Daily Archives: October 1, 2007

“Underexposure to Texts”: A Post from Dr. Beverly Tatum

Dr Beverly Tatum, psychologist and author of the already classic “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and the new “Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of Resegregation” as well as the piece in our edited anthology, commented on our blog today. Instead of approving it as a comment, I am posting it on the main page of the blog to emphasize its importance. Please read and respond.

Thanks Ray for eliciting Dr. Tatum’s interest. Wow!! KES

from…Dr. Tatum | sundar96@verizon.net | IP: 131.193.221.171

We need to take an honest position with regard to the literacy development African American boys. Neither effective reading strategies nor literacy reform efforts will close the achievement gap in a class-based society unless meaningful texts are at the core of the curriculum; unless teachers and administrators accept culpability for their failures; and unless the failure of economically disadvantaged African American boys in majority minority schools becomes a priority in our nation’s educational agenda as evidenced through greater financial investments for resources and placing more highly, qualified teachers in classrooms. To date, the solution has been creating new standards while old educational inequities exist (Darling-Hammond, 2007).

First, it must be dissolved that young African American males do not want to be educated. These young men experience pain when they struggle with reading, pain that cannot be quantified. Yet, they often mask their pain at their peril to protect their identity. A young male high school student who participated in a focus group discussion I led informed us, “If I did not have a mentor outside of North East High School I would probably find myself dropping out. It’s scary not knowing how to read. I don’t want to be in school anymore…. I am tired of being made fun of.” Clearly, limited reading skills caused this young male internal anguish.

Second, it must dissolved that African American males should accept any form of instruction. In many cases, they have legitimate reasons to resist instructional practices that will leave them underprepared in a competitive society. I observed such a lesson in a high school reading classroom near the end of the students’ freshman year. The students, predominantly African American males, were asked to identify misspelled words in a sentence written on the board. One of the misspelled words was laff (laugh). This lesson did not provide a cognitive challenge and was not developmentally appropriate for high school students. Yet, the students participated in this lesson extrapolated from an elementary school orientation. In the same high school at the beginning of the following school year I observed a teacher telling the students which letter to capitalize while completing a worksheet page of capitalization of proper nouns. Valuable instructional time was lost with both such lessons and the students were no closer to being proficient or advanced readers. At some point, they will reject text and the education they are being offered if they assess they lack significance and meaning.

Third, it must be dissolved that African American adolescent males need saviors, before they need quality education. Quality education allows African American males to know and save themselves. Quality teaching matters. Teachers have the power to reshape the lives of African American adolescent males and move them beyond some of the limitations outside of schools that retard their reading achievement.

Many African American adolescent males feel loathed before they are loved, feel rejected before they are respected, and feel alienated before they are educated. These feelings make it easier for them to perform poorly in school. These sentiments are captured by a young man who shared, “The majority of the world don’t think we are worthy enough to take control and handle what we need to do.” This feeling serves as a stressor for African American adolescent males who feel a lack of psychosocial membership in the classroom (Price, 2000; Spencer, 1999).

As I think about the welfare and literacy development of African American males from impoverished communities, I am challenged by the following questions: How are teachers conceptualizing literacy instruction for them? How are they teaching the black males how to read and write? How are they helping to nurture the identities of these young men? How are teachers helping these young men believe in themselves as academic, cultural, economic, human and social beings? How are teachers helping these young men enjoy school? In essence, what is “schooling” doing for African American males?

The nation has sounded the siren for educational change. This siren has the effect of moving many educators to remedy the underperformance in reading of African American males by focusing on skills and strategies aligned to new standards, holding teachers accountable, and mandating more testing. Educators are struggling to find ways to address the needs of poor African American males. As a nation, we are challenged to answer the question, how do we improve the reading achievement of African American males in elementary, middle school and high school classrooms?

Many black males are trapped behind the rhetorical curtain of No Child Left Behind legislation. No Child Left Behind is idealistic in a society with a history and interest in economic and political exploitation, racism, and oppression. A nation like the United States does not function without distinct classes. The “good society”, by design, needs to leave some behind (Galbraith, 1997). In the United States, however, the arc of being left behind bends towards those who live in poverty, those being raised by single mothers, those attending low-achieving majority-minority schools, and those who live in largely segregated urban and rural communities, and those who are male. These variables affect quality of life indicators that markedly impact African American males in the United States. Although the volume of disadvantage becomes louder for these young men during adolescence, there are signs early in their lives of a growing negative life outcome trajectory.

