Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hyperlink for Kliewer's "Citizenship in School..."

This week’s reading, “Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome” from Christopher Kliewer’s Schooling Children with Down Syndrome, started out feeling like it was going to be a more complicated read due to the language.  To a degree, it was, but it proved to be very interesting in the end.  Kliewer argues that children with disabilities, in this case Down Syndrome, should not be segregated from general education classrooms.  Instead, he argues in favor of an inclusion model that is beneficial to disabled children in giving them the opportunity to thrive as a valued part of a community.  This is beneficial to the non-disabled students as well by creating a culture of acceptance.  This reciprocal relationship is detailed in the explanation of Shayne’s classroom:  “Community acceptance requires opportunity for individual participation in the group, but opportunity cannot exist outside of community acceptance. … Shayne felt that she broadened and strengthened the learning opportunities opened to all her children” (p. 75).  It was inspiring to see how the teachers Shayne and Colleen took the time to understand each of their students as individuals, and where their strengths and abilities were, without seeing them as disabled or non-disabled.  “Shayne recognized a child’s nonconformity as a natural human diversity; a source of strength that could be supported by the school community in order that it add a unique and valuable dimension to that community”  (p. 78).

The article reminded me of something I had seen a while back on the Today show.  Watching the segment again, I can see that what is happening at this school is exactly what Kliewer is advocating for.  The IDEAL School in Manhattan is a private school built around inclusion.  The school was founded 7 years ago by parents of children with Down Syndrome who wanted their children to have the same educational opportunities as their peers by being in classrooms together with their peers.  The school mirrors the model of Shayne’s school, in that the curriculum is built based on each child.  Though they all learn the same thing, each child has an individual learning plan.  The head of the school mentions in the clip that the social education of special needs students is just as important as academics, and for the non-disabled students, experiencing diversity is important.  They are building that reciprocal community in their classrooms.  I really admire the work that this school is doing, and the fact that it so closely resembles what Kliewer is arguing for in his book leads me to believe he would really approve of the IDEAL school’s model of inclusion.

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I was reminded of a number of themes from previous readings as I went through this article.  Here are a just a few of the quotes I highlighted:
Douglas Biklen:  Schools as cultural sorting machines that “justify a competitive ethic that marginalizes certain students or groups of students … [that] legitimize discrimination and devaluation on the basis of the dominant society’s preferences in matters of ability, gender, ethnicity, and race … and [that] endorse an elaborate process of sorting by perceived ability and behavior.”  (p. 73)
Safe Spaces –
“To value one another is to recognize diversity as the norm.”  (p. 79)
Johnson & McIntosh –
“If a misunderstanding emerges within the act of communication, we tend to fault the party with the least amount of cultural privilege and proceed to clinically identify which element of that individual’s communication is responsible for the misunderstanding.”  (p. 94)
Brown v. Board of Education –
“Vygotsky found that the culture of segregation surrounding people with disabilities actually teaches underdevelopment of thinking through the isolation of children from socially valued opportunities.”  (p. 83)  The integrationists argued that effects of racial segregation on children were harmful both socially and psychologically.  The effects are the same with segregation based on disabilities.

Thought to Share:  When I was in the 8th grade, I joined the Peer Partners program at my middle school.  Special Education students were separated into their own classrooms at my school, and this program put general education students like myself into these special education classrooms to interact with the students and build mutually beneficial relationships.  It remains a bright spot in my school memories.  The very beginning of this article brought me back to a moment with one particular student, Rafael.  I remember going into the classroom one day, and he came racing across the room, waving a worksheet he had just gotten back.  He had gotten everything correct, and proudly showed me the sticker at the top.  He told me, “Jamie, you know what?  If I keep doing really good, they’re going to let me be in the other classes.” I didn’t really know how to respond, though I encouraged him to keep working hard.  Like Mia and Jason at the beginning of the article, Rafael was aware that he was being kept separate from where he wanted to be because of his disability.  His frustration and discouragement over that fact was regularly visible.  Realizing now that that was 16 years ago (!!!), I find myself wondering if Rafael ever had the opportunity to experience the inclusion that he so desired.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Promising Practices 11/2/13

On Saturday, November 2nd—bright and early in the morning (especially since I live 45 minutes away!)—I attended Rhode Island College’s 16th Annual Promising Practices event.   I arrived early that morning to make sure I had enough time to get checked in and settled, but as it turned out, there wasn’t much of a check-in!  After grabbing my nametag (which I thankfully discovered had my session titles on it, because I realized too late that my ticket did not have them listed), I wound up having plenty of time to find a seat near classmates from both of my classes, and chat.  Looking around, it seemed like a large portion of those in attendance were students from RIC.  Despite some of the issues raised during our class discussion of the event, I found the day to be relatively interesting.  As we’ve already discussed our impressions of the Plenary Session (and briefly, the keynote speaker) in class, I am going to focus on the individual breakout sessions I attended.

