Book review: Between father and son

511ktu-msbl-_sy346_Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is an earnest and fervent warning from Coates to his son and in reading it, I felt his urgency in trying to protect the life–“the body” — of his teen-aged son. Three long essays detail why being black in America is dangerous in ways that those who are not black can never fully appreciate.

Coates understands the reality. He could spend years educating himself, developing a career, acquiring assets, being responsible, and one racist act could end it all. He cites examples from history, the news, and from his own life.

Rather than trying to summarize his thoughts, I’ll let Ta-Nehisi (tah-nuh-hah-see) speak for himself.

The big message:

“…you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know… Indeed you must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to you… You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.”

Race is a social, not a biological construct:

“As for now, it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissident; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies.”

No sudden moves:

“Each time a police officer engages us, death, injury, maiming is possible. It is not enough to say that this is true of anyone or more true of criminals… It has nothing to do with how you wear your pants or how you style your hair.”

 “Should assaulting an officer of the state be a capital offense, rendered without trial, with the officer as judge and executioner? Is that what we wish civilization to be?”

No escape:

“When our elders presented school to us, they did not present it as a place of high learning but as a means of escape from death and penal warehousing.”

  “We could not get out. The ground we walked was trip-wired. The air we breathed was toxic. The water stunted our growth. We could not get out. …my father beat me for letting another boy steal from me. Two years later, he beat me for threatening my ninth-grade teacher. Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body. We could not escape.”

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic.

I recommend this book as a brief walk in another person’s shoes. I think you’ll find it both troubling and enlightening, as I did.

Sadly, education testing is BIG business

This column for the Nevada Appeal is from five years ago when I saw school budgets erode when it came to things like class-size reduction, teacher salaries, counselors, and enrichment programs. At the same time, budgets grew (and grew!) for testing. Look around your state, your district, your school and tell me if anything has changed. Are we still spending more on testing than we are on teaching?




If you love me, read me a story

read mom dad

I spent over thirty years teaching children to read, and as much as schools may have changed in that time, one thing has not–the importance of reading aloud to children. My career included twelve years as Reading Specialist, as well as years teaching kindergarten, first and third grades. I also worked in Special Education classrooms and at a private reading clinic. Now I volunteer in my granddaughter’s kindergarten class. Again and again I have witnessed the impact of reading aloud–or sadly, the lack of it–on children. Even at so-called “good” schools, in middle class neighborhoods. Children who have been read to early and often simply come to school more ready and eager to learn. Period.

read aloud vaccineOver the years I wrote many columns for the Nevada Appeal about literacy, learning, and how to raise readers. In this column from a few years ago I pose my belief in the form of a fable about two little girls, from the same neighborhood and similar family situations. You can use your own critical thinking skills to deduce the moral of the story after reading A tale of two Saras. 

Throughout my career, I often quoted Jim Trelease, author of  The Read Aloud Handbook. He is the wise read aloud guru. Even if you don’t believe me, you should believe him. His book makes an excellent gift at the next baby shower you attend. Just sayin’.




Reading is antidote to toxic stress of childhood poverty

read aloud 4 Low income children suffer stresses that would buckle our knees and yet we expect them to learn and grow and develop at the same rate as their higher income classmates.

My Fresh Ideas column published this morning in the Nevada Appeal. Click here to read why Reading is the antidote.

Invest in Children, Not Testing. It’s That Simple.

“Children don’t magically do better when we test them more or raise the bar higher, they do better when adults back up higher expectations by creating supportive and enriched learning environments, that nurture and nourish children as whole human beings, with social, emotional and creative needs, not just as data points and test scores.” ~Christopher Chase at Creative by Nature

Christopher writes a great summary of what scholars and researchers (rather than politicians and test publishers!) know about what children and schools need.

Creative by Nature

“The best schools keep their eye on the prize—the kids—not just whether they are pleasing higher civil authorities. They see the job of adults as one of nurturing intelligence and empathy, openness to the world, while cherishing their children’s uniqueness. They stay close to families, and see teachers and parents as allies not adversaries.” ~Deborah Meier

kids drawing

Here is what the research tells us: We don’t need more money for state testing and national standards, what is needed is greater investment in successful teaching approaches, support services and innovative programs, so that high quality learning opportunities can be provided to all children. Money for teachers, dental and medical care, books, school trips, community building, lunch programs, arts programs, sports programs and whole school reform- not for Pearson, PARCC, private charter school investors and Common Core.

