Caricatured as a “sideshow” and otherwise cheap political theater, the protests and actions of the group seem to be the only thing up for debate in the minds of conservatives and professed “progressives” alike. The Union’s demands to rescind the NECAP standardized test graduation requirement, along with the largely unarticulated contention their work raises – who should decide how and what Providence students learn – don’t seem worthy of consideration.  Perhaps the reason we – so conveniently, it seems, for the arguments of the pundits criticizing the PSU – don’t get anywhere with so-called “education reform” is because no one with formal decision-making power actually wants to change the direction we’re heading. More testing, evaluations designed to undermine teachers’ unions, and privatization of everything, from entire schools to busing. The conclusion one is bound to draw from the focus on superficial aspects of the situation – “how” the PSU goes about making its point- is that whomever is pandering this kind of analysis must have some stake in the status quo. No argument over the Union’s “tactics” is going to result in change, especially when the context in which the students struggle to find a voice is almost entirely ignored.

sddefault

Many critics of the PSU would have us believe that the group’s alleged “sideshow” tactics are unnecessary, some going so far as to say they’re just looking for publicity, not trying to address a social issue. Yet no one seems capable of articulating how these students might otherwise voice their position in regards to NECAP or any other policy of their schools for that matter. Without a proposed alternative, one is forced not only to question what stake these critics might have in keeping things the way they are, but also where the root of their angry response to the Unions “tactics” truly lies. I would argue this ugly root is actually shaped by bigotry based on age, race, and class.

images-2

Coupled with a general fear of change (along with the power and paychecks involved) there is a deep undercurrent of hackneyed prejudice to the majority of the criticisms of the PSU. One could imagine, based on her crude comments, that Board of Education chair Mancuso doesn’t believe any 16 year old should have a say in her own education. I suppose she’d rather decide for students, in private meetings, what and how they will learn (and subsequently, how they’ll be valued as workers and adults). In Mancuso’s myopic, white-washed world, perhaps this is enough to try and wrap her mind around. But, because the PSU is based in Providence, because its members are mostly African-American, Latino, South East Asian, because many come from immigrant families, there is a lot more than the chair’s distaste for kids at stake. Though banal arguments about “tactics” obscure (intentionally in most cases), the fact that racism and class privilege are undeniably present in this situation, anyone savvy enough to understand the history and political-economy of public education in this country should not be duped.

images-5

Context matters. It matters in any debate over the Union’s demands, and it matters in one-dimensional diatribes about “tactics.” The real questions we ought to be asking ourselves are: should the students of the PSU (and students in general) have a say in how and what they learn? Who and why might someone argue that they shouldn’t? Why would the PSU employ the “tactics” they have? What other options were and are available to them? These questions, unlike the ones being posed in the majority of commentary, might get us closer to the issues underlying the work of the PSU and the roots of the arguments against them.

images-3

Based upon the response from policy-makers, school administrators, conservative and progressive commentators, it would seem that no one criticizing the PSU actually believes students (or perhaps these students) should have a voice in their own education. One of the fundamental beliefs that the PSU’s protests challenge is that administrators, far-removed policy hacks, and, increasingly, profit-seeking education corporations and their consultants, ought to decide how and what students learn.

images-7

By organizing – a concept it appears few still understand – the students of the Union are part of a long, dynamic history of how change happens in this country. One of the most prominent examples, the gains of which many PSU critics implicitly or even explicitly in some cases, work to roll back, is the Civil Rights Movement. The foundation of that widespread movement for racial justice was organizing, not the idolatry of Martin Luther King – which many of the Union’s “progressive” critics stake their reputations upon. That foundation was laid by the localized, person-to-person work being done, largely uncelebrated, by Black women in the South. Organizing, against the Jim Crow of the mid-20th century American South, or the current Jim Crow system of mass incarceration, police terror, and yes, a deeply racist education system, means opening the moral, political, and physical space for the oppressed to challenge the system of white supremacy and class domination that day-to-day largely tramples on unhindered.

