A professional learning community for educators of color

4 Sep

Welcome (back) to the new school year! A quick post this am about an opportunity for leaders of color in education. I’m teaming up with Steve Morris, Head of the San Francisco School, again this year to facilitate a professional learning community for educational leaders of color.

You may be wondering… Why a group specifically for leaders of color? And isn’t white a color?

To the first question: We learn best in a variety of occasions, including groups that offer different experiences of affinity and diversity. And the thing about any affinity group is that it still includes tremendous diversity of all the other aspects of our identities, which for this group include: sex, socioeconomic status, position/role in schools, professional goal, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, family, education, gender, size, abilities and background. To start.

Why a racial affinity group? Because race is one of the aspects of identity that shapes our interactions with others and our experiences in communities, including: status, access to resources and opportunities, and privileges and disadvantages. Research bears this out at a group level (which is to say, individuals, of course, have unique experiences; and, there are trends and patterns at the group level that indicate normative experience for different racial groups socially, professionally and publicly). Anecdotally, the response to this affinity offering (last year and this year) seems to confirm that this is a valued, useful experience.

And yes, white is a color. We’re not consistent with that understanding, though. And while I stand by the fact that “diversity” includes everyone and all identities, including the majority or norm (without whom there is no perceived “other”), I challenge applying that inclusive definition only to create greater access to the parts of the conversation about diversity that are desirable to participate in. We’re all in all of this together. And what that entails is sometimes affinitizing to help us come together as a diverse community with more awareness, skills and discernment. To that end, Steve and I have added this professional affinity space to BATDC’s other affinity offerings (for new leaders, experience administrators and women). And I hope to see more affinity opportunities for more of the identities that shape our social and professional experiences in education.

About the LOC PLC (Leaders of color professional learning community):

Offered through the Bay Area Teacher Development Collaborative, this dialogue series is an opportunity for educators of color to explore their leadership visions, opportunities, and aspirations within and beyond independent schools. For experienced, emerging and questioning leaders of color at all stages of their careers, this yearlong series will offer participants time and support to:

  • Clarify their visions and goals as educators,
  • Identify core leadership competencies and challenges,
  • Design their own professional growth plans, and
  • Network and build vital personal and professional relationships.

With the intention of knowing and sustaining ourselves in our careers, we will lean into case studies; reflect on our own experiences; talk frankly about the challenges, opportunities and expectations for leaders of color; recognize our personal growth edges; and drill down on the skills and knowledge we have and need to thrive on our diverse professional paths.

For educators of color who want to be effective, transformative, and ever-growing in their profession, these working conversations will include all aspects of who we are as leaders and the complexity of the communities in which we work.

Meeting dates: October 22, November 7, January 14, March 11;
Meeting times: 10:00-2:00  (Additional Social Networking Event: February 5, 5:00-6:30)
Location: The San Francisco School
Cost: $1450 per participant; ($2100 for non-members)

To register, please go to: http://www.batdc.org/workshop/leaders-of-color/ (and click on “Register”).

This summer

24 Jun

Watching the PBS special “Freedom Summer” about the summer of 1964 when black and white US Americans (and perhaps US Americans of other races?) came together to fight for voter registration and education in Mississippi.

If you’re missing it, track it down and watch it later this summer. The courage and conviction of the folks who stood up for equal voting rights is awesome (and I do mean “awesome” in the traditional sense of inspiring awe). And the question I am now asking myself is: this summer, what am I standing up for?

Instead of “politically correct”

2 Jun

In his critique of Adam’s Sandler’s latest film, critic A.O. Scott of the NY Times, inserts a small but paradigm-shifting statement:

The politically correct scold in me — though I prefer the phrase “thinking human being” — may object to all those [racist, sexist, heterosexist, classist] lapses [in the movie] and more like them, but in my capacity as a film critic, I find myself more bothered by the sheer audience-insulting incompetence of the filmmaking and the writing (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/23/movies/adam-sandler-and-drew-barrymore-in-blended.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1).