Decades of research has shown that solutions to education problems are not unknown or complicated, they just require a shift of priorities, and a willingness to put money into innovations…

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“You might be a kindergarten teacher if…”

This was originally published in the Nevada Appeal on January 9, 2006. I’m re-posting it here in honor of kindergarten teachers and one very special girl who is starting kindergarten today, my granddaughter.

kinder classAlthough I’ve been an educator most of my life, I came to kindergarten rather late in my career. Perhaps it is for that reason I have noticed that kindergarten teachers are really quite different from other teachers. However, I haven’t been able to put my finger on precisely what that difference was. Until now.
You might be a kindergarten teacher if:
• You buy two pairs of running shoes a year and you don’t run.
• You put 10,000 steps a day on your pedometer without leaving your classroom.
• “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and the “Hokey Pokey” are part of your daily exercise routine.
• You wear seasonal clothing and jewelry that no “normal” adult would wear. An apron is part of your “professional attire.”
• You use hand sanitizer before and after every activity.
• You find yourself humming the days of the week song in the shower.
• You ask, “Did you flush?” and “Did you wash?” at least one hundred times a day.
• You wash your own hands 100 times a day.
• You thank God for whoever invented baby-wipes, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and Velcro shoes.
• A daily review of coughing, sneezing and nose-blowing etiquette is appropriate and necessary.
• You have to remind your students not to write on the carpet. Or each other.
• You have added “booger flicking” to the list of classroom misdemeanors.
• You’ve used one of those little toilets in the last week.
• You fall asleep at 8:30 every night.
• You show up for your manicure with tempera paint, Play-Doh, and glitter under your fingernails.
• You go to every grocery store in town looking for alphabet macaroni and get excited when you find alphabet cookies at Costco.
• You buy zip-lock baggies by the gross.
• It takes you three times longer to prepare a lesson than to teach it.
• Your carefully written—and rewritten—lesson plans bear only a slight resemblance to what actually happens in class.
• You can sing a song, recite a poem or name a picture book to teach every standard in the kindergarten curriculum.
• You spend part of nearly every weekend and vacation at school.
• Your average sentence length has shrunk to five words and you repeat every one of them—every one of them—at least three times.
• You easily decipher those cryptic personalized license plates.
• You’ve made your own peppermint- or gingerbread-scented Play-Doh.
• All twenty-nine of your students snap to attention when you say, “I like how Elliott is sitting.”
• All your pants have one or more of the following: paint stains, bleach spots, faded knees or dusty footprints from students putting their foot on your leg as you tie their shoes.
• Your first thought when the weatherman predicts rain is, “Oh, no. Indoor recess.”
• You recognize the irony in rewarding a large class for good attendance.
• You realize–too late–you didn’t learn how to say, “Don’t eat the glitter!” in your Spanish class.
• You stock up on Airborne, Echinacea and vitamin C every winter.
• You know it’s easier to go to work with a cold than to prepare for a substitute.
• You believe almost any art project is better with glitter.
• You’ve decided against Botox injections because then you couldn’t give “the teacher look.”
• When a student with limited English calls a book’s dust jacket a “sweater,” you understand the confusion and smile as you explain it.
• You know precisely how many days you have been in school. And how many days you have left.
• You’ve resorted to puppetry to hold your students’ attention.
• You spend at least as much time tying shoes as teaching the alphabet and it’s not even on the report card.
• You know what standards are covered by stringing colored macaroni on a necklace.
• You know kindergarteners need blocks, paint, Play-Doh, songs, stories, and patience. And outdoor recess.
• You are so accustomed to modeling good manners that you thank your dog for not barking. You even thank the police officer for your speeding ticket.
• A trip to a book store always begins and ends in the children’s section.
• You never go to the grocery store without buying at least one thing for school.
• During the course of your day, someone shows you— and you get to compliment them on–their new underwear.
• You work with the most spontaneous and deliciously unpredictable people in the world–five-year-olds.
• Little voices singing “Home Means Nevada” can make you cry.
• You consider it a privilege to be a child’s first teacher.
• You witness small miracles every day.