Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … Parent School Meetings

Last week, an email was buzzing around the school community in the near west side of Madison.

In it, the parent wrote:
“It has not yet been announced to families but the world languages program at [Middle School] will be drastically cut. This will affect all kids except for the DLI/DBE (bilingual Spanish) program (My kids are in the DLI program so they won’t be affected but I’m concerned for the majority of students at [Middle School], who aren’t in that program). What I have learned through the grapevine and is at this point only been reported to some teachers, is that 7th graders will only be able to take language for 1/4 of the year and for a full year in 8th grade year. (The current program is full 7th and 8th grade years which is equivalent to one year of HS). This cut has a HUGE impact on students potential to articulate into the high school program and will likely increase, not decrease the achievement gap for a large percentage of [Middle School] students.”
An email campaign that flooded the Middle School principal prompted the school to have an open forum to discuss the changes in curriculum. Photo below shows the high numbers of white students who do not speak Spanish at home as a percentage of the DLI (Dual Language Immersion) program.



My reasonings for going were to hear what was exactly happening. I knew of the DLI program in Madison and its impact on kids at different elementary schools. I had seen this program as a means of providing language immersion for students who did not speak Spanish at home. As was restated many times at this meeting, “Kids need to be bilingual in order to be competitive in the workforce.” 

I couldn’t agree more, however, the students everyone in this room were talking about were white, affluent students with supportive parents at home. 

No one seems to talk about the students who already speak Spanish or those who just want to survive day to day living. Students of color were not the subject of this meeting, though the principal was trying to bring the conversation back to the ones most impacted by the achievement gap.

The principal seemed blindsided by the number of parents in the room. He was also not fully prepared to handle the questions. His intentions were well-meaning as he had agreed to this last-minute meeting but did not know the full extent of the privilege he would face.

There were certainly pearls of wisdom in the room … foreign language helps in learning the language of computer programming … kids need creative courses … middle school is not so much academics but a time to find what you enjoy … “language teaches literacy.”

Again, I completely agree with many of these sentiments, but again, the parents in the room were talking about their children.

They were not talking about the ones whose parents were not in the room …

… kids whose parents were most likely working the second shift at the time of this meeting.
… kids whose parents did not have transportation to get to the meeting.
… kids whose parents are fearful of coming to the meetings because they do not speak English well and would need an interpreter who English-speaking parents often have non-verbal disapproving body language as they glare at the “disruptive” interpreter.
… kids who get a crash course in English as a second language to integrate in the classroom, only to later be denied work as an adult based on the sound of their name on their resumé.

… and finally, the kids who for the last three years have been double-dipped (given a second period in the day of a course they have failed in order to close the gap) because their parents couldn’t start an email campaign to stop it.

Last night’s meeting happened because parents discovered that their children would now be double-dipped with all the others at the expense of cutting a foreign language.

When I spoke, all the feelings of knowing the othering came to the forefront. I was emotional as I tried to express my difficulty with what I was hearing, but amidst all this, a white woman interrupted me. I hadn’t finished, but she wanted desperately to share her rebuttal. 

I had had a day of being belittled by an adoptive parent, and this was the straw that broke my back. I said, “Do you mind, I’m not finished.” I regret that (and my Southern mother was turning over in her grave). It discredited everything I had said before. I listened as this woman went after me, listing all her credentials as a World Languages leader and teacher. But where are the credentials in fully understanding the injustices of the others?

I do not have the World Languages certification, and I did not have a full understanding of what was happening. I do, however, see the injustices in the classrooms, in the hallways and have had glimpses of them as I have driven the children I spoke of above home.

None of this was talked about. None of this is ever discussed.

One final word from one of the parents was that she understood the systemic problems of the achievement gap and the racial disparities, but she wondered how it could be solved in that room and in that school by just a curriculum change. 

It cannot, but there needs to be a shift in how we teach. How we reach children who are hurting, children who desire inclusion, and children who just want equity in the classroom. Meetings such as this one only reinforced the true divisions, the illusions of white liberalism and the vast chasm between the haves and have nots.




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