First of all, I like that. In leaping to the excesses of political correctness, I’ve found that people all too often overlook the worthwhile kernel within PC, which is thinking. Thinking about what we assume and presume, thinking about our frames of reference, thinking about the cultural and systemic prejudices and inequities that are the context of our individual words and actions, and thinking about the impact–not just the intent–of what we say and do. So here’s to “thinking human beings.”

But even as Scott acknowledges the problem with the movie’s “retrograde gender politics; its delight in the humiliation of children; its sentimental hypocrisy about male behavior; its quasi-zoological depiction of Africans as servile, dancing, drum-playing simpletons,” he dismisses it all as secondary to “the sheer audience-insulting incompetence of the filmmaking and the writing.” This puzzles me because I see the two as intertwined.

Yes, I realize that Scott is talking about the crafts of screenwriting and filmmaking. And sometimes craft can be strong while social awareness is not. But in this case, craft appears to suffer the same stunted, derivative, ignorant mindset that informs the film’s political incorrectness. In this film, both craft and content show all the hallmarks of the unthinking human being.

And the reason this bugs me enough to bother writing about one line in a movie review for a film I’m not even going to see is because all too often, we segregate identity, diversity and social justice issues from the presumed “real” considerations of a thing, whether that thing is a film, curriculum, admissions or a trial verdict. We presume that notions like craft, truth, beauty and merit transcend social issues like bias, prejudice and everyday sanctioned discrimination. When we should actually be interrogating how (not whether) bias, prejudice and everyday sanctioned discrimination shape those notions of ours.

That Jeopardy guy really is smart

30 May

Following today’s earlier post about violence against women, I’d like to share excerpts from Jeopardy champ Arthur Chu’s “Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/27/your-princess-is-in-another-castle-misogyny-entitlement-and-nerds.html). I can’t help but think about Katz on influencing peer culture climates, and I’m grateful for Chu, gamer/activist Anita Sarkeesian and other folks who are actively speaking up about the problems and imperative for change in our own communities.

Chu’s analysis of the problematic “get the girl” (as reward for enduring persecution as a nerd) trope includes his reflection on Elliott Rodger’s Santa Barbara shooting spree, and the media coverage of Rodger’s motivation, some of which seems to endorse his misogynist self-justification:

Steve Urkel. Screech. Skippy on Family Ties. Niles on Frasier.

We (male) nerds grow up force-fed this script. Lusting after women “out of our league” was what we did. And those unattainable hot girls would always inevitably reject us because they didn’t understand our intellectual interest in science fiction and comic books and would instead date asshole jocks. This was inevitable, and our only hope was to be unyieldingly persistent until we “earned” a chance with these women by “being there” for them until they saw the error of their ways.

… the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.

So what happens to nerdy guys who keep finding out that the princess they were promised is always in another castle? When they “do everything right,” they get good grades, they get a decent job, and that wife they were promised in the package deal doesn’t arrive? When the persistent passive-aggressive Nice Guy act fails, do they step it up to elaborate Steve-Urkel-esque stalking and stunts? Do they try elaborate Revenge of the Nerds-style ruses? Do they tap into their inner John Galt and try blatant, violent rape?

… When [Rodger's shooting spree] story broke, the initial mainstream coverage only talked about “mental illness,” not misogyny, a line that people are now fervently exhorting us to stick to even after the manifesto’s contents were revealed. Yet another high-profile tech CEO resignation ensued when the co-founder of Rap Genius decided Rodger’s manifesto was a hilarious joke.

People found one of the girls Rodger was obsessed with and began questioning if her “bullying” may have somehow triggered his rage. And, worst of all, he has fan pages on Facebook that still haven’t been taken down, filled with angry frustrated men singing his praises and seriously suggesting that the onus is on women to offer sex to men to keep them from going on rampages.

So, a question, to my fellow male nerds:

What the fuck is wrong with us?

How much longer are we going to be in denial that there’s a thing called “rape culture” and we ought to do something about it?

