The news, and social media have blown up over so many issues in recent months, but many have dealt with expression of race and racism. The most recent event to stir up controversy has been Colin Kaepernick's choice to not stand during the national anthem.
I have read so many posts, articles, videos, etc. sharing various points of view on this issue. There are those who support him and those who oppose his stance but there are also many who share their racist views about this and other issues. Reading through the whole conversation I have been inspired by the opinions of some and disturbed by the views of others.
There is a hashtag #IsupportKaepernickbecause that I followed for some time the other day and saw the support and posts that left me deeply troubled. I included some of the picture posts below. I did not select them to make a point showing positive or negative posts. I went through selecting picture posts from multiple days and tried to find ones that weren't repeats of basically the same image or idea. I must also caution that there are some posts that contain content that I wouldn't want my children to read unless I was ready to have a teachable moment conversation about racism and prejudice.
Some image posts from the #IsupportKaepernickbecause
Here is an article that someone shared in support of Colin Kaepernick that was an interesting read.
What is the real issue behind this controversy?
What I have seen in the posts from both Twitter and Facebook, and yes I am ashamed of some of the posts that I have read from my FB friends about this issue has missed the real issue.
Why Colin Kaepernick is not standing for the pledge is about his feelings about how African Americans are being treated in America. That is the issue, however his actions - not standing for the National Anthem has opened up into a new conversation. As a result his actions are being connected with the Flag, our symbol of Patriotism, Sacrifice of Soldiers, and the Ideals of this nation. I am not taking a stance in support or against his actions. I think it is a complex issue that involves multiple facets. There is the issue of patriotism and what the flag represents, but then there is the first amendment that allows freedom of speech, expression and protest.
What has made this issue so compelling to follow for me is the diverse topics that people bring up to support their position. I have seen posts asking how can Colin Kaepernick be oppressed when he was raised by white people? Or how can African Americans be oppressed if we have a Black President, Black Justices, Lawyers or Doctors? Another set attacks Kaepernick's salary. It must be tough being oppressed and making $19 million a year. There are others wondering if he will give up his salary. These are just some of the tangents that have arisen that I want to comment on, but that would elongate this post into something beyond our purpose.
What I think the comments about his salary are missing is a basic fundamental connection to the idea of empathy. I have never experienced the kind of prejudice, racism, discrimination that some humans have endured. I do not know what it was like to live under Jim Crow laws in the south or to be imprisoned during the Japanese internment during World War II. I will never know the anguish that Jewish parents felt as their children were taken from them, or the children learning their parents had been killed by the Nazis. I wish we lived in a world that these events never occurred. I do not have to experience these to be able to empathize with the suffering of others. I can feel sorrow for a friend, or colleague who is battling cancer. I can understand the struggles to a degree that I know no one should ever have to face those challenges without having to live through them myself.
I found myself thinking about the individuals who marched with African Americans during the Civil Rights movement. There were Blacks and Whites alike. They walked together, they rode the busses into the south, sat at the lunch counters and were beaten and killed alongside their African American counterparts. These young white men and women had not experienced the oppression they were fighting against. They didn't have to go to inferior schools, sit in the back of the bus, or face injustices in our legal and social systems. Yet they empathized with the struggles of others and decided they MUST take a stand. They must do something to change their world and make it better for others. Colin Kaepernick maybe living a life where he has wealth and fame, but from the images I have seen he is still facing Oppression.
I asked a colleague one simple question today- What is the worst name you have ever been called as a white person in America?
If you asked an African American what do you think their answer would be? Which do you think would be the more severe insult?
Patriotism and the National Anthem
Q1 What does the National Anthem mean to America? To you? To all groups within our Nation?
Watch the video and listen to the verse that is not included in the National Anthem.
Q2 What does this verse mean to you? Should it be included in the National Anthem?
Oppression vs. White Privilege
I have seen discussion of White Privilege for a number of years. When I first heard this I thought it was a load of crap to be frank. I come from a blue collar working class family who had to sacrifice to make ends meet. I didn't have power in society, the ability to change things or tell others what to do that would impact their lives. Then I went to Mississippi on a mission trip and had a moment where I felt like I was in the minority. I walked into a grocery store and was the only white person in the store other than the other teacher I was there with. This was a pivotal moment in my life. I was aware of the feeling, a feeling I never experienced in my life, well other than being the only male in a women in literature class in college, but that's another story. In this moment I realized I had never been aware of being the only person who was white in a room before. I immediately began to think about how people of minority are treated in a world where they are the minority every day.
