Thursday, April 23, 2009

Missing Children Statistics

I've wondered this for a long time - do white children go missing more than other ethnicities, or do we just care more?

First of all, don't misunderstand me - it is a tragedy when a white child goes missing. I'm not arguing that fact. But it is a tragedy when ANY child goes missing. And there are a lot of other kids that aren't being featured.

I've been wondering this for some time and just found some articles on it. There are some examples of black kids who have gone missing and not gotten much attention here. More statistics here. And a blog post about it here.

Thanks to one of my readers who pointed out the blog "Black and Missing."

I think there are two things going on here. First of all, minority children are assumed to be living in more dangerous areas, so it's less surprising when something happens to them. Second, all children are not valued in the same way. Sure, we would all say that every child is worthwhile and has the same inherent value. But if this were actually true, we wouldn't have such a discrepancy in education, health care, and other services between white and minority children. We just wouldn't put up with it.

I'd love to hear thoughts - what will it take to actually have us value all children equally? And for us to see it as a tragedy when something happens to any child, not just a child that looks like us?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Literal vs Figurative

Finally, someone gets the difference between literally and figuratively. This is one of my biggest pet peeves ever. If I can explain it to third graders, how come adults can't get it??

When people say "Britney Spears literally cried a river..." NO! That is NOT what literally means! That's why we have the lovely word "figuratively." I hear newscasters use it all the time.

Finally, someone is helping me out. Even if it is a comedian. Look at

(By the way, I think they're right on about these protests too. That's another story though.)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Tea Party Tyranny
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Difference a School Makes


I've talked before about the two kids that a friend and I hang out with, or I guess you could say "mentor" in a way. I'm forgetting the pseudonyms I have them so I'll call them Jorge (the older one) and Luis (the younger). I had Jorge in my class in third grade and he has had it rough. He's the oldest of six children and was born when his mother was 14. His mom is frequently in rehab or jail, although she seems to have been out for the last couple of years. If she's clean or not is anyone's guess. Jorge helped raise Luis, at their grandmother's house (the rest of the kids live with other relatives). He's always been super over-responsible, stressed out, and had way too many adult responsibilities.

About a year ago, Jorge started to crack. He was 13, which isn't fun at the best of times, he finally didn't have to look after his younger brother so much, his mom and dad were both separately getting involved in his life but then flaking out when he needed them, and he started fighting with his grandmother. Oh, and he was dating a 16 year old who wasn't going to school and looked like she was at least 18. He got rude and insulting (never to us but he said some pretty awful things to his mother and grandmother). He started breaking things when he was angry, and knocking over chairs and tables.

In the middle of this, he got into trouble at school. Jorge was going to a large, old middle school that is desperately trying to overcome its reputation as a bad school, and not succeeding. I've never heard anyone say anything good about it or send their kids there for any reason other than they just didn't know there were other options. He wanted to be a thug and started dressing and acting like your stereotypical wannabe gangster. And even a gangster in training in this neighborhood is terrifying.

His teachers looked for any excuse possible to kick Jorge out of class. And he gave them plenty, from flicking rubber bands at people to wrestling in the hall to talking back to telling a teacher that he had a gun (he didn't). At one point, the school tried to expel him (a DHP for those of you in the industry) but my friend and I brought him to the hearing and the teacher and principal didn't show, so Jorge "won." We also went to a meeting with his counselor and acting principal and explained his home situation, how he was desperately behind and wasn't getting the help he needed and how that contributed to him acting out (it's way less humiliating to get kicked out of class for threatening a teacher than it is to have everyone see you can read very well), etc. Both the principal and the counselor promised to do everything in their power to get him the help he needed in the form of counseling, extra math and reading help, checking on him personally, and helping him get organized. They gave us their email addresses and phone numbers and urged us to follow up. Then they never responded to one of our (many) follow-up inquiries.

I'm not sure how much I can blame the administration and teachers on this one. Knowing this child as I do, and knowing what is at his heart if you can get to it, it frustrates me immensely that they didn't take the time and energy to really see what was going on. Jorge is very sensitive to respect or the lack of it (as many kids are) and knew that his teachers did not respect him, nor did they have time for him. Also, I'm really frustrated by the counselor and adminstrator making promises that they didn't/couldn't keep.

I also understand, however, what they're up against. They have a school full of kids who are statistically almost certain not to succeed and are facing less funding and support with more mandates. I know how exhausting it is in every way to really give these kids what they need, which is a LOT. But I did it for eight years, and when I couldn't do it any more, I left. I can't tell if being in a similar situation makes me more or less empathetic to the teachers, actually.


In a nutshell: Jorge at old school: slouching, rude, hood over his face, pants sagging down to his knees, face always either in a scowl or laughing at someone else's expense (he was getting mean, and that is not who he is) -- someone who the teachers wanted OUT.

Imagine my surprise when I get a phone call from the assistant principal at his new school saying that Jorge told him that he had this third grade teacher and other adult in his life. Over the next week, I got positive emails from Jorge's principal, assistant principal, counselor, and a couple of teachers. Seems like the minute they met him, they somehow saw his potential, and he responded. (Really, I PROMISE, kids will live up -- or down -- to your expectations). In email after email, I read that he was respectful, on time, working hard, etc. Even the email talking about how disorganized he was involved him accepting help in getting more organized!!! And each person seemed to honestly care about this kid who had only been in their school for a week.