After the Plenary Session, I headed off to the first session I selected, which was Citizenship I: “Children in Central American Migrant Families: Lessons Learned from a University-Community Collaboration” & “Building an Architecture of College Inclusion for High School Language Minority Students”.  I found this session to be very interesting.  The first presenter was Prof. Kalina Brabeck.  She discussed research on deportations of undocumented immigrant parents its effects on the children (eating & sleep changes, depression, anxiety, academic decline, developmental delays), and the effects of living in undocumented status on children (low social support, stress, psychological distress, low access to services, low rates of care, cognitive delay by as much as 3 years).  In all the political discussions surrounding immigration, I feel that the children are rarely considered.  And like the children of Mott Haven that Jonathan Kozol sheds light on in “Amazing Grace”, these immigrant children are the victims of the broken immigration system, ANDusuallypoverty.  The children are affected both personally and academically, and become stuck in a cycle that is tough to break free from.  This is tackled with workshops through the Migration and Human Rights Project, which give the community correct information over media information, help families in creating plans in the event of potential deportation, and more.

The second part of the presentation discussed Project ExCEL here at Rhode Island College.  It is a program that offers access to students who performed well in high school, but are generally discouraged from attending four-year universities because of their lack of mainstream English course achievements as non-native speakers.  The option for these students is usually dropping out, or a remedial community college education.  We learned with Virginia Collier that academic language proficiency takes 5-7 years to master, and that “academic skills developed in the first language tend to automatically transfer to the second language.”  Prof. Ramirez echoed this when he said that these high rates of drop out or remedial community college occur when ESL students are mainstreamed without access to studying in their home language.  Collier would definitely approve of the Project ExCEL program, which offers supporting courses to bilingual students to encourage a sense of community and academic success.  Also, as I mentioned in class, Prof. Ramirez commented that we can't judge the effectiveness of the system based on the achievements of the exceptions (like Mayor Tavares).  Real celebration will be when we don't need to recognize that a Latino or African American "made it."  I wrote this down in the session because it is so true and really struck me, especially after the Plenary Session panel—and then I watched the Tim Wise video!  This is exactly what Wise was saying in his interview in regards to racial equity.

The second session I attended was “Engaging Students in Anti-Bullying Efforts”, with presenters Rebecca Ferry and Joseph Pirraglia.  The presenters showed us the anti-bullying program they developed at Barrington Middle School.  Even though the presentation was not specifically LGBT focused, the “Safe Spaces” reading that we did came to my mind during the presentation.  At the beginning of the article, it says, “To the extent that teachers … create an atmosphere in which difference is not only tolerated but expected, explored, and embraced, students will be more likely to develop perspectives that result in respectful behaviors.”  This is what happened at Barrington Middle School.  The presenters commented that kids can’t achieve if they don’t feel safe, and no learning will happen.  So they worked within their teams to create an environment where students feel safe and comfortable sharing and discussing.  They did this through team building activities to create a culture, and by really listening to kids in the halls and at lunch to pick up on what’s going on, so that they could address the issues.  It started small, but the students embraced it and ran with the activities, including a pledge, video, song, skits, and more.  As a result, the students are better connected to each other, there is improved academic success, and the kids are standing up for one another and are aware of social issues that they see pop up.

The presenters acknowledged that a big part of it is a change of culture, and a challenge is getting over the awkwardness of talking about social issues.  This made me think of Johnson: “You can’t deal with a problem if you don’t name it; once you name it, you can think, talk, and write about it.  You can make sense of it by seeing how it’s connected to other things that explain it and point toward a solution.”  By creating the safe space atmosphere in their teams, and becoming comfortable with talking about the social issues surrounding bullying, the students were able to build an understanding and a culture of respect in their school.

