Archive for the ‘THEMES’ Category


20 Oct

pix4How you perceive our neighbor to the south can affect how you unconsciously treat your Mexican American students. What are your perceptions? Do you percei

ve Mexico as a third world country?

Let’s take a look at that phrase “third world”. The phrase was first used during the Cold War in the 1960s and 70s to designate who was aligned with the Un

ited States. Countries said to be aligned with the Soviet Union were given “second world” status and non-aligned countries were called “third world”. The terms didn’t ma

ke sense right from the beginning but even less so now that the Soviet Union no longer exists.

In popular vernacular, “third world” has become synonymous with “undeveloped”. But it may surprise you to learn that Mexico is rated as “recently developed” by many and “highly developed” by the Human Development Index.

Yes, some of your students’ families may come from towns that fit your image of neglected border towns with little sanitation facilities, let alone schools. However, others may just as well come from posh districts that rival the wealthiest U.S. neighborhoods and educational institutions. Assumptions about your Mexican American students’ backgrounds and, therefore, their academic abilities and skills can be dangerously misguided.

So, too, common misconceptions about Mexico as a lawless “wild west” may create biases toward your students. Yes, there is corruption in Mexico that Mexican citizens are very concerned about, but it may surprise you to learn that Mexico is ranked close to Brazil, Argentina and even Italy when it comes to corruption. Most of us need to update our images of Mexico to include the fact that it is now a democracy supported by a rising middle class, with a viable Supreme Court and a three-party legislature that is said to work more cooperatively than our own Congress on their ambitious global economic agenda.

Updating and contextualizing knowledge of our students’ home countries can help us examine unconscious biases and bring us closer to our true desire to treat all our students with the dignity and respect they deserve.

To keep up-to-date with present day Mexico, go to:




17 Oct

hhmWhen teaching the rich history of ancient Mexico, Central and Latin America, it’s tempting to take shortcuts and assign an Indian nation to each country: Mexico is Aztec, Central America is Mayan and so forth. The truth is, just as today, various cultural groups intermingled, lived side by side and conducted long distance trade and exchanged ideas on art, writing, architecture plus mathematical and astronomical systems.

It is true that when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they found themselves in an Empire known as “The Aztec”, but that would be like Latin Americans arriving in Spain and calling all of Europe “Hispania”. Before the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, “The Aztec” was a 100-year-old alliance between three groups: the Acolhuas, the Tepanecs, and the Mexica people of Tenochitlan (what today is modern day Mexico City). The Mexica conquered the other two city-states and, eventually, other civilizations across Mexico.

Those other groups include the Teotihuacanos and the Mayans who are responsible for the spectacular ancient Mexican pyramids and ruins. Dating back to 100 A.D. and before, the early and diverse Mexican Indians’ knowledge of the stars and other natural events paralleled or outstripped the knowledge of the scientists and astronomers of the same time in what we now call Europe.

It is wise to remember and present that our Latino students come from a variety of countries and cultures with distinct sets of traditions and beliefs resulting from the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest skills, knowledge and civilizations.

To explore the ancient and classical civilizations of the Americas, go to:



11 Aug

Tolerance or Acceptance is where you may even like individual people in a group but you are still wary of or uncomfortable about the group as a whole.acceptance (1) You may hear people suggest, “Hey, he or she brings some good energy, but let’s not have too many of them.”  It’s as of people are thinking, “We will let in a few exceptions and we’ll decide how and when they get in. We’re still in control.”

For instance, I walked into a drug store and one aisle was marked “Hair Products”, but then up against the wall it said, “Ethnic Hair Products.” This display sent a subtle message. Some people are accepted – we let them in the store – but they are not in the main aisle. They are relegated to the side aisles; they are not mainstream.

The real products, that is the “real” people are the center of the universe. They are the sun. The groups that are being tolerated are satellites or distant planets.

I’ve seen this Acceptance concept displayed in textbooks. More inclusive history books will contain, for example, a chapter entitled “Settlers to the West” and then it will have a special sidebar that says, “Black Settlers.”

