Monday, December 28, 2015

I Grew Up in the Central Valley and Never Learned about Cesar Chavez

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Anybody who links vineyards with extravagant weekend getaways and splendid wine tasting is not where I am from. Madera isn’t ‘blessed’ with elegant hotels, four star dining options, and yuppie tourists. Madera, the so-called exact center of California, is a farming town. It is not a bucolic tourist trap, but rather a place full of hard working people. You own a farm, work on a farm, work for a farm, or do business for a farm.

Growing up, the miles and miles of grapevines were not romantic. They were excruciatingly normal. You tended to forget they were there. Half the year there was nothing but dirt and pruned branches. The other half there was nothing but rows of sun-baked plants waiting to be harvested.

I am from California’s Central Valley. Beside being the ‘food basket’ of the world, it is a place full of civil rights history. I grew up miles away from the footsteps of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz, and Larry Itliong. These individuals, along with so many other seemingly ordinary citizens, blazed a trail of activism and civil right’s leadership for exploited workers of color.

I never learned any of this in school. 

I never learned of the grape boycott. I never learned about the United Farm Workers of America. I never learned about the hunger strikes. I never learned about the marches lead by the individuals above.

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As a young individual of Mexican descent, with a family history of farm labor (including myself), I was clueless to the rich multicultural history around me. I couldn’t recite the history of my own locale, my own people, my own culture, but I could certainly tell you who ‘sailed the ocean blue’. I could spit back the inventions of Benjamin Franklin. I could tell you all about the California gold rush and our ‘beautiful’ mission system.

This is shame. 

I never learned the words ‘Viva La Huelga’. Nobody bothered to teach me about the Mexican ‘Repatriation’ of the 1930s. I was never introduced to a single book by a Latina author in all my reading classes. We once or twice sang ‘De Colores’ in Spanish class, but nobody mentioned the rich contexts of the song.

Why does this matter? 

It matters because schools are political institutions. Curriculums reinforce structures of power and oppression. Leaving out key moments of history are not passive oversights. Exclusions are intentional. Students understand this. They internalize their alienation. If we strive for students to be empowered participants of this world, they must be able to step back and interrogate it. It is no easy chore to understand one’s self vis-à-vis the world around us. A veiled curriculum makes it nearly impossible.

Too often, we let our world be created for us. Ignoring the need to critically examine the world, to be intellectually curious, leads one to repeat its most disheartening features. Teachers must help break these cycles. I suspect my teachers could not teach with a multicultural perspective because they were not engaged in the process of becoming a multicultural person. Therefore, they sided with a system that refused to acknowledge a critical, multicultural history. A history that was so near to us.

I often look back with sadness to my early education. I feel like I was robbed of so many opportunities. A large part of me suspects nothing has changed. Another year of mission reports will come and go. Kits will be bought, papers typed. All the while, the vineyards of my town yearn to speak. They have a story to tell, a song to sing. If we don’t listen, all we hear is silence.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My 10 Favorite Quotations from School in Modern Society

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In August 2015, I set forth on my journey as a PhD student in Education Foundations and Inquiry at the University of South Carolina. Here are the quotations that moved me most from one of my courses, School in Modern Society. As with any list, it is an imperfect collection of the myriad words, concepts, ideas, and discussions I encountered over the semester. The 10 represent the passages that resonate with me most at this present time. Who knows how things might change in the future?

I choose not to include my thoughts and reflections on each. My hope is that you will play with these quotes on their own. If you are so moved, read through the original sources. I include a bibliography and citations to that end. To get a better idea of the class, I quote from the goals included in the syllabus.

The class was a joy. The readings meaningful, the conversation stimulating, the take-a-ways compelling and messy. In this way, it was a microcosm of what I find my life is as an educator. I also share these quotations because we (teachers) are spokespeople for the wonderful profession. In my opinion, to share inspiration and insight is beneficial to educators and non-educators alike.

Enjoy! I would love to hear your thoughts on the quotations as well.

Goals (School in Modern Society): School in Modern Society introduces students to three “arenas” of education–the worlds of educator, student, and society–and, in so doing, addresses the dispositions necessary for students to become principled and thoughtful educators as defined by the College of Education’s Professional Educators as Leaders model (Kridel, EDFI 749, Fall 2015).

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“All successful (teacher) applicants demonstrate qualities of resourcefulness, personal balance, open-mindedness, ability to take criticism from ‘inferiors’ as well as ‘superiors’, and a kind of intellectual curiosity and awareness which squeezes meaning out of every experience. One of the poorest criteria would be that an individual has been so happy and secure in a stereotyped learning situation that he wants to go on perpetuating it” (Willis, 2007, p. 208). 

“If we were starting from scratch to build a curriculum, I would suggest organizing it entirely around centers of care: care for self, care for intimate others, care for strangers and distant others, care for nonhuman animals, care for plants and the living environment, care for objects and instruments, and care for ideas” (Noddings, 2005, p. 45). 

