Make Up Assignment from 6/6/13


Make-Up Assignment for 6/6/13:

Connection Between Today’s Deficit Thinking about the Education of Minority Students (6/6/13) and Confronting Class in the Classroom (6/11/13)


            Both Hooks and Valencia and Solorzano’s articles focus on issues of class, race, and social mobility.  Valencia and Solorzano argue that “deficit thinking” attributes students not doing well in school to the fact that their parents don’t care or the “culture of poverty” has created negative attitudes towards school.  However, they argue that this blames students for a situation that they did not create (Valencia and Solorzano, p. 125).  They argue that most people think the cause of poverty is personal behavior and choices.  However, they are ignoring the bigger picture.  There are many causes of poverty and it is unfair to attribute all poverty due to personal laziness (Valencia and Solorzano, p 128). Valencia and Solorzano cite many reasons for poverty, including decreasing employment opportunities for people due to globalization and the outsourcing of jobs overseas (Valencia and Solorzano, p. 129).  In fact, an article in the Washington Post called Five Myths About American Homelessness, published in 2010, sites a study in 2002 by the Urban Institute showing that about 45% of the homeless population had worked in the past 30 days.  This does not show laziness. 

            When students from working class families enter college, Hooks notes that the “deficit thinking” that Valencia and Solorzano noticed does not stop.  Hooks states that working-class students are silenced by “bourgeois values” and that their opinions are not being heard (Hooks, p. 136).  Hooks notes that debating different opinions loudly can sometimes be looked down upon in the classroom but for many working class students, it is a way of getting actively involved in the content (Hooks, p. 140).

            Though I liked these articles, I do have some criticisms.  I wish that Hooks gave more specific examples about what types of values were important to working-class students that they felt were not reflected in the classroom.  I also wish she gave some specific examples to remedy this instead of just the one about having students read a paragraph out loud.  Though I agree with Valencia and Solorzano that “deficit thinking” prevents us from thinking about the positive qualities our students have, I do not agree that the term “at-risk” should never be used.  I think it is important to identify when students are “at-risk”, not to put them down, but to acknowledge what they are struggling with and what specific supports they need to improve.  Without identifying this, we are doing our students a disservice and depriving them of helpful services.  Thinking of a student as “at-risk” does not mean they are viewed negatively, it is more a way of thinking about what they are struggling with and what supports they need to be successful. 


Patriotism, Pedagogy, and Freedom

Jen: Patriotism, Pedagogy, and Freedom: On the Educational Meanings of September 11

In this article, Apple argues that in the wake of the tragedy of September 11th, as a teacher and a U.S. citizen, it is important to do two things.  The first is to create space to express anger, sadness, and frustration about the attack and what happened to our country.  The second is to ask critical questions about why people in the world had such negative feelings towards the United States (Apple, p. 491).  Apple poses some serious questions about approaching the latter without justifying the attacks.  Apple asks, “How could one condemn the murderous events, give one’s students a historical and political framework that puts these events in their larger critical context, and provide a serious forum where disagreement and debate could go on fruitfully…and at the same time not be seen as justifying the attacks” (Apple, p. 493).  I agree with Apple that these are very tricky questions to ask in the wake of such a tragedy.  However, I also think they are important to ask because the answers prevent people from developing generalizations that link all people from the Middle East to the mindset of those that committed the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Apple’s idea of giving students space to vent should be the first step.  After they have a chance to get their frustrations out, I think a very common question that many students will ask is “Why do they hate us?”  I think the only way this question can be answered is by looking at the historical relationships between countries and U.S. foreign policy.  This promotes more of an accurate of understanding of what Apple is trying to get at- “to ask critical questions about why people in the world had such negative feelings towards the United States” (Apple, p. 491).

