Affirmative Action & Schools Today (by Guest Blogger Kira Lander)

Note: This post is in response to the following November 2012 article by Ethan Bronner of the New York Times: “Asian-Americans in the Argument.” This recent article in the New York Times discusses affirmative action, past discriminations, and using race to determine … Continue reading

Becoming an Activist: Little Steps, One Week (A Picture Diary)

I have been teaching community-based learning courses for about four years now.  I have been working in the community since I was a little kid, first through standing with my mom at rummage sales and helping out in the Saint Francis School soup kitchen.  As I first started teaching education-focused classes on social justice and volunteerism, I volunteered at the schools where my students worked.  And now, I’m exploring other roles.  The last week was a whirlwind of networking and trying new things.  I present my picture diary and the ups and downs of finding my new place as an activist for equity in education.

Thursday, May 31

Thursday, May 31, was the Save Our Schools Day of Action.  I’m still feeling out all of the official organizations that work to support schools, advocate for kids and teachers, and talk about school funding.  I am a Stand for Children member, I attended the UPSET (Underfunded Parents, Students, and Educators Together) rally, and I decided to test out the SOS Day of Action as part of my journey.

One of the actions the group was taking part in was a rally outside the Oregon Education Investment Board’s meeting with the new Chief Education Officer, Rudy Crew.  Both Crew and Governor Kitzhaber spoke to the small rally group; this earned both points in my book, but I am curious to see how this new CEO will turn around Oregon schools in the next 3-10 years.

On a side note, there was much talk about the last-minute change of location for the meeting (from PSU to Parkrose High School).  PSU would have undoubtedly had a much higher turn-out.  Was the change of location a way of avoiding more protestors?

Later in the day, I attended the Harvey Scott SUN showcase and was privileged to witness the work of my colleague Sabina Haque with SUN school kids and PSU Capstone students.  They produced beautiful community maps in addition to video shorts that filled the auditorium with the students’ honesty, real experience of the world, and ability to overcome obstacles even at such a young age.  This showcase really embodies one kind of community work that I am completely dedicated to — the sharing of our abilities and talents and the guiding of new mentors to work one-on-one with students in areas such as art that have been cut from so many of our schools.

Friday, June 1

I started the day early with a big cup of coffee and a muffin.  I then kissed my two children goodbye and headed to PSU where the Portland Action Summit: Leadership for the Next Generation was taking place.  I was able to listen to an incredibly articulate group from Lincoln High School (the “We the People” Constitution Team) answer audience-posed questions about the role of the community to support equity in education.  Very inspiring; here’s some video footage from the Classroom Law Project (also inspiring).  If all young people could be this well-educated in civics, what a community we would have!

I also participated in a community mapping project (a vision of what our community looks like now and what it should look like with adequate support for youth voices) and networked with Hands on Portland, the Classroom Law Project, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the Oregon Student Association.  Meeting people face to face is what this work is really about.  I feel like I have some good resources for future partnering and had many offers of groups to attend my class and speak to my students.

Later in the evening, I was honored to attend the Portland Teacher’s Program graduation ceremony.  I ran into students from my last five years of teaching and was so happy to hear that some of them are now in the classroom doing the important work. A powerful quote from the program: “The country is in deep trouble.  We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it.  We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice” (Cornel West).

Saturday, June 2

I attended the opening day of the St. Johns Farmers Market with my family.  We listened to the Roosevelt High School jazz band.  I encouraged my husband (a jazz trumpeter and educator at PSU) to volunteer with their program next year.  The work continues little step by little step.  I think that’s the most important thing I learned in the last few days.  Each little step builds upon the last, and these steps do add up.  The more I get involved, the more I want to be more involved.  And the more I want to be more involved, the more I want my students and family members to be more involved in building the community of people dedicated to social justice and to supporting education.

A Lottery Mentality: The Recent Lotto Buzz, School Choice, and the Superintendent’s 2012-2013 Budget Proposal

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the lottery.  Late last week, my Facebook homepage was jammed with status updates about buying lottery tickets for the big jackpot.  There was a buzz to each update and lots of planning about what each person would do if they won.  It struck me that my friends and acquaintances were convinced that this would actually be a way to find the financial stability they have been desperately seeking during this time of economic instability and pressure that far too many of us have experienced over the last few years.  And all of this in the face of the fact that the chance of winning is completely and absurdly small.

How does this relate to schools?  It relates to the so-called saving grace of the public school system — school choice — and the lottery applications that were due at the beginning of March.  A friend of mine was torn between submitting a bid for her child at the school of her dreams with a very slim chance (less chance than the average person applying to Harvard) to get in or submitting a bid for a school she felt was adequate but not ideal (with a 50-50 chance of being picked).  She was devastated that (a) her neighborhood school wasn’t providing the kind of creative, individualized, strong learning that she feels her child (and all children) deserve and (b) that she has to roll the dice for even a small chance for her child to go to a school that will provide the kind of stimulation that will help them grow.

For all of the students who don’t get their names submitted into the lottery (for so many reasons), for all of the students who don’t have schools that are well-funded or well-supported but don’t have the option of having a parent drive them across town to a charter school, for all of the students who don’t get chosen for the school of their dreams…this system is not working.  A system that is based on the small chance that a child may get the education that they deserve is not an equitable system.

With that said, there’s a buzz in the air about the PPS Superintendant’s budget proposal for the 2012-2013 school year.  The proposal includes over 100 teaching positions that will be cut, over 30 administrator positions cut, no additional funding for the Outdoor School program, changes to Title I funding distribution, the merging of Humboldt with Boise-Elliot school, and the closing of the Young Women’s Academy.  Read the proposal, and let me know what you think.  The linked proposal also includes information on the upcoming community meetings where you can raise your voice to discuss the proposed changes/cuts (April 9 at Cleveland High School, 5:00 p.m. & April 11 at Roosevelt High School, 6:00 p.m.).  Most importantly, Carole Smith is quoted as saying the following:

“As a state, we must commit to a different approach to funding education in alignment with the outcomes we want for every student … We cannot continue to build a vision for education in the 21st century, while we dismantle the foundation of our educational system every year.”

Think on this, fellow community members and voters.  We do not have a stable funding source for our schools.  What are you willing to do to make a change?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.  And I also encourage you to check back here in the next few days for a guest post by a passionate, amazing Portland Public School teacher and long-time community member on this topic!

Happy Spring Term…