Monday, September 28, 2015

Reflection on "Colorblindness is the New Racism" and "All Lives Matter"

Armstrong and Wildman are two Santa Clara Law professors and write about the shift our society should make from being "colorblind" to adopting a practice called "color insight." They argue that white people often do not consider themselves to have a race at all, where people of color are much more aware of race.

The idea of color insight opens up dialogue about race in a productive manner, where colorblindness tends to ignore race altogether. Armstrong and Wildman say ""Whereas colorblindness urges us not to notice race, color insight says 'do not be afraid; notice your race and the race of others around you; racism and privilege still so affect people's lives; learn more about the racial dynamic.'" I thought this point was important to highlight because, as the authors mention, it is very easy for white people to think of being colorblind as not being racist, or at least harmful.

This relates to my favorite sentence in the chapter "Whites ignore race at their peril and to society's detriment." The idea that white people do not like to talk about race and privilege is certainly not new, but I thought this very effectively and concisely sums up the views on racial dialogue in this country. One of the choruses in this course is that white people need to be more aware of our own privileges and race and be able to talk candidly about these things in order to forge more positive relations between races.

I love the first assignment highlighted in this chapter. It asks students to pay attention to race around them for 24 hours and write down every interaction they have with it. One of the examples given was the author went to a gym that was populated by mostly white people. There, she saw a white high school student with a mascot of a native american person on his shirt. I think this is a really great assignment to do with students from all different backgrounds and see how their stories differ. I would love to do this with my current students m- they're in 8th grade and predominantly white, middle class kids. The wheels are turning as to how I might point out different aspects of race to them.

I have a hard time with using the second example - the power line activity, with students that age. The authors of this chapter are law professors, so their students are more mature and capable of handling touchy subjects like sexual orientation. I really like the activity, but I worry about its implementation in my own classroom right now. Does anyone have suggestions as to how I could rework it? When I read the explanation of this activity, I thought of Johnson's Diversity Wheel from the article we read earlier in the semester. They're pretty similar, so I wonder how I could adapt each of them for my demographic.

As an aside - I noticed that whenever the authors wrote about a general student or teacher or person, they used female pronouns. That usually isn't common practice, but it was nice to see.

Comment on "All Lives Matter"
I really enjoyed what user GeekAesthete had to say about Martin O'Malley's comment that "All Lives Matter" in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. What GeekAesthete talks about what is fair should be fair and accessible to all, but isn't. The idea of the implied "too" at the end of the above statement is a powerful one, I think. There is a reason people are saying that black lives matter. It's because black people are being treated as if they don't.
When people say "black lives matter" it doesn't take away anything from any other group. It is just a reminder that those lives aren't being appreciated the way that white lives are.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Response to "The Problem We All LIve With"

I had already heard This American Life's "The Problem We All Live With" before this class and remember it getting me really fired up. After hearing it a second time and reading along with the transcript, I'm still just as charged - maybe more so.

Ira Glass speaks to Nikole Hannah, a New York Times reporter talking about the Normandy, Missouri school district and the forced integration that occurred there just a few years ago. The story opens with a brief overview of the state of education in America and Hannah tells Glass that there's something we, as a culture, ignore - integration. The story highlights a young Normandy student, Mah'Ria, who was able to tranfer to another school in a different district because Normandy lost its accreditation. Despite many obstacles like angry parents, finances and bureaucracy,  Mah'Ria is able to attend the school of her choice.

Very early on in the story, Hannah said something that really resonated with me:
"It's not that suddenly a switch turns on and they get intelligence, or wanting the desire to learn when they're with white kids. What integration does is it gets black kids in the same facilities as white kids. And therefore, it gets them access to the same things that those kids get-- quality teachers and quality instruction."

Hannah did most of her research in the "heyday of No Child Left Behind," in which under performing schools would receive less money and be expected to improve. I think the above quote taps into that theme. The problem isn't behavior in the classroom, or violence or drugs, as many parent of Francis Howell students suggested. The difference between a school in an urban district and a school in a wealthier, suburban district is the resources the students get from them. There are so many grants and incentives for teachers to teach in low income, urban areas, but it doesn't seem to draw the quality teachers that these students need.

