Of Note: Unsettling Certainty

    Inviting Uncertainty into the Classroom by Ronald A. Baghetto
    Education Leadership, October 2017

    A great deal of effort goes into planning classroom activities for students so that lessons are well-organized. We are careful to clearly define problems for students to solve, plan how they will solve them, and know the outcomes we are seeking. While this may be the mark of a good lesson, the limitation to this approach is that it doesn’t give students experience in grappling with uncertainty. In many problems students will confront in their work and life there is an element of uncertainty. To prepare for this inevitability, students need opportunities to engage with the messiness of the unknowns of a challenge in a supportive classroom environment. While the process will differ somewhat depending on the discipline, teachers can assign open-ended problems that encourage students to come up with alternate solutions or to find multiple approaches to solving a problem. A school-wide initiative in providing practice with uncertainty can build to include “legacy projects” that respond to complicated, ongoing challenges facing the school or community such as providing services for refugees or feeding the homeless. Legacy problems can be passed on to different groups of students as they progress through the school. The key to preparing students to deal with uncertainty is to scaffold their engagement by beginning with small problems of uncertainty as part of the curriculum and building to deal with large projects that incorporate complex challenges that respond to community needs. 

    Submitted By Pearl Rock Kane, Klingenstein Center, New York, NY


    African American Teaching Force

    Revisionist History, “Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment,” by Malcolm Gladwell
    Podcast, July 1, 2016

    Entitled “Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment,” this compelling episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast revisits the 1954 landmark civil rights court case, Brown vs. Board of Education. Gladwell’s retelling of the story, a stunning victory that allowed for the desegregation of American Public Schools, ties together two important items: the strong data that reveals that students of color benefit dramatically from having teachers of color and the story of what happened to black teachers as a result of the Brown decision. As with women and other minority groups, African-American adults were barred from many career paths during the 20th century, and therefore, education, which was more open, was attractive to talented people of color. After Brown vs. Board of Education, black students moved to white schools, acting as the bodies that would force this crucial civil rights issue.  Their teachers in the schools that they left were not hired by any of the white schools because white parents could not tolerate the idea of their children learning from black adults any more than they could tolerate their children being in the same classroom as black children. The African-American teaching force was decimated, and we are still suffering the loss of those dedicated educators. Any teacher of American history will find this podcast important, and it serves as a vital reminder to educational institutions that we must strongly encourage students of color to go into education and continue to prioritize the hiring of teachers of color in our schools.

    Submitted By Stephanie Lipkowitz, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, NM


    How to Dismantle Spectacles and Interpret Worlds

    High School Reading as an Act of Meaningful Aggression by Giles Scott
    The Millions, September 19, 2017

    Writing for The Millions, Giles Scott champions the profound value of close reading and annotation in spite of the various forms of pushback we hear from students (e.g., it takes too long, it’s too hard, it kills my love for reading). For Scott, active, critical reading is “about a way of thinking, a way of seeing” and about “questions not answers.” This thought-provoking and surprising essay reminds us of the worthiness of our advocacies for close reading, even if our students aren’t reading every page of every book we assign. (His aren’t, he learns year after year when he solicits feedback in June.) Shifting the paradigm, Scott brings new dimensions to the notion of cultivating empathy through reading. He argues, for instance, that teaching reading can also be “the teaching of stillness,” a way of helping students learn how to be thoughtful and reflective – how to be active, critical thinkers – in a busy, noisy world. In his essay, reading becomes the most urgent and profound skill students acquire and practice, as they learn “how to undermine and dismantle the spectacles surrounding them.” For all teachers of reading, across disciplines, Scott’s essay is a useful and inspiring meditation on students’ annotations as “the beginning points of interpreting their worlds.”

    Submitted By Meghan Tally, Windward School, Los Angeles, CA


    The Most Emotionally Distressed Young People

    Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety? by Benoit Denizet-Lewis
    New York Times Magazine, October 11, 2017

    In this New York Times Magazine piece, Benoit Denizet-Lewis explores the student landscape in an age of anxiety, wherein “anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling service.” For independent schools, where we are alert to the prices of privilege, Denizet-Lewis offers another look at privileged youths, calling them “the most emotionally distressed young people in America.” Getting close to some of the anxious students themselves, along with their parents and counselors, Denizet-Lewis find that, among the anxiety-producing factors are disease, terrorism, and cyber-bullying, with social media – and smartphone use more generally – playing a key role in an anxious environment. Furthermore, “anxious teenagers tend to come from anxious parents,” so solutions have to target parents as well as their children. As he meets with anxious young people, Denizet-Lewis learns about treatments ranging from medication to exposure therapy. One word, he says, “kept coming up”: resiliency. A key part of the current debate hinges on which support efforts enable and reinforce anxiety as opposed to helping to combat it. We’ve raised “a generation of young people increasingly insistent on safe spaces ”wherein they do not necessarily cultivate “the ability to tolerate distress and uncertainty.” Reading Denizet-Lewis’ piece won’t solve the vast anxiety problem, of course, but it does help us to see and think more clearly about the challenges at hand.

