Sunday, May 7, 2017

How (some) state policies criminalize immigrant and undocumented youth...and what that means for education

In the context of Donald Trump's negative rhetoric on immigration it is easy to lose sight of the local and state policies that impact the lives of immigrant and undocumented youth. With national immigration reform highly unlikely these local policies and contexts prove to be extremely influential to immigrant lives. In short, geography and context matters.

With this in mind, we sought to understand how policy discourse works to problematize immigrant and undocumented people in the context of South Carolina. The problematization creates a specific type of knowledge that allows for restrictive solutions to "fix" the created "problem." Below are some excerpts from a longer blog post published at Youth Circulations that describes the research and details our analysis and implications (Please give it a read). We anticipate an academic article out in the fall.

Our analysisspanning six legislative sessions, reveals how immigrants are criminalized in everyday social life and restricted from accessing public institutions and social services. The focus on enacted and proposed legislation follows Stephen Ball’s (1994: 10) argument that policy research should tend to the “process” of policy production and focus on the “action, words and deeds, what is enacted as well as what is intended.” Our work accordingly demonstrates that local policy makers in restrictive state contexts like South Carolina propose and enact legislation that both constructs immigrants as problems to be dealt with and limits immigrants’ opportunities for thriving and advancing economically, educationally, and socially.

Taken as a whole, a picture emerges where immigrants are desired for their labor, but controlled as human beings. The construction of immigrants as problems allows for this dual reality. Immigrants continue to serve the South Carolina economy while policy solutions seek to constrain their material lives and force them to live in the shadows.

As we argue, educators can be at the forefront of the resistance to the criminalization regime. For example, they can recognize, mitigate, and resist the impacts of repressive policies that enshrine “immigrants are problems” on their students by framing students skills as assets rather than deficits.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

This Class Sucks

She put her head down, let out a sigh, and uttered, “This class sucks.”

I looked at her and knew she meant it.  I was not upset at the student. She had every right to her thoughts and emotions. She was not callous or mean. She was not disrespectful. She was honest.

Image Source:, User moritz320

But how could this class suck for her? I used all the best “strategies.” I personalized instruction for her. The last few assignments/projects centered around advice she gave me. We had a pretty good relationship. She was one of a handful of students that came in at lunch just to hang. I checked all the boxes on the great practice checklist.

Yet she was not wrong. This class wasn’t working for her.

I racked my brain. I thought about it deep into the night. I wrote down ideas, and then I wrote down more ideas. As someone who writes, tweets, studies, and practices education with this much passion surely every student is always happy, engaged, and challenged in my classroom. But then again I have 130 students. All unique individuals. All from different contexts. All with their own set of likes and dislikes. No matter how hard we try, we will have these moments. Think about it once more, 130 kids

I don’t write this to say I give up on this student. In fact, the opposite is true. She drives me to be better, to work harder, to think differently, to be more humble, to learn from her. I say this to share that teaching is an extremely tough and demanding job. It is complex and trying. As seen above, it is deeply emotional work; it is nuanced intellectual work. Those outside education need to understand this. Those within education need to understand this. None of us are perfect. We can’t beat ourselves up over one comment, or two comments, or three. You get the picture. It is okay to be bummed out and disappointed. It is fine to feel let down. Allow yourself this. Be kind to yourself. 

And then tomorrow, try again. Dust yourself off and continue to work for education justice and equity. Keep doing the work. Do your best for that student, for the next student, and then the student after that. If your class sucks, do your best to be great for that student, every student. They deserve that. Rest assured, we will have these moments. ALL OF US DO.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

We Certainly Do Not Believe...

Although this post may feel removed from things I usually write about, it shows how my thinking is shifting, growing, and evolving. In an effort to seek alternative (and non-dominant, non-colonial) epistemologies I have been reading work about Aztec philosophy. As teachers, we think very little about the epistemologies we both retain from our education, and use (expect our students to use in the classroom). To simplify (for both readers and myself), epistemology is how we come to know things. In closely examining how we come to know things (how we build knowledge), we can more accurately scrutinize the knowledge we have and pass along. What are its implications? Its assumptions? Its biases? Its truths.

