Teaching for Change Summer 2018 Interns Blog
This blog is being maintained by Kathy Nganga and Sarah Cornelius to document the work and insights of the 2018 summer interns.
Week One (June 4 – 8)
Monday, June 4th, and Tuesday, June 5th: Reorganizing the Resource Center
Monday, was our first day of work! We walked to work together on Monday morning and the wonderful folks at Teaching for Change welcomed us with a sign on the door that greeted us by name. Seeing this, we felt valued and loved :).
Our first project took us to the Teaching for Change Resource Center, which houses a collection of multicultural and social justice books for children, young adults, and educators.
The books are organized thematically into groups like “Civil Rights Movement,” “Immigration,” “Asians and Asian Americans”, “Skin Color and Racial Identity,” etc. As we started sorting through the uncategorized books, our initial task of reshelving a few boxes of children’s books quickly grew into the two-day project of reorganizing the whole room.
While some stories fit neatly into categories that already existed, others challenged us to create new categories or relabel older ones to be more inclusive and accurate. For example, a book set in Egypt brought up the controversy about whether Egyptians are considered Arab or African, and led us to relabel the Middle East section as the Middle East and North Africa. We also relabeled the category “American Indians” as “Indigenous Americans” to recenter indigeneity and its implied rights to land over the colonial (mis)identifier and expanded the LGBTQ section to LGBTQIA to include those who identify as intersex or asexual.
We also came across a number of books featuring Black and African American characters that fell outside the existing categories of “Slavery,” “Civil Rights Movement,” and “Black History.” We both remembered reading Denene Millner’s op-ed in the New York Times titled “Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time.” Millner makes the case that truly diverse children’s literature moves beyond only featuring African American characters “as the aggrieved and the conquerors, the agitators and the superheroes who fought for their right to be recognized as full human beings.” Instead, multicultural children’s literature should make an effort to “celebrate the mundane” not just the exceptional. With this in mind, we created a shelf for the stories which we felt satisfied Millner’s call for stories in which “color is of no consequence…but still matter to black children looking for themselves in the pages.”
Moving beyond the exceptional in resources for children and in education is a cause that Teaching for Change has worked on for years. To find out more, check out the resource Beyond Heroes and Holidays.
We also decided to organize the categories thematically instead of alphabetically. Now, instead of finding Central America, Class, and Civil Rights next to one another, Central America shares a shelf with Latinx and Latin America, Class shares a shelf with Labor, and Civil Rights a shelf with Slavery.
On Tuesday, we had the privilege of meeting Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC veteran) Tim Jenkins. To learn more about his work, read Jenkin’s 1968 open letter where he warns of the far right. His words still ring eerily true today.
After we met with Mr. Jenkins, we headed to the conference room to meet the rest of the staff at Teaching for Change and pilot a new lesson on migration from Central America with them.
Wednesday, June 6th: A Day at Capital City Public Charter School
On Wednesday, we had the privilege of spending the whole day at Capital City Public Charter School. Many of the teachers there are active in the Teaching for Change network called the D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice.
We were there to experience the high school’s Celebration of Learning in the morning, and, in the afternoon, served as panelists for presentations that 10th graders give to demonstrate their readiness to move on to 11th grade. We were so amazed by this school, its staff, and especially the students!
The Celebration of Learning started in the theater, where the band performed a number of pieces, included “Like a Mighty Stream”, a piece composed in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Belicia Reaves, the high school principal at Capital City, joined the band on stage as the narrator. Reaves guided the audience through the three stages of the piece: the dream, the struggle, and hope. A dance performance followed the band’s concert. A student conceived the idea for the dance, and with the help of the school’s fitness and dance instructor, Tyra Jackson, she along with some peers brought the piece to life. The dance was a nuanced expression of mental health challenges and loss. Later in the afternoon, Kathy sat in on Jackson’s debrief of her students on the performance and the content of the performance. Jackson related to her students, met them where they were, and encouraged each student to speak and debrief with the group.
After the morning’s performances, we attended sessions organized around each subject area and grade level. In these presentations, students taught their peers something they had learned over the course of the year. One highlight was the 9th graders in Saif Shah’s English class who, having recently read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, were asked to write plays in small groups on the criminal justice system and areas for reform. The stories they created cut right to the heart of some of the injustices present in our justice system. It was amazing to listen to what they produced and share the experience with the 11th grade English class who had come to watch and support.
Another highlight was Amrita Wassan’s 11th grade U.S. history group who set up stations with historical clues for the 9th graders to figure out why there was violence against Chinese Americans in the late 1800s. Through their lesson, they taught their peers about racial discrimination against Asian Americans in the United States.
In every session we visited, we were struck by the students’ ownership over the learning, their pride in their work, and the infusion of critical thought and social justice in all aspects of their, their art, and the materials they used.
