Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Think I Finally Got It

DO you know I have been reading books and articles on race and critical race theory (CRT) and now a subset of CRT called "colorblindness" for several weeks now. I think I finally get it! Oh my goodness. Let me see if I can put this on paper.

Colorblindness in institutions such as schools is a way to mask race. No one wants to talk about race in school because if you do you could be labeled a racist and nobody wants to be called that! Colorblindness is failure to admit that a particular group of people are truly at a disadvantage and there is a need for targeted help for this group. But in order to truly serve a particular race group, those in charge have to be able to talk about race, look at it, and be willing to acknowledge that unique services for this group are needed.

You know this was really hard for me to wrap my head around and to really look at colorblindness. I honestly could not see it. During all of my readings I kept mentally pounding my head against the wall saying to myself why can't I get this in my head and make it stick? It was always there but it was so illusive because I was trained to think a certain way. A neutral way where I accepted the belief system that everyone should be treated equally. I couldn't get that I was contributing to the problem of race by the decisions I was making.

Although I kept trying to treat everyone the same, I knew this was not possible no matter how hard I tried. I accepted that I am brown but my education gave me more options but I found that I still could not help students of color the way I wanted to in the past. Each time I did try to do something specifically for students of color I was confronted by other teachers and leaders that I should not be treating them any different than white students who were poor. I think inherently I knew that I was being stumped and every once in a while I would act on the belilef that race truly was the issue but I couldn't articulate the colorblindness that I encountered in the system. And yes I fed into the belief that poverty was a big part of the problem. This was another foil that took away the significance of race.

But sitting in my living room early this morning while my husband was washing dishes it struck me that I was guilty of colorblindness. Yes me, a brown woman, was committing the sin of race by allowing colorblindness to continue unchecked in schools. The language of equality, neutrality, and everyone is to be treated equally are all terms of colorblindness. Policies of zero tolerance places students of color at a greater disadvantage because they are being consequences without directly looking at the inequities which occur in this action. The vicious circle of blame and accountability did not have an entry point of targeted education and support that was needed to work with our students of color more effectively.

You know writing about it I had to go back to several conversations during this rewiring of the brain as it relates to race that I knew this was a problem. In my administration meetings at school I would bring up race in conversations about programs, curriculum, teaching strategies, discipline, attendance, and parent involvement. My administration partners and teachers were uncomfortable with these conversations. But over time I began to learn how to feel my way around talking about race as a way to really look at the dilemmas in our school. I remember feeling frustration whenever teachers or my peers would interject that the students of color are no different than students of poverty. Whenever this happens the chances are greater that the issues of race will be ignored again and the laser like focus is on the wrong area and therefore the support these students need is missing once again.

While I was doing this I was still trying to more fully comprehend colorblindness and what this really meant to me and what I needed to do to better facilitate change in my school. But how could I do this if I myself didn't know how to talk about removing the colorblindness lens if I couldn't show others, who did not look like me, what to look for? When are we going to be bold enough to talk about race? It really is liberating and solutions are real when we can begin to do so. To say that we are colorblind is to say that race does not exist. If this is so than I do not exist. And I know that is so not true.

What words or vocabulary do we use that perpetuate racism under the guise of colorblindness. What is most amazing to me is that now that I comprehend colorblindness I feel free! I now have tools at my disposal to better support my white counterpart and yes even people of color who have been blinded as I was blinded. If you can imagine a boulder being removed from my shoulders you can imagine my feeling of lightness. What an incredible experience of change.

Is this called transformative learning? I don't know....but I know that I am not the same person was even an hour ago.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Bitter Sweet Christmas Eve

Thirty-seven years ago on Christmas Eve I was only 16 and looking forward to a fantastic Christmas. My dad just retired from the Army after 25 years and after 3 tours to Vietnam. I didn't see him very much growing up but each time he came home it was like having Christmas.

Our Christmas tree this particular year in 1974 was so huge that it took up one-fourth of our family room. My brothers and sisters were still really young and all we could think of was opening our presents. I remember me and my brothers shaking every package under the tree and trying to peak into the sides hoping to get an idea of what we were going to get the next day.

Later that evening, my mom and dad gathered us together to perform the story of the Savior's birth. I was the oldest and in charge of playing all the music. My brother Faofua grudgingly did his part as King Herod, and my brother Lloyd Lee and Esela were the wiseman. My younger brother Ruben was a shepherd and my sister Naomi was the angel Gabriel with my sister Lisa as Mary. Since we were short on family members in my family to act out all the parts, it was fun to see my brothers switch parts to be Joseph and other wiseman and other angels.

This particular Christmas Eve was full of laughter and lots of special thoughts because my dad was home and we were going to be together for quite awhile because he was done with the military and now working for the IRS in the accounting department. Life couldn't be better.