This morning I read a beautiful passage from the Colloquies of the Twelve and it personally spoke to me and the political arena (circus) coalescing around us. For example, see the Arizona effort to limit social justice instruction. In the Colloquies Of The Twelve (1524), Nahuatl wise men publicly defended their religion and culture in dramatic resistance to the Spaniards. I read the following excerpt in a translation used by Leon Portilla (1963):

Calm and amiable,
consider, oh Lords,
whatever is best.
We cannot be tranquil,
and yet we certainly do not believe,
we do not accept your teachings as truth,
even thought this may offend you (p. 66)

Mesmerized by both the beauty of these words and their applicability to present political conditions, I was able to find a complete translation of the surviving dialogue. Here is another translation from Klor de Alva (1980)

Ma oc yvian yocuxca
In the meantime, calmly, peacefully,

xicmottilican totecujyoane
consider it, our lords,

in tlein monequj.
whatever is necessary.

Ca amo vel toiollopachiuj,
Indeed, our heart is not able to be full.

auh ca ~a ayamo tontocaquj
And, indeed, absolutely we do not yet agree to it ourselves,

ayamo titonelchiua:*
we do not yet make it true for ourselves.

We ourselves will cause you injury to the heart. 


Friday, December 23, 2016

What Does Teaching "Look" Like?

Last semester I took an advanced seminar in Instruction and Teacher Education. Below is a (slightly modified and shortened) reflection from the first week of class. We read large portions of Lortie’s SchoolTeacher. Leaving aside any criticisms, critiques, or insights from the book, I want to share a few questions I think we should ponder.

Image Source: User martaposemuckel,

Lortie’s (1975/2002) Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study seeks to answer an almost trivial question — what does it mean to be a public school teacher in the United States? At first glance this is a trite question. We all know what teachers do. One might argue, as Lortie does, that there is not a more visible or witnessed profession in the United States.

Students (and by extension the whole public) learn about teaching mostly from watching the actions of their own classroom teachers. Years and years of classroom experience sketch, rather permanently, an emblematic caricature of the typical classroom educator. Lortie wrote, “teaching is unusual in that those who enter it have had exceptional opportunity to observe member of the occupation at work; unlike most actions today, the activities of teachers are not shielded from youngsters” (Lortie, 2002, p. 65).

The problem with this sketch is that it’s drawn from only one perspective, that of the student. The student sees but the first layer, the ephemeral actions, of the teacher. What lays unseen are the hours of classroom preparation, the late evening continuing education courses, the family phone calls, the administration emails, the professional reading, the sleepless nights trying to figure out how to serve thy students. I could go on and on. What also remains unseen are the deep thoughts, the intellectual challenges, the ethical decisions, the very real work of the heart and the mind.

“What students learn about teaching is intuitive and imitative…This limited vantage point relies heavily on imagination” producing the feeling that ultimately anyone can “do a reasonably accurate portrayal of a classroom teacher’s actions” (Lortie, 2002, p. 62, 63). Thus, the perceived understandings of classroom teaching become normed by the general public. The literal perception of the teacher proves to be the ordering image that future teachers, parents, and policy-makers will never go beyond.

The normed expectations both structure and reinforce the structures of the schoolteacher. A vicious cycle repeats itself, teachers teach the way they were taught. Other people expect teachers to teach the way they were taught. Labaree (2000) uses similar rationale to explain why teaching is a job that “seems easy” (p. 231). Heck, we’ve all seen what its about.

Two and a half questions emerge from this:

  • What does teaching look like? Do we need to change what teaching looks like? 
  • How do we show people what they cannot see? 

While my class post explored some answers to the questions, I am going to leave it here. What do think?

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Labaree, D. F. (2000). On the nature of teaching and teacher education difficult practices that look easy. Journal of teacher education, 51(3), 228–233.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Monday, December 12, 2016

When Schooling Subtracts…

“School subtracts resources from youth in two major ways. First, it dismisses their definition of education which is not only thoroughly grounded in Mexican culture, but also approximates the optimal definition of education advanced by Noddings (1984) and other caring theorists. Second, subtractive schooling schooling encourages subtractively assimilationist policies and practices that are designed to divest Mexican students of their culture and language.” (Valenzuela, 1999, p.20)

Image Source: User meineresterampe, 

It is easy to use the words education and school interchangeably. For most of my life I did. Now I hesitate to do so. School is an institution. Quite frankly, it speaks to a prescribed and systematized curriculum, type of learning, and socialization process. Leaving aside (for now) the inherent political and sociological contestations of this system, one hopes that if you progress through school you posses a certain type of education. This education according to different folks is supposed to make you a good person, or a good citizen, or a good worker, or now-a-days a good STEMist.

