Being the leader of a school in a very diverse neighborhood in a major metropolitan area, I have students from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and language families.  Interestingly, a portion of those students considers themselves biracial.

So what does this mean for this child?

  • This means that they think twice every time someone in authority asks them to check one box that most accurately defines their ethnic background.
  • Many of the children who are biracial are also bilingual or even trilingual.
  • Cultural celebrations and family traditions may differ depending which side of the family is represented, which means that each child is learning how to flow from one culture to another.

Watch the video on this link.  It has some powerful reflections from biracial college students at Rutgers.

So the question is, are we as teachers and leaders trying to put each of these children in a solitary box? Or are we allowing them to share all of their heritage?



It’s like Taboo! without the list of words you can’t say. The basic idea is to get the rest of your team to guess the word that has come up without saying the word itself.

If you were building general English vocabulary, you could have students play with the hand-held game. Yet, if you wanted to do content-specific vocabulary, write the words on index cards, and have students take turns getting their team to guess the vocabulary within a short timeframe. This method forces them to explain the term in their own words, as their team tries to guess.

This activity works best after students have defined the word, and learned the material surrounding the terms. This allows students to have context and continued exposure to the vocabulary you want them to know and be able to use.

Has anyone used this strategy or something similar? Please share your experience.

Our forefathers wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Forty-five years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the Washington Mall and said,

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

While he didn’t state it, I’m sure his dream included classrooms where race and social class did not matter. De facto segregation continues and with that brings inequality. Separate is not equal in this case. On Long Island or the Upper East Side, I see classrooms with books, notebooks, SmartBoards, and stocked classroom libraries with a variety of books. In East New York, the South Bronx, or Washington Heights the situation is vastly different. SmartBoards are few and far between. Some children come to school without breakfast, let alone books, a notebook or homework. (See Kozol for examples, if you don’t believe what I’ve seen)

As Senator Barack Obama said this week in his speech entitled A More Perfect Union:

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

As a white woman who works in schools in impoverished neighborhoods in the city, I’m shocked at what is acceptable.

  • It’s acceptable for white and Asian children to be pushed harder and further than Latino/a or African American children, even when their intellectual capability is equal.
  • It’s expected that the white or Asian child will succeed, and the other children will not.
  • It’s expected that children of color will go to the military or some community college, if they go to higher education at all. Asian and white children are expected to go to college–regardless of their abilities or desires.

The soft-core racism of low expectations continues.African American or Hispanics speak about racism. Yet, they aren’t the only ones who experience racism. Many whites express anger and outrage, but from another angle.

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time. (From A More Perfect Union by Senator Barack Obama)

Well stated, Senator Obama. Personally, I’m sick and tired of going to graduate classes where I am told, along with the rest of the class, that I am racist simply because I am white. Even more so, I’m tired of being told that I have white privilege. Sure my skin is white, but I grew up in one of the bleakest situations without many privileges. I’ve seen and experienced the inequality that our educational system continues to perpetuate.

So how do these feelings, beliefs, values and emotions impact our classrooms?

First, we have to look at our own values and beliefs. Acknowledge them for what they are, and realize that they probably conflict with others somehow. For instance, as a white woman if I do not believe that all children, regardless of color can succeed, should I really be teaching in a predominantly minority school? College is becoming a necessity for jobs that once only required a high school diploma. It is an injustice for each of my students to have me there, collecting a paycheck, if I am not willing to put forth the work and push them to succeed.

Second, to educate young minds they must have their basic needs. If any of their basic needs are not met, education and learning cannot occur. This includes the ability to feel safe, secure and loved within their classroom environment. This includes the words we use and the context that they are used. Children can easily read who doesn’t care about them.

Third, we need to push for a “more perfect union.” This includes teaching it, and creating engaging, real-life activities that our students can use to learn. Race is not a topic that can be dodged, or put underneath the rug. To ignore it is to say that it doesn’t exist, and as proven above, it’s very real for many Americans today.

