Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Graduation Speech

It was important for me to put together this message because the response I often get from people when I tell them about my doctoral studies is one of surprise. "Oh my gosh that's incredible", and while I'm humbled to have reached this milestone, the message that I want to share with all of you is that my journey is not in any way incredible or special, but instead the inevitable outcome when you match passion with a strong support system. My own network consisted of parents, who were career educators with advanced degrees, teachers like Lois Hamilton in 1st grade and my doctoral sherpa, Megan Franke who never let me rest on my laurels, swim coaches, church deacons, fraternal brothers,

and parents of peers who taught me discipline, maturity, and respect. If education is to return to prominence in this country, it will not just be the result of some miracle policy, but instead from everyone taking an active role in the support network of one or more students. My fellow graduates, as we celebrate the completion of our programs today we must not shy away from the responsibility of making a mark on the field of education by impacting the lives of students on a daily basis. We live in an increasingly skill-based economy, so with that in mind, our research and our practice need to reflect the best of what is working to engage youth in learning and developing literacies that will be useful in a global context.

This preparation is no easy task in schools that more and more look and operate like prisons. Financial resources are being misappropriated or not appropriated at all, students are being bullied in new and complex ways, and the pressure to meet standardized test benchmarks only grows. Not to mention that "Last In First Out" policies, which sacrifice talented young teachers for more veteran educators, are a reality. What's at stake however is more sobering. The private prison industry is booming, and the demand for future prisons is being determined by elementary test scores. Add to this that graduation rates in CA for Black and Hispanic males hover around 50% and that dropouts are almost 4x more likely to be arrested and it becomes evident that our schools are doing a better job producing future inmates who can be exploited as a cheap labor force than future leaders.

As an early career educator, this is a challenging context to enter, but you must remember that you are not alone. When it all seems so overwhelming, that you are ready to quit, I encourage you to remember what you have built here. Remember your friend, Paolo Freire and his dedication to the oppressed, or Sonia Nieto and her ideas for educating youth from differing ethnic backgrounds, John Dewey who believed in the public school as a community anchor, or W.E.B DuBois who outlined the blueprint for what Black children in particular need educationally. Remember the network of UCLA professors who have prepared you, and that they are forever a part of your network.

When I received my BA and was looking to become a teacher, after realizing that I was hard-wired to be an educator and that pre-med was not for me, I immediately enrolled in a Masters program while also working as a teaching assistant. A couple years into the program, I got my first lead teaching position, and there was a part of me that said, "You accomplished the goal, forget the rest of that Masters program. How much debt are you willing to take on for this?" But the support system, said “Keep going, there's a bigger plan for you.” When I moved to California shortly after finishing my Masters, I applied to UCLA because I had fallen in love with the work Danny Solorzano was doing around Affirmative Action in education. I wanted to have an impact on education on that level, and Dr. Solorzano was even gracious enough to sit down with me. When I got my rejection letter, part of me said "Well maybe you're just supposed to be a teacher, the work of the classroom is fulfilling enough" But again the support network kept pushing. And then I met Megan Franke, and when she said apply again, I listened. So when I tell you that to develop and maintain a support network in education is vital, I speak as one who has benefited and continues to benefit from those relationships. Not only have I been pushed and held accountable by my support network, my advisors were the same ones who worked with me when Isaiah Obiesie Carroll entered this world in November of my first year as a graduate student. I can honestly say I would not be here if I had been left to my own devices because I would not have been able to see what the big picture held. At the end of the day, education is about relationships that turn into communities where learning is the outcome. I wish you all the best in entering, creating, and sustaining such communities with the support of your networks.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The NAACP Has Lost It's Way

When the Civil Rights Movement is introduced to most students, you learn about court battles in the aftermath of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case that eventually lead to a string of desegregation cases which culminated in the 1954 landmark case, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. Thurgood Marshall, among other lawyers becomes a central figure of this fight as does the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As a youngster, you come to understand that the NAACP advocates for social justice, and that education is a key arena in the struggle for rights. At least, that's how I always saw it, and would look to explain it to Lil Man. Now, however, it seems that the NAACP, particularly it's NY chapter has lost it's mission statement for it is incomprehensible to read that the NAACP has joined in a lawsuit with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in NY that would prevent the closure of schools with traditions of failure which in turn would keep charter schools, many with records of achievement, from expanding their enrollment and occupying more space. This is space currently shared with traditional public school entities.

In their plan to systematically deconstruct segregated schools, the NAACP challenged the notion of equality principle of the "separate but equal" Plessy decision. The lawyers correctly bet that educational institutions would not be able to construct and maintain equal facilities for both black and white students. Fast forward 2011, and while the words of NY NAACP representatives indicate that they want to advocate for the right of students, they say that they want to insure equal access for students, their actions say something totally different to the point that 2000+ members of the public marched on the NY NAACP offices recently. It is clear that there are schools in NY that are not getting it done. Attempts to close these schools continue to be blocked by the UFT in the name of saving teacher jobs, NOT thinking about what's best for students, which is what the NAACP should be thinking about. The head of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Michael Lomax, and former DC School Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, can't understand the position the NAACP has taken either and co-wrote an
op-ed in the NY Daily News questioning the possible motivation behind siding with the UFT to the potential detriment of thousands of students.