But there are different types of education. Education is not limited to the school. There is the education inherent in one’s community. There is the education inherent in one’s family. There is the education inherent in one’s culture. There is the education inherent in clubs. There is the education inherent in religion. There is education inherent in the medical clinic, the after-school program, the sports team, the museum…

You get the idea.

Schools, though, often claim a monopoly on education. This makes sense. Their whole purpose after all is to educate the child. Schools have a recognizable type of education. Cynically, one could simplify this to the “game of school”. Using academic speak, you could call this the “grammar of schooling”. If you identify, understand, and follow the rules, chances are you get to keep playing. The longer you play, the better you do.

But what if the school’s type of education is in opposition to the other types of education a child receives? 

What if one was forced to choose between the school’s type of education and, say, their communities’ or their families’ or their cultures’? 

These are questions that Angela Valenzuela took up in her classic book Subtractive Schooling. She wrote about a conversation with one student, Frank. Frank was described by teachers as a C-student (let’s leave aside the fact that teachers still designate students this way as if it is an inherent quality), one working way below his potential. In fact, teachers claimed Frank to be a brilliant thinker. Unfortunately, they also characterized him as passive, indifferent, and apathetic. Frank saw things differently. He said that the school prized individualism and competition, a type of “caring” Frank resisted. He saw this traditional notion of school “caring” in opposition to the concerns of others and the community. Frank explained:

“I don’t get with the program because then it’s doing what they [teachers] want for my life. I see Mexicanos who follow the program so they can go to college, get rich, move out of the barrio, and never return to give back to their gente [people]. Is that what this is all about?” (Valenzuela, 1999, p. 94). 

This “out-of the barrio” motif (Valenzuela, 1999, p. 95) is rooted in deficit approaches to communities, peoples, and students. Deficit models basically hold that students need to be fixed. In plain terms, their myriad types of educations are lacking and not worthy of a place at the “official home” of education — school. Deficit models hold potential student strengths as weaknesses. One of the most common manifestations of this is language, although I could just as easily use home-life stereotypes, motivation of students, clothing, etc. Rather than seeing a home language other than English as an asset, or an advantage, schools typically frame it as a problem to be remedied. And thus the child becomes a problem as well. The idea is to make students English proficient as quickly as possible, even if this means damage to a first language. Extreme programs like “English only” and rapid “Americanization,” as well as more implicit ones, force students to make a decision. Do I erase my culture and ways of knowing for their type of education? For so many of us, we didn’t have to make such a decision. On the other hand, it is sad that so many do.

Image Source: User qimono,

In his must-read book For White Folks… Chris Emdin talks about the structures in schools that “do not lend themselves to giving students a voice or space in which to be valued and respected for their experiences” (p. 66). Similarly, educator Chris Lehmann wrote, “If we want kids to care about their education, we are going to have to encourage their passions. If we want kids to believe in themselves, we will have to help them build on their strengths, not just mitigate their weaknesses”. Yes, this can be very, very hard work. There is not a standard curriculum. There is not a set of “best practices”. There is not a professional development series that achieves instant success. It is more than a cultural day or a lesson plan template. It takes honest reflection. It takes a willingness to change. It takes real vulnerability. It takes humility to say — what I think is right might not be. Our type of education is not the only type. Or gasp — even the best type.

It is even harder for educators who were successful in this system to recognize that it might not be successful for all. I know that is super hard for me to do even though I struggled and resisted at various points in my schooling. It is also something that I find myself grabbling with more and more. Recognizing the types of education that honor, that uplift, that empower all students should be a central focus of teachers and schools. If we are not doing that we need to check ourselves right soon. Without a more thoughtful response schools might continue to subtract from students as they claim the exact opposite.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Moving Beyond Surface Level Digital Pedagogy

“Can you guess what this is?” by Macroscopic Solutions; CC BY-NC 2.0

I am doing my best to post something each Friday. This week check out a longer read I worked on for the Hybrid Pedagogy community. In the piece, I created a fictional composite narrative based on personal experience through my Master’s program, teacher credentialing, social media use, doctoral work, and continued classroom K-12 teaching to explore the need for graduate schools of education to teach critical digital pedagogy.