images-6

The direction, militancy, and horizons of the Civil Rights Movement came from those without recognized political power, whose dreams of a different life, fueled by their daily experience of white supremacy, made them uncompromising in their struggle for justice and perhaps even revolution. These “common” visionaries, often pushed the limitations of their alleged leaders, driving the movement on to it’s next important strides towards a racially just society. Those who would seek to denounce the students of the PSU, and thus make crucial decisions for them, rather than with them, would do well to take lessons from history. Again, where do these detractor’s ideas about who should run the public education system derive from? From the brutal, white supremacist and capitalist status-quo. They aren’t doing themselves, or any of us for that matter, any favors by seeking to suppress the liberating energies of the Union’s student organizers. They are, as usual, simply lining their own, as well as the usual suspects, never-ending pockets. All in the name of “progressivism,” or even, “civil rights!”

images-4

It should be no surprise that the same antagonists who have been moralizing the PSU’s tactics would apply their reactionary logic to the recent protest of New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly. In the alleged defense of free speech, self-proclaimed civil rights leaders (along with, thanks to the Providence Journal, conservative think-tanks) have admonished the student and community organizers who prevented Kelly from speaking at Brown University. That Kelly was heckled off the stage is being called an “uncivil” disruption of his right to speak and the audience’s right to hear him. These detractors claim that the protestor’s would have been better off engaging in “civil discourse,” held up as the backbone of any progressive change.

Two related points need to be made about Kelly’s “rights,” as well as this vague and much-touted concept, civil discourse. Firstly, since when did rights have nothing to do with power? What tradition of civil rights are these alleged spokespeople upholding? Kelly, wielding his control over the policies and practices of the entire New York City police department, has established a system of race-based oppression, intended to generate fear in the people of color of New York. This is the institutionalized, highly-resourced, and undemocratic (he was appointed, no?) power Kelly holds. In this position, he has had ample opportunity, not only to voice his opinion, but to actually put his ideas into practice!

images

How does Kelly’s power, and subsequently, despite what many commentators would like us to believe, the breadth of his rights, compare to that of the organizers in the crowd? The organizers had no institutional backing whatsoever, except for those small, mainly volunteer-run institutions they had built for themselves. It should be easy enough to see through the straw man about Brown’s “liberal” professors and “culture.” The self-proclaimed “liberals” being touted as the scourge of conservatism on campus are the ones deriding the protestors! It’s certainly not a liberal conspiracy to toss out someone like Kelly. I imagine that if those “unruly” protestors and their ideas were really running things at Brown, we wouldn’t have seen Ray Kelly on campus at all, let alone for a huge honorarium and in a celebratory fashion.

Unknown-1

Moreover, these organizers and protestors were, in the majority, people of color – the targets of policies like Ray Kelly’s (which, by the way, have been the norm in Providence for years, the Providence PD simply does not have a nationally recognized, formal policy of racial profiling. They prefer to deny that profiling exists.) Whatever limited power these organizers have, Kelly’s policies are designed to undermine, using near-constant threat of harassment, violence, and incarceration. Though indignant commentators would surely gasp, it’s clear to these organizers (and to those willing to accept the actual history of this country) that Ray Kelly and his policies are buttressed by hundreds of years of colonization, chattel slavery, and systemic racism, while the protestors instead struggle to overcome these bulwarks of American society.

Unknown

Are we to believe that, given this glaring imbalance of power, Kelly and the protestors would have been on a level playing field had they simply engaged in civil discourse? Asked polite, but “tough” questions at the end of the man’s speech? Wrote patient and explanatory articles in the Brown Daily Herald? What incentive then would there be for Kelly’s policies of stop-and-frisk to be put to an end, either by Kelly himself (presumably after hearing the protestors impassioned, reasoned arguments) or by public opinion (which might, heaven-forbid, empower people in New York City to resist stop-and-frisk…oh wait, that’s already happening!). How easy it is to moralize in a vacuum! How simple-minded to presume, against undeniable evidence, that there is no imbalance of power mediating our rights. Again, like arguments against the tactics of the Providence Student Union, one must ask: is this innocent ignorance, or are those making these claims protecting something, intentionally obscuring reality, admonishing those who rupture the everyday through protest, to suit their own comforts, “rights,” and privileges?