The next day...my dad died from a sudden heart attack on the top of a hill where we were snow tubing. That Christmas year forever changed all of us.

Today as I reflect on this Christmas season I find myself sad to know that dad is gone. Although so many years have passed since the death of my daddy, the pain while dull is still present. I can still feel the tears welling up as my mind recalls the events of those two days. My mother rocking her husband's head on her lap and stroking his hair. Me, running down the hill we were on to the old St. Benedict's hospital to get an ambulance. No cell phones in 1974. My mother's parents arrived the next day stricken with grief and then the week long details and drudgery of preparing for dad's funeral. I never thought I would be picking out my dad's casket and looking for a burial plot with my mom.

What does this have to do with my dissertation journey? Life goes on regardless of where you are in the dissertation process. There are so many distractions and it would be so easy to just give up. But then something happens and you realize that you have to complete the hard journey. Today, someone wrote to me about one of my blogs and thanked me for what I wrote. I never think about the impact my writing has on people. Only that I write to try to understand why I live and why I think what I think. On days like these, I feel really close to those who matter and am glad for everything that comes my way. Life is good.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Am Guilty of Perpetuating Racism

I was reading an article by Charles R. Lawrence about how we minorities perpetuate racism. He was laughing with his black friends during an Amos and Andy comedy aired on the radio. His father said that he didn't like the show because it poked fun at the Negroes. Another story he shared spoke of how his kindergarten teacher was reading a comical story called, "Little Sambo" and the plight of a little black boy with a minstrel mouth who was running around a room with a stack of pancakes because a tiger was chasing him. Charles was the only black student in the class and all the kids were laughing at the story while he was experiencing a knot in his stomach called pain and anxiety. Charles was Little Sambo and he realized he has much in common with him. So as the class was laughing at Little Sambo he realized they were laughing at him.

Reflecting on the innocence of children and even as adults I had to ask myself, "So what?" Why is it so bad to laugh at these various stories when we all know it is just fun. Besides as members of the race don't we have a right to laugh at ourselves? Life is so hard as it is and laughing at the silly things we do is comic relief. I know I have done it, my family has done it, and so have my friends. But then Mr. Lawrence made a point that was worth remembering. He said, it isn't only the white people and the institutions that perpetuate racism, we, the victims, do so as well. And this was definitely food for thought.

The import of making fun of our own race in the moment of innocence has also instilled in ourselves and our children that we have internalized racism and our own stereotypes. I pondered how I was guilty of this in my own home with my children and recalled several times when we sat around the living room and kitchen table laughing at our cultural experiences we each had during the day or week. These stories while funny actually confirmed the stigmas about Pacific Islanders.

The message at the end of the "funny session" was:....Pacific Islanders are big. They love to eat. They don't think about the next day. They are lazy. They use their strength and not their brains. They are just dumb. And they are funny as heck. They are illiterate. And they just don't get the jokes. You don't hear jokes about them working as professionals or as students getting an education. You don't hear about the love they have for their own or the sacrifices parents make for their children. You don't hear about the service their youth give to their parents without a care about their own health. You don't hear about them doing well in school.

It's quite different than Comedy Central who as a white comedian, they wear the jacket of comedian and can take it off and they are still seen as privileged and polished. Whereas for the comedian of color, they never take the jacket off. What they poke fun at is also what they are in the eyes of the beholder and the listener.

Can we really talk about colorblindness with these differences in how we also perpetuate race? As I begin to isolate the areas I am choosing to focus on in my dissertation proposal, I keep finding myself scrutinizing my own racialized history. In this case, Mr. Lawrence's point of minorities perpetuating racism runs deep in my thinking. What messages did I personally teach to my own children during my own comedy session in the comfort of our home? How have I continued this problem in working with my white peers and constituents at work and at school? In the effort to bring race to the conversation, I find myself in a dilemma of my own part I have played in this perpetuation. I am guilty and I didn't even make a profit.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Over the Top Stress

I am so stressed and i cannot even write. But my professor said I had to keep my commitment of writing which I am attempting to do. So I just have to get this off my chest just so I can keep moving forward and get past the most incredible anxiety I am feeling right now.

So I had this most fabulous meeting with my Chair and another member of my committee to talk about a way to narrow my focus on my dissertation proposal and to identify a pathway that made sense. He helped us to identify three lenses. Looking at a model of a professional learning community could use a critical relevant evaluation lens. This is a program evaluation lens that I could use that looks at a program to look for gaps in cultural relevancy. I really liked this advice because it provided the right structure I needed to see the elements that I could recognize as being culturally relevant in a program or model in this case that is sterile. You see the language in just about anything to do in education that is supposed to be used across schools has to be generic enough in order for it to be useful. In the case of a professional learning community there is a need to be almost prescriptive so that school leaders and teachers across the nation could apply its principles and get the sense of some hand holding. But there is a concern that too many schools are applying the principles without sensitivities to the students at the PLCs initial stages because too many schools are just trying to learn how to become a learning community.