“Also, at heart feeling themselves members of a superior breed, they do not want their children to mix too freely with children of the poor or of the less fortunate races. Nor do they want them to accept radical social doctrines or espouse unpopular causes. According to their views, education should deal with life, but with life at a distance or in a highly diluted form. Indeed they would generally maintain that life should be kept at arm’s length, if it should not be handled with a poker. If Progressive Education is to be genuinely progressive, it must emancipate itself from the influence of this class…” (Counts, 1932, p. 18). 

 “We need to confront our own racism and biases. It is impossible to be a teacher with a multicultural perspective without going through this process. Because we are all products of a society that is racist and stratified by gender, class, and language, we have all internalized some of these messages in one way or another. Sometimes, our racism is unconscious…sometimes, the words we use convey a deep-seated bias, as when a student who does not speak English is characterized as ‘not having language,’ although she may speak her own language fluently” (Nieto, 1992, p. 61). 

“I would like to share with you an example of a student’s ability being misread as a result of a mismatch between the student’s and teacher’s cultural use of language. Second-grader Marti was reading a story she had written that began, ‘Once upon a time, there was an old lady, and this old lady ain’t had no sense.’ The teacher interrupted her, ‘Marti, that sounds like the beginning of a wonderful story, but could you tell me how you would say it in Standard English?’…Marti’s teacher probably did not understand that the child was actually exhibiting a very sophisticated sense of language” (Delpit, 1995, p. 123). 

“What we have seen is the apparent unfairness in the school experience itself…How is track placement likely to influence the life courses of students? To explore these latent consequences of tracking and the issue of meritocracy, it is useful to revisit the ideas of Bowles and Gintis and others whose work has touched on the question of schools as meritocratic sorters. This group of social scientists has suggested that the function of schooling is not to provide a meritocratic avenue to success in adult life. To the contrary, they view schools as serving primarily to reproduce the current inequities of our social, political, and economic systems” (Oakes, 1985, pp. 89, 90). 

“Teaching is intellectual and ethical work; it takes a thoughtful, reflective, and caring person to do it well. It takes a brain and a heart. The first and fundamental challenge for teachers is to embrace students as three-dimensional creatures, as distinct human beings with hearts and minds and skills and dreams and capacities of their own, as people much like ourselves. This embrace is initially an act of faith — we must assume capacity even when it is not immediately apparent or visible…”(Ayers, 2001, p. 69). 

“Critical consciousness of a rare sort is necessary if teachers of young people are not to perpetuate such views. They are interpretations, not reports of demonstrable facts, but few educators have been inclined to think very much about the ways in which they have constructed their realities. Educators, like most other people, have been reared in such a way as to repress their background consciousness, their awareness of their own perspectives on the intersubjective world” (Greene, 1978, p. 144). 

“to be a good teacher one must first of all be a good human being” (Giles, McCutchen, and Zechiel, 1942, p. 213). 

“Teachers need to vote and be politically active. This is not now the case for a shocking proportion of South Carolina teachers. Caring about their students requires teachers to be active citizens who express their views about statewide educational issues that directly impact their students’ opportunities to learn. Teachers know more about their students’ needs than anyone other than the students’ parents, and it is the responsibility of teachers to forcefully and persistently share their insights with policymakers, as well as with the public” (Mizell). 


Ayers, W. (2001). “To Teach,” in Classic Edition Sources: Education, 5th edition, edited by C. Kridel. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013, p. 69.

Counts, G. S. (1932). “Dare Progressive Education be Progressive?,” in Classic Edition Sources: Education, 5th edition, edited by C. Kridel. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013, p. 18.

Delpit, L. (1995). “Other People’s Children,” in Classic Edition Sources: Education, 5th edition, edited by C. Kridel. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013, p. 123.

Giles, H. H., McCutchen, S. P., and A. N. Zechiel (1942). Exploring the Curriculum: The Work of the Thirty Schools from the Viewpoint of Curriculum Consultants. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Greene, M. (1978). “Landscapes of Learning,” in Classic Edition Sources: Education, 5th edition, edited by C. Kridel. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013, p. 144.

Mizell, H. 1963–2013: Desegregation — Integration Reflections Advice to Teachers. Retrieved from

Nieto, S. (1992). “Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education,” in Classic Edition Sources: Education, 4th edition, edited by C. Kridel. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009, p. 61.

Noddings, N. (2005). “The Challenge to Care in Schools,” in Classic Edition Sources: Education, 5th edition, edited by C. Kridel. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013, p. 45.

Oakes, J. (1985). “Keeping Track,” in Classic Edition Sources: Education, 5th edition, edited by C. Kridel. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013, pp. 89–90.

Willis vignette: Kridel, C. & Bullough, Jr., R. V. (2007). Stories of the Eight Year Study: Rethinking Schooling in America. Albany: SUNY Press, p. 208.