Unknown-2

It’s a massive betrayal on the part of anyone claiming to uphold the banner of civil rights to decry protestors (mostly protestors of color!) fighting the representative of a racist police policy, without even a nod to the fact that racism or massive disparities of power and influence exist in our society. Not content to simply obfuscate the reality of race and class power, some have gone further, infantilizing people’s reaction over an “emotional issue” as a substitute for any real analysis of the situation. Surely New York’s stop-and-frisk policy and the long history of racialized terror from which it springs are worthy of more than a plaintive wail about how they must make people feel!

Perhaps this is related to the bastion of liberal problem-solving, civil discourse, which has been tossed about not only as the reason to disdain the protest of Kelly, but as an inviolable pillar of our “tolerant” society. The alleged leaders called upon to comment on the protest are, rather than championing the rights of those terrorized, locked up, and brutalized by Kelly’s policies, defending their favorite straw man: civil discourse. They would have us believe that impatient and crude activists are always assaulting this discourse and preventing real, painless change from occurring. Kelly’s speech sheds light on what this “discourse” ultimately amounts to. The argument goes that the protestors, rather than “silencing” the commissioner, should have politely heard him out, then posed their challenging, yet civil, questions during the established Q & A. The result would have been a genteel and unremarkable event. And those local policy-makers and police, who only want to fight crime more effectively, would have heard their racist views and practices reaffirmed by an exalted cop, maybe steeling them to push “proactive” policing further in Providence. The Brown undergads on the verge of tears for the display of free-speech bashing would not have had to be so traumatized!

images-1

Yet, what were the protestors after? A statement. A statement against clearly racist policies. From the initial request to cancel the lecture (and spend the honorarium somewhere more appropriate), student organizers sought a disavowal of Kelly and the type of world he represents – a world that is anything but civil. If the protest made you uncomfortable, made you fret over rights, perhaps you might imagine (if you haven’t already experienced it like so many others) a stop-and-frisk. Or, consider not just an isolated incident, a one-off of humiliation, terror, and potentially life-changing consequences, but a generalized, daily routine of surveillance and random violence – the explicit goal of Kelly’s policies. One would hope that champions of civil rights would view the depravity of institutional racism as more discomforting than the heckling of a university’s honored guest. US racism was, after all, built within the genteel, civilized society of the plantation South. Not exactly a concept that we ought to be touting.

images-3

Between the Providence Student Union’s confrontation over the future of the education system and the uncivil discourse of protesting Ray Kelly, it’s clear that comfortable, establishment liberals, like their forbears, simply will not choose sides, despite an increasingly clear war over the direction of our society. It’s moments like these that expose liberalism’s inadequacies of vision and analysis. How can you participate in the struggle for justice if you become squeamish over challenging the speech of the overseer of a racist police system? How can you envision a new society if your inviolable method of change is limited to civil discourse? Who has access to this realm of discourse? Apparently Ray Kelly was welcome, while the “rude” protestors were not. So those directly impoverished, violated, too often even murdered by the systems you and Kelly quietly debate are to sit on the sidelines, face more incarceration, deprivation, and injustice, until a civil solution is worked out by those worthy of the conference room?

images

It’s long been time for those shielding themselves from the obvious conflict going on by hiding behind civility to declare a side. For the oppressed may not fit your description of civility. Those on the side of the oppressed might, reasonably, take your actions to mean that you have chosen your side – that of the existing system and its elites. Perhaps, despite the fact that it will not be a civil contest, folks have chosen to fight for a fundamental revolution in society, to fight for their rights to imagine, create, and live to achieve their full human potential. To defend the rights of a man like Kelly against the bold and uncivil action of those his policies oppress is to choose Kelly’s side of history, the losing side.