Wait a minute! Aren’t they all the settlers? Now, again, the good intention can be to include, but these textbooks are still keeping “Black Settlers” separate, not really part of the mainstream.

It’s similar to ethnic groups who have been Traditional Outsiders being given their special celebration months. When I was going to school, a lot of groups were absent from the curriculum. They weren’t even mentioned. So we can all appreciate the progressive that celebration months connote.

I am a professional storyteller and it’s a joke among those of us who provide school assemblies to talk about “our month” – be it Black, Latino, Women and so on. True valuing would mean the history and culture of each group is embedded throughout the curriculum all year long.

At the Acceptance stage, the “accepted” groups are still not part of the center. And the people in the center hold the ultimate power to define identities and make decisions for themselves plus others.

But truly integrating different groups history, achievements, communication and learning styles and so on is easier said than done. Often staffs are asked to teach things they never learned. In their over busy, demanding lives now they have to go back, study and create new lesson plans. Departments have to fit in tons of meetings to revamp the syllabus, coordinate prerequisites and fit the new classes into common core standards and measurements. Change is not easy even when it’s so desperately needed.

But for those who have done it they will tell you it was worth it to move to true valuing because students who feel seen, heard and valued do better in schools.

NEXT WEEK: How do I know if my school is truly valuing differences?



23 Jun

This is not light summer reading but if you want to understand the injustice people of color still receive today and why some groups are still angry and locked out of the American dream, I strongly suggest two books about the criminal justice system:book recommendation

 The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and Cornel West

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries) by Alice Goffman


JUNETEENTH: A Celebration For Today

16 Jun

Did you know that in some states the news of emancipation from slavery didn’t reach people until much later – in the case of Texas not until two and a half years later? The Emancipation Proclamation was made official on January 1, 1863 and, yet, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union


Army was not able to read the news of freedom in Texas until June 19, 1865.

Some say it was because a messenger was killed on the way to deliver the news. Others state that President Lincoln’s

authority over the southern states was precarious and so a deal was struck to allow one last cotton harvest in Texas. Others say it was pure greed and cruelty: the slaveholders weren’t about to give up their free labor source without resistance.

The “Juneteenth” order read:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States,


 all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

 For the formerly enslaved and those who supported them, initial shock evolved into jubilation which quickly turned into the reality of navigating a way forward in a country in which African Americans had had no legal status or rights. Currently, this day is celebrated to commemorate all that has been accomplished and to give a model of hope and persistence for all that lies ahead.







Moving from PC (Politically Correct) to PC (Personally Caring) Language

09 Jun

Language is never neutral. I’m not talking about choosing our words to be “politically correct,” but to become more aware of what we arefor language communicating – intentionally and unintentionally. This debate over language isn’t arbitrary or frivolous. One group has had the power to name things, has had the power for so long that we are blind to the biases and put downs associated with so many “common” words. The greatest sign of respect is to call people what they want to be called.

To make it simple: ask the people you are involved with what they prefer to be called. Not in a manner that puts them under a microscope or asks them to speak for their group such as: “What do “you all” want to be called?” (“Well, all twelve million of us have taken a vote and…”) Instead, ask people as individuals what they prefer and be ready to share your preferences as well. This means we need to make connections; this means we need to talk to each other.

Instead of feeling put out by the need to consider language, we could rejoice in the fact that we’re finally becoming a multi-voiced nation. People are beginning to name themselves and no one group of anything wants to be called any one thing.

Language is a living, breathing, ever changing art form. We could take the attitude that it’s interesting and even fun to play with words so that our descriptions are more clear, more accurate and more sensitive. We could take the time to learn other people’s preferences not to be “right” but because we care not to hurt each other. When we choose different words we help people see a different reality. A different shared reality is the foundation upon which we can build a transformed society that works for everyone.




26 May

We already know that Columbus did not “discover” America as there were people hairalready living here. But what if some of the first to settle in the northern hemisphere weren’t even First Nations but Asians?

