4th Grade, Facts of Life, Head of the Class, High-Stakes Testing, History, Homework, Immigration, Jacob Lawrence, K-12 Curriculum, K-12 Education, K-12 Education Reform, MAP-M, MAP-R, Maryland, MCPS, Migration, Montgomery County Public Schools, MSA, Mystery Novels, Parenting, Phillips Collection, Sherlock Holmes, Silver Spring, Social Studies, Student Development, Teacher-Parent Relationship, Teaching and Learning, Textbooks, The Migration Series, Washington DC, Writing
This week, my son will complete a fourth-grade project in which he interviewed his Pittsburgh grandmother about her migration experience from rural Arkansas to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the Depression decade. Sounds pretty good — and very advanced — on the surface of things. But the reality of how this school project evolved shows how much has changed — and not for the better — regarding schools and curriculum. For my son’s school in Silver Spring, Maryland, for Montgomery County Public Schools and for schools across the country.
You see, the bulk of testing season is over for MCPS’ elementary schools. So instead of practice tests, formative assessments (otherwise known as “formatives”) and the actual exams (MSA, MAP-M and MAP-R), the teachers now have to focus on lesson plans that aren’t test-driven. For April, the fourth-grade teachers at my son’s school decided to do a social studies project on immigration. They started with a wax museum project at school, as well as a field trip to the Phillips Collection in DC.
This was where things began to get interesting for me as a parent. The permission slip for the field trip presented this unit as immigration. Yet in my son’s trip to the Phillips Collection, him and his classmates would peruse a set of Jacob Lawrence’s paintings on migration. For those of you who don’t know, Lawrence’s most famous paintings were of the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between roughly 1915 and 1930.
I could barely contain the historian side of me when I read such an obvious and unbelievable error. But I decided to not assume that the fourth-grade teachers made the decision to treat immigration the same as migration. So I hand-wrote a note that politely suggested that they make a correction on the permission slip and for the overall assignment, since immigration and migration aren’t the same at all.
This was the response I received by email on April 4:
“We have had this wonderful trip planned for the 4th grade for the past 4 years and we always make sure to front load the students with information about the migration process.”
When teachers go into placating-mode without actually addressing my concerns as a parent (and an educator, for that matter), it’s usually a sign of trouble where there otherwise shouldn’t have been any trouble.
Then, nearly two weeks ago, my son brought home his interview/presentation assignment based on the wax museum project and his Phillips Collection field trip. It was titled “Immigrants in Their Own Words.” The fourth-grade teachers had charged the students — including my son — with the task of finding a family member who had immigrated to the US, interviewing them and asking them questions like “In which year did you come to America?” and “What is the biggest difference between America and your country of origin?”
Flabbergasted is just the beginning of my deep sense of puzzlement over the assignment. It was an assignment straight out of a Facts of Life or Head of the Class episode from the 1980s, culturally and racial insensitive to the core. After all, the height of White immigration to the US ended nearly a century ago. For Blacks, well, if I have to explain it, then it may be worth the while of those of you who do teach to take my History of American Education course (that is, whenever I get to teach it again).
My wife wrote an email about this follow-up assignment, to which my son’s teacher replied, “[e]migration and [i]mmigration are almost splitting hairs.” Really? In what history or ed foundations course? With some prodding, we were given the opportunity to adapt the assignment so that my son could work on migration. Of course, even without that note, I would’ve insisted on him doing migration anyway.
That this process was poorly executed is only part of the story. For nearly five years, my son’s curriculum has been a mystery to me, as it jumped around from pre-algebra to basic addition, from writing letters in which he could write phonetically to having to write about beetles in grammatically correct but short sentences. After five years, my son has never brought a textbook home. The weekly emails from teachers and postings on the neighborhood school website and the MCPS website tell me a lot about nothing.
In sum, I know quite a bit about test dates, subject areas and sometimes subject matter in which the state of Maryland and the school district will test the students. What we don’t know from day one of any school year are the themes for each subject for the year or for any given marking period. Because of the priority of testing above all else, the amount of time in the curriculum on subjects like social studies has narrowed, and with it, a teacher’s ability to be autonomous and to think through curriculum in a critical manner. And without textbooks, I as a parent can’t truly anticipate how to help prepare my son for any new or potentially challenging materials.