So, stop trying to build careers by placating those with power and influence, stop demanding civility and start demanding justice, and decide which side you plan to fight with. I for one, will follow the leadership of those bold organizers and protestors who heckled Ray Kelly offstage. I will follow them to victory over racism and capitalism, and I will gladly be uncivil doing it.

Unknown

Power of Memory: Avi’s “Something Upstairs” and Our Responsibility to Remember

Standard

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to relive it”  Santayna

Avi opens up his young adult historical fiction novel, Something Upstairs, with this fitting quote.

A geek for local literature,  I am glad I finally stumbled on this book ( while, umm… subbing 5th grade).

Providence is small but is layered with a complex, ever emerging history ( Native American resistance, African slave trade, several waves of immigrants)  So, it’s always exciting for me to read something set in Providence. I geek walking around being like “that’s the street so and so was chased down in chapter 10”  

You know that’s cool.  Dont front.

Back when I was teaching 9th grade, I created my own local history curriculum (cue Don LaFountaine voice):  which took my students on an epic and mysterious journey through the hidden history of Providence… There were thrills and chills! and secret slave transportation tunnels!!

Well, anyways, I could go and on about the importance of teaching history of marginalized people to their still struggling decedents …

Old Providence underground  tunnel-was it just used for trains…?hmmmm...

Old Providence underground tunnel-was it just used for trains…?hmmmm…

But, I think its also important because our memories and interpretation of history help shape our future.

Something Upstairs-give or take...

Something Upstairs-give or take…

The evil time traveling slave owner turned librarian says:   “After all, I am a historian, a guardian of memory, memories which I choose and shape. When I arrange things as I want them the newspaper story also changes.  You read the revised version.”     YES!!!

So, who ever controls the past also controls the present interpretation AND the future! This is why we all need to be historians-of our personal truths, our family history, our planet’s history– this is our collective responsibility.

go ahead, snatch that young adult lit from a 5h grader...

go ahead, snatch that young adult lit from a 5th grader…

“People, said Caleb scornfully, “abide by the memories they chose.”  Oh yes, Caleb was scornful because he didn’t trust that Kenny would choose the memory he needed to be set free… what memories would you choose?

What the Providence River looked like back in Caleb's day...

What the Providence River looked like back in Caleb’s day…

I believe it is our responsibility ( as teachers/parents/people in the world), to guide young people towards more balanced discourse on history and to encourage critical thinking. (Remember when that was an education goal more vital than standardized tests?)  This is vital for our viewing of   history in general, as well as remembering our own personal history (which is on my mind as a craft my memoir…)

ooo spooky house

ooo spooky house

While expressing ones side of a conflict ones reflection on childhood trauma or events…having power to choose and shape one’s own history, is vital.

oh yes, we still have the "plantations" in the our state name...

oh yes, we still have the “plantations” in the our state name…

At the closing of the novel, Kenny asks,  “do you really think he’s free yet?” “I mean, really free?”

Good question. What makes us “really” free?

_______________________

Works like “Something Upstairs” remind me how important it is to abide by memories we choose, and to choose memories consciously.

With imperilalism, the 1st step to claiming was naming- whether that was renaming streets in Palestine, or carving roads in Rhode Island, naming was usually the precursor to colonizing.

And now?

Its our right to take back our ability to name- our land, our experiences, our history.

Providence Journal's series on the RI slave trade

Providence Journal’s series on the RI slave trade

When will Caled truly become free? When we reclaim our right to remember.

The real Tillinghast's grave in Providence...

The real Tillinghast’s grave in Providence…

Why Teach?

Standard

images-5

Recently I was asked the big question, ( one of many I guess), Why teach?

What came to mind at first was how growing up I was the eldest cousin in our extended family home and it felt natural for me to lead groups of children in various activities.   Also, young people inspire me, they teach me as much as I hope I teach them.  I like to think of it as a mutual exchange.

After thinking about it some more, I came up with a better and more relevant answer ( which of course happens after the job interview is over, right?)

