Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Courageous Young Student Fights for his Rights in Court and Wins: Russell Dickerson III Talks to Teachers on What They Need to Know about Bullying

Editor: After enduring years of bullying and harassment during his junior high school and high school years, Russell Dickerson decided to file a lawsuit against the Aberdeen School District in Washington State on the grounds that the “deliberate indifference to ongoing harassment by the school district, which receives federal funds, violated federal law – Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The district’s negligent inaction also violated the Washington Law against Discrimination.” In our post below, “Washington State ACLU Achieves Settlement for Bullying Victim,” we announced a settlement achieved by the ACLU for $100,000 from the district with an additional $35,000 in legal fees to the ACLU. In its announcement (see below), the ACLU draws a picture of the kind of harassment and bullying that young Dickerson underwent. Dickerson, now 20, explained why he took the action he did. “I learned from my parents that you should never give up. You should fight for your rights – you don’t just walk away,” said Dickerson.

We asked Russell if he would write a personal letter to teachers and prospective teachers on what they need to know about bullying and harassment and what they can do. We hope that his thoughts will be the impetus for the beginning of a serious conversation by educators.

Russell Dickerson’s Open Letter to Teachers on What They Need to Know about Bullying and Harassment

By Russell Dickerson III

In today's classrooms, it's hard not to have disruptions in the educational process. With students of different needs, backgrounds and intellect, teaching (and learning) can be hard with disruptions. There might be an unruly child or two with a hyperactive disorder who acts out during a lesson. You might have experienced (or will experience for those who are student teachers) students' heads pointing downwards toward their lap, texting on their phone during a lesson. Sometimes, you'll have parents who advocate their child—not the teachers or the school system—for better or worse, kind of like “the customer is always right” doctrine. These are quite common distractions. Worse yet, bullying can eclipse these relatively small distractions in the educational process.

What effect does bullying have on victims in relation to their learning process? Students who are bullied will find it really difficult and often treacherous to take in the lessons they need to learn. Why? Quite often, when you've just been bullied, you are no longer focusing on what you should be focusing on. You get worried, or you might be sad, mad, scared or upset. Maybe you might be ashamed. Thus, your self-esteem will collapse, and adding fractions will feel so much more difficult, if not impossible. Let's take a look at a different perspective: Nobody likes to be in a place that they attribute negatively. Repeated bullying can make victims feel unwelcome and isolated. Victims of bullying will dread going to school and may frequently become absent. Everybody knows that chronic absences, no matter the circumstance, are detrimental to the educational process.

What about the bullies, and why do they do what they do? Bullies almost always look for “faults” – i.e. what is unique about a person, but gets erroneously interpreted into a defect. The bully usually feels low self-esteem, and feels that they must enhance it, albeit in a negative way. Sometimes, bullies are actually victims of bullying as well. There's also the fact that some students may come from abusive or abrasive families and continue their behavior at school because they think their behavior is acceptable.

What can be done about bullying? I always get asked that question, and unfortunately, there are no right or wrong answers, and it's utopia to think that bullying can be eliminated. I am not an expert on behavior, and it all depends on the kind of culture the school has, and even then, you will be dealing with different kinds of students who come from different cultures, beliefs, values and other factors.

There are good preventative measures that educators can take, though, such as:

• Taking on a “zero-tolerance” stance. No matter what, no matter who, don't tolerate bully behavior. Stay firm with consequences. Stay consistent. When you speak with a student who bullies, try some strategies to help him or her reconsider their actions. For example, ask, “How would you feel if the tables were turned and this happened to you?” Almost always, they'll rethink their behavior.

• Maintaining vigilance. Watch for behavior changes. Has a student who has participated very well in class discussions suddenly become quiet, or a student who normally does stellar work now starts to struggle? While there may be other circumstances (and it's equally important to see the root of the problem for problems not relating to bullying), there's a chance that student may be bullied and harassed. Vigilance doesn't stop there—watch for bullies as well. Even something as subtle as saying something mildly negative (such as “Your shirt looks funny”) may grow and fester to more aggressive behavior. Watch and act accordingly.

• Speaking up. You all know it's necessary to report serious or constant harassment issues to administration, right? Not only do you tell the heads of the school, the parents of the bully need to know. There's always the assumption that the bully's parents are already aware and won't do anything to correct their child's behavior, but that isn't always true. Unfortunately, there are parents who are indifferent, and although rare, actually find no fault in bully behavior. Be candid. Openly admit that their child has a problem. Offer to be an ally and help to come to a resolution that everyone can agree on.

