Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Randall Kennedy on Black America's Promised Land

In the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine, Randall Kennedy composed an essay on why he remains an optimist on race relations. Pessimism is rampant in the black community with the grand jury decisions and persistent economic inequality but Kennedy reminds us why we should be thankful with the progress that has been made since the civil rights movement. With Black History Month less than a month away, I thought this piece was worth sharing on this blog.

Slumping morale among blacks, however, is attributable to more than frustration with Obama’s enemies; it also reflects frustration with the president himself. Although the overwhelming majority of politically active blacks supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 and continue to rally behind him defensively, an appreciable number feel let down. They maintain that he has been altogether too fearful of being charged with racial favoritism and has done too little to educate the public about the peculiar racial hazards that African Americans routinely face.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Schlissel: University of Michigan needs plan to increase campus diversity

Good news for black students and advocates who demand transformative change in the compositional diversity of the student body. For too long, the black student population at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the flagship public university, has hovered dangerously around 4 percent, which is below the state's black population at 14 percent. From The Detroit News:

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel says he will ask his 19 deans to come up with plans to diversify their departments as part of a measurable effort to make the campus more diverse.

And that diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity, he said.

"The reason why it's so darn important — beyond the question of being fair to all the citizens that we serve here as a public university — is we cannot be academically excellent without being diverse," Schlissel told The Detroit News in an interview Friday. "So much of the learning that goes on here comes with engaging one another."

Schlissel said he plans to develop a strategy aimed at re-energizing the university's efforts to diversify the student body, faculty and the staff.

Part of that strategy will include asking the university's deans next month to come up with diversity plans. A baseline will be established to measure the current state of each college.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Everyday Sociology: Who is Best Served by Service Learning?

Community engagement is one of my areas of interest. Teresa Irene Gonzales of Everyday Sociology posted a blog post about community engagement and service learning. More importantly, she discusses the importance of reciprocity -- that service learning should involve benefits for both community residents and faculty and staff. Too often, service learning (students generally participate for academic credit) is implemented as a one-sided project that leaves out the input / needs of the community residents.

Some colleges view community-engagement as a form of service and require students to clock-in service-learning hours via volunteerism. The belief is that students have useful skills and resources (particularly time) that may benefit a variety of communities. Through their work in various different types of communities, the students in turn gain work and educational experiences.

If implemented with only the university’s goals in mind, this process, however beneficial it may be to students, can unintentionally replicate social inequities and may place a further burden on the off-campus community group or agency that partners with the university.

Community-engagement often centers on low-income neighborhoods and residents that are within close proximity of the university. This perception of what is meant by “the community” inherently sets up a class-based dichotomy of the wealthy university (“the gown”) that has the resources (time, money, technical expertise) to help the poor communities (“the town”) that surround it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Public Libraries Add Social Workers and Social Programs - New Social Worker

The New Social Worker published an article about the various ways in which public libraries are reaching out to vulnerable populations.

Public libraries have always been democratic, serving a cross-section of the population. After all, they are public, often easily accessible, and free.

As these populations have shifted to include more of the disadvantaged population, including people who are homeless, there is a small but growing trend for libraries to include social workers—not as patrons, but as helping professionals on staff.

It’s not surprising that libraries have become hubs for homeless people or even the equivalent of day shelters. In addition to their other assets, libraries have plenty of bathrooms and no security checks.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Nation: This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach For America

The Nation released a report on the hidden weaknesses of Teach for America (TFA), the most popular and largest teacher recruitment program of its kind to address educational inequities in the nation's most distressed school districts. It spends millions of dollars annually to deflect criticism and uphold its program as the model for revamping urban education. Nonetheless, its opponents are staunch to fight back and reveal the ugly truth about TFA's practices. While TFA has become a resume-padding tool for college graduates seeking entry into top graduate and professional schools, it has dire consequences on at-risk students' learning and development.

Last year, Wendy Heller Chovnick, a former Teach For America manager, spoke out against her former organization in The Washington Post, decrying its “inability and unwillingness to honestly address valid criticism.” In recent years, such criticism has centered on Teach For America’s intimate involvement in the education privatization movement and its five-week training, two-year teaching model, which critics claim offers recruits a transformative résumé-boosting experience but burdens schools with disruptive turnover cycles.

In the interview, Chovnick referenced the extent to which Teach For America manufactured its public image, explaining, “Instead of engaging in real conversations with critics, and even supporters, about the weaknesses of Teach For America and where it falls short, Teach For America seemed to put a positive spin on everything. During my tenure on staff, we even got a national team, the communications team, whose job it was to get positive press out about Teach For America in our region and to help us quickly and swiftly address any negative stories, press or media.”

[UPDATE: January 11, 2015]: Why are school districts paying millions in "finder's fees" to an organization that places people without education degrees to teach in urban schools—even where applications from veteran teachers abound? Rachel M. Cohen, writing fellow at The American Prospect, explores another area of controversy in the Teach For America program: the start-up costs of hiring a TFA teacher, and the program’s impact on the retention of veteran teachers.