    Submitted By Meghan Tally, Windward School, Los Angeles, CA


    In Service of Leadership

    Not Leadership Material?  Good.  The World Needs Followers by Susan Cain
    New York Times, March 24, 2017

    Are followers needed? Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, thinks they are. Moreover, she feels that higher education and its admissions practices are glorifying leadership at an unacceptable cost to institutions and individuals. Cain sees many invaluable ways to contribute that do not fall into the crisp confines of leadership. In this New York Times article, Cain makes three strong points about an outsize valuing of leadership experiences as the peak attainment for our students. First, building a resumé that spills over with leadership is a constricting and unnecessarily narrow gate for students and of judging potential and excellence. Second, team players, and those who are comfortable creatively setting out on their own path, are vital to society and to schools. Third, Cain sees an unhealthy reliance on leadership skills as a disservice to leadership itself – risking attracting those who seek the spotlight rather than those who are motivated by the ideas and people they serve. Cain closes with a call to be clear with our students about what true leadership is and is not.  She suggests we start by telling them that it actually has little do with who will attain status and power, but everything to do with service.  Additionally, we must assure our students, and the colleges they apply to, that kind, thoughtful, talented people who are committed to excellence and passionate to contribute are needed, recognized and valued in our schools, whether they lead or whether they follow.

    Submitted By Elizabeth Morley, Kobe Shinwa University, Toronto, Ontario


    The Stories We Don’t Tell Tell Us

    We Need To Keep Talking About Charlottesville by Brené Brown
    Online video, Facebook Live, August 15, 2017

    This brief Facebook Live video by social worker Brené Brown helps educators find language (and courage) to continue talking about Charlottesville as the school year progresses. In conversational and inviting language, Brown insists that owning our individual and collective narratives is the only way to avoid being defined by our worst stories – in this case, the story of white supremacy in the United States. Brown encourages us to name white supremacy and start intentionally discussing the “3Ps” of owning a collective history: “Power, Privilege, and Perspective-taking.” Before fielding questions after her 15-minute talk, Brown reminds us of the imperfections of this truth-telling work. She reminds us to give each other grace and find the courage to keep trying, because if we own our stories then we can write the endings. Brown calls for braver conversations, honesty about the role we play, and listening. Also, as she often does, she challenges us directly, saying that “if we don’t [continue to talk about Charlottesville], one of our worst stories in history will continue to own us.”  Not talking about it is, in other words, an act of privilege. What would happen if we created a culture of storytelling, owning our (painful) narratives, and writing our own endings in our schools?  According to Brown, we have no choice but to find out.  

    Submitted By Kellyann Conners, EdM Candidate, Klingenstein Center, New York, NY


    White Fragility and Black Tax

    Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
    St Martin's Press, January 1, 2017

    Presented in the form of a worship service by ordained minister and Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, Tears We Cannot Stop challenges a white audience to acknowledge a “willful denial” of racial injustice in America. Going beyond merely laying out all the privileges that come with whiteness, Dyson addresses “white fragility,” the inability for many white people to tolerate uncomfortable discussions of race. Dyson explains: “White fragility is a will to innocence that serves to bury the violence it sits on top of.” Rather than shutting down stressful race-related dialogue, he asks that his readers lean-in to the discomfort, recognizing complicity in an unjust system, and move toward collective engagement. Participation in protests and rallies is essential, as well as making reparation, which Dyson refers to as a “black tax.” He argues that black Americans are already paying this tax and that supporting black scholarships and hiring black employees and paying them more than their white counterparts are just a few of the concrete ways to offset the cost. In the end, Dyson calls for greater empathy from white America and a more educated, reflective, and active response from white allies and educators fighting for racial justice. 

    Submitted By Jonathan D. Moser, Perkiomen School, Pennsburg, PA


    Different Patterns Among the Shapes

    Which One Doesn't Belong? by Christopher Danielson
    Stenhouse Publishers, September 1, 2016

    Christopher Danielson has taken the humble shape book, a staple of the early childhood classroom, and revolutionized it in a way that will stimulate engaging discourse for readers of any age. The concept is simple: each page presents four shapes and poses the question, “which one doesn’t belong?” The innovation and spur to creativity is that any answer can be correct – as long as you can justify your choice. Looking at the example on the cover, is it the one that has only right angles? Or is it the one that has no axis of symmetry? Too often geometry is presented as little more than a list of terms to memorize; this book shows shapes as a fascinating collection of different properties and patterns to be studied, analyzed, and discussed, and along the way, it builds thinking skills that could support further inquiry in other disciplines. Readers delight in listening to others’ justifications and in changing their mind when they discover a different pattern among the shapes. Danielson’s book has created a movement among educators at all levels who are using the same concept to explore science, high level mathematics, and more. Readers looking for even more to ponder can turn to Twitter for inspiration at #wodb.

    Submitted By Amanda Fox, Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, Berkeley, CA

KlingensteinCenter Teachers College Columbia University

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