Today, my friend and I went to meet the assistant principal and check up on Jorge . Now, I've seen a lot of middle schools in this district, and when I entered this one, I felt like I had walked into the Twilight Zone. It was clean. It was bright. It had a mural, student work up and no graffiti. It felt lighter that any middle school I've ever been to. Jorge got pulled out of his class and... there are not words. I wish I had a before and after picture. He was wearing a uniform of khaki pants and a white shirt, he wasn't sagging, he had nothing hiding his face, he wasn't slouching, and he was GRINNING. He looked like a different kid. I mean, the kid was standing up straight for the first time in years!

Jorge told us about how he was getting help on his multiplication tables -- and he wasn't angry and didn't call himself stupid for not knowing them. When the assistant principal broached the subject of maybe repeating 8th grade because he had all Fs up till now, Jorge explained to us why it would be a good idea for him. He told us about a field trip that he's taking to various UC campuses. I'm writing so much because I can't adequately express the change. It was astounding.

Now, this is not a kid who trusts easily. That whole first week -- if he had an idea, even for a second, that a teacher didn't want him there or didn't respect him, he would have been right back to his old habits. I am blown away by how incredible the staff must be for him to react like this. I don't generally include the names of schools I'm talking about, but it seems this one should be in the papers.

I've asked many people to pray for this kid (by his real name) and I hope you will continue. I am so thankful for where he is at this moment.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Benefits to Being White

I've heard a lot of people talk lately about how racism is dead. They haven't said that outright (maybe because I'd hit them) but they have mentioned "the bad old days" when schools were segregated (been to an inner-city school lately? The only white kids we ever had were a couple of Bosnian refugees). Or they've talked about now that we have a black president, people should stop whining about racism. Or how white people aren't any more likely to be promoted/hired than anyone else, and in fact "reverse racism" is usually the norm.

Now, I'm white so I haven't personally experienced too much racism. But I've seen a lot of it firsthand, and I found these blogs interesting.

Stuff White People Do has a list of things that white people can be grateful for in an average day.

(By the way, I had never heard of "sundown towns" and wish that I still hadn't.)

Same blog, another post about how white people teach their children to "act white." I was skeptical, but I'm not really after reading it. We take a lot for granted, us white folks.

This is another issue that I did NOT understand before I started teaching where I started teaching: Many people of color are afraid to call the police. (watch the documentary) Or just too skeptical. I never understood this - the police are your friends, right? They're there to preserve law and order! Then I moved and started hearing a lot of stories about mostly black men being treated badly by the police, arrested mistakenly (maybe they "all look alike"?), etc. I know that not every cop is bad, of course. There are many very, very good ones. But white people don't tend to be the ones who are harassed by the bad cops, so it's easy for us to overlook it.

What made me a believer was the year that 115 people were killed in the city of 400,000 that I was living and working in. Guess how many of those were white? One. Guess how many made the front page? The one white one. Many of the others were one paragraph in the back of the newspaper or not news at all until the paper published an end of the year look at the homicide victims, with photos of all 115. The rest just weren't news. It was expected. You can argue as much as you want about whose fault that is. I've heard the extremes - some people saying that black families are often fatherless because of poor morals in the black community and others saying it is the fault of white people, and centuries of legal racism, owning people as property, not letting families be together, etc. (I tend to think that might have a little to do with it). Either way, it should be news every time a person is killed, not just if they are white and live in a nice area.

There are tons of examples I have that may or may not have to do with race. All the times that my class (mostly black) lined up to get on BART or AC Transit and the driver yelled "No room!" and rushed off. That may have happened if the kids were white. But... really? Would it? That often? The fact that when I've gone places with coworkers who were not white, that they are watched carefully by the employees while I'm not. The conditions at my school (here is a photo of the average everyday level of cleanliness of my school in my last year) - would the district put up with this in a mostly white school? The fact that my students are - at age 8 - already resigned to the fact that they have to be scared of the police.

Then there was the time I was driving around the projects near my school with a black co-worker, to do a home visit. This area is not particularly safe, and it was getting dark. Now, this co-worker has basically the same educational background as I do, except she went to a better school. We had the same job, we were of the same social class.

As we were driving, she pointed out that I was much less likely to get shot than she was. This didn't make a lot of sense to me until she said to me, "If we both got shot, the police would find out who did it for you. There would be an outcry and people would demand justice. I'd just be another dead n***** in this neighborhood."

And she was absolutely right. I wouldn't have agreed with her ten years ago. A lot of people reading this may not agree with her. I understand wanting to believe that our society is past that. I understand not wanting to see it, or honestly not seeing it because it's not happening to you. But if you really disagree, I want to challenge you. Spend some time volunteering in East Oakland or Hunter's Point in San Francisco, or whatever your local equivalent is. Volunteer at a black church or at a mostly black or Latino school or with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Get to know some people. Ask them about some of this. Ask them for their own stories. Then come back to me and tell me what you think. Until you've experienced it, I don't think you'll believe it.