It’s difficult, though, to anticipate that your son will come home with an assignment on immigration in the fourth marking period of fourth grade. Especially when I as a history professor know how complicated these processes are for undergraduate and graduate students to wrap their brains around. Especially since my son has yet to write a full-fledged book report on any any book he has read for school. Or spent significant time on history or other, non-test-related subjects. Education should always be a journey, but never a mystery.
Colesville Road, Driving While Black, Institutional Racism, Internalized Racism, MCPD, Mistrust, Montgomery County Police Department, Police Intimidation, Police State, Racism, Silver Spring, Traffic Conditions, Walking While Black
Let me say this right off. I can’t stand cops. I haven’t since I was about five or six years old. That was when a couple of dumb-ass Mount Vernon Police officers idly stood by and laughed as my father was being taken to the hospital with a stab wound in his left thigh, the result of a fight between him and my mother. I’ve been accosted, stopped, frisked and followed by police in Mount Vernon, the Big Apple, DC, Silver Spring, Los Angeles and Virginia since I turned sixteen back in ’85. Mostly for the simple issue of being an over-six-foot tall Black male and man. Walking while Black in Beverly Hills or on my own campus at Carnegie Mellon. Or Driving While Black in Pittsburgh or Maryland (see my post “Why Black Men Carry A Public Anger” from March ’12)..
To me, the issue is not as simple as a White racist cop finding excuses to harass, intimidate or beat up a Black or Brown person. It actually doesn’t matter what race or ethnicity a police officer happens to be, because their uniform, badge and gun are way more important to them than race. By definition, then, they represent our collective psyche of bigotry when it comes to race, class, gender and criminality. So don’t argue with me about the race of any cop in terms of police brutality and intimidation.
Two Bad Driving Choices
For the first time in about a half-decade, a police office pulled me over. This time, it was half my fault, albeit, it depends on how you define fault. Thursday afternoon, March 14, I was driving down Colesville Road past University Blvd East, to do a left turn on Lorain. From there, I’d meander my way back to the Shell station on the opposite side of University Blvd – it’s cheaper than the one on Colesville. Now, there’s a sign on the median next to the left turning lane that prohibits making a U-turn.
The problem on March 14 was, though, that a utility crew had closed up the street, between their trucks and their cones, making it impossible to make the left turn. I had no warning for this until I reached the front of the left turn lane. By then, I had a blue Toyota Camry behind me, and heavy traffic coming down the adjacent lanes on my side of Colesville.
So I had a choice, and not much time to make one. I couldn’t back up. Cutting across the solid left turning lane line is technically a traffic violation, one which could lead to me being pulled over by police. Not to mention, with so much traffic, I could’ve easily caused a traffic accident.
There wasn’t any traffic coming from the opposing side of Colesville. So I made the U-turn, figuring that this was the only actual choice that made any sense at all. Within three seconds, a siren approached, so I pulled over on the next block, right next to the Colesville Shell gas station. The whole time I’m thinking, “What the heck else was I supposed to do – run over the cones and then jam my car into the back of a utility truck?”
Admittedly I was nervous, as I consider police to be about as honest as Mafia bosses and city council members beholden to their local Chambers of Commerce. But I also realized that even if the police officer issued me a ticket, I’d have a crapload of evidence in my favor that would lead to a judge dismissing the citation.
The Not-So-Friendly Neighborhood Cop
So I waited. And waited. Then, after five minutes, a police officer named M. Kane (ID # 1382 for those truly interested) came up to my window, one who must’ve been having the worst day ever. Even for a White or Black police officer, he looked like he was ready to brutalize anyone who said more than “Yes, sir! I’ll suck you dick, sir!” to him. That pissed me off right away. Because a traffic violation, especially under these circumstances, didn’t rise to the level of the threatening nonverbal communication that was coming off of him like heat from an exhaust pipe.
I did get a written warning, and then some directions about what do next. The problem was, the officer issued his directions in a low grind of a growl, and I actually didn’t hear all he said. So I asked, reluctantly
“Officer, can I pull over here into the gas station? That’s where I was on my way to when you pulled me over.”
“You can go wherever the hell you wanna go, just pull out over this other car here!,” he yelled, so close to me I could feel the hot air and spit from his mouth as he was yelling. He looked at me with mean, dead eyes, the kind of look that so many folks who look like me have seen from police all these years.