Q3 What is Oppression and how can we use this concept in our teaching?
Q4 How can you incorporate the idea of White Privilege into racial conversations in your class?
This story has lots of examples of challenges to the idea of Free Speech. There is the example of Kepernick exercising his Freedom of Speech to not stand for the National Anthem. There are others using their Freedom of Speech to criticize his actions and protest. Finally there are those who use their Freedom of Speech to post racist and inflammatory remarks to incite reaction from others.
Q5 Are there or should there be limits to freedom of speech?
Q6 How can you incorporate and use the ideas of protest in lessons you teach?
Q7 Should protests include the flag, (burning the flag) national anthem etc. or are those off limits?
I have heard this question often during my teaching career and have even asked it on occasion. My reaction to the question has varied over my career. Early when I heard it uttered, or asked it, I often heard the response, well you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. I sometimes asked it looking for assistance, but met with the horse analogy I didn't move forward or grow in my practice and was frustrated. Other times when asking or hearing teachers ask it I felt vindicated that I wasn't the only one who had students who weren't jumping for joy in their classes either. I really find this response troubling because it didn't help my students, but rather helped me feel better about my own failure.
Over the last number of years, I have continued to ask the question and found better answers. I have found better, more passionate educators to engage in these conversations. Conversations about homework and grading. Discussions about Genius Hour and building relationships with students TLAP. I have read numerous books and talked with the authors about how they are changing education. I have sought answers to the question - How do you reach the unmotivated student?
I recently had a conversation with a teacher and this question popped up again. So looking at my experience I had to take pause with responding. Where I am in my journey in education I have come to the following stance on the question.
1. Ask the question! I want teachers to ask that question. Ask it often and to as many people who will listen. Ask it to your students, parents, anyone who might assist you in finding an answer. Why would I encourage this question? Let's face it no matter what you do in your class you are going to find students who might not buy into that lesson, activity or subject. We will all face unmotivated students as some point in our career. The question is what will you do about it?
2. Find a real answer! Don't settle for the horse analogy. Teachers should continue to ask the question but seek an answer that will provide them growth and improvement. You may not reach all of your students tomorrow, but if you reach 1 it is 1 more than yesterday and our goal is to reach them all. Don't accept the well that is the way it is, kids just don't care. Our kids deserve better and if you truly went into teaching for the right reasons you can't accept that either.
3. Look at who has the power to make the change! Again the ever popular horse analogy puts the onus solely on the student for being motivated and engaging in the learning activity. Teachers are in control of what happens in their classroom. Yes even in student centered classrooms, teachers are the ones who make the decision about how the class will flow. They make decisions about the topics, assignments, homework and grading.
4. Be Understanding - They aren't there YET! I have already shared some of my learning journey. Navigating the waters of education to figure out how to reach students is daunting. When the question is asked, the most important part is what is the intent of broaching the subject? If a teacher wants to feel validated in their own failure to motivate students they need to be challenged and coached up. We can't accept a reality where teachers aren't looking to grow. If teachers are asking the question for real answers, then they are far from a failure. They have recognized an area of need for improvement and want to improve. They need help.
Some things that have helped me improve this situation in my class.
1. Do a reality check- what is your current reality? Would kids come to your class if they didn't have to? Are they excited about what you teach and how you teach? The answer may not be what you want to hear, but you can't move forward until you identify where you currently are.
2. Connect with other teachers - you can't do it alone and teaching is a daunting profession. I made my greatest gains when I connected on Twitter and read the books of awesome educators. it is vital to find others who share your passion for education who you can delve into the challenges of education.
3. Try something new! If the way you have always done it isn't working, change it up. The biggest changes I made were grading, Genius Hour and becoming a PIRATE. Genius Hour tapped into student passions. Teach Like A Pirate refocused my efforts as a teacher toward building relationships with students. Grading- I focused on formative assessment where I am able to give students feedback and not letter grades. I also reduced the total number of summative assessments and made the emphasis skills over content. My area for continued improvement is to make my assignments more authentic.