One particular part of Apple’s article that I found interesting was when he talked about the school board in Wisconsin that came under criticism for only allowing the instrumental version of the Star Spangled Banner to be played because they felt playing an anthem with lines such as “bombs bursting in air” might not be appropriate after the attacks on September 11th.  This came under criticism as being unpatriotic, so eventually the board decided to allow each individual community to make the choice whether to play the anthem with the actual words or just the instrumental version.  Apple said, “This decision defused the controversy in a way that has a long history in the United States.  Local decisions will prevail, but there is not guarantee that the decisions at each local school will uphold a vision of thick democracy that welcomes dissent as itself a form of patriotic commitment” (Apple, p. 497).  I agree with Apple that this mentality has a long history in the United States.  For a long time, the term “states’ rights” was used as a cover for states that wanted to continue slavery and that if the government abolished slavery, it would intrude on “states’ rights.”  In this case, states’ rights were used in a way that did not uphold democracy and human rights.

I agree with Apple that the best way to show patriotism and commitment to your nation is to critically think about and question what is going on (Apple, p. 497).  Those that truly love their country want to hold it to high standards and make sure it is a place where people are truly treated equally.

American Indian Geographies of Identity and Power

Sandy Marie Anglas Grande’s article looks at a myriad of issues around American Indian identity, education and intellectualism. Like other articles we have read about for class, Grande questions the power roles that schools (and popular culture/literature) reinforce. Just as schools adhere to middle-class ideals, Grande argues that schools also disenfranchise indigenous groups and minorities. She believes that American Indians have disparate struggles from other minority groups because they want sovereignty rather than full-on inclusion in democracy.

 Much of the article deals with cultural identity and Grande’s beliefs that critical cultural identity is not static – socio-cultural identities are rooted in history and socially constructed. I would agree with this, and I think we could offer examples of groups that were marginalized to different degrees in different points of history. Grande points to the term mestizaje – meaning cultural ambiguity. However, while Grande does not want American Indian identity to be boiled to essentialness, she also recognizes that any efforts must have a clear understanding of American Indians. She says we must be comfortable operating with fluidity to achieve true reform.

 One of the most interesting parts of the article was the section about “Identity Appropriation” where she looked at the struggles around who can identify as American Indian and why they might want to.  By reducing identity to fixed parameters (such as land ownership) American Indians are quantifying themselves, which “becomes deeply complicated….having to respond to growing pluralism in their own communities and thus the need to define more fluid constructions of Indianness, while also recognizing the pressures of identity appropiation, cultural encroachment, and corporate commodification require more restrictive constructions of Indianness.” (pg 190)

 There is a really interesting “This American Life” episode that looks at one tribe in California that for years wanted to attract and welcome “new” identifiers to their tribe, but after their casino money was running low (among other issues), kicked out a numbers of members. You can read a New York Times article here. It begs the question of how do we label anyone’s cultural identity? Can cultural identity ever be defined by fixed terms, or does it depend on too many socio-historic factors? However, can we function as a society without labels?

 Grande argues that American Indian intellectuals need to expand their discourse and take into account issues of oppression, racism, sexism and homophobia and to “develop a language that operates at the crossroads of unity and difference.” (pg. 196) An interesting note about Grande as an intellectual is that left a tenure track position at Colby College because she felt the school had institutional racism. I don’t know what else there is to the story, but that’s a fairly bold statement given the economy for academics.

 Questions to Ponder (easy stuff, I swear ;)):

  • Is “globalization the new metaphor for imperialism”? (pg 185)
  • Does mestizaje embody the struggles that many of our students face in their cultures?
  • Does American Indian intellectualism threaten the myth that genocide is in white America’s past?
  • How do we balance essentialness and fluidity in identity construction?

– Sue

Bringing Bilingual Education Out of the Basement

This is my third attempt since 5:30 to post this entry, so sorry to those of you who wanted to reply before the Bruins tie up the series tonight!