I pulled out, probably a minute or so away from being arresting for assaulting a police officer, because that’s probably what I would’ve done in a parallel universe.
What could I had done, really, to have avoided the situation? Have better hearing? Found my way into a car accident? Not left the house to go get gas and hamburger rolls before going to the Y for a five-mile run? Well, Montgomery County could’ve actually cut off the left turning lane with cones, making folks go elsewhere to make left turns. That is, if they were more interested in safety than in handing out warnings and tickets!
Beyond that, I don’t have much choice other than to be me. Despite almost every part of me wanting to smash in this police officer’s head with a twenty-five pound weight, the spirit inside said to forgive, and so, I forgave. But that doesn’t mean condone or not write about my experience. After all, if this officer is like this every day, then he’s a walking time bomb, set to go off on the wrong person of color at the wrong time.
I don’t want to hear about how dangerous it is to be a cop. Right now, it’s dangerous to be a teacher or professor, given mass shootings over the past six years. Last I checked, these officers weren’t conscripted into service. They chose their line of work. I don’t expect cops to ever be nice. But professional would be a pretty good standard to meet.
616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Abortion, Angelia N. Levy, Boy @ The Window, Choice, decisions, Eri, Family, Fatherhood, Intervention, Maurice Eugene Washington, Mom, Motherhood, Parenthood, Pregnancy, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Reproductive Rights, Sarai, Silver Spring, Women's Rights
I agree with President Barack Obama and with so many leading women. Men — especially men in leadership positions — should just shut up when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. Still, my life has given me a unique perspective on a woman’s right to choose, if only because I’ve had little choice as a child and a husband to be involved. I can only say that choice isn’t easy, even for pro-choice males. But I can also say that I knew more about choice at twelve than most men would ever care to know, and more about bringing new life into the world as a result.
The two examples of “the decision” that stand out most for me are twenty Novembers apart, in ’82 and ’02.
A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving ’82, I noticed something about my mother. At a time when we all looked starved, my mother looked round. Her stomach and cheeks were telltale signs. So I asked her, my tweener voice cracking all the while.
“Mom, are you pregnant?!?”
“Yeah, Donald, I’m pregnant,” she sighed.
“What! You got to be kidding! You mean you’re still having sex with him?”
“Watch ya mouth, boy!”
“Mom, what are we going to do? You can’t have a baby, not now, not with all these mouths to feed!”
“Donald, what I’m supposed to do?”
“You need to get an abortion, that’s what!”
“I don’t believe in abortion. It’s against God’s will.”
“Well, we can’t feed the kids that are here now, so how can you feed it? Get an abortion Mom, before it’s too late!”
Before my mother could say anything else, I stormed out for yet another store errand for milk, diapers, and all the things I couldn’t eat. I wanted to cut Maurice’s balls off and shove them down his throat. I wanted to shake Mom until her eyes rolled back in her head. Most of all, I wanted to get her to an abortion clinic yesterday (see my post “The Quest For Work, Past and Present” from August ’12).
That “it” turned out to be my sister Sarai, my late sister, born nearly four months after I came out as a pro-choice feminist and a stress-out Hebrew-Israelite teenager. She lived for twenty-seven years, five months and two days with sickle-cell anemia, without ever knowing I once preferred her not to be born (see my post “My Sister Sarai (Partial Repost)” from July ’10).
Over the next two decades, I’d become so fed up with kids and family, 616 and Mount Vernon and so many things in my life that I once thought that I’d never get married or become a father. The people in my life growing up in Mount Vernon — like my ex-stepfather and the young folks in the neighborhood — refused the responsibility of fatherhood (and in a few cases, motherhood). The idea that there would ever be a child of mine running around without me being in their life made me determined to limit my casual relationships and ensured that I would always have protected sex.
Even after getting married in ’00, I still wasn’t sure if I really wanted a child. Out of any seven-day period, I would’ve been happy to be a dad for four days, and miserable for the other three. I wanted to make sure my wife and me could afford parenthood, that we had the emotional and psychological capacity to take care of any child we brought into this world.
By the middle of ’02, though, it was obvious that my wife wanted to have a child, a son. Coming off of a family intervention, in which my then seventeen-year-old brother Eri had made my mother a grandmother, I was even less excited than I otherwise would’ve been (see my post “Dear Mama (More Like, ‘Dear Mom’)” from October ’09). Still, I loved my wife, and I loved myself enough to think that if I liked the idea of a kid four out of every seven days, it was worth a try.