The final session I attended was “The Central Falls School District and RIC School of Social Work Collaborative: Engaging Students in the Achievement of Academic Success”.  The panel discussed the collaboration that puts Social Work students into Central Falls High School as interns, offering additional support to at-risk students.  Prior to this collaboration, the high school had only ONE social worker for up to 800 students.  I don’t know if this is a common practice, but it seems crazy to me!  What a work load for that social worker, particularly in a school with so many issues with substance abuse, homelessness, teenage parents, and domestic violence.  It was great to see how the social work interns are able to have immersive, real-world experiences with the students and the school, and be able to go back to class and instructors for support in working through the tough problems they are encountering.  I can see how the collaboration is an effective learning model both for the high school and for RIC students, and I believe the collaboration with Secondary Education will be just as beneficial.

One thing I made note of is that the Vice Principal of CFHS said that attendance at the high school is a challenge, and that it is a community issue.  The social worker, interns, teachers, and even the VP himself have gone on home visits to reinforce the importance of regular attendance to the student and to their family.  The social worker said that families tend to be apprehensive about him at first because they aren’t sure of his role, but their relationship builds once they understand that he is there to help.  This seems very Delpit to me, because the school is making an effort to teach the rules and codes of power to the student and the families to ensure the students academic and future success.

In hindsight, even though the sessions I selected were interesting, I wish I had selected some of the other ones.  Having heard about a few of them from others, I think there were ones that I may have enjoyed more.  Christina’s explanation of the “Star Power” game sounded like an interesting experience.  Also, the Advocacy II: “Creating Caring and Committed Anti-bullying Classes” & “Trans*Action: Tools for a Transgender Ally” sounded like great and informative presentations in that final session!  Ultimately, I feel that the conference was a beneficial experience for me to have, particularly as a part of this class.  Attending the conference equipped with the insight gained from our class material allowed me to see the information presented in a different, or maybe enhanced, way.

How was your day?  :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Free Write for Brown v. Board of Ed.

The landmark Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954, called for equal opportunity in education through the desegregation of schools.  I learned about this case in school quite awhile back, and though I remembered the significance of it and what it established, I found the Smithsonian’s website to be great for refreshing my memory of the history of the case.  It was very interesting and informative.

One thing I noted was that the segregationists argued (in addition to their other arguments) that “inequality persisted because African Americans still needed time to overcome the effects of slavery.”  A click or two later, the idea is expanded as: “because black children were still living with the effects of slavery, it would take some time before they were able to compete with white children in the same classroom.”  What does that even mean?  And as it was 85 years after the abolition of slavery, I have to wonder what kind of time frame they had in mind.

I also noted that the integrationists argued that effects of segregation on children were harmful both socially and psychologically.  In Bob Herbert’s article “Separate and Unequal,” he explains that schools are no longer legally segregated, and yet they still are segregated because of residential patterns, housing discrimination, economic disparities and custom.  In acknowledging that, it is arguable that students today in low-income school districts are still suffering these social and psychological effects.

Herbert points out that the resistance to integrating students from low-income areas into affluent schools is because it would also mean racial and ethnic integration, and that the election of Barack Obama has not made the idea easier for those who resist it.  This ties in to what Tim Wise is talking about in his radio interview, because he says that racism is what’s real in America still.  We’re nowhere near post-racial America just because of Obama’s election.  “It would have been a front page story if racism was no longer a problem.”

The radio interview with Tim Wise also made me think of our class readings.  He talks about the notion of enlightened exceptionalism exemplified by Barack Obama’s transcending race as the “acceptable limiting archetype.”  The radio show host points out that it means being truly exceptional to break the glass ceiling, to which Wise says that, “proof of racial equity will be the day that people of color can be as mediocre as white folks.”  As McIntosh says, “I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.”  Like Wise says, if Obama had had anything like what Bush and McCain had on their track records, then as an African American man, he would not have been able to get as far as they got.  But because he is an exceptional example of an African American man, he broke through the glass ceiling.

Wise also points out that even though overt racial bias has diminished in the years since Brown v. Board, denial about the problem of white privilege hasn’t changed.  He says that you “can be a good person, a decent person, and remain oblivious and that’s where white folks have been for a long time.”  This is just like Johnson’s assertion that, “the ease of not being aware of privilege is an aspect of privilege itself, what some call ‘the luxury of obliviousness.’”