Teachers and administrators are challenged to reach their African American male student population who fall into the typical pattern as stated by one administrator. Typical pattern was used to describe low performance on reading-related tasks. Many black males continue to be left behind in school as they wait for educators to “get it right.” Time to reshape the life outcome through literacy development is running out earlier and earlier for many of these young men as they opt for deleterious pathways that cement a recycling of failure.

Continue to wrestle with the complexities. By the way, all adolescents benefit from texts that connects to their multiple backgrounds – personal, cultural, economic, national, and social, cultural, and gender. Many students are suffering from an underexposure to texs in America’s middle school and high schools. The stakes are higher for some.

Tatum

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Keeping it current.

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to share a great experience that I had today during my observation. I ended up observing a different teacher. She had an 11th grade AP English Language class. This class focuses more on writing and reads a lot of nonfiction. I was astounded by how much this class was rooted in current events. Each week, they write current events papers based on an article. They also had readings involving the Patriot Act, and today they handed in an annotated bibliography of their research on global warming.

Today, the teacher introduced a new project to them. She called it a “group analysis paper” and said that they will work in groups of four to create a document. She explained that in the real world, people often need to work in groups to analyze a problem. Each group would read an article and analyze the credibility and bias of the author, the structure of the argument, the potential flaws in the construction or logic of the argument, and so on. I was particularly struck by the articles she had chosen. They were from current issues of magazines such as Newsweek, Scientific American, Skeptical Inquirer, and Mother Jones. The articles were about AIDS, Space, alternative lifestyles, controversial institutions for the mentally ill, and so on. I thought this was a great way to teach students about argument while raising their awareness and interest in the world around them. I think the content of this course is key. It would be so easy to use outdated materials or bland topics, but the teacher had carefully selected articles that were current and engaging.

This class reminded me of some of our earlier readings, particularly the “Chat room musings” article. This is a great example of keeping the material fresh. Also, this course obviously looks outside of the canon for texts. This was great for me to see because I had not yet seen the method in practice to this degree. It convinced me of the effectiveness of using other texts in class.

Has anyone else discovered any similar methods in their observation?

Allison

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Understanding by Design Readings for 10/2

This is a rich text–and requires careful reading. But let me suggest a shortcut you might use to the six facets McTighe and Wiggins lay out. Pp. 66-67 and then the rubric on 76-77 summarize these next two chapters nicely. So if you skim only pay particular attention here.

As you read, apply what you are reading/absorbing here to your own unit planning. Make notes on the text as you do that. KES

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Literary Theory Website

I’ve been doing a lot of research on literary theory in the past year or so. I even created this website.

It is possible that I will use this website when presenting at the NYSEC conference in mid-November; therefore, since we’re reading Appleman right now, I figured I could ask you what you think about the site.

So, let me know what you think. What should I add? What should I take out? Where do I need more clarification? Any comments or suggestions are encouraged. Please be brutally honest… I can take it!

I want this site to be concise but informative.

Thanks

Ray H.

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Allington, Chapt. 18

The statistics were startling when it showed that both poor and minority students at twelfth grade read at the same level as eighth grade non poor and non minority students.

I agree that students who have trouble reading need to be helped constanly until they are able to get back on track.

One way to do this is through positive affirmations by letting the students know that you as the teacher care about their progress.

Ray Canada

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Lessesne/Tatum

I agree with Lessesne when he says that graphic novels can help convince reluctant readers into picking up a book.

However, I had a real problem with Tatum’s quote, “We cannot wait for African American males to heal themselves.” We must contribute to the healing and build texual lineages that move them toward promise and possibility.” (Adolescent literacy, Chapt. 6)

First off, he made no distinction here. All African American males do not need help with reading. It is true that many do but it should have been made clear which group of males were being addressed. I agree that African American males should be reading texts that they can relate to, by authors who look like them. This may help them read more but one has to understand the depth of the situation we are talking about here. In some cases we are talking about laziness, but not in all.

Some of these kids are working full time while in high school. Some of them are not just supporting themselves but they are also supporting their families. Getting them the right book to read is not going to necessarily change their situation. It may change something in the long term but these kids need economic relief now. So they are going to engage in situations that will fufill their needs now and they will become less engaged with the long run.

Ray Canada

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Tyson

I agree with Tyson who explains the two reasons why people avoid theory:

1)Fear of Failure

2) Fear of loosing your connection with reading

The “death of the author” changes the way we look at texts. Readers use to analyze texts so that they could try and have a better understanding about what the author was trying to say. However, now it’s more about how the reader interprets the texts.

New Criticism-no longer practiced by literary critics but it was once the dominant theory in the 1940’s-1960’s. It’s left us with a legacy on how to read literature. It’s taught us how to take specific evidence from the text so that we can give credit to our interpretations.

Ray Canada

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