We didn’t try very long. By Thanksgiving Day ’02, I picked up on my wife’s change of emotions before she did. I had asked her to watch over heavy cream that I was warming up to make a chocolate sauce. The cream wasn’t supposed to boil. It did anyway, as my wife wasn’t paying full attention. Instead of being argumentative with me per usual about my pointing out her lack of attention to detail, she started crying, as if it was the end of the Law & Order franchise. I was startled, and said, “Honey, I think you’re pregnant.” She laughed at first, but as we would eventually find out, I was correct.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life! I had made my wife immeasurably happy, and I found myself wanting something, perhaps for the first time. To be a great father, to live long enough, to be healthy enough, to be productive enough to be the father that I never had growing up.
If it had turned out that my wife had not wanted to be a mother, and she had become pregnant, and it turned out that she wanted an abortion, I would’ve fully supported her. Not just because I wanted her to be happy, and not just because I’m more firmly pro-choice now than ever. I’ve seen my mother and too many other mothers who’ve made the wrong choices for themselves and their lives.
Life can be long and miserable when making bad decisions, especially when it comes to bringing another life into this world. That anyone would think it a good idea to limit what is already one of the most difficult decisions women and families have to make is anti-Christian and immoral, not to mention just plain stupid.
A.B. Davis Middle School, budget cuts and school lunches, food issues, lunch, lunches, MCPS, Montgomery County MD, Montgomery County Public Schools, Noah, quality of food, Silver Spring, USDA and school lunch, William H. Holmes Elementary
I’m out of new ideas, old ideas, tried and true ideas. In the three and a half years since my son began kindergarten in Montgomery County Public Schools, he has become increasingly picky and undisciplined about eating his lunch. He eats breakfast, snacks throughout the evening, and eats his dinner just fine. But lunch, oh, lunch — it’s been a struggle.
Noah hates sandwiches, ALL sandwiches. He stopped eating peanut butter and jelly almost a year and a half ago. For most of second grade, I bought Noah chicken nuggets, the organic kind from Whole Foods, toast them, put them in a Thermos, pack a separate container with ketchup, and had confidence that he’d eat most or all of it. Then last March, I did one of my random lunches with him at his school, only to discover that Noah had been throwing away his lunch from home, for at least two months according to one of his friends. “The nuggets are too hard and cold,” he said.
My son all but gave up on the lunches served at his school two years ago. By the second month of first grade — October 2009 — Noah would only eat the chicken nuggets lunch or the hot dog lunch. By the end of that school year, it was just the chicken nuggets lunch. Given my observations of two dozen or so lunches served at his school since August ’08, I can’t really blame him. Holmes Elementary’s cold PB&J sandwiches, A.B. Davis’ grilled ham and cheese sandwiches (at least by how they smelled), and Mount Vernon High School’s “murder burgers and suicide fries” would be like eating at Ruth’s Chris Steak House for Noah and his compadres these days. (By the way, thanks Akbar Buckley for the burgers and fries refrain, wherever you are).
I’ve spent morning after morning fixing lunches that I hoped Noah would eat. I’ve done everything I know and then some. Let’s see. McDonald’s McNuggets and fries, cheese pizza slices, Oscar Meyer Lunchables, turkey drumsticks, chicken drumsticks, meat slices, bologna sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, beef patties, spaghetti and meat sauce, apples, chips, Goldfish, cookies, homemade french bread, fruit snacks and Fruit Roll-Ups, pancake and bacon, and hot dogs. His response. “The hot dog is cold, and the bread is too hard,” or “I didn’t have time to eat,” or “I don’t like sandwiches,” or the slice of pizza was “too big.”
This is where we are. Noah, like every other student, needs to eat in order to function at maximum capacity academically. But my guess is that the constant noise of his lunchroom and the chaos that is recess is a distraction for him. MCPS’ stripped down budget and bare minimum USDA-approved lunches don’t help stimulate his digestive tract either.