In “Bringing Bilingual Education Out of the Basement and Other Imperatives for Teacher Education,” Sonia Nieto argues that all teachers, not just ESL and bilingual teachers, must be trained in teaching language minority students. She says that the majority of teacher education programs train teachers for monolingual classrooms, but in reality, whether one teaches in an urban, suburban, or rural setting, it is unlikely to go a teaching career without instructing students for whom English is a second language. Nieto goes on to say that teacher education programs, beyond providing prospective teachers with classroom strategies necessary for teaching language-minority students in a regular education setting, must most importantly “help teachers to develop positive attitudes and beliefs toward these students.” The three imperatives that Nieto gives for such programs are:

  1. Take a stand on language diversity
  2. Bring bilingual education out of the basement
  3. Promote teaching as a lifelong journey of transformation

On pages 471, she also gives a list of knowledge and skills that teachers must possess in order to effectively instruct language-minority students, which expands on page 472 if one happens to be an ESL teacher. One of the skills she spends the most time discussing is the suggestion that all teachers learn a second language, particularly a second language spoken by a substantial number of students in the community in which they teach. She mentions that this is not only a practice that will help put teachers in the shoes of students in the process of acquiring English but will also help teachers better understand and respond to the grammar errors that students make.

While I agree with both points, I am not sure that this is a plausible suggestion. While in a teacher education program, there is no way for a prospective teacher to know in what district let alone school he or she will begin teaching, so the second language acquisition could not happen then, and given the number of responsibilities that new teachers already have, it is difficult to imagine a new teacher taking on the added task of learning to speak a new language. One of my favorite quotes is, “Being a new teacher is like trying to fly an airplane while building it.” Can you imagine learning Japanese to this scenario, let alone the fact that many new teachers find themselves moving from school-to-school or district-to-district during their first years of teaching due to budget cuts while at the bottom of the seniority list. This is only my third year teaching, and I would have already had to learn Vietnamese, Haitian Creole, Tagalog, and Spanish! To be honest, I would love to learn any one or more of these languages, but finding the time to do so is another story.

Taking a stand on language diversity:

Nieto argues that bilingual education is political, and I believe there is no denying this. One only has to scan the daily headlines, including this article in today’s Boston Globe to see how true this is. Not only is political action necessary to change negative perceptions of  language-minority students, but it is crucial to directing funds to these students in need. I love Nieto’s point about how the costs of teaching students a foreign language are rarely opposed in middle class neighborhoods, while ESL and bilingual budgets are seen as “too expensive or ‘wasteful’”(472).

Bringing bilingual education out of the basement:

The term “basement” in the title of this article is used both literally and figuratively to suggest that language-minority students are often relegated to the basement or other physically separated areas of the school. This separation not only creates a sense of alienation and marginalization for ESL students and teachers alike but also prevents collaboration with general education teachers while proliferating the belief that language-minority students are the sole responsibility of the ESL teacher. Nieto says that teacher education programs must emphasize language diversity issues and argues that currently, most do not. Probably because I participated in UMass Boston’s teacher education program which emphasizes social justice or because I was part of the Teach Next Year program which is geared towards urban education specifically, but I found these issues embedded throughout almost all of the coursework at UMass. Unfortunately I cannot speak to other programs on this issue, but I can say that I believe Nieto would wholeheartedly approve of the job that UMass does in this regard.

One comment that Nieto makes which annoyed me, however, can be found on page 475. She says, “It is by now a truism that most prospective teachers are White, middle-class, monolingual English speaking women with little experience with people different from themselves.” Ok, I agree that this is probably by and far true. However, she goes on to say, “and most of them believe—or at least hope—they will teach in largely White, middle-class communities.”  It is my understanding that most people go into teaching because they want to help kids learn skills that will allow them to succeed and ultimately make our world a better place to live without any preconceived notions or aspirations about the skin-color or socioeconomic makeup of their classroom. When I was attending job fairs before receiving my first teaching job, the longest lines (by far!) were formed my those dying to get an interview with the Boston Public Schools. While I agree with Nieto’s point that teacher education faculty could use diversification, I do not believe that White teachers or White teacher educators are blind to the civil rights issues inherent in our current education system or unwilling to bring them to the forefront of conversation.

Promoting teaching as a lifelong journey of transformation:

Here, Nieto describes a “collective and institutional journey” “to help teachers and prospective teachers affirm the linguistic, cultural, and experiential diversity of their students while at the same time opening up new vistas, opportunities, and challenges that expand their worlds (476). The ideas that she expounds include having teachers face and accept their own identities (including a status of privilege when applicable), establish an identity as a teacher-learner, become multilingual themselves, confront racism and bias in school, and develop a community to collaboratively support language-minority students in school. I agree that all of these are necessary to transform our current education system and ultimately remove bilingual education from “the basement.”