A team of Danish scientists have uncovered a tuft of dark brown hair in Greenland that has led them to theorize that 4000 years ago there was a tribe of humans that trekked from North Asian to settle into what is now called Greenland. The DNA collected from the hair traces back to Asians, not Native Americans or the Inuit people who live there now.

This suggests that the first humans to colonize the American Arctic were Asians/Siberians, distinct from the first people who arrived in America more than 14,000 years ago.

Of course, the research goes on but the theory suggests that the travels of early Asian groups may have been wider than previously considered and that perhaps there were multiple migrations from the Bering region into the American Arctic


For more information:


Challenges Asian Americans Face Today

19 May

 How much do you and your students know about Asian Americans? Do they know the discrimination Asian Americans still face today?


Research shows that Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing victims of hate crimes in America. 17% of Asian American boys in grades 5 through 12 reported physical abuse, as compared to 8% among white boys. 30% of Asian American girls in grades

5 through 12 reported depressive symptoms, as compared to white girls (22%), African American girls (17%), or Hispanic girls (27%).

14% of Asian Americans live below the poverty line, compared to 13% of the U.S. population.

In addition, while jobs pay Euro Americans $522 per every additional year of education beyond high school, Asian Americans make $379 per every additional year of education. According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Asian-American men born in the United States are 7 percent to 11 percent less likely to hold managerial jobs than white men with the same educational and experience level.


Fair Housing Month – What Do We Do Now?

28 Apr

Open Communities

What’s to be done today? We can live in the welcoming, secure, diverse communities that so many of us desire. But to do this, we must become knowledgeable and proactive. We must deliberately connect affordable housing to other life improving opportunities for all of us. With vibrant, mixed income communities throughout our entire nation, we can create strong tax bases that break our current cycle of advantages for some and diminished prosperity for others which equals calamity for all of us. We all lose with any system that isolates us from each other. True opportunity is the only way to create lasting stability and peace.

I believe an educated public can help create local and national policies that promote the everyday interests Americans share across age, race, class, income, religion and other lines of difference. We all care about job security, reasonable medical and housing costs, safe childcare, good schools, time with our family and friends and living near our place of employment. We all long for a feeling of safety and belonging. Where we live, and the opportunities to which we have access are crucial to these shared desires finding a common reality.

How do we do this? By getting involved in local fair housing groups that can show us how the pieces of the puzzle fit together – how school funding affects opportunity, how fair and affordable housing builds stronger communities and a more secure real estate market and so forth. To fashion healthy communities where people are supported in pursing t
heir limitless possibilities we’re going to need to be informed, aligned and organized.

In my community, I work with Open Communities of the North Shore ( I know there is a similar kind of group near you.

Is April’s Fair Housing Month the time for you to say “Yes” to establishing more fair, secure and welcoming communities?


Fair Housing Month – The Second Wave of Segregation

14 Apr

Chgo Public Housing

With the isolated black and white areas in place by the 1930s, many U.S. cities began to move into their second wave of segregation. In the 1940s, U.S. Congress gave cities huge federal grants to acquire rundown urban areas. With that money, the cities bought up the mostly black “slums” (that it had been instrumental in creating in the first place), tore them down and, then, handed the land to developers who were supposed to build enough replacement housing for the people who had lived there. Well, we know how that story ended.

Instead of being relocated in their home neighborhoods, the cities housed the displaced people in public housing towers that violated all federal standards for density. The hyper segregation of today’s cities could not have been sealed without the help of local and federal governments and this second wave of segregation which eventually created large, fortress-like, all-black areas.

Those displaced by “Urban Renewal” and those dislocated by public housing construction, provided real estate agents with a steady stream of desperate people searching for homes.  These people became the fodder for the real estate agents’ block busting schemes (“Buy low from the white people, sell high to the blacks”) that forced many white people to leave homes and communities they loved. In a modern day Machiavellian scheme, one group was played against another and everyone lost except for the unscrupulous business people who made millions and the politicians who had now fashioned separate, more easily manipulated voting blocks.

Next week: Today’s housing patterns