It’s not like he could walk home for lunch like I did all through elementary school. Kids within half a block of Noah’s school aren’t allowed to walk home, given the times we live in. And we live a mile and a half from his school anyway. Short of picking him up for lunch every day — which I doubt he’d want — I’ve lost my footing on this issue. I don’t want to go there with disciplinary actions, not with food, not with the way kids handle food these days. Hmm…
616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Con Ed, Con Edison, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Entitled Parents, Frank Field, Hurricane David, Hurricane Irene, Maryland, Montgomery County MD, Mount Vernon New York, New York City, NOAA, Over-Hyped, Pepco, Power Lines, Power Outages, Silver Spring, Sue Simmons, Tropical Storm David, Wind Damage, WNBC-4 TV
Dateline: Thursday, September 6, ’79. Hurricane — now Tropical Storm — David has hit the New York City area with wind speeds up to 70 mph and some heavy rains. A nine-year-old fifth-grader walks the half-mile from his apartment building on East Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York to William H. Holmes Elementary School. In between, limbs and branches snap and fall and the wind breaks up a cheap umbrella as this boy hops over a downed power line and telephone wire on his way to and from school.
That boy, of course, was me. It was my second day of fifth grade with Mrs. O’Daniel. We’d all heard about Hurricane David for nearly a week as it tore through the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, Florida and the Appalachians on its way to New Jersey and good old New York. I certainly wasn’t the only one who jumped, hopped and literally ran through near-hurricane force winds to get to school that morning, and to get home that afternoon.
By the time I reached school, I didn’t feel wet so much as I felt blasted by the wind. I felt excited, mostly in a
good way, seeing a power line spark within twenty feet of me near a drainage grate. Not to mention trees pummeled into submission, uprooted, pushed into sidewalks and houses, across streets and into traffic. I felt adventurous, fearless and really, really clean.
I don’t remember a whole lot of folks complaining that Frank Field, Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons of WNBC-4 TV in New York had over-hyped what at one point was a Category 5 hurricane as it went through the Dominican Republic the week before. I don’t remember — even though this apparently happened in South Florida — the two and a half million people in the NYC area without power accusing the National Hurricane Center experts of having some form of Munchausen Syndrome because the storm didn’t destroy the Twin Towers. I certainly didn’t hear about parents complaining when their schools were open or if their schools were closed despite or because of Hurricane/Tropical Storm David. After all, more than 2,000 people lost their lives in the Caribbean and the US to this system.
But here we are, thirty-two years later, as the pampered and spoiled Americans we are, complaining about having to prepare for what turned out to be a relatively minor hurricane event in Irene. If a Category One hurricane that only on its final day of blowing across the eastern seaboard (Sunday, August 28) became a tropical storm can be called minor.
Meanwhile, at least twenty-one people died. Millions in New York, Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey and the Carolinas were left without power. Several major river systems are cresting or will crest in the coming days, causing more flooding and damage. All adding to the damaged power lines that are part of our degraded national power grid. As well as the washed-out bridges and roads and towns from Vermont and upstate New York all the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
For those asking the question of whether there was too much hype about Hurricane Irene, shame on you. For those parents who complained bitterly — like those in my Silver Spring, Maryland neighborhood — about the first day of school being delayed because our school didn’t have power, shame on you. For those who were too shortsighted to realize how much worse things could’ve been beyond waiting for Con Ed or Pepco, shame on you.
Life happens. And when life happens, our choices are to ride the waves of life, be drowned by them, or to sit on our entitled hands in judgment over whether life happens or not. Unfortunately, a few too many of my neighbors and fellow citizens too often choose the role of critical hand-sitting. It’s simply ridiculous.
One of my most popular posts is the one I did last October on the sad state of Montgomery County, Maryland’s parks, especially the basketball (see “Montgomery County Parks & Its Poorly Maintained Basketball Courts”). Well, this spring and early summer, Montgomery County Parks did renovate Forest Glen Park’s two full-length basketball courts. The workers put down fresh asphalt, new hoops and lines, and even managed to paint over the graffiti that kids had tagged on the wall that separates the park from I-495, the DC beltway.
This is good news. But this is hardly enough. Not for the children’s play area adjacent to the courts. Nor for the other basketball courts I discussed in my post last year. None of the other courts have been redone. No new plans are in the pipeline to improve the conditions of the basketball courts or other facilities that are part of the county’s parks.
In any case, below are my most recent photos of Forest Glen Park, taken May 27 and August 10, showing much improvement to these basketball courts since April. Still much more work to be done here, though.