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.