The first part of this section stuck out to me the most and reminded me of an amazing course I took at UMass Boston called Socio-Cultural Perspectives taught by Velecia Saunders. In this class, we had incredibly difficult and enlightening conversations about our own identities, biases, and privilege. The class was, at times, excruciating, but ultimately life-changing for all involved. So after leaving you will this recommendation, I now give you some questions to discuss:

  1. What does ESL instruction look like in your school? Are language-minority students relegated to the basement either literally or figuratively?
  2. What do you think of Nieto’s recommendation that all teachers learn to speak a second language, particularly a second language spoken by a substantial number of students in the community in which they teach?
  3. Do you agree with Nieto’s assessment that, “most [prospective teachers] believe—or at least hope—they will teach in largely White, middle-class communities” (475)?
  4. What was your teacher education program like? Did you take any explicit classes on teaching ESL or bilingual students in a general education setting? Were these topics embedded into the majority or minority of your regular coursework? Was it mostly instructional strategies, or did it include discussions about attitude toward language-minority students and/or monolingual, White privilege?
  5.  Does your school or any school you know of have a successful community of “critical colleagues”? Is the group formal or informal? What does it look like?


Translating Universally-Appealing Narratives (so says a nerd).

Star Wars

I have no reservations in declaring my nerd status. And as a fan of science-fiction, I (of course) have an undying love of Star Wars. Say what you will about the prequels and the corporate cash-grabbin’ now so associated with the franchise, but I really believe that the first film has an appeal that speaks to people of various ages, creeds, and proclivities. Many chalk this up to the fact that George Lucas made Star Wars after being absolutely fascinated with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a work of theory that explores the idea of narrative structures, archetypes, and the collective unconscious.

So why am I geeking out right now?

Yesterday in class I mentioned that I’d heard a piece on NPR about Star Wars being translated into Navajo for the first time ever.

If you’re interested, click on the very link you’re now reading to check out that piece.

I could ramble for hours about this, but what does everyone else think about Star Wars being translated into Navajo? Is it uplifting, proving that we can find common areas of interest despite cultural and linguistic differences? Or is it depressing, just another example of mainstream values/artifacts infiltrating Native American culture?

“Academic Ignorance and Black Intelligence”

In “Academic Ignorance and Black Intelligence” William Labov seeks to discredit the idea of “verbal deprivation,” the theory that attributes the educational “deficits” of black children in urban areas and their low literacy scores on standard assessments to the verbal deprivation of their upbringing. He explains how the theory endorses this idea that black children in urban areas are raised in homes with infrequent verbal interaction and stimulation, and that this accounts for the low literacy rates and overall stunted academic achievement of students in urban areas.


Labov essentially argues that we must view the achievement gap as a direct result of the problematic relationship between the school system and the child, not as a result of other commonly held beliefs to explain the low academic achievement of black urban children, such as genetics or environmental factors. Throughout the reading, Labov systematically undermines bodies of research conducted by educational psychologists that point to environmental factors, such as “verbal deprivation” or other “cultural deficits” that seek to explain exactly why black children in impoverished areas struggle in school. In one such example, he focuses on the research of Carl Bereiter, and his work with a pre-school program that operates under the claim that lower-class black children have “no language at all,” and thus must be taught in a manner that addresses the deficiency.


Labov does not discount Bereiter’s claim that his interactions with the young black children, which he relied heavily on for his research, revealed a limited use of language, but instead offers up an alternate explanation for these observations: that the “mono-syllabic” language observed by Bereiter was a result of the context of the adult-child interaction, not of the language capacity of the child. Labov came to this conclusion after conducting research, along with several colleagues, through a series of interactions and interviews with a group of boys in Harlem. The result of the interviews clearly demonstrated that the boys had incredible control of language,  could speak freely and verbosely in a context that defused the power dynamic between adult and child, and that the “social situation is the most powerful determinant of verbal behavior” (140). Sadly, these verbal skills will never be recognized within the context of standardize tests or any other measure of linguistic ability that we currently use to assess literacy.  