If there is one thing you take away from movies like The Lottery and Waiting for Superman there is a definite desire and desperation in some urban centers to move away from traditional public education models because the opportunity and educational gaps for students are too large. I know as a parent, I would be remiss in my duties if I let Lil Man languish in a place that would make him less likely to be a less competitive college applicant and have fewer options in a global job market. 50,000 students were denied placement in NY Charter schools this year according to the Lomax/Rhee op-ed which shows that the disdain for how public education is being administered is wide-spread. As a teacher, I understand that the union is supposed to fight for the jobs of teachers on the chopping block, but the NAACP has no business on the side of the UFT if they are trying to do what's right for the children. As an educator, if I was not doing my job with kids, then I have to step aside and let someone else have a turn. The public schools in question have had plenty of time to improve their situation, and they have not. So if I am Mayor Bloomberg, I would have little tolerance for their complaints about their space being diminished. It's that simple, there's too much at stake not to have only the most serious professionals working with the youth of today.

On the homepage of the NY NAACP site, there is a banner advertising the upcoming 75th Diamond Jubilee Convention in NY. I hope the same 2000+ who marched on the NY headquarters make their presence felt at this event as well because the NAACP has made a bad deal here, and they need to hear from those affected loud and clear. In interviews, national NAACP chair, Ben Jealous seems sincere in his vision to reenergize the organization and recapture it's importance within the community. If this is truly the case, then he will speak out against this action swiftly because if the NAACP goes any further off-course, they risk losing their way in the community permanently.

Friday, June 3, 2011

See What Happens? What Next for Terelle Pryor and Coach Tress

In my house when Lil' Man does something he's not supposed to do, or is warned not to do, he's met with a "See what happens?" from either the Mrs. or I when he hurts himself jumping on the couch or spills juice all over the floor because he was running around with an open cup. As I watch the mess unfold with THE Ohio State University football team, "See what happens?" is the phrase that comes to mind because the warnings have been there for YEARS about how dirty big-time college football is, particularly in the most prominent conferences. My beloved Miami Hurricanes have been sanctioned following years of dominance, the LA pro team, USC, fell to a similar fate, and Auburn is potentially going to face penalties even though they won a National Championship this year. The thing that is maddening about THE Ohio State is that at the head of it all is Coach Tressel, who has built a coaching brand based on integrity rivaled only by Coach K at Duke, and in the aftermath, when Pandora's Box has been unlocked, that integrity still remains largely unquestioned by most lay people because of how many games he won and because Coach is taking the easy escape of plausible deniability aka the "I didn't have first hand knowledge this was going on" excuse. So I'm bringing heat to Coach Tressel because as a coach myself, I believe you take responsibility for the welfare of the athletes in your care as if they were your own children. This means you are accountable when you knowlingly let them break the rules without consequence. It sets a bad precedent that you can profit so greatly off of a facade of morality, and the complementary demonization of the players, but then not face the music when those morals come into question.

My disdain for the Coach Tressel mode of leadership began to grow with the way he handled the initial "Tattoo 5" incident in December 2010 where it came out that prominent players Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas, and Mike Adams, had traded team memorabilia for tattoos. Instead of suspending the players on the spot for their missteps, Coach Tressel, backed by THE Ohio State and the Sugar Bowl arranged it so the players would play, and their punishment would be to sit out 5 games at the beginning of the 2011 season, games against "powerhouses" such as Akron, Toledo, and a decimated Colorado program. Instead of teaching the players a valuable lesson as a man of high integrity would, Tressel put the interests of his University and a Corporation first. Turns out the rabbit hole was much deeper, and the contrast between what we saw of Coach Tressel and the reality of his character was very large. When I read the George Dohrmann Sports Illustrated article delineating the yearly history of transgressions by players under Coach Tressel's leadership, I was not surprised, but disappointed because this story has happened before, whether with SMU, Alabama, or Florida St. There is a great deal wrong with the current college athletic model, and until the players in these hugely profitable sports receive compensation for their efforts, these scandals will continue to happen. Parents know the game, and just like Cecil Newton (father of NFL 1st overall draft pick, Cam), they will be less shy about putting a value on their child's talent and asking for those benefits up front. This mindset leads to athletes feeling entitled to not have to earn anything, and the vicious cycle will continue. Unfortunately, when it all blows up, coaches will continue to walk away with millions of dollars and a slap on the wrist while many student-athletes get nothing, particularly if they are not pro-level talent. So as much as I hope Terrelle Pryor and his teammates take this lesson and make sure to get a degree from THE Ohio State University, I won't be surprised when that does not happen.

I also hope somewhere on THE Ohio State trustee board there are those who are as equally disgusted and disappointed as I am and move swiftly to replace the athletic director and president who allowed this to happen. For E. Gordon Gee to stand up and say "I hope he [Coach Tressel] doesn't fire me." in a press conference is a clear indication of how far his priorities have shifted in the wrong direction. To give tacit approval to the leadership Coach Tressel has provided the football team given what has come to light is ridiculous, and it's even more ridiculous to think he had no idea what was going on either. The same can be said for the athletic director, Gene Smith. Terrelle Pryor took shoulder pads from the equipment room and pawned them. Is it really that easy? Was there nobody to answer to on the football staff? I know at PENN, I could barely get a towel to dry off after swim practice without showing my ID, so to say nobody in the athletic department knew about the equipment leaving the building is ludicrous. I'm going to stop now so I can try and think of ways to keep the next "See What Happens?" moment from going down with Lil' Man. It continues to be obvious that big-time athletic universities are more concerned with getting what they can out of student-athletes than with providing the academic program, which they were built on.