In the afternoon, we were invited to sit in on 10th-grade portfolio presentations. In these panels, students were considered holistically. The presentation required students to reflect on their social, emotional, and academic strengths and areas where they can grow. To do this, students used Capital City’s community values of compassion, contribution, integrity, courage, and self-discipline to evaluate how they did projects and engaged with their peers.
Each presentation was followed by a Q&A section, which was amazing to take part in. The teachers on the panel engaged with the student not just on the content but in relation to things happening in the student’s life, advice for moving forward, and resources that the student should use at the school, exemplifying the ethics of care.
Thursday, June 7th: Reviewing Children’s Lit on Trump
We spent Thursday, writing our critique of Scholastic’s children’s book about Donald Trump. We got feedback from Teaching for Change staff, made revisions, and worked on it again on Friday. It has not been posted and is drawing a LOT of attention. Please consider writing to Scholastic.
Friday, June 8th: Panel on Migration from Latin America
On Friday, we went to a panel called “The Migration Cycle: The US role in Latin American migration” hosted by The Institute of Current World Affairs. One theme from the panel was the importance of humanizing migration at a time in which, as panelist Daniela Burgi-Palomino of the Latin American Working Group stated, “the Trump administration has criminalized and dehumanized all migrants.
Manuel Orozco, a panelist from Inter-American Dialogue claimed that the main issue with migration is that what was once treated as a civil issue has been completely criminalized.
Kristian Hernandez, a journalist, emphasized the importance of including emotion in stories about migrants to connect with readers.
The panel also discussed the role of nationalism and nativism in driving anti-immigrant sentiment. Orozco lamented that Trump’s approach to migration represents the undoing of the fundamental American values of compassion and fairness that define our political culture. We were lucky to attend the panel with two staff members from Teaching for Change, Faye Colon and Nqobile Mthethwa. Faye asked the panelists for recommendations on resources that teach students about Central America and migration in a humanizing way, and the panel noted that this was truly “uncharted territory.” They recommended that educators look to organizations that produce objective analyses or partner with organizations and think tanks hoping to have the knowledge they produce to reach a wider audience. Teaching for Change offers the only website with resources for teaching about Central America.
The Weekend: Making Tea Cakes from Tea Cakes for Tosh
When we worked on reshelving the books, we came across Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons. The picture book artfully discusses issues of aging, memory, and slavery and makes these issues accessible to young children. At the end of the book the author includes a recipe for tea cakes, and inspired by the narrative, we decided to make some tea cakes over the weekend.
Week Two (June 11 – 15)
Hi all! My name is Abby, and I am interning with the Zinn Education Project this summer. So excited to be here!
Last week, I continued to work on ZEP’s new website (coming soon!) by uploading teacher testimonials to the new site. It was so interesting reading about teachers’ experiences using these materials in the classroom – reading them showed me yet again the immense value of ZEP.
In addition to working on the website, I also began to create social media posts based on ZEP’s new resources to teach for environmental justice. It was incredible to read the lesson “From Mountaintop Removal to Divestment” in particular, as I am a student at Swarthmore College and was one of the lead organizers of our fossil fuel divestment campaign. It is so exciting to see the connections between our work on campus and the work done by ZEP and so many others, and to see how this work is continuing to reach and inspire people far beyond the limits of our small campus.
An Update on the #StepUpScholastic Campaign
Last week we published a critical review on Social Justice Books of Scholastic’s biography of Donald Trump written for first and second graders. The critique was shared by hundreds and sparked outrage among educators, parents, and librarians across the country who wrote in, tweeted about, and joined the call for Scholastic to recall the biography and issue an accurate, age-appropriate text. Within a week, 800 letters were sent to Scholastic. Sarah sifted through these letters and published (with permission) many of them, along with tweets and articles, to the #StepUpScholastic Tumblr. Take a moment to read some of them. If you have not written a letter and would like to ask Scholastic to step up, please consider writing to Scholastic.
Kathy worked with the TFC staff to write a review of the Scholastic biography on Trump written for 3rd-5th graders entitled A True Book: President Donald Trump. Unfortunately, the book for 3-5th graders is still far from an accurate portrayal of Donald Trump’s life.
This public outcry caught the attention of several progressive media outlets, who covered the #StepUpScholastic campaign. Read the coverage from ThinkProgress and Yes! Magazine. It also caught the attention of right-wing media, like TheBlaze, The College Fix, Breitbart, and even made Trump’s favorite program, Fox & Friends.
With the mounting media attention, Scholastic issued a public statement from their CEO which failed to address a single point of our critique. Instead, it defended the omissions in the biography by making egregious claims like “Discussing controversial aspects of any public figure’s life isn’t appropriate for our youngest readers.” Read Social Justice Book’s full rebuttal to the statement, and another insightful response to the statement from Scholastic author, Daniel José Older.
Monday, June 11th: Transforming Public School Teaching in DC: A Model for the Nation?