Article: Beyond Surface Level Digital Pedagogy

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Failing is a Privilege

Image Source: User dimitrisvetsikas1969,

When my grandfather was twelve he worked alongside his family gathering prunes under the baking Northern California sun. A boss told him to take a truck into town and bring back supplies. My grandfather obeyed. It was not out of the ordinary for him to do this. He lived in the country and had learned to drive young. On his way to the city he noticed a police officer trail behind him. My grandfather was pulled over. The officer started to interrogate him.

In the midst of the questioning the police officer got an emergency call. The man told my grandfather to stay put. He would come back to him after taking care of the emergency. As soon as the officer was out of sight my grandfather drove as fast as possible back to the farm. He knew he couldn’t risk dealing with the officer.

My grandfather couldn’t afford to fail.

Fast forward 50 years. I am sitting in the principal’s office of my high school. I had just messed up in a bad way, like a really bad way. This was basically a zero tolerance offense. Luckily, the principal talked to my parents and let me off with a suspension and a string of Saturday school appointments. The private school I was at decided I was worth another shot.

I was allowed to fail. I didn’t realize it at the time.

Heck, I didn’t realize it until recently. I am the product of quite a bit of privilege. My father is Latino. My mother is white. I am light-skinned. I was able to “hide” my identity growing up. There were advantages to being white. That much I knew.

I yearned to fit in with my white classmates. It was so cool to be Italian I thought. To have nice cars. To live in a huge home. To take foreign vacations. I didn’t want to be Mexican. I couldn’t face the ridicule and hatred leveled against “the Mexicans”. I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t have an accent. I didn’t know Spanish. I cringed every time my dad spoke Spanish with his friends. I begged him not to listen to “Mexican” music in the car. In fact, as a middle schooler I actively resisted Spanish class. My parents could not believe it when I brought home an “F” in Spanish on a progress report.

It hurts me to think about all that I lost because I wanted to be white. Chances I missed connecting with my family. Chances I missed to learn Spanish better. Chances I missed to not feel so lost and broken as a teenager. I was torn away from my family’s culture. At the same time it allowed me to fail and fail and fail and fail. I was always given a second chance. Even if it was my tenth. Many years ago my grandfather didn’t have that privilege.

I wrote once about how we need to allow failure in the classroom. I still believe this to be true. Kids need to feel that they can mess up. Kids need to feel like they can take chances. Kids need to be able to express their creativity. At the same time I think the statement is absolutely naive. Some kids already get many chances to fail. I did. Getting chance after chance is a major aspect of white privilege.

Image Source: User Shannonmatthew,

Not everyone “gets” to fail. If you are a student of color you have to be perfect. Think about the standardized test that plays an over-sized role in determining an accelerated or remedial course. You better not fail. Think about the rates of suspension and expulsion. You better not fail. Think about use of force incidents on campuses. You better not fail. Think about using a word the teacher doesn’t know. You better not fail. Think about hiding the fact your parents are undocumented. You better not fail.

Yes, an individual teacher can and should allow failure throughout their lessons, projects, units, and “discipline” systems. We must also recognize that students of color function within a larger system that gives them absolutely no chance to fail.

There is a popular narrative that urges educators to worry about sheltered students. The ones who have always triumphed. What will happen to them when they face adversity? Will they be great entrepreneurs if they are always asking what to do? They are too scared of failure to succeed. I have said that myself. The truth is most of those students will be just fine. The cards are stacked in their favor.

But what if we flipped the script? Attempted to look at things from another viewpoint. Who is really scared to fail? It’s not the student who might get their first B. It’s the student who knows that one misstep might cost them everything. It’s the student who knows that upsetting the teacher might jeopardize the small chance they have.

All people do not get to fail equally. Being allowed to fail is a privilege.

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