Listening to this story made me think of a book I read last summer and greatly enjoyed. It's called Some of My Best Friends Are Black - The Strange Story of Integration in America by Tanner Colby. Colby, like Johnson, who we read earlier this semester, is a white, upper middle class, heterosexual male and does a very good job of not letting that get in the way of writing this book. That said, I read this before taking this class, so I will likely read it again at the end of the semester to see how my view of it changes. Colby discusses a variety of issues such as education, religion, marketing, affirmative action and the formation of neighborhoods (which I thought was the most interesting part). I have tried to find excerpts of the book online to no avail and I let a friend borrow it and haven't seen it since. I pulled out what I found most interesting about the book as it relates to "The Problem We All Live With"

Colby highlights tracking in schools as a way of dealing with forced integration so that white and black students wouldn't have to see much of each other. The higher level classes (honors, AP) were made up of predominantly white students, while the lower level courses consisted of the black students who were bused in from elsewhere. I thought about this when listening to "The Problem We All Live With" and wondered how Mah'Ria and Rihanna's experiences were so different.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Reflection on Lisa Delpit Reading

Lisa Delpit's The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children

In her book, The Silenced Dialogue, she discussed the inherent problems with process-based learning techniques and how they help (or hurt) students from different backgrounds differently. She outlines the five rules of power that exist in our culture and argues that we need to be more aware of those rules in order not to allow students who are not in the culture of power to fall through the cracks.

When Delpit discussed the differences between DISTAR and the more progressive literacy education programs, as well as her discussion of teachers wanting "the same thing for everyone else's children as [they] do for [their own]", little alarm bells went off in my head. I liked her observation that the more progressive method of teaching literacy was only effective if students were familiar with the way words are formed before coming into that classroom. Wanting the same education for "everyone else's children" that a teacher does for his or her own implies they start at the same place with the same background. 

This may be a jump, but I couldn't help but think about the recent move of Sesame Street to HBO over the summer. The show was intended to help students who did not have the opportunity for preschool or nursery school to prepare for kindergarten in order to level the playing field, if you will. When the show made the switch, NPR did a story that I thought was very interesting. It discusses how the network is air new episodes on HBO and reruns will be shown on PBS a few months later. My initial thought was that "at least it's not going off the air completely." Then I read about it on the less reputable site and the author put it perfectly: 

In short, Sesame Street was founded to help low-income kids keep up with their more affluent peers. That is literally why it exists. It succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. And now it is becoming the property of a premium cable network, so that a program launched to help poor kids keep up with rich kids is now being paywalled so that rich kids can watch it before poor kids can.

You can find the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Just to give you some background information on the school I currently work in, this is the enrollment data and other indocators that I believed were important to acknowledged, as published by the Dristrict Profile on the Massachusetts Department of Education website

Monday, September 7, 2015

Reflection on Johnson's Priviledge, Power and Difference

The main themes that I took away from reading the first few chapters of Allan G Johnson's Privilege, Power and Difference were the ambivalence to these issues that people in power have and the use of language as a tool.

Though this point was reiterated many times throughout the piece, I thought that the following sentence was especially poignant for me. It was part of the list that Johnson created on what privilege looks like in everyday life. He said "whites can choose whether to be conscious of their racial identity or to ignore it and regard themselves simply as human beings." As a white person, I never even thought about my race until I started working in an urban school. I think that to this point, Johnson did a very good job of acknowledging his privilege and using that as a springboard for conversation throughout the excerpt.

One of the first things Johnson discussed in Chapter 1, entitled Rodney King's Question, is the language that surrounds the issues of class, race, ethnicity and gender. The point that I really appreciated was in his reflection on King's question, "Can't we all just get along?". Johnson said "Like any serious question, it sits and waits for what it deserves, which is a serious answer." The problem with this is that while we wait for that answer, the divide has grown bigger between classes and races. People often tiptoe around these issues because they are afraid of offending who they are with or because they are not willing to admit their culpability in the controversy surrounding these issues. We will not be able to make any kind of progress without being honest with ourselves and others about equality.

This excerpt made me think extensively about my personal experiences, and then those of my students. For the last two years, I worked in an urban charter school in the greater Boston area. Throughout my career as a student, I was surrounded primarily by people who looked like me - white and middle class. I was fortunate enough to go entirely through Catholic schools, which I now realize kept me in a very limited circle. It was not until I accepted the job at the charter school that I realized how different those students' experiences were from mine. I did not realize the importance of having people of authority who look like you until I saw that my students didn't have that in the way that I did. Most of our students were black or Muslim, but almost all of our teaching staff was made up of young, white, women. Students consistently called teachers racist for small things like asking them to stop talking or running in the hallway. It wasn't until about October or November that I realized they defaulted to that "accusation" because they had been exposed to this systematic racism for their whole lives.

Since I started working at the charter school, I've been much more aware of my privilege and the lens through which I see the world because of that. I try to keep it in check as much as possible and try to see things from my students' perspective as much as I can. Reading the excerpt from Johnson helped guide how I think about these issues more clearly.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


I'm Liz Johnson. I grew up in Rhode Island, but went to college in Massachusetts and worked in the Boston area for 2 years. I'm currently a long term sub teaching 8th grade Social Studies in Holliston, MA and looking for a permanent teaching job. I started to get my Masters degree in 2014 at Boston University, but I recently moved back to Rhode Island and chose to continue my degree at RIC. In my spare time, I like to read and spend time with friends.