No, not the straw man that all men are constantly plotting rape, but that we live in an entitlement culture where guys think they need to be having sex with girls in order to be happy and fulfilled. That in a culture that constantly celebrates the narrative of guys trying hard, overcoming challenges, concocting clever ruses and automatically getting a woman thrown at them as a prize as a result, there will always be some guy who crosses the line into committing a violent crime to get what he “deserves,” or get vengeance for being denied it.

To paraphrase the great John Oliver, listen up, fellow self-pitying nerd boys—we are not the victims here. We are not the underdogs. We are not the ones who have our ownership over our bodies and our emotions stepped on constantly by other people’s entitlement. We’re not the ones where one out of six of us will have someone violently attempt to take control of our bodies in our lifetimes.

We are not Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds, we are not Steve Urkel from Family Matters, we are not Preston Myers from Can’t Hardly Wait, we are not Seth Rogen in every movie Seth Rogen has ever been in, we are not fucking Mario racing to the castle to beat Bowser because we know there’s a princess in there waiting for us.

We are not the lovable nerdy protagonist who’s lovable because he’s the protagonist. We’re not guaranteed to get laid by the hot chick of our dreams as long as we work hard enough at it. There isn’t a team of writers or a studio audience pulling for us to triumph by “getting the girl” in the end. And when our clever ruses and schemes to “get girls” fail, it’s not because the girls are too stupid or too bitchy or too shallow to play by those unwritten rules we’ve absorbed.

It’s because other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned—they can be given freely, by choice, or not.

We need to get that. Really, really grok* that, if our half of the species ever going to be worth a damn. Not getting that means that there will always be some percent of us who will be rapists, and abusers, and killers. And it means that the rest of us will always, on some fundamental level, be stupid and wrong when it comes to trying to understand the women we claim to love.

Indeed, the question for all of us (pardon the language) is not what the fuck is wrong with him or them, but what the fuck is wrong with us? Whoever we are. Because each one of us is both a unique individual and the confluence and manifestation the attitudes, norms and rationales of our cultures. And blaming Rodger or a girl he had a crush on is missing the blazing forest for the tree.

* According to sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, “grok” means “to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” —MLK, Jr.

30 May

Upworthy posted a TED talk by Jackson Katz, co-founder of MVP (Mentors in Violence Prevention: http://www.mvpstrategies.net) that’s worth watching, from beginning to end.

“Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTvSfeCRxe8) takes on not just violence against women, but the way we frame violence against women: note the absence of any identification of the perpetrator in the very phrase “violence against women.”

Katz argues that our collusion in cloaking abusive men in silence and invisibility “is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves, which is to say the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege: the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible, in large measure, in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us.”

He makes the parallel to whiteness, heterosexuality and other dominant identities (and dominant not necessarily through acts of violence, but through numbers and/or the simple but definitive power of getting to be the norm), which for me raises the question of how hyper-invisible some people who identify with several dominant groups get to be in conversations and action regarding social issues. And I don’t mean erased or rendered invisible the way people who are currently homeless are all too often stepped around or over without a glance. I mean given an unspoken wide berth as we politely (or fearfully) circumnavigate them in our efforts to effect social change. And applauded with deep gratitude at the merest participation when they choose to engage. (Katz addresses this personally in the opening of his talk.)

Katz is spot on when he posits that we don’t have to go running head on screaming at violent men in order to make this their issue. We can actually be more effective by addressing our peer culture climates: the norms and attitudes of our peers that facilitate misogyny, racism, homophobia and classism. (Here, let’s break down “we”: Katz is saying that women and other men need to hold other men accountable. There’s a legitimacy in a woman talking about misogyny. And another, different and complementary legitimacy in a man speaking up.)

In insisting that ending violence against women means a holistic, consistent rejection of not just outright, violent misogyny but also social acceptable sexism, Katz calls for each of us to recognize that we are gendered, that we have agency, and that we have the responsibility and opportunity to end male violence for the sake of women, agender people and men.


How to post a job

23 May

We’re not getting the diversity we’re looking for.

There just aren’t any candidates of color out there.

We’re not appealing to a lot of candidates because of our location.

