Monday, July 26, 2010

Race Does Matter

I can't count the amount of times that I saw two kids running in the hall at school and the same teacher have two different reactions:

To the Asian or Latino kid: "Please stop running." or, if it was a girl, "Sweetie, please stop running."

To the black kid: "Hey!  No running!"  Or "What are you doing!  Quit it!"

(we had no white kids so that didn't enter into the picture)

This didn't happen all the time, of course, or with every teacher but it happened enough that I noticed, and enough that I started wondering if perhaps, what we expect of kids and how we treat them might just possibly have some bearing on how they act.

Looks like I'm not the only one wondering that.

Two very different reactions to young children joyriding.

A difference between whites and blacks regarding the death penalty.

Black people "loot," white people "find" supplies after Katrina.

All men are created equal maybe, but we certainly don't treat them equally.

Friday, July 23, 2010


You'd be amazed at how much creativity goes into teaching, even teaching with a prescribed curriculum.  Some of the modifications and strategies I've had to use with my tutoring clients lately:
  • Making crossword puzzles because the kid refuses to study Spanish vocabulary any other way
  • Letting a student learn with one hand on my dog because she loves him so much and it distracts her from hating math
  • Using gummi bears to show how division really works
  • Searching for Spanish comic books featuring the Green Lantern
  • Performing the whole tutoring session as if the student was a bear and I was a butterfly (his choices)
I'm a little tired, but it's been fun.

Monday, July 19, 2010

All These Kids Are Ours

A few times a month, I find that I can't sleep because I am worried about foster kids.  This might seem strange, because I don't currently know any kids in foster care.  I used to when I was teaching third grade - and I knew a great many more who maybe should have been in foster care - but I don't currently know any.  I don't think it's strange though - in fact, I think we might be better off if we all worried about kids in foster care, and not just a couple of times a month.  Not because worrying really helps anything, but because it would show that we really do value all kids.

We don't, you know.  Of course, everyone will say that they believe that all kids are worth the same but it's not true.  It's natural to value your own kids above everyone else's - I'm not saying that it's not.  But I think we also value kids that are like our kids above others.  I'm probably making a few people angry by saying all this but it wasn't something I believed until I began teaching in the area that most of this blog is about.  During my almost 8 years at that school, I learned a lot about inequality and how easy it is to ignore - when you're not the person getting the short end of the stick.

It's a cliche by now, it's been said so often, but poor kids, usually black or Latino, are not valued in this country as much as their upper-middle class white counterparts.  I don't think I believed that from my nice liberal suburb but it's pretty obvious when you see it firsthand.  The police taking far, far longer to respond to an attempted kidnapping at our school than is acceptable - just one example.  The district not coming to fix serious problems at the school - there's another. Taking the school off-line and not having a staffed librarian so that there is no way the kids can perform research?  Wouldn't happen in the schools I went to.  Vacancies all year, a lack of substitutes, incompetent principals - more examples.  District personnel talking down to parents and making them cry in meetings that were held to help their children - it starts getting hard to ignore.  No grief counselors available - or any mechanism for help at all - when parents and other relatives get shot or stabbed and the child comes to school anyway because there isn't anywhere else for him or her to go?  Not considering it news-worthy when we have to stop teaching for lockdowns - over and over. I have many more examples in this blog and even more than I haven't yet been able to write about.  I promise you, most of these things would not have happened at a mostly white school in the hills.  And they certainly wouldn't have happened over and over.

If we really truly considered all kids to be worthwhile, we wouldn't allow this.  Or at least, they would be isolated events and people would get angry and change things.  Because each of these things - and more, like kids getting shot because of the neighborhood they were walking in - is worth getting angry about.  These kids deserve so much more - they deserve more than apathy and indifference.

The reason this ties into worrying about foster kids is that I've had a few interesting conversations lately about adoption.  Usually the conversation turns to "would you ever adopt?" and the person answering says it's too expensive, it takes too long, or you just don't know what you're getting.  Well, sort of.  It is expensive and there's a long waiting list, when you want white newborns.  There are other options, such as fostering to adopt, that are usually tossed out before being considered too seriously.  Of course, there are some pretty compelling reasons for this.  It is probably much harder.  (Although I never take the argument that you know what you're getting when you have a biological child very seriously because you can be awfully surprised by someone you're related to.)  It is definitely more heart-wrenching.  You have to deal with children who have suffered, some of them horribly.  It takes an incredible amount of investment and learning and professional help and you may have your heart broken.  Here's the thing.  I've had my heart broken by these children - they are worth it.

Yes, it's harder.  There is a reason that children who aren't adopted by age two aren't likely to be adopted, ever.  But that fact devastates me.  Older is not too late - it's just harder.  Damage is not hopeless - except if everyone gives up on the kid who has suffered the damage.  And I think that kids - especially those who have suffered - are worth the hard work.

I'm a Christian, as you probably know.  The Bible seems to agree with me.  Over and over, it talks about helping the poor and the oppressed, the orphans and the fatherless. I think that many of us believe this in theory but it's really scary to put into practice.  It definitely involves opening ourselves up to pain - it can hurt just to realize how much injustice there is around us and how much children are suffering, let alone actually seeing it.  But nothing will change if we don't.

I do feel like somewhat of a hypocrite, because I have neither adopted nor fostered children.  My reason is that I don't think I can handle being a single parent.  It is something I really want to do - I think I dream about it like other women might dream about having biological children, and I really hope that the day comes when I either feel equipped to parent on my own or find someone who wants to join me in this kind of crazy undertaking. There are probably people who have thought about it but decided they can't handle the expense, the trauma, the extra work.  I know that it is an incredible commitment.  But maybe everyone can just consider it for a minute, and not rush to saying no, it's too hard.

In the meantime, I'm volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters and hope to at some point be a court-appointed special advocate for kids (CASA).  There are other ways to help - volunteering at schools that need it.  Faith Network of the East Bay is a fantastic organization.   I'm sure there are ways to help kids in foster homes and group homes. There are probably many other ways to help that I have never heard of.  I guess my point is this: let's act like all these kids are ours.  

Then maybe I won't worry so much about the foster kids.