The dilemma...the students are not the focus because teachers are too busy learning how to become a learning community and complete the products that are required of them. Now this is my assumption and there in lies the problem. So using the cultural relevancy evaluation instrument would assist in looking at PLCs at the onset for this need.

Another dilemma....I cannot find the darn evaluation. So as a novice researcher trying to get my proposal up and running this is a serious inadequacy and I just cannot go running to my Chair every time. And time is always the issue. So I will have to solve this problem. Anxiety is starting to mound.

The next lens my committee member said to use was a subset of Critical Race Theory (CRT) on colorblindness. As I am going through all of my articles I can see that I will need to beef this up. But this advice is right on the money but a task that I knew had to wait for a couple of days. So a spent some time setting up the proposal chapters up and what I wanted to write in each section or at least set aside the sections for me to fill in during my designated writing time.

The next lens was on leaders who really understood the need for cultural relevancy and recognized colorblindness how would they move this knowledge forward among their teachers. He recommended I look at a dissertation for the methodology of an instrumental case study. I did. As I read over the dissertation I was thinking this is good. I can see where this could be a good way to go. And continued reading. Anxiety started to mount. A survey? Interviews? Observations? Stats? This was a mixed-methods dissertation. I could see that it made sense to do a case study on a PLC but I wasn't prepare to go to this extent. So needless to say the nightmares are back and my anxiety is high. This is stressful not because I don't want to do this but because it is going another direction I wasn't planning to do. So now I wonder if I have too. This is how I resist when I don't think it's the right way.

The dilemma is whether or not I have to go this way. If so, I will...... But I will need to get some feedback as to whether it really is because I am really sick to my stomach. Why, I think deep down inside it is really because I cannot afford to and this is a deep sense of inequity that I am feeling personally. The irony is that I might have to give up my studies because I could not afford to keep paying tuition. And I am fighting this like I have for the last several years. But I don't know that I have it in me any more. So the stress is keep going or to quit and regret this decision for the rest of my life. My husband and I have to work through the finances every single semester. But I just don't know.

I just wanted to do a study on PLC discourse. Isn't this still possible?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Citations Frustration

You know....I often find myself in a muddle thinking about the basic mechanics of just gathering research articles for a paper. Ugh. I just wish I had more time. There are some articles that are just hard to find. With all the technology on finding articles and storing them you would think this would be no problem. There is something to be said about just finding the time to develop the skill of cataloging citations. Take a deep breath. Take the time. Do the task. Thank goodness for a professor who is helpful. But I am hampered each time I work on Zotero because my computer will not allow me to use it even after it is downloaded. Time to find an expert.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Race Fear

There is something frightening about talking about "race." My dissertation quest has taken a turn for better or for worse. Who knows. I just know it is the right thing to do. I feel like I am looking down the barrel of a shotgun and staring right back at me are the bullets of "race." I have to face this fear of race because I have lived with it but I am not intimately acquainted with it. Frankly I am petrified to even open this box. Although I am a brown woman and have had to deal with race all my life, I never really had to experience race like black or Latino women. When you are a Pacific Islander most people talk about us in terms of being "Hawaiian" and the media has painted us as exotic and desirable. You could say we "passed" to some degree and gained access to many "white" experiences because we were not like "them." Now there will be many in my community who would disagree with me. But they did not have my experiences. Perhaps my experiences were tempered with a religion that advocated for loving one another. While many of them failed horribly at it, for some reason I was able to be like water and ebbed and flowed. This came naturally but I bet if I deconstructed my survival skills I believe I would encounter many private moments of being strategically friendly and purposely working my way into the white man's world over the years. I think this is called fitting in...after a lifetime, these survival skills are normal and switching from one world to another without giving race a second thought was a walk in the park.

Yet, racism does exist. In my case it was micro discrimination we felt in not being seen or heard in the matters of knowledge and professional aspirations. It was more a feeling of knowing I was dismissed. In a school organization, racism is supposedly non-existent. Bless my teacher friends for struggling so much in trying to reach all students. But who has time to deal with race? We are so busy with learning how to learn that we don't learn about the elephant in the living room. Racism is truly experienced in systems or organization. But for some of us who have not been the primary target in race discussion. We can say we get it but do we really? For me I have spent my entire life living among the white race. I ate with them, learned from them, was a part of their lifestyle and embraced their white ways. So why would I think that I would have been denied all that was offered to my white friends? But I know there are others like me who take race for granted. We know it is all around us but living in America it is just the way it is and it will never change. Or, we only know it from an individual experience and do not see its subtleties in our everyday experiences. What of us? Being brown, I have been able to get by. I get upset when I see racism in its raw form. But when I have to describe how race effects me at work and in the very decisions I have to make, I consider myself a novice. This is a very vulnerable position to be in as it means that I am inadequate in something I am expected to know and understand. I failed to see the evidence, but they were there.

