Student Reflects on Kozol & the Culture of Power: A Summer Snapshot

If you care about education in our country and haven’t read these books/articles, add them to your summer reading list:

My students and I are spending eight weeks this summer reading these texts (in addition to Susan Neuman’s Changing the Odds for Children at Risk), volunteering in local education programs, and discussing the small and big picture of what education looks like in the U.S. and in Portland, Oregon.  This work is powerful.  I have students who are thinking about shifting gear and working for some of the organizations we partner with (Upward Bound, Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, Portland Parks and Recreation, 9th Grade Counts Program); I have students who want to educate more people on the state of education in Oregon; I have students who are deeply moved and changed by the experience.

A student in my Summer Youth Enrichment Class, Kaitlyn, has allowed me to share a piece of her work from the week.  This is just a snapshot of the thinking that takes place in these classes, and I feel hopeful that this kind of teaching and learning can lead to actual change in our communities for kids and families. Kaitlyn’s words follow in teal. She is responding to an excerpt from Kozol’s Shame of the Nation that was assigned in class and also references Lisa Delpit’s concept of the “culture of power.”

When minority parents ask for something better for their kids, she says,’ the assumption is that these are parents who can be discounted. These are kids that just don’t count—children we don’t value.’”(Kozol 150). I feel like that is the root of the whole issue across the board. It’s sewed into the hem of the choices we make—we make by who we vote for, by our inaction, by our indifference, by our choice to remain ignorant. It’s completely applicable, in that the disparities, the segregation are all taking place in Portland or are beginning too.  It’s pretty heart wrenching, the way the insights of these students are so spot on. In the “Silenced Dialogue,” Delpit addresses how the “culture of power,” turns a blind eye to what is really happening—what is really motivating the differences–it’s all to clear to the ones who suffer as a result.

One of the most hopeful notes in Kaitlyn’s response is the attention to the fact that our voices are part of the bigger message and that we can change the message by raising our voices in ways that advocate for kids.  The moment when she says “It’s sewed into the hem of the choices we make—we make by who we vote for, by our inaction, by our indifference, by our choice to remain ignorant,” she is speaking of community inaction, lack of votes, apathy, and chosen ignorance about the inequities that are perpetuated in the way our schools are structured.  Of course, schools merely reflect our community and the values we have chosen to live out.

What is the end goal?  Make a new choice.  If you are educated on issues of poverty, race, and school equity (to name a few), it is your duty to speak out and to act for those who can’t.  With November quickly approaching and a host of important votes for our country and community, this is a good time to get excited and motivated.  Whether or not you believe that your vote counts, it does.  And your actions count even more.

Thank you, Kaitlyn, for allowing me to showcase your work!

Vote for Local Libraries, Vote for Mayor, Register and Vote!

Confession: I’ve recently fallen back in love with the power of voting.  And want to encourage voter registration and voting for the Multnomah County Library Levy in the May primary.


My parents made voting a part of our family life.  They sat with us at the round dining room table and read the voter’s guide and discussed all of the details on its pages over dinners of spaghetti or brown rice and vegetables.  My mom took us with her when there were still physical voting booths, and the scene always felt so special.  The flapping of the fabric booth doors, staring at people’s legs as they voted in their secret spaces, and so on.  This dedication to voting continued even when I left the house.  When I was in college, my mom or dad would call to make sure I was going to get my absentee ballot in.  Voting has always been part of my life.

But for a while there, I was part of the disenchanted masses who felt like voting doesn’t matter.  Yes, I have always voted since turning 18.  But I wasn’t sure that it mattered. 

With the work I’ve been doing in my Capstone classes focused on education, I’ve done a lot of research on local levies and bonds, talking about candidates for School Board and Governor, and having long debates about tax reform.  All of these discussions have allowed a space for realizing that (especially in local matters) each vote really does count, and we can see evidence of that all around us: in the quality of our schools, in the candidates who speak for us in Salem, in the open hours at the library, in the number of social services that are available around the city, and so on.

The deadline for registering to vote in Oregon is April 24.  You can register ONLINE; it’s so easy.  And if you think you don’t know enough about the issues or the candidates to vote in the upcoming May primary, you’re wrong.  A simple Google search can give you lots of easily accessible information at your fingertips on all of the candidates and measures.

I’d like to make a special shout out to the Multnomah County Library system.  Learn more, by reading the library’spage on how its funding works and why this levy is important.  Please vote to support a stable library system.  Voting for the library is a vote for the values of community, literacy, and equity.