Inventing Illegality

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Image Credit: May Day March

A new week, a new round of policies that endanger more than than they assist.

Through the debates that will rightly follow Trump’s latest round of immigration directives, notice who chooses to employ the term illegal vs. undocumented. And if that distinction doesn’t yet set your ears aflame, here’s one of the many reasons it should.

Earlier this fall, Emmy Award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa explained that you can identify an individual as having broken a law, but “what you cannot do is to label the person illegal.” Hinojosa continued,

“The reason why I say this, is not because I learned it from some radical Latino or Latina studies professor when I was a college student. I learned it from Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, who said, ‘You know what? The first thing they did was that they declared the Jews to be an illegal people.’ And that’s what we’re talking about at this point.” Continue reading

The But/And Politics of “Moving Forward”

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Image credit: Ben Wikler

I deeply admire you, Senator Elizabeth Warren, which is why I was looking to you for answers last week.

“Donald Trump ran a campaign that started with racial attacks and then rode the escalator down. Millions of Americans – African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, LGBT Americans, women – have every right to be deeply worried. But there are many millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies…. They voted for him out of frustration and anger—and also out of hope that he would bring change to an economy and a government that doesn’t work for them.”

What you said is true. We know all Trump supporters aren’t necessarily hateful. We also know that many other voters are rightfully afraid. However, it was your use of one word that makes this such a disappointment.

You said “but.”

Yes, Senator Warren, millions of Americans—particularly minoritized populations—do have every right to be deeply worried.

Full stop.

It’s just that you didn’t stop there. You didn’t legitimize that truth by letting it stand.

You said “but.”

The word “but” is used to pivot a sentence away from one idea and onto another. The word functions to contradict, qualify, or lessen the clause that precedes it. 

So your sentence took the focus off of the fear, worry, and physical danger that faces so many right now, and put it elsewhere.

That focus, Senator Warren, needed to stay right where it was.

Now is not the time for the word “but.” It’s time to realize we can hold two ideas in our head at the same time.

It’s a time for the word AND. Continue reading

‘Refugee’ Revisited: Rio 2016

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Image Credit: Kirilos via Flickr

The Olympics aspire to inspire. This year, nothing has captured that spirit more than the standing ovation received by the first Refugee Olympic team at the opening ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

One team member in particular, 18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini, captured the world’s attention through her story of having pushed a sinking dinghy to shore, saving 20 lives as she and her family fled Syria.

Through all the (indisputably worthy) praise for Mardini and the rest of the team, less energy has been invested in exploring the conditions that engineered such a team into existence.

International policies are accountable for forcing these athletes, and countless others, into refugee status. These policies were enacted by many of the same countries whose athletes paraded alongside the refugee team. The same culpability resides with transnational bodies such as the International Olympic Committee: How do we, for example, reconcile the paradox of welcoming a refugee team during an event responsible for displacing 77,000 more?

A partial answer comes in recognizing that “refugee” is not a nationality, a flag by which to march under, but a status we as a global community have forced upon these individuals. Continue reading

Why Don’t Policymakers Read Research? Actually, They Do: An Interview

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“Why don’t policymakers read educational research?”

This is a question I hear a lot in academic circles. In fact, bemoaning this fact on Twitter led me to a fabulous conversation with Shree Chauhan—who told me that, in her experience working with policymakers, they do read educational research and want to read more, and that we in academia could make that much easier to do.

Chauhan (see full bio below) is an education entrepreneur who also manages education and health policy for a national civil rights organization. She has worked in the federal education policy arena for nearly a decade and was kind enough to answer some questions for me based on her experiences. Our conversation, summarized below, highlighted the need to bridge gaps between the worlds of academia, policy, and advocacy organizations.

1. How do we get policymakers to read academic research?

Chauhan points out that, as well all know, policymakers are busy, busy, busy, so the more concisely we can sum up our work, the better.

“In a congressional office, any staff member is dealing with 7 or 8 issues, with education being one of 10 big things that are weedy and difficult. Research is usually written using jargon-filled language that many people don’t understand. If you bring in a 40 to 50 page paper, most may not be able to consume it. So go deep with your research and know exactly what you’re doing, but be able to break it down in a page… even find a good graphic designer to actually make it visually appealing and easy to understand.”

2. What kind of research do policymakers find most convincing and useful? 

I’d assumed folks on Capitol Hill would prefer something with lots of of numbers, graphs, and data. While Chauhan affirms that numbers are important, she urges us not to forget the human side of politics as well: Continue reading

High Stakes Testing and Critical Thinking: Is Balance Possible?

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Note: This post was part of a larger conversation between nine educators on C.M. Rubin’s Global Search For Education Blog on The Huffington Post.

 Can teachers balance high stakes test prep with critical thinking?

Let me first say that I don’t have a magical answer; anyone who says he does is trying to sell something. Let me also say that, for this post, I’m going to set aside the (utterly imperative) question of whether or not schools should engage in high stakes testing, and instead focus on how teachers—within our current reality—can balance test prep alongside deep, critical learning.

Like many, I’ve struggled with this balance, particularly while teaching in South Korea where “high stakes” takes on a whole new meaning: Though Korea boasts some of the world’s highest test scores, this comes at the expense of untenable student stress, staggering rates of teen suicide, and an education system largely geared toward cramming for tests. Fortunately, my employer understood that critical thinking can actually boost test scores, and we engaged students in collaborative learning, tackling real world issues through interactive “critical thinking projects.” Students worked hard, improved their English, and actually had some fun in the process.

And oh yeah: They passed exams, often with flying colors.

As a high school English teacher in the U.S., I’ve seen a school-as-test-prep mentality increasingly Continue reading

The Grass is Always Greener – in China?

Made in ChinaWhen President Obama made his first trip to South Korea in 2009, he created a national buzz by declaring his deep admiration for the South Korean education system. And how could he not, with its stedfast students and astronomical test scores? Since then, Obama has repeatedly reaffirmed his call for the U.S. to learn from education systems like South Korea’s.

Back in 2009, I found this deeply ironic: At the time, I was living in South Korea and worked at a private English academy. The company’s main selling point was advertising a unique, “American-style” curriculum in which students engaged in critical thinking and problem-solving as opposed to rote memorization and test prep – educational emphases that nearly every teacher, student, and parent I met in Korea realized would not make their country globally competitive for much longer.

Now, working in the U.S., I often hear the argument that we desperately need to learn from, admire, and emulate education systems like South Korea’s. And I must say, I’ve long been confused by this mutual envy. Do we have such diverging needs? Does one system really have it right? Or is it just that the grass really does look greener on the other side? Continue reading

It’s 2014: Were No Children Left Behind?

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“2014… All children, under federal law, are supposed to be at grade level. Spoiler alert: They’re not.

Thus begins NPR’s exploration of the failures, successes, and legacies of NCLB in the year it was to have been achieved. Here’s an excerpt from the article, written by Anya Kamenetz:

“The law required that states report more than just average test scores. It made them report, separately, the scores of traditionally disadvantaged subgroups: ethnic and racial minorities, disabled students, low-income students and English learners.
Continue reading