4. Build Relationships - I have written on several occasions about my struggles to become the educator that I want to be. In many of those I reveal the fact that I followed the path of content over relationships. Connecting with your students, getting to know them is vital. Why aren't students doing the work? Well it could be they don't see value in it, or that they have a multitude of responsibilities beyond your class that take precedent over doing the task.
I found out some of my students were basically homeless living in hotels and were stressing about my assignments. I had made the move to going paperless and using technology for all my assignments. This was great for me, but not for these students who didn't have computers or internet access on a regular basis. In a conversation with our technology department I found out we were removing the computers from a lab and would be recycling them. I posed the question could we give these students the old devices? We came up with a loaner program for students and were able to help them.
When I began doing Genius Hour with my students I learned more about them than through any other activity I had ever done. Did it cost content coverage, yes. Did it change the way I viewed my students and they way they viewed me and my class absolutely. Did students learn, without a doubt! They had to reflect on their learning journey which for some was the most powerful learning experience they ever had and it wasn't for a grade.
I do not have a magic answer for motivating students because each student is unique and has their own abilities and interests. What I do know is students are much more motivated to do the work when the work has meaning to them AND they are actively engaged in the task. Students want to learn and do, we need to get out of their way and let them explore their interests and showcase their talents.
Q1 How do you reach the unmotivated student?
Q2 How motivated are students to complete your homework? Share some examples/evidence.
Q3 Are grades motivating for students? Have they done tasks that weren't graded and how does that compare to the efforts of graded tasks?
Q4 What have you done to get to know your students? - To really get to know your students?
Q5 When you find a student(s) who are excited about the learning opportunity, how do you react, what do you do?
Q6 What has been your most successful methodology to motivate/engage students?
Q7 What advice do you have for teachers struggling with motivating students? This goes beyond Q6 to ideas, actions, and more to help other teachers.
What does the Olympics mean to you?
I start with this question because of recent news that the Olympic rings, symbols and content have been copyrighted to a point that only official sponsors are able to use the image. This is both disturbing and not surprising. Disturbing because of what the Olympics is supposed to stand for and not surprising because I know we live in a capitalist world where money is more important than values, justice or doing what is right. Do I sound cynical?
I am frustrated! The more I learn about the Olympics of the modern age the less I feel it lives up to the original meaning. That is also true with the idea of democracy (all people have power and voice) or treat others as you would like to be treated. Great in theory, but has never come to fruition. The Olympics in my mind is about individuals competing to showcase their talents. It is also a time when nations stop focusing on their petty differences and celebrate the achievements of these individuals regardless of where they came from.
We have also seen the inequalities of the Olympics. Rio is a prime example of this. We see the amazing facilities of the Olympic stadiums, the scenic views and the skyscrapers that line the city. What isn't shown is the devastating poverty , or the unsanitary conditions. We have heard stories of pollution in the water that the boats will compete, we have seen the water in the diving pools turn green. But the real inequality will happen when the games and all the tourists leave Rio. It is what happens after every Olympic Games. The Olympics ushers in billions of dollars in construction and development that brings in tourism dollars. When the games end, the stadiums go unused, unfilled and quickly fall apart. We see that in China, with their birds nest stadium and other nations. Billions of dollars are spent, but where did that money go? Who did it benefit? Did it lesson the poverty or economic distress of that nation? What can be done to improve this situation?
The Olympics is a time when millions of people stop what they are doing and share a common experience. They celebrate the amazing abilities, and hard work that has allowed the athletes from around the world to come to one place and perform for themselves, their countries, and most importantly the human spirit.
I still love the Olympics and stay up late to watch the events. I have seen so many examples of the true Olympic spirit throughout the games and have found myself cheering for the great performances and shining spirits. The other night a runner in a distance race fell and was able to get up and win the race. Another track event saw an athlete fall and injure herself. The shining moment was when another athlete helped her up and cross the finish line. There have been so many great stories of people young and old. Like the 17 year old youngest 400m hurdler in the field who didn't live up to her potential respond with words beyond her years. Or the 41 year old Gymnast who is still competing at a high level, or the 40+ year old cyclist from America who won her race. These are all great stories that help us remember the games are about the people not the country.