• Being a condolence. While not a preventative measure, it always helps to make yourself available to a student who happens to be a victim of bullying. Never “showcase” your attention to other students, such as in front of the class, as that can cause more problems. Perhaps ask to see the student during recess or whenever, and reassure the student that you won't allow it to happen. It can be even more reassuring when you mention that you might bring up an anecdote of when you were in a similar situation, so the student doesn't feel alone.
There are certain issues that will never go away, and student bullying happens to be one of them. On the positive side, it can be less of a problem if you are firm, take no tolerance, vigilant and aware.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Contraception Controversy Again Raises the Separation of Church and State Question

Today’s news coverage over an individual’s religious liberty rights and the right of equal protection to a social benefit in a democratic community, i.e., preventive health care, once again raises the question over where the line should be drawn between church and state. In our current issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, author John F. Covaleskie brings some deeper analysis to this larger question in his article, “Public Speech and Religion in the Public Square: Creating Citizens who can Breach the Wall.”

In the article, the author first analyzes and compares responses to the question by three different public figures -- John F. Kennedy, Mario Cuomo, and Mitt Romney -- each a member of a religious faith, and each trying to define his role as a public servant serving many faiths in our pluralistic society. Covaleskie then asks the reader to consider the many politically divisive issues in the public debate today and what the role of individual conscience should be in the formation of public policy.

Because the schools create a public for democratic life, Covaleskie is particularly concerned about the level of public discourse in the media today and what that teaches the young about democratic discourse where those who “differ with us are the enemies and must be destroyed.” How do we create democratic citizens who are able to negotiate their differences and take into account the life perspectives of their fellow citizens as they search for common ground? To read the author’s answer to this crucial question, read his article, “Public Speech and Religion in the Public Square: Creating Citizens who can Breach the Wall.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Grace Lee Boggs Responds to our Review of her Book, The Next American Revolution

Our current issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy published two reviews of The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige.  Actually, one is a traditional book review and the other is a personal open letter to Grace Lee Boggs for the influence the book has had on the life of this reviewer.  The reviewers will be responding to each other later on this blog. We are pleased to print Grace's response as part of our effort to engage our readers in an ongoing conversation.

Grace Lee Boggs Responds to her Reviewers from the Journal of Educational Controversy
with Scott Kurashige

It has been a true joy to see so many diverse peoples turn to this little book for help in understanding how and why another world is necessary, possible, and already in the process of being created. The thoughtful responses by Molly and Victor reveal the huge reserves of humanity that have been repressed by our "civilization" and are being unleashed by the movements of 2011 to heal us.

Their book reviews further help us to understand that people are finding inspiration from the book because they are connecting with a set of ideas whose time has come:

• Maybe it’s because it is giving Americans in all walks of life a more people-friendly view of revolution as empowerment rather than struggle for political power.

• Maybe it helps us view Revolutionaries as Solutionaries, working together to solve very practical problems of daily life, growing our souls by growing our own food.

• Maybe it’s giving us the new, more positive view of ourselves that we’ve been hungry for.

• Maybe it helps us envision ourselves as Revolutionaries, moving away from the wrong side of the world revolution where we have seemed stuck since the Vietnam War.

• Maybe it also helps us see ourselves as Evolutionaries, making the radical revolution of values that Dr. King called for during that war, transformimg ourselves from materialists, militarists, and individualists into a people who can be proud of how we are advancing humankind to a new stage of consciousness, creativity, and social and political responsibility.

To link to the book reviews, go to:

1. A Book Review by Victor Nolet

2. A Personal Open Letter to Grace Lee Boggs by Molly Lawrence

Saturday, February 4, 2012

NO HISTORY IS ILLEGAL-- A Grassroots Campaign Challenges Arizona's Ban on Mexican American Studies

We announced in our last post that our current issue of the journal has an article by Augustine Romero, Director of Student Equity and Co-Founder of the Social Justice Project of the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, in which he describes the political climate that led to the legislation banning the Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona. See “The Hypocrisy of Racism: Arizona's Movement towards State-Sanctioned Apartheid. “ Our blog has been continuing to cover this story with updated news.

We have learned of a national grassroots movement that is rising up to challenge this ban to eliminate certain voices and stories from the curriculum. A Network of Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) is coordinating a month of solidarity activities in support of the Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program. Across the nation, the reading of the banned books, teach ins, and discussions are taking place in classrooms, community centers, houses of worship, and homes. On February 1st, the first day the Tucson schools had to comply with the law, students here on our own campus engaged in an all-day open dialogue with critical inquiry sessions about ethnic studies, culturally relevant curriculum, and the Arizona Ethnic Studies Ban.