On Monday we attended a presentation and panel discussion on a report recently published by FutureEd on District of Columbia Public Schools’ (DCPS) human capital transformations over the past decade. Programs like IMPACT (comprehensive teacher evaluations), LIFT (career/compensation ladder driven by experience and said performance) and LEAP (a professional development initiative) have been implemented in DC in hopes of identifying, developing, and retaining highly effective teachers for all students.
According to FutureEd, these reforms “have evolved from a focus on teacher employment to a focus on teacher improvement.” However, as discussion opened up to the panel, it became clear that stakeholders were not uniformly in favor of these reforms. The panel included Eric Bethel, principal of Turner Elementary School, Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union, Brian Pick, Chief of Teaching and Learning at DCPS and Ross Wiener, vice president of the Aspen Institute.
Elizabeth Davis offered several compelling challenges to the reforms. She spoke of teachers’ frustration over a lack of respect and inability to participate in decision making around the reforms, and reminded policymakers that if teachers don’t like or trust an evaluation tool, it’s no good. Some of the specific concerns she raised with IMPACT (the evaluation tool) included, among other things, the burden it imposed on new teachers, who might be labeled “minimally effective” even if they are simply developing or lacking support, as well as the fact that many teachers who had consistently been rated “highly effective” tumbled back down to “developing” if they moved to more challenging and underserved schools.
Although advocates for the reforms in the room continuously pointed to the fact that retention was significantly stronger among teachers rated “highly effective” (94%) than among those rated “minimally effective” (49%), Davis’s comments made it clear that these reforms might be pushing more high quality teachers out of the District than policymakers let on.
Wednesday, June 13th: Principal Chit-Chats
Sarah began Wednesday by visiting Bruce Monroe Elementary School to attend a Tellin’ Stories Principal Chit-Chat, where parents and the PTA meet with the principal to collaborate and voice their ideas and opinions. Because the school serves a bilingual population (Spanish and English), the meetings are run with a conscious effort to be inclusive and accessible to all parents, regardless of their language: whenever something was shared in English, someone would interpret it into Spanish, and vice versa. Watching parents, staff, and administration work together, celebrate together, support and trust one another made it clear that Bruce Monroe is clearly thriving as a school and a community.
Thursday, June 14th: Library of Congress American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress Symposium Before and After ‘68: The Poor People’s Campaign – Then and Now 50th Anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC)
On Thursday, Kathy had the opportunity to attend a symposium on the Poor People’s Campaign at the Library of Congress. The library organized two panels to discuss the poor people’s campaign. Some were direct participants of the 1968 Resurrection City and Poor People’s Campaign, others worked to educate the public about the PPC, and some organized and mobilized with the modern Poor People’s Campaign.
The symposium began with staggering statistics of poverty in America today. 40.6 Million Americans live in poverty in the US, 43% of children live at or below the poverty line, and 53.8 million us workers earn below a living wage. The “triple evils” of poverty, militarism, and racism that the 1968 PPC worked on are still present and pressing today.
Historian and professor Gordon Mantler of George Washington University began the morning by reminding the audience of the interracial and coalition dynamic of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. Dr. Lenneal J. Henderson and Marc Steiner took us back in time and described their first-hand experience working on the poor people’s campaign and what came after the government dismantled the camp. Understanding the history and experiences of those who worked on the Poor People’s Campaign and lived in Resurrection City provided the perfect foundation for session one’s final two panelists. Margaret Gilmore and Nick Petr discussed their work with DC public library to commemorate the 1968 PPC through curating Poor People’s Campaign resources, events, and creating the “people’s university.” While the idea of a “poor people’s university” harkens back to the 1968 PPC, audience members noted that in many ways libraries today function as institutions of education, labor readiness, and provide other social services.
In the afternoon, panelists used multimedia mediums show what occurred in the 1960s and what’s happening today with the modern Poor People’s Campaign. The imagery and music were powerful. Marya Annette McQuirter curator of dc1968 project challenged the visual tropes of the dominant focus on black and white imagery from DC in 1968. Rather, her work seeks to incorporate colorful pictures and other media produced at that time. One image she shared with the group was one in which the words “no justice here” are scrawled across the Department of Justice.
Charon Hribar and Yara Allen shared some of the music and art used in today’s poor people campaign. Allen and Hribar discussed how today’s activists have carried forward old protest musical traditions by infusing hip-hop into protest songs of the past. This clip of “Everybody’s Got a Right to Live” exemplifies this bridging of traditions.
Friday, June 15th: Tech Day
On Friday, Kathy accompanied Nqobile to “The Future is Digital: The Future is Publishing without Walls” a University of Illinois digital incubation initiative funded by the Mellon foundation. Nqobile and Kathy attended a workshop held at the DC Public Library. At the session, we learned about different platforms that can help scholars publish their work digitally. These platforms included: Open Journal System, Omeka, Open Monograph Press, Pressbooks, and Scalar. The organizers also showed example projects designed with each platform. The #JayZMixTape, created by Dr. Kenton Rambsy on Scalar exemplified the possibilities that these technologies give researchers.