Archives for posts with tag: education

It is hard to know the truth of what led to the end of Esquith’s career. A brief Google search indicates that there are almost as many theories as there are websites. I admit, though, that my bias is that “something is rotten” here, and that it’s not Esquith. The book is good. His arrogance shows through often, and he is unsubtle when he criticizes his own administration. Neither of these things probably earned him many friends.

Still, he clearly sacrificed a great deal of time, money and energy to do the best work he could. Some of his reasoning is circular – ‘I think we should study this and therefore we should because I am the arbiter of such things’ – well, then, he’s far from alone.

There is a great deal here to support – that he has very high expectations, is clear. He mocks the errors of his younger teacher self. He realizes the reality of standardized tests and how, in the end, they are so very unimportant.

If he did what he stands accused of doing, then he deserves to end his career in disgrace and to lose his freedom. But if he didn’t, oh, if he didn’t. . .

an account of Esquith’s firing from Diane Ravitch’s blog

Hobart Shakespeareans

Hobart Shakespeareans – Trailer

At times, this book seemed more like an overview of a topic than an argument for any kind of revolution. And Robinson is perhaps a bit too fond of something I’ve noticed in many polished speakers – he reduces things to certain numbers and often uses alliteration (the 5 C’s, for example). Still, there’s much to be learned here, and I was always grateful when Robinson offered the names of other texts to pursue and / or schools / programs to investigate, so I could go into more depth if I wanted to.

It’s hard to imagine at this point who genuinely disagrees with what’s here. I think the two more important questions are how to generate the kind of political will necessary to “scale up” from some of the exemplars Robinson provides and how to manage the transition in the least disruptive way possible.

Ken Robinson’s TED talk

I understand the instinct. The short-term window. The bipartisan creation story. The big money. I even understand the top-down approach. It takes time to engage constituents and, to be honest, constituents are often under-informed about the issues in play. Would a community conversation have helped alleviate the issue of siblings being assigned to separate schools? But would it have made for better teachers?

Still, the top-down, outsider-led, system-focused, charter school-fueld approach does not seem to have improved the situation as much as it has just changed them.  Russakoff’s narrative provides compelling insights into what’s succeeding and what’s not in the Newark schools, and begins to articulate how difficult this issue is in the country at large, even when forces like Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg align.

Russakoff introduces the idea of community schools, which hold tremendous appeal, but the 10,000 foot view shows the sources of some potential frustration. Priscilla Chan (Zuckerberg’s wife) is apparently creating a wonderful community school, but it’s one school, resting largely on the shoulders of one individual with remarkable access to funds. Ras Baraka, the mayor who followed Booker, is doing more to engage the community, but what’s happening to students while he is engaging the public?

This is a solidly written and important book.

Even before I knew about his connections with the Weather Underground and Obama, Ayers was one of my heroes. He came to my school during my second year of teaching to talk with the teachers, and I was just riveted. Some years later, I heard him speak at a conference and was inspired as well. I had the opportunity to thank him for those two moments last night when he was in Cleveland for a talk to promote his new book.

Ayers said he was aiming for a pamphlet of old, that he was tired of being known for what he was against and wanted it to be known for what he was for. The manifesto is indeed radical. With everything that he’s seen and experienced, he dares to hope. “We can,” he reminds us, “always do something, and something is where we begin” (199). There’s much I could quote here and a great deal that I underlined in what will, I am sure, be the first of many times I read this book. It’s a quick read, so read it, and “get busy in projects of repair” (197).

Morris is right to say that much time and attention has been paid to the struggles of black males as they get entrapped in the school –> prison pipeline. Consequently, little energy has been spent on girls and their own school –> confinement pipeline. Here Morris does some of her best work. The section on human trafficking is difficult but necessary. (The 11-year-old who voluntarily describes herself as a “ho”. . .) Morris wants us to understand that which is unique about black girls, particularly the way they ask questions, respond to real or perceived disrespect, and process things verbally. I cringed in recognition at some all-too-familiar descriptions of my memories of my reactions to some situations with Black girls. She wants us to understand that people who are harmed do harm in turn and that we all (and Appendix A is useful for this) need to be more prepared for how to address this. Her prescriptions for school security seem pretty ambitious, though I do wonder about the impact of grandmothers doing hall duty. I would add this to my list of required reading for those teaching in any kind of setting that includes Black girls.

Duckworth needed to write this. It was time to get off the TED stage and offer her research in a sustained argument. (I do wish she had decided who she was writing for. At times, this book comes off as a  self-help manual, a psychological text, advice to parents, advice to educators – all overlapping audiences, to be sure, but the shifts can cause whiplash. Blank space on the page is not the same as a transition.)

There’s not a lot to argue with here. Indeed, Duckworth ducks any points of contention. Though she does quote Tiger Mom Amy Chua, she does not even raise the question of their shared cultural background. More importantly, though, she does not address the criticism that her argument about grit is a kind of “bootstraps” argument (credit to my co-teacher for that comparison). In short, she puts the burden on the individual person, family, community and again, does not even consider the notion that a person can have all the grit s/he wants, but if the system (education, employment, etc.) is deliberately rigged against them, then grit only produces the exceptional individuals which, in turn, makes some offer a form of the “Well, if Oprah can do it” argument.

I don’t mean to be too harsh. This is a useful book. Pete Carroll proves to be an entertaining and recurring character. My copy is well-marked and, I’m sure, will be well-used. But I hope it’s Part I. There’s more work to do here. But given her argument amount grit, I suspect Duckworth will stick with it.


I am the target audience for this book. I am one of the white folks who teach in the hood. I’ve been doing it on and off for 20+ years and expect to do it for the rest of my career. And I wish I had this book 20 years ago. For those who read teacher education books regularly, you know that there are some books that are philosophical and some that are practical. I loved that this was a combination of both. For a short while, I was irked by the occasional grand statement. And conclusions that include the phrase “would probably” concern me.

I got over it. Quickly. Swept away by Emdin’s combination of evidence, anecdotes, and pedagogy, I became a firm convert. Certainly, there were times I wanted to argue with him. For example, I think he places too much emphasis on grades. I recorded my brilliant rebuttals in the margins.

Emdin’s practical suggestions on how to work with students he calls “neoindigenous” are challenging and, I think, definitely worth considering. I do not want to be complicit in anything that smacks of educational colonization (Emdin’s examples from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School are sobering), but I am not sure I can try everything at once. The logistics of the cogen – a kind of secret student-advisory board – seem particularly challenging. And I was not persuaded by the need to or my ability to keep this sort of thing secret.

A wise student of mine once said, “Every time someone wants to do something for black kids, they roll out a basketball.” Are we doing the same thing with rap / spoken word / hip-hop? Certainly as someone who has turned out to have many more skills with words than basketball, I value words more. But should I have students turn a scene from, for example, Romeo and Juliet into a rap? What message does this send them? And there are some black students who don’t like and/or are no good at rap.

I am willing to be goofy about handshakes, and I do try to listen to the music that is popular with the students. I could definitely do more co-teaching. And while I got into the community more as a younger teacher, I definitely have less energy for that now. I also have children. Still, I could do more.

I agree with Emdin (and Bill Ayers before him) about the dress code, but there is something to be said about teacher consistency. Is this the battle worth fighting? Considering what could go wrong, is the grafitti wall the choice I want to make?

I agree with so much of what Emdin offers (my students are brilliant) and find this book inspiring. My plan is to share it with colleagues. It would be very useful to have allies in this work.