In my doctoral program, I couldn't accept that race was perhaps the central cause of systemic problems in literally every organization. I was blind in seeing how policy was written to write us out of the picture. I couldn't see that people of color were not wanted among the whites or that what we thought was important was not the same for them. I believe I bought into the notion that racism didn't exist in school systems. Yet, in reflection, I knew that race did exist. I saw it in student achievement...I saw it among teachers who claimed they did not see color...I felt it when discipline reports indicated more students of color were being suspended from school...I experienced it when what I believed need to change was how teachers were teaching their diverse learners and shut down quickly because this change meant more work. Who was I fooling? Only myself and in turn I missed so many opportunities to make a difference in education over time.

It sounds like an us against them whenever we talk about race. When speaking about race it is so raw, so cold and heartless, and ugly. But isn't that the point? Our white counterparts who are in power and in the green could not be viewed as racist otherwise they would have mutiny on their hands. So how to make it palatable among their constituents while promoting their hidden agenda? How to make race or the talk about race go away so they could get on with maintaining our stronghold in world economics? Well, you can either never discuss it or make it invisible....neutral if you will...to make people believe that race doesn't matter because we are all working together to solve problems.. particular problems in education. I have to be part of this change and now is my chance. But this means learning a vocabulary of clarity centered on race. It also means leading the charge to inform, teach, and celebrate in the knowledge of race to examine the issues in education.

So my task to understand race while a bit frightening is actually exciting. I feel like the cat who is curious. And we all know what happens to the curious cat....if you don't...curiosity kills the cat. LoL. Gotta love this journey.

So in my more formal writings I will begin immersing myself in what is race? what does it matter? and how can this knowledge make a difference in education? Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Insider and outside which is it?

My writing seems to be going in circles. I have already had several meetings with my chair and she keeps saying that I am making great strides in finding my voice. Most recently the subject for my proposal is now on professional learning communities.

In schools these professional communities are comprised of teachers who come together to learn from each other about their teaching experiences such as what do they want students to learn, did they learn it, and if not, what are teachers doing about it. Well this may seem like a very simple process but it really is a huge change from what teachers have done in the past. They just decided what they want their students to learn and in the privacy of their classroom they teach how they wanted to teach without any bother from other educators and teachers.

Well times of changed. The classroom is a fishbowl and the teacher and students are seemingly under a significant amount of surveillance 24/7. The pressures to make sure students learn are increasingly difficult to bear so the idea of teachers coming together to help each other help their students is pretty much a novel idea.

Well, here I am focusing on the inequities in education and struggling with several ideas. One in particular where I know that even with the professional learning communities working in schools, something is still wrong. How do I know this? Well, more and more of our students of color are still dropping out or going to alternative programs or are graduating by the skin of their teeth through the packet program (buy a packet complete it and earn a quarter credit towards graduation)

In my struggle to understand why this is happening, I still hear many teachers say that it is the fault of the students because they are lazy or don't care. Their mama's don't care because they never come in to the schools and so the list continues. But seldom if ever do I hear that teachers are at fault. Teachers always believe that the strategies they selected is perfect for learning and that if most of their students are learning then why can't these other students learn too. Of course "these other" students makes you wonder if they even know who theses students are too.

But my chair turned to an article about tempered radicals. It was significant to me because I for once could see that my struggles of being a professional in schools and having multiple identities where important. This term "tempered radicals" is about individuals who are in the inside of organizations who know how to apply and use the language of the system as a professional but is also an outsider who is aware of external tensions that are operating in the margins. This marginalization is important because it keeps this tempered radical sharp to support small changes that would positively impact the organization to increase opportunities of achievement for individuals who may have been marginalized or not understood.

If ever there was a need for this article it is now. I have come to appreciate the importance of being on the inside of an organization. My struggle which I expressed with my chair wasn't that I wasn't happy with school reform only that there were some parts that we should not assume will serve each student, particular students of color. There are hidden value systems and beliefs that are written in a neutral language. It is the language that we assume supports all students when in reality the language dismisses even misses many students who are on the margin of education and never make a connection. The are held hostage. And although we expect our teachers to make this connection the dilemma is whether or not the teacher has the capacity to use new tools such as building relationships, knowing their students, looking for student teacher connections to partner in learning. Administrators should be at the forefront of this challenge, but who will help the administrators in this role? I believe there is limited capacity on their part which is a dilemma all by itself. It is here in this crossover that I believe I should work to make a difference to support our teachers. This will indirectly be a support for students in the margins of learning.