Lesson Objective: Learn the purpose of the U.S Bill of Rights. Where does one start? These are 5th graders. Are they capable to withstand and embed the truth behind a document relying solely on my words and take them to be "self evident". They must make a connection relative to their daily lives to understand the bill's imperative. So they are to Investigate 3 crucial questions derived from the art of teaching: What are the Bill of Rights? What do they mean to you? Does Venezuela have a "Bill of Rights"?.
The questions definitely yielded a plethora of critical thinking. In the 5th grade computer lab of Hodge Elementary, students are constructing knowledge through experience and inquiry.
Curiosity of what is going in Venezuela's conflict deeply catches the attention of one of my students, "Ana"(I think to myself: curiosity fulfills initiative). She finds out that our Bill of Rights guarantees certain liberties that are universal. As she digs deeper she realizes that yes, Venezuela does have a form of a constitution. "So why the violence?", she asks. My next question as a faciliator role is, "what do you think?".
Her answer is mindblowing, worthy enough of a public debate amungst high school students. Her elaborate, well thought answer shows what she "knows" and better yet, prove.
Yet her beautiful conclusion could never be measured on a multiple choice test. But her input on society WILL be an asset for us all in the future. Could we measure such input?
I was able to see my favorite painting in El Prado in Madrid last summer. It is purity in the face of cowardice.
My students must realize that at some point in your life you must do what is just, even more so in the face of intimidation and defeat. Because without such virtues the meaning of life ceases to exist.
The risks and struggles that I create for them in the class must mirror life's vicious grip. I must play the role of friend and foe. The cowards in the painting give my students 2 strikes. 1 "not knowing the language" and 2 "being Latinos/Latinas". They must discover that true intellectual wisdom will destroy ignorant barriers.
This was another essay I wrote in 2010.
I am Puerto Rican. My culture is a mix of three roots: African, Taino(Indigenous), and Spaniard(or European). Before I lived in Puerto Rico, I resided in Killeen, Texas. My father was in the military and therefore I attended English speaking schools. In my home we spoke Spanish. We ate our cultural dishes. My father always listened to Salsa music (deep African roots). Our way of life was Puerto Rican, yet living in Texas and overseas. Go figure.
I cannot help but to feel a personal connection to this assignment. Though I am not a refugee or political asylee, I do have a different culture from where I currently live in Dallas, Texas. As far as being an immigrant, yes I am one. But, since Puerto Rico is not a sovereign country, I may not be considered an immigrant by all sense of the word. We are one of the last colonies on Earth. Yet we are U.S. Citizens at birth. But that subject is a whole other essay.
By definition we must know the difference between a refugee, political asylee, and immigrant. A refugee is a person who seeks protection from UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) due to fear of “persecution or death because of race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion, or national origin”. A political asylee is “a person residing in a country in which there is a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion, or national origin”. An immigrant is a person who resides in “a particular country who decides to reside in another country”.
The difference about an immigrant is that he/she decides to move freely between the two countries. An immigrant does not necessarily moves to another country in fear of persecution, death because of race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion, or national origin. Though political asylees, and refugees are immigrants since they are residents of a particular country who decide to reside in another country. The rights that immigrants have depend on the legal status of residency. Technically, if a person is a legal immigrant in the United States, then he/she has most rights that citizens have. They also have the right to reach citizenship through due process. An illegal immigrant does not have the same rights. Not to say that the United Nations recognizes universal human rights.
Refugees are those who flee across international borders in search of a safe haven. They