I hear these and more declarations of frustration about the schism between an organization’s commitment to diversity and the yield of their candidate pool when they post a job opening. There’s earnest intention in these statements–and, in my opinion, an all too easy surrender to circumstances that are beyond an organization’s control. Like, for instance, location. True, most organizations can’t just up and move to attract a more diverse candidate pool. Then again, seeing location as a prohibition of diversity presumes that employers know how candidates view and prioritize their location in considering submitting applications. Who says brown and black people don’t want to work in the suburbs? (And there’s a convenience in blaming that which we can’t change.)

The truth is that there’s a lot within an organization’s control when it comes to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. And, taking action within the realm of what the organization can do may actually get candidates past any initial inhibitions about location or other immutable factors.

Here, I’m just going to focus on one lever that is well within an organization’s ability to push: clearly understanding and explaining why diversity. I’m not talking about a non-discrimination clause, like this one:

We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or any other status protected by law or regulation. It is our intention that all qualified applicants be given equal opportunity and that selection decisions be based on job-related factors (http://gigshowcase.com/EndUserFiles/28854.pdf).

While such a clause is an important baseline for any employer to state and understand internally, organizations need to go well beyond just promising not to discriminate (starting with understanding normative prejudice and discrimination in hiring that often goes undetected and unadmitted because, after all, don’t we have a clause that says we don’t discriminate?)

In addition to a nondiscrimination clause, organizations need to understand and clearly articulate their commitment to diversity, and, more specifically, why they’re seeking a diverse employee base.

An example of an organization that does this well is Teach for All (not to be confused with Teach for America, Teach for All applies Teach for America’s model globally).

Check out Teach for All’s “Join Our Staff” page: http://teachforall.org/join-our-staff. Notice the positioning of their “Commitment to Diversity and Inclusiveness.” It’s right there above the “Search for Jobs” button. And they invite you: “Please see more about our commitment to diversity here.”

When you click on “here,” you land on their full page explanation of their “Commitment to Diversity and Inclusiveness” (http://teachforall.org/about/diversity). I won’t repeat it all here, but I encourage you to read what they have to say and see if they answer any of these questions to your satisfaction:

  • Why (really, why) is Teach for All committed to diversity and inclusiveness?
  • What does TFA mean by “diversity”? What diversity are they committed to including?
  • What does this commitment mean for TFA’s diverse employees? (And by “diverse,” I mean employees of all identities and backgrounds, including white, college-educated staff. Because, after all, there’s no difference without groups whom we identify as the norm or majority.) In other words, what does TFA expect of you as an employee if you yourself “have experienced the inequities we’re working to address by nature of sharing the background (e.g. economic, racial and ethnic, religious) of the most disadvantaged groups in their countries”? (That wording is a bit dense, but give it another read). And what does TFA expect of you as an employee if you have not experienced the inequities TFA is working to address?

The answers to these questions ought to be apparent to anyone applying for a job at any organization that claims to be committed to (or even to value) diversity. And the answers ought to make sense, first and foremost, under the mission. Second and close behind, to every person who works or wants to work at the organization. Because when the people who are the organization understand the commitment to diversity, then they can embody and live it.

Regarding the last question, I just want to point out the last paragraph on the page:

To move ahead on this journey towards greater diversity and inclusiveness,  all of us who are part of Teach For All must reflect on the ways in which diversity is central to our work. We must engage in an ongoing discussion and consideration of the ways in which our own background influences our perspectives and the ways in which we’re received, and of why increasingly diverse representation and inclusiveness is important. In the context of deepening understanding of the role of diversity in our work, we must ask ourselves what we can do—as individuals, as teams, and across our organization—to increase the diversity of our talent pipelines and the inclusiveness of our culture.

All too often, diversity becomes the default (and unpaid) responsibility of the people in organizations who identify with under-represented, disenfranchised and disadvantaged groups, and a tacit line is drawn between those people who do diversity and those who do not. So as a minority, you are hired not only to represent, but to bring a skillset that is supposed to be innate to your identity and experience. This statement by TFA reframes diversity and inclusiveness as everyone’s shared responsibility via cultural competency skills. (I do think this reframing could be more explicit in including folks of privilege in the “all.” While “all” should say it all, from experience I know the power of exemption that the mere word “diversity” grants to folks who identify with normative and majority groups.)