I think teaching is one of very few avenues where someone could earn (because yes, teaching is profession)  the access to molding the minds of a generation.  Unfortunatly, standardized curriculums and testing is changing this (being forced to teach a scripted curriculm is so much fun, yeah?)  But, I digress.

images-2

So why teach?  Because in our society, it’s how we can directly pass on – and potentially change- our culture, our values, our dreams for the future- it shouldnt be taken lightly- and Im very fortuate ( dispite the displacements, pink slips, schools closings, ect…) to have chosen teaching as part of my life’s path.

images-3

Below are some awesome education related links:

Unknown

Rethinking schools:  An amazing social justice eduation resource for all teachers-  http://www.rethinkingschools.org/index.shtml

Unknown-3

Boston 826: A nonprofit organization decidicated to support students’ creative and expository writing

images

-http://www.826boston.org

Unknown-1

Providence Student Union: A group of local students working towards educational justice-   http://www.providencestudentunion.org

Unknown-2

Do you teach? Create? Build? Dance?

images-1

What do what you do? Know of other amazing ed orgs?  Leave me a note!

images-4

The Poem that Made me Want to Write: On Inspiration

Standard

I love reading and learning about those moments that inspired artists to commit to themselves and their art.

It reminds me to keep on, keeping on, that writing has been and will always be my path in the world

What sustains you?

What sustains you?

The following is an article that appears in The Atlantic titled “The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to Drop Everything and Be a Poet” –

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/10/the-poem-that-made-sherman-alexie-want-to-drop-everything-and-be-a-poet/280586/

His words reminded me of those days in college when I was taking any non-western or post-colonial literature class I could.  This was a time I was grasping at straws, hoping desperately to see myself and my experiences reflected in works of literature.  More than that, I needed an affirmation that pursuing a career in writing was not a fantasy for an Arab American woman-That ( thankfully) seems so silly to me now- as evidenced by the ever growing literary presence of amazing Arab American writers, poets, film makers and artists of all stripes- but this was a time when it felt that the entire world, family included- thought I was better off waking up and smelling the teaching degree, aka: a ‘real’ job.

The art of writing sometimes means the art of taking your dreams seriously...

The art of writing sometimes means the art of taking your dreams seriously…

Most, if not all, writers can undoubtedly relate to some sort of economic strain, social acceptance, and lack of self confidence- and this is doubly true of women of color from refugee/immigrant families…

There were many authors/artists that helped spark that inspiration for me; Randa Jarrar, Suhair Hammad, and Joseph Geha to name a few.  But the poem below by Naomi Shihab Nye was undoubtedly that drop-everything-and-write- moment for me:

Making A Fist

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

‘How do you know if you are going to die?’
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
‘When you can no longer make a fist.’

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

Naomi Shihab Nye

nothing but road...

nothing but road…

Of course I related to this first and foremost for the ‘journey out’.  Having fled Kuwait during the Gulf War with my mom as a 6 year old that feeling of ‘traveling for days’ and  ‘watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass’ resonated with me.  As did the ill feeling due to a scarce supply of water and endless hours in the back of a car. I still joke that must be why I love tiny Rhode Island because I get car sick after less than an hour in a moving vehicle!

I write about our great escape here:

https://nowapproachingprovidence.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/just-stay-still/

But most importantly, it was that very specific stubborn tenacity that pushes us to ‘make a fist’ that hit closest to home.  This was how I had experienced being Palestinian in the world, spot on.

clenching

“clenching and opening one small hand”       YES.

So readers, drop me a line.  What inspires you? What reminds you of your purpose? Was it a single piece of art/writing/movie/conversation? Or a series of events?

How do you return to your source?

How do you return to your source?

The Power of Reading: My response to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming’

Standard
Reading Rainbow was the bomb...