There have been some amazing individual performances by people who have gone beyond what they had ever done prior. There have been performances where people have become champions in multiple events or in multiple Olympics. Some are beginning their Olympic career, some are seeing it come to an end. Some have met or exceeded their goals and others failed to achieve them.
In watching the Olympics I have thought a lot about the idea of failure. I have watched some amazing performances. I have seen world and Olympic records broken and in some cases smashed. I have seen individuals and teams squeak out a victory while others ran away from the competition. What I have thought about most often is how do we see the Silver, and Bronze medalists, and even more those who finished middle or back of the pack. What do we think about those who didn't make it out of the qualifying heats? They are all Olympians and all champions. It seems to me that as the events are reported those not standing on the podium at the end, and sometimes those not wearing the gold, are viewed as failures. That to me is unconscionable. Our society only remembers the winners. We rarely remember who lost the superbowl, unless it is the Buffalo Bills who did it 4 times in a row, no offense but that is memorable. Even then they were the best team in their division 4 years in a row and yet are mocked because they lost that one game. Just getting to that championship took years of hard work, sacrifice and dedication that most of us will never understand. The same is true of the Olympic athletes. All of these athletes should be celebrated for their accomplishments, not their lack of hardware. They are the best in the world, and it is a big world about 7 billion people and growing.
Q1 We may never forget the names of some of these champions like Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, or Usain Bolt, but what about the medalists at these games? Why are some celebrated so much more than others? What about the lessor known historical figures in history who have changed the world? How do we share those great stories with our students, and why should we?
Q2 The Olympic Spirit has come shining through in some memorable moments during this Olympics. I am being drawn to the idea of using art and literature here- How can we use the Olympics as a prompt for student creativity? Think of the human spirit or other content that can connect your your subject but be produced in a creative or new way.
Q3 The Olympics have lots of connection to politics, economics, environment, science - physics and math. How can we use the Olympics to teach lessons about economics or environmental impact of hosting the Games? Or How can we collaborate with our colleagues, especially different departments to create cross curricular lessons? I am sure @MathDenisNJ has some math ideas.
Q4 The Olympics has so many examples of individuals who didn't meet the goal of being the best in their field on that day. How can we use this idea in our teaching? How can we use this with our students? Are these individuals failures?
Q5 Inequalities exist in the world. Some people benefit financially from the Olympics while others see the potential of the money spent to host the Olympics slip away. Could you share some examples of the costs to host the Olympics, economic conditions of the host nations, and images or articles about what happens to stadiums/facilities after the games to set up as a prompt. The Olympics has winners and losers, some in the events, others are the citizens of the host nation. After exploring the information, what would be your recommendations to the Olympic Committee to improve the problems you have found?
Q6 Take a few minutes to look at the individuals who make up the USA Olympic Team. I took pause as I read the story of the Olympic Fencer or many other individuals who are first or second generation immigrants, or many who are minority groups in our country. There is currently a divisive debate over immigration. One candidate wants to keep whole religious groups out, yet we have individuals from these groups representing our nation in the Olympics. How can we use the stories of our Olympic representatives to create a learning opportunity?
Pokemon Go is an interactive way to explore the world around you. I love it for a couple of reasons. First it is interesting and engaging. It gets people to move around their neighborhood or other areas more as they find new icons or Pokemon creatures to capture. Second it provides points of interest and information that makes walking through an area an educational experience.
Here are a few articles about how to use Pokemon Go in education.
Q1 What is your first experience with Pokemon Go? Have you read about, discussed or played? And First Impressions?
Q2 What are the positives you have seen/heard/experienced about Pokemon Go?
Q3 What are areas of concern or negatives you have seen/heard/experienced about Pokemon Go?
Q4 Pokemon Go marks points of interest with information in a fun way. What areas around your community could be Pokemon stops?
Q5 How can you create your own Pokemon experience with your students? With and without using the technology?
Q6 How can you turn your students loose to create their own Pokemon experience? What topics might you offer up to students?
Q7 What are the values to education and your students of incorporating a phenomenon like Pokemon Go into your class?
Q8 Check out the links/blogs in the post gg.gg/sstlap. What implications for education do you think would be most impactful or easiest to apply to your class?