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Showing posts from 2016


I went to prison today. I am alternately feeling hopeful and extremely pessimistic. Our prison system is so careless; there are so many lives wasted. At the same time, I think it might have saved someone's life. Let me explain. When I was teaching, I made a point to tell my students, many of whom had few stable adults in their lives, that they would always be "my kids." Today, that meant driving two hours (a friend drove me which was wonderful because I was really nervous) to Mule Creek State Prison to visit "Jorge" who has his own chapter in my book. I am not going to go into Jorge's whole life story because he has his own chapter in my book, Literally Unbelievable: Stories from an East Oakland Classroom . The very abridged version is that he was born to a 14-year old illegal immigrant who quickly developed a drug problem, if she didn't have one when he was born. He had to take responsibility for his family his whole childhood, and was mainly


Due at least in part to the recent election in the United States, bullying seems to have increased recently, along with hate crimes. I've heard a lot of parents ask what they should tell their kids and how to help their kids stand up against bullies. This is what I always told my students: "People who bully others feel bad about themselves. Remember that. They treat other people badly because they feel so bad about themselves. That doesn't mean it's OK. You need to tell an adult* and walk away. But remember, that you didn't do anything to make them bully you. This was not your fault." I knew it helped at least one child when she said to me, "It's so sad that that kid feels so bad about themselves and wants to make me feel bad too. I'm not going to." *As adults, we need to tell the police, the ACLU, our elected representatives, etc.

Children's Memorial Grove

A couple of weeks ago, I went to visit Children's Memorial Grove, which memorializes children killed by violence in Alameda County. The memorial is at the end of a one-mile hike that overlooks a beautiful lake and is a lovely setting for a tribute to the children we have lost, but I just couldn't stop thinking, "We shouldn't need this."  The memorial only went up until 2012, so I kept wondering if I'd know more of the names. The kids I taught would be at the most dangerous ages, statistically, in the last few years. I felt panic every time I saw a first or last name I recognized, but the only child I knew personally was in 2009, and I've told his story before . I'm sure I would know more from 2013-2016. And, of course, one of my former students was killed last year, but he was an adult. Barely.  I don't know what we can do to make this obsolete. It's bad enough when kids die in any way, but to die violently? It SHOULDN&#

Oakland Police: To Protect and Serve?

About a month ago, a friend who works for SFPD tweeted: "So work was crazy and shocking today and is going to be weird and different tomorrow." I looked at the news, and found that the San Francisco police chief had resigned after several scandals in the police force. I didn't expect that Oakland would not just one-up San Francisco, but three-up them. It's actually astounding. Read it, and then come back here. I'm going to say up front that I had a really low bar for the OPD. I've seen them in action (or inaction) many times, up close, and I really had very low expectations. What's the opposite of surpass? They have opposite-of-surpassed my very very low expectations. When I was teaching, we had an attempted kidnapping at my school. A homeless person wandered onto the playground when the gate was open for the kindergartners to go home, and grabbed a fifth grader by his jacket, and tried to take him of campus. Fortunately, the student was smart en

The Power of Music

The kids at our after-school program come from many different backgrounds, but they are all extremely under-resourced in different ways. We have a variety of refugee students and I've been learning a lot anout how hard it is to be a refugee trying to navigate the American public school system, along with everything else that's new. We have a student from Congo, who came to America two years ago. I'll call her Elizabeth. I don't know much about her family because her grandmother (who might actually be her great-aunt) only speaks French and Swahili. Her grandmother has been very slow to trust us, which may be understandable given what she's been through and the fact that she can't communicate with us. Elizabeth had no consistent schooling until she got to the United States two years ago, when she was put into a grade that she was too old for, because her skills in English and math were so low. The school she was attending did not give her any help and failed

It's Harder For Me

When you work with children, you sometimes run across child abuse and neglect. I have definitely had to make more than my share of calls to Child Protective Services, and every time is really, really hard. (Clearly this is going to be a hard post to read. That's part of my point but if you can't handle it, don't read further.) Some calls are fairly straightforward: "I saw a bruise that looked like a pinch mark on the child's upper arm; when I asked him about it, he said that his dad pinches him until he cries whenever he doesn't do his homework." Then I fill out a paper with my information, the child's information, what I saw, etc. That's an "easy" call. That's one where I don't think the child's life is in danger, I've seen evidence, and the CPS worker is probably not going to argue with me. It's not usually that easy, and even that takes a lot of emotional energy, because I care for these kids and want them to