I do think TFA could strengthen their “Commitment to Diversity and Inclusiveness” by repositioning this statement. (I missed it the first time I visited this page because it falls last, under the large photo.) This paragraph, which critically holds all TFA staff accountable for cultural competency, ought to be the opening statement of “Our Focus,” establishing right from the start that everyone is responsible for doing the work of diversity.

Of course, I don’t know if TFA holds all its staff accountable for the practice, not just the intention, of inclusiveness (in the form of performance evaluations with specific, clear criteria and metrics). But with their clear statement of commitment, that’s a question I would think any applicant could feel comfortable and hopeful asking. Heck, maybe they’d even move for the job.

Sing it, sister

22 May

Intercultural education… represents one of the essential guidelines for defining the quality of our future, to the extent that the interaction between cultures is not only a political issue, but above all a cultural and cognitive issue.

–Professor Carlina Rinaldi, 2000

I scooped this quote from a colleague’s blog (http://chris.thinnes.me/?p=1429) and just want to unpack it, at risk of singing my same old song again.

Intercultural education (variously also called multicultural education, social justice education and cultural competence education) refers to the intentional practice of those understandings, habits of heart and mind, and skills that help us to learn more deeply and enduringly by cultivating:

  • awareness of self (including one’s cultural frames of reference),
  • presumption of diversity in any engagement with another person or group,
  • recognition of cultural and systemic inequities that privilege some identities over others, and
  • discernment and capacity to effect social change for the mutual benefit of self and community.

… At least that’s one definition I use.

What Rinaldi points out is that while this educational framework, which is rooted in helping kids learn better, is certainly political (see all the debates over academic rigor “versus” multicultural/social justice/intercultural/cultural competence education), it is inherently cultural and cognitive, too.

The very debate over intercultural education is an example of how “the interaction between cultures” is cultural: having to name education as “intercultural” at all is indicative of the normative culture within which this movement is taking place. There is only “intercultural education” because something precedes it, which we refer to simply as “education.” And just like “intercultural education,” this plain old, needs-no-introduction “education” has a particular pedagogy, bias and relationship to other schools of learning and teaching. Yet “education”s position is unique in that its biases are so ingrained in us that they are virtually unapparent. Thus, “education” needs no introduction, no case to be made for it: it is simply the standard, the norm. And “education” gets to be right until an upstart unseats it (and becomes the new generic “education”). Because the forms that education can take are themselves cultural constructs, it is vital that in the debate over different schools of education, we practice precisely those understandings, skills and habits of heart and mind that intercultural education is based on. (I realize that’s circular logic, but I’m willing to stand by it.)

As for cognition, stereotype threat and its effects on learning and educational outcomes (Steele) evidence how “the interaction between cultures” is a critical cognitive issue. At the very minimum, in any learning instance, a student must engage the culture of the teacher and the culture of their subject of study (and sometimes, these coincide). An identification with negative stereotypes in either/both of these cultures does not predict student performance but does consistently correlate with additional physiological and intellectual stress. The energy that a student must divert to managing stereotype threat comes at a cost to their primary task of learning, no matter the outcome on paper. Steele’s research suggests that education that denies any cultural aspect and ramifications of the learning-teaching transaction will continue to lose and shut down students. And not all students equally, but particularly and disproportionately those students who identify and are identified outside the dominant culture that defines our generic friend “education”: among them, brown and black boys, girls in the STEM disciplines and students whose learning styles are disabled in traditional classrooms.

Bringing our cognitive faculties to bear on the understanding of culture and cultural interactions (which is at the heart of intercultural education) can not only minimize stereotype threat, it can empower us to unleash the learning and teaching potential of every individual by integrating, rather than stripping them of, the cultural frameworks through which we understand ourselves, the world and each other. All of this suggests that the interaction between cultures is not only political, cultural and cognitive, but whole-person educational, as well.


** Thanks to CT for his blog and collegiality.


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