The Network of Teacher Activists Groups has set up a website , “No History is Illegal: A Campaign to Save our Stories,” where readers can find a guide that includes sample lesson plans from the Mexican American Studies curriculum as well as creative ideas and resources for exploring this issue with students.

Check out the website, “No History is Illegal: A Campaign to Save Our Stories

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fifth Anniversary Issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy Now Online: The Education and Schools our Children Deserve

We are pleased to announce the publication of our special issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the theme, “The Education and Schools our Children Deserve,” co-edited with Susan Donnelly, head of the Whatcom Day Academy. This issue of the journal will also introduce to our readers the new dean of the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University --- the home of the journal. Dean Francisco Rios brings with him a vision of the public mission of schools in a democratic society and the kinds of teachers that can make that education possible. He shares that vision with us in his first published article for our journal, “The Future of Colleges of Education.”

As I mention in my editorial to the issue, it is fitting that an anniversary issue should touch on one of the most fundamental questions in education – the education and schools our children deserve, as well as engage those ideas in an experimental, innovative format. Readers will see some unique use of multi-media in this issue. For example, in addition to our usual printed book reviews, we have developed our first video review. Two college professors and a school teacher were filmed in our studio engaging in a conversation around Paul Shaker’s book, Reclaiming Education for Democracy: Thinking Beyond No Child Left Behind. The author then responded to the video review of his book in a printed article following the video. Likewise, we are trying an experiment to see if we can extend the conversation started in the journal on the blog. Two reviewers were selected to review Grace Lee Boggs book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century. The author, Grace Lee Boggs and the co-author, Scott Kurashige, will also join in on the conversation. We will be posting the response by Grace Lee Boggs shortly on this blog.

And finally, our entire third section gives the reader a look inside a model school with video interspersed throughout the article. The school, the Whatcom Day Academy, is our partner school in the National League of Democratic Schools. Our partnership has enabled us to engage with actual practices and to share them with our readers.

We extend an invitation to our readership to engage the authors and the reviewers on our blog in a continuing, seamless conversation. It again exemplifies our attempt to generate an ongoing dialogue in the journal with scholars, practitioners and the general public.

We are dedicating this issue to Alfie Kohn, whose book, The Schools our Children Deserve, was the inspiration for this issue. In his prologue to this issue, Mr. Kohn reflects on the years since the publication of The Schools our Children Deserve and the need more than ever to be asking what kind of schools our children still deserve.

The issue is divided into three sections.

Section one is a series of articles that were written in response to the controversial scenario posed for the issue. Authors come at it from different perspectives and with different disciplinary tools, but together they form a vital chorus of important voices that look at “the education and schools our children deserve” from outside the dominant discourse that frames today’s political debates.

Section two is an “In the News” section. Here we took a very controversial issue in the news, namely, the Arizona legislation to ban ethnic studies in the schools. Under a copy of the legislation that our readers can read in its entirety, we published an article from the director of the school district that was under attack. Augustine Romero tells his own story about the events that took place in Arizona’s Tucson Unified School District.

Section three is our attempt to give readers an idea of what a “school meant for children” would look like. This section embeds some twenty-three videos of actual school classrooms in an article written by Susan Donnelly, the head of the Whatcom Day Academy. The Educational Institute for Democratic Renewal, which houses the Journal of Educational Controversy, has partnered with the Whatcom Day Academy as part of a network of schools started by John Goodlad called the National League of Democratic Schools.

We believe that the current political dialogue on education omits a discussion of the deepest questions we should be addressing. This issue was an attempt to address those questions.

Here is the controversy that was posed to the authors:

The politicizing of education at the national level has centered on issues of standards, accountability, global competitiveness, national economic growth, low student achievement on worldwide norms, and federally mandated uniformity. There has been little discussion of the public purposes of our schools or what kind of education is necessary for an individual’s development and search for a meaningful life. There is a paucity of ideas being discussed at the national level around topics such as: how school practices can be aligned with democratic principles of equity and justice; how school practices can promote the flourishing of individual development as well as academic achievement; what skills and understandings are needed for citizens to play a transformative role in their society. Without conversation at this deeper level about the fundamental purposes of education, we cannot develop a comprehensive vision of the kinds of schools our children deserve. We invite authors to contribute their conceptions of the kind of education our children deserve and/or the kinds of schools that serve the needs of individuals and of a democratic society.
We invite our readers to enjoy reading the issue and join in the conversation.