Reading Rainbow was the bomb…

As a teacher, (and a young one at that),  I often wonder what makes schooling today so much different than when I was in school. No matter where I’ ve taught ( charter or public school, Urban or Suburban…) , its all so very different than when I was in school, which was again, not that long ago ( graduated in ’07’) !      So, I was pretty moved after reading Neil Gaiman’s lecture in the Guardian
 ( http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming)  I think it touches on I i’ve  why the gap between educational experiences is ever widening.
One of the main differences I’ve seen is the school culture around reading and appreciating fiction has vastly changed… whether through the take over of standardized testing or the push for an English curriculum that values informational texts over creative texts; its impacts are far reaching and speak volumes about what how we see ourselves and connect to each other.   I remember reading endlessly and being read to from all teachers in all subjects, I remember being the audiance to several school sponsered puppet shows, storytellers, and fairytale events.   I remember library being an actual class where we learned to work the card cataloge and put together multistep projects and work as a team.
reading in the 90's was wicked awesome!

reading in the 90’s was wicked awesome!

What is interesting to me is that as a Palestinian woman  growing up in post 9/11 America, I didnt realize that is wasn’t my work as an undergrad antiwar activist or as a spokesperson for students for justice in Palestine that was going to spark a revolution, but my imaginiation that will. How empowering it is to be reminded that one of the most revolutionary things I could be doing right now is exactly what I’ve worked on and wanted to do all my life; “make stuff up and write it down”.
ok, so what this wasnt a book? still pretty great...

ok, so what this wasnt a book? still pretty great…

When Gaiman states, “We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy” I am reminded of how I was taught to teach- just hook kids into reading anyways, anyhow… ( so I had creative control and freedom of what I was teaching them)    It was life or death…  and for the group of students I primary taught it was.  It didnt matter if I got teens reading graphic novels, or those hood novels which some schools thought were too violent…just get them to read!  Now its about reading informational articles that are short and boring as hell… last year, the public school had me teaching a scripted cooperate program ( so much for creative freedom or even professional respect) about polar bear habitats to English language learners in the 7th grade.  This was supposed to be an English class… and yes getting poor students  of color in Providence reading is life or death:
                      “The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners  are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.”
The most important thing reading did for me anyways is to build empathy with others.  I didnt know a lick of English when I immigrated from Kuwait and didn’t understand a thing about American culture.  Needless to say there were times growing up I felt awkwardly lonely and very misunderstood. Gaiman says that [reading helps] “you get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well.”  That other world, for me, was America.
Alex Mack was the BEST

Alex Mack was the BEST

He goes to say, “you’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”
I certainly was.
I learned about the Black struggle through fiction, about slavery and immigration and other wars and other times besides my own.  I wasn’t simply born political by way of nationality as others like to joke ( Ive known many a palestinian with sucky politics…) Reading helped me form my own thoughts and ideas about the way things could be.  Reading provided me with the background and the historical context I needed to build from, its not only personal experiences that shape one’s politics, its all these things and more.
 Reading fiction assured me I wasnt alone, that I had a place, that there were others out there like me who I could one day connect with, organize with, change the world with… This was revolutionary given how cut off my mom and I lived from any Arab or Muslim community, how sedated my suburban white environment actually was and how drowning that felt as a youth.  Reading was my savoir, the key that unlocked the wider world and my future possibilities.  More than anything reading fiction gave me hope, it taught me that “the world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”
My son and his friend with Big Nazo puppets at PRONK festival, imagining a different world...

My son and his friend with Big Nazo puppets at PRONK festival, imagining a different world…

Gaiman goes on to talk about reading as a form of escapism, arguing that “escapist fiction opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.”  As a child witness to war and domestic violence and now as a teacher of students with varying levels of  trauma, Ild agree that reading is certainly a real way to cope with and in turn, change reality.
I wholeheartidly reccommend reading Gaiman’s lecture.  Here’s the link again: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming
                      “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all” and the truth is, all of us, whether or not we are teachers or writers, have the power to imagine and create a better world and the obligation to provide for others to do the same.
Sunset over Providence

Folks marching at Providence PRONK festival