Labov’s arguments—especially when he goes on to explore the differences between the speech of Larry, an incredibly skilled speaker of the Black English Vernacular, and Charles, whose language represents the more “verbose,” often meandering language associated with the educated, middle class—are very compelling and have innumerable implications for the classroom. It definitely challenges us to think that maybe, in a certain context, many of our students are not struggling with language nearly as much as we believe, and, that many students who speak the Black English vernacular have a much more sophisticated control over language than we are currently, as educators in a system that holds such high esteem for formal English, are able to acknowledge.


Moreover, I think Labov’s research forces us to think about our own assumptions and judgments about how our students use language. Though of course we are genuine in our desire to help students succeed, it seems that we can easily be guilty of what Labov describes as the “self-fulfilling prophecy” that black urban students often experience as result of their interactions with teachers that don’t value their use of language, and, through subtle or overt means, make them feel as if they have “no language at all.” I know for a fact that even if I am working to honor and validate the black vernacular or other non-standard English through projects or alternate assignments in my own class, I still require standard English on the majority of my assignments, which I know sends a clear message that standard English is the language of intelligence and power. Adopting Labov’s research to the classroom and education policy would clearly radicalize the way that we teach and assess students in urban areas.

 As teachers, I think we have to consider:

1) How can we look critically at our literacy assessments to make sure that they are inclusive and revealing of the true literacy skill level of our students?

2) How can we continue to design lessons and assessments that validate the use of non-traditional English without it feeling superficial or forced?

3) How do we make sense of Labov’s compelling research while at the same help our students be prepared for a professional world that will judge them on their ability to use standard English, and to adopt this “verbose” rhetoric that serves as signal for intelligence, accomplishment and entrance into the middle class?

4) How can we challenge ourselves to reconsider that this standard, middle class language that we have always deemed superior, may just be a “style of language” ?


“What Should Teachers Do about Ebonics?” Or, alternately, “What Can Teachers Do with Ebonics?”

As ELA teachers, we are responsible for delivering quite a few different types of content to our students. Of all the tasks placed before us, our primary responsibilities are to teach students how to engage with both narrative structure and the English language itself. However, it does not take many ELA teachers too long to realize that even those students who are ostensibly struggling with reading & writing are able to excel in the storytelling aspect of literature. So rather than writing-off those students who do not have complete mastery of the rules and conventions of Standard English, perhaps we should explore their areas of confusion.

Thus is the underlying premise of What Should Teachers Do about Ebonics?, an article by Lisa Delpit.

The piece begins by briefly reviewing feelings arising from the national debate about the legitimacy of Ebonics. Within just a few sentences, Delpit manages to stir up sentiments about the use of non-standard English in the classroom, which is surely an issue generating inner turbulence for many English teachers. I have often found myself engaged in internal debate – while I think an ability to command the English language provides tremendous levels of access, I cannot help but favor the literary aspect of the job, which encourages students to analyze texts (and the world around them!) critically. Then again, language and narrative are hardly mutually exclusive, the ideal would be foster growth in both areas.

Delpit approaches the “debate” about Ebonics from a similar position, arguing that it is a moot point whether or not the language is considered a dialect or a full-blown language. She writes,

“I can be neither for Ebonics or against Ebonics any more than I can be for or against air. It exists. It is the language spoken by many of our African-American children. It is the language they heard as their mothers nursed them and changed their diapers and played peek-a-boo with them. It is the language through which they first encountered love, nurturance, and joy” (242).

By first framing Ebonics not just as slang, but as a means through which an individual has come to understand the world, Delpit inspires the reader to think about the value of teachers’ willingness to interact with non-standard English. The article then runs through some of the angles from which a teacher may consider Ebonics in the classroom. Let’s take a quick look at those!

Group Identity
According to Delpit, it is somewhere around fourth grade that children stop emulating the speaking habits of their teachers, instead favoring the patterns of their home environments. One thought is that although the children are now more capable of handling Standard English, they eschew it as a favor of group identification. “‘These fourth graders had the competence to express themselves in a more standard form but chose, consciously or unconsciously, to use the language of those in their local environments” (243).