Senator Obama quantified a more perfect union as the following:

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances . . . to the larger aspirations of all Americans. . . . And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination . . . are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the classroom, this could be starting a social action project in the community, or working with iEARN or another website to facilitate communication. In my middle school, we asked the kids what they wanted. We found they wanted to reach out and form sister school bonds with kids in a different socio-economic level and race. The conversations were rich and helped broaden their knowledge, while giving them access to positive interactions.

Does race impact your classroom? How?

How do you facilitate discussions about race in your classroom?

Do you have resources you would recommend to help other teachers on this topic?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit as to what I want I’d like for this blog.  Eventually, I’d like to see conversation with other professionals, that pushes my practice.  I want this blog to serve as a reflective and informational tool for myself, other instructional leaders, educators and policy makers.

To accomplish this goal, I am going to start a series of regular features.

  1. Each Monday, I will post about a “hot topic” in American society and culture today and how that topic is impacting or reflected in our educational system. This series will typically focus on discrimination or injustice in our society today and how various schools are grappling with that topic.
  2. Each Thursday, I will post about a Best Practices in teaching. This could include features on increasing student engagement, strategies for increasing academic language or managing the paperwork necessary for assessment.

In both of these series, I hope that visitors and regular subscribers will comment and push our thinking so our practice can improve.

Part of my American Dream is to give my daughter a better life than I had growing up. By giving her access to this part of society, she will have opportunities that I didn’t have. The underlying assumption underneath this aid, and the education it brings is that education opens doors within society and gives access. Without those associations and “pedigree,” certain doors won’t open.

The trend is for upper tier universities to expand financial aid so those from low, middle and upper middle income families will be able to afford the cost of attending such prestigious institutions. As the school leader of a secondary school who’s mission is to connect all students with college success, cost of attending college is a major concern for many of students. They may be able to achieve academically, but cost impedes their application and admission. Now cost is not a concern at the following institutions.

Hopefully these radical changes in financial aid structure will remove the barriers to a high quality education that lower income families face. I just wish this happened about 15 years earlier. Maybe I would have had an Ivy League Bachelors. I’m determined though to push myself to get the PhD from an Ivy institution.

Stanford Set to Raise Aid for Students in Middle:

  • If your family makes less than $100K/year= no tuition
  • If your family makes less than $60K/year= no room & board fees
  • Tuition in 2008-2009 is $36,030. Room and board will add $11,182.

Yale Plans Sharp Increase in Student Aid

  • If your family makes less than $60K/year= no contribution to cost of education
  • If your family makes between $60K-120K/year= contribute between 1-10% of the total family income
  • If your family makes over $120K/year= average contribution will be 10% of income
  • Yale is also working to reduce the need for student loans.
  • This information was found here.

Harvard’s Aid to Middle Class Pressures Rivals

Never Having to Say ‘Too Expensive’

  • If your family makes between $120-180K/year= costs at Harvard will be limited to about 10%, or a maximum of $18K.
  • If your family makes less than $60K/year= you can attend Harvard virtually free of charge

University of California, Berkeley

Robert J. Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, where total costs are roughly $25,000, said, “My intention, frankly, is to use the Harvard announcement to try to exert pressure on the government of California to increase resources for financial aid.” (quote found here)

Princeton University

  • If your family makes less than $53,500/year: Combined grants and student earnings cover costs. Parents’ contributions may range from $500 to $3,000, if families can afford it. Average grant in this range is $43,900
  • If your family makes between $53,500 and $75,000/year: Families are expected to contribute more than listed above, and 100% of families qualify for financial aid. The average grant in this range is $38,300
  • If your family makes between $75-150K/year, more than 90% of students in this category qualify for aid. The average grant in this range is $27,300.
  • If your family makes over $150K/year, the expectation is that families can afford to pay more money for an education. With that said,
  • more than 80 percent of aid applicants from families with incomes between $150,000 and $200,000 received awards with grants averaging $17,100. Even among families with incomes above $200,000, one third of those who applied for aid received packages averaging $12,800. In most cases, these families have more than one child in college or other special circumstances that affect their eligibility for aid.

I don’t know about you, but I remember the days of struggling through college. Taking out student loans and grants, and working my bum off to minimize the debt as much as possible. I didn’t have parents who could pay for more than books each semester, and that was pushing them to their limit. So I worked, and scrimped and saved. Many days of Ramen noodles, Taco Bell burritos and macaroni and cheese dinners.

I went to a mid-tier large university hat has a low tuition due to subsidies from an outside agency. This made college somewhat affordable. Now Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth and other institutions are taking family’s financial information into account not only for how much financial aid, but to determine how much tuition will be paid.

As I think about my students, and their family’s capability to pay $35K per year for an upper-tier university, even if the student could get accepted, I am convinced it won’t happen. Yet, now that universities take that into account, I can see pushing my students to go to these institutions, and they won’t graduate with a life-time of debt.

Princeton is now taking university experience to a whole new level with the Early Year Abroad. Before 1/10th of the Freshman class sets foot in New Jersey, many will be taking off for far off lands around the world to do social service projects, giving them experience abroad and a change of pace before college begins.

Dr. Tilghman [President of Princeton], speaking ahead of an announcement Tuesday, said that she hoped to begin the program in 2009 and that Princeton would not charge tuition for the year abroad, and would even offer financial assistance to those who needed it. A committee of faculty and staff members, as well as students, is to work out other details.

Oh am I jealous! What an advantage students will have. I think back to my job search within the area of international affairs, every position required significant experience living abroad.  This opportunity not only helps students mature, but it gives perspective and experience that will be invaluable in later years.

What’s a child to do when their parents either aren’t organized or aren’t able to teach them how to be organized? What happens when the school isn’t able to encourage children to organize themselves? In my experience, grades drop and students feel overwhelmed by all of the clutter and mess.

The first of the nine Principles of Learning, as written by the Institute For Learning, states:

Organizing for Effort

An effort-based school replaces the assumption that aptitude determines what and how much students learn with the assumption that sustained and directed effort can yield high achievement for all students. Everything is organized to evoke and support this effort, to send the message that effort is expected and that tough problems yield to sustained work. High minimum standards are set and assessments are geared to the standards. All students are taught a rigorous curriculum, matched to the standards, along with as much time and expert instruction as they need to meet or exceed expectations.

Is there any wonder that this principle is number one? Without organization and effort, the following principles of academic rigor, accountable talk, and self-management of learning cannot occur.

So how do we, the education professionals, help our students organize themselves to maximize their efforts? I think of a particularly anal teacher who specified what was written and stored in either the student’s notebook or in kept in a certain section of the 3-ring binder that was solely used for her class. I know I wasn’t this specific, but I did have rules on how to organize a notebook, what is written in each notebook and where to keep papers once they are graded and returned.

Now, there are tutors simply for this premise. This NYT article talks about tutors who focus on organizing boys (what, like there aren’t disorganized girls too?). The rules are simple– a weekly tutoring session on organization.

She requires her clients to have a three-ring, loose-leaf binder for each academic subject, to divide each binder into five sections — notes, homework, handouts, tests and quizzes, and blank paper — and to use a hole puncher relentlessly, so that every sheet of school-related paper is put into its proper home.

Students must maintain a daily planner; they are required to number the order in which they want to do each day’s homework and draw a box next to each assignment, so it can be checked off when completed.

Homework must be done in a two-hour block in a quiet room, with absolutely no distractions: no instant messaging, no Internet, no music, no cellphone, no television.

It’s an interesting concept. I’ve honestly toyed with the idea of hiring an organizational specialist once I have my school. I figure they can help me set up initial filing and organizational systems necessary for running the organization. If I can’t find papers or have my documentation in order, I’m ineffective, and I can’t have that.