Education Evolutions #108

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Despite the best intentions of getting this issue out earlier today, I could not help taking advantage of one of the most beautiful autumn days in New England yet. Today was absolutely gorgeous after a few days of cold and rainy weather. The sun came out with a crispness that warmed the day befitting the colors of the season. Needless to say, I spent the best parts of it outside with the family.

This week’s selections include three short reads that anyone can take in if Monday is a holiday or later throughout the week. They are all a bit different and there is no theme but they address a wide scope of issues related to education. While the first selection is heavy, the other two are a lot more upbeat and even fun.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. It may be the most serious but is undoubtedly the most important. An old friend of mine once said, “Everything is political.” The older I get the more right he is proven. Teaching is an inherently political act as much as we might wish it were not. It is a helping profession and as such always manages to overlap on some level with the political. Addressing the ways the education system can amplify inequities is something long overdue. PL Thomas helps explain a way.

I hope you too were able to enjoy the day.

Here are three curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Unsweet Tea: On Tokenism, Whiteness, and the Promise of Culturally Relevant Teaching – radical eyes for equity – PL Thomas (5-minute read)

For the second week in a row, I have selected an opener article from PL Thomas. This is a powerfully personal take on privilege, as well as being one of the best I have read. As usual, Thomas weaves in a number of great sources to strengthen his point. What’s more impressive is how he extends the idea into education, undermining claims that education serves as a reform to inequities.

What makes the post so powerful is how he uses sweet tea as a metaphor to hammer home his point. Sweet tea is something so common as to be the default in the South, where Thomas calls home. It is an unrecognized default beverage. If you order tea in the South, you will receive sweet tea. As he explains there really is no alternative. Sweet tea is the “right” tea in that context, just as whiteness has been the default culturally in the wider context.

As Thomas highlights, challenging the default whiteness can spark both white fragility and tokenism. Neither is particularly palatable and both require a confrontation to overcome. The time to recognize the inequities in our current systems has long past. What’s more, tearing down privilege need not always be a zero-sum game. Plus, tokenism is definitvely not an answer. As he explains, “centering [whiteness] one last time in order to recenter our society and schools in ways that are equitable” seems like one of the few viable ways to confront and conquer some of the systemic inequities that education tends to perpetuate.

How to reach people with poetry? ‘Fault in Our Stars’ author John Green, Chicago Poetry Foundation are trying YouTube – Chicago Tribune – Steve Johnson (6-minute read)

This was a fantastic find for me personally but seemed well worth sharing. This year in my freshman English classes, I have committed to reading a poem every day to start class. The first thing I do every day is read a poem – twice. I spend some time selecting the poems, always looking for relatively short ones. Sometimes they are just poems I have found or like and sometimes I select them with some connection to what we will be doing in class. Sometimes we might talk about the poem but never for very long.

To see that John Green has put his time and effort into a project around poetry makes my decision feel a bit more vindicated. The best-selling young adult author and co-producer of the hugely successful Crash Course YouTube channel have teamed up with the Poetry Foundation to do something super cool, make short videos about poems. The videos themselves are simple and beautiful.

I chose to read a poem a day to my classes for a number of reasons, some of which are mentioned in this short article about the new YouTube channel, Ours Poetica. I wanted to introduce students to poetry without a lot of baggage. Students often claim not to like poetry and are often intimidated by it, feel like they don’t get it, and are rarely exposed to it. Adding some of these videos to the mix might be a little something extra that might sweeten the effort.

Having A Best Friend In Your Teenage Years Could Benefit You For Life – MindShift – Angus Chen (5-minute read)

Just as I started with a PL Thomas for the second week in a row, I am also ending with a MindShift article as well. This one caught my eye for a couple of reasons. One of my favorite colleagues who also reads this newsletter wisely told me not that long ago, “All you need is a really good friend,” when I mentioned my oldest had begun middle school. It was the kind of comment where truth immediately rings in your ears upon hearing it.

Like the writer, I too have retained a friend from early childhood. My oldest friend and I met when we were seven-years-old but our friendship has now endured over 40 years. So reading about a new study that shows the importance of adolescent friendships is no surprise to me. Most of my closest friends are those that I maintained since I was a boy and those that I gained while I was in college. They have also had some of the greatest influences on my life.

None of the findings are particularly surprising to me but serve more as academic validation of phenomena that already seem only too real to me and I expect many who have maintained long friendships since childhood. The benefits of a study like this kind of pinpoints and labels a lot of things that may not be as easy to articulate from experience without the benefit of a long objective look. How exactly it all works might still be a bit hazy but I expect that doesn’t bother anyone who has experienced life-long close friendship.

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