Once again, the inference here is that speech patterns are inherently connected to the speaker’s identity. In this sense, to be dismissive of the way a student speaks is, in many ways, to be dismissive to the student’s sense of self. While this doesn’t mean that all students should be given the pass and allowed to speak however they’d like to at any time (for better or worse, there’re very practical uses for mastering Standard English), perhaps recognizing the importance of their speech is a good first step.

The article makes good work of presenting different techniques with which teachers can interact with Ebonics. Most of these techniques involve a comparison of the how the students speak and how they are often expected to speak. If I’m not mistaken, these activities are designed to acknowledge the students’ language as legitimate while still recognizing that there are also more “formal” ways to express the same ideas. For instance, Delpit describes how some teachers in NYC have their students produce newscasts, which are followed by discussions “‘about whether Tom Brokaw would have said it that way’” (245).

Discourse Styles & Reactions to Children Speaking Ebonics
The article takes a brief, but poignant, trip into the arena of discourse styles. Delpit describes some of the findings of Sarah Michaels, a Harvard researcher who has evidence suggesting differences in “story-time” activities. According to Michaels, White children tell stories more focused on a single event, and Black children tell stories that are more episodic in nature (Ana 245).

As teachers, we should resist knee-jerk reactions and value judgments. Delpit goes on to illustrate an instance in which the same set of Black children’s stories were received in drastically different terms; perhaps it’s not surprising, but the White adults saw the stories as indicators of cognitive incoherence and future academic struggles, whereas Black adults appreciated the elevated levels of description.

The danger with these differences comes in the form of the ensuing expectations. “‘This is not a story about racism, but one about cultural familiarity. However, when differences in narrative style produce differences in interpretation of competence, the pedagogical implications are evident’” (Ana 245).

The final section of What Should Teachers Do about Ebonics? interacts with the idea that the speaking of Ebonics necessarily denotes a difficulty with reading comprehension. One of the most powerful aspects of this part is an illumination of the damage wreaked by hyper-correction. Delpit presents an exchange in which a teacher constantly corrects the (mis)pronunciations of a student who is reading aloud (e.g., making sure that every past tense verb ¬–ed suffix is pronounced). Such over-emphasizing of Standard pronunciation is a result of “‘ignoring that fact that the student had to have comprehended the sentence in order to translate it into her own language. Such instruction occurs daily and blocks reading development…’” (247).


As a teacher at a prototypical suburban school, I have only had a handful of students who could be described as Ebonics speakers, or even ELL. However, I do often consider the role of integrating new words, slang, vernacular, or other languages into the classroom. Again, I certainly see the advantages of learning rules of grammar/spelling/syntax, but the free spirit doesn’t allow me to bow before them in dogmatic reverence.

One opportunity that’s presented itself to me comes while teaching Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. At the end of the twenty-ninth chapter, Angelou makes the following statement about language, which I like to have the students discuss. This year, I actually paired the excerpt with a clip from Dave Chappelle’s 2000 special, Killin’ Them Softly. See both:

We were alert to the gap separating the written word from the colloquial. We learned to slide out of one language and into another without being conscious of the effort. At school, in a given situation, we might respond with, ‘That’s not unusual.’ But in the street, meeting the same situation, we easily said, ‘It be’s like that sometimes.'”
(Angelou 225)

This year, I led my students through a reading of Junot Diaz’s No Face (not sure if that breaks copyright, so clicker beware!) and asked them to consider the use of Spanish. Although not every student was on board, there were definitely some interesting discussions about language and the weight it carries.


Anyways, here are some questions to get us thinking!

1)      What do you think of the notion that speech/language/dialect is a means by which students are connected to a group? Have you ever seen group identity linguistically manifest in your classroom?

2)      To what extent does anxiety about different/emerging languages affect ELA policy?

3)      Do you have any activities in which you ask students to compare their vernaculars of choice to Standard English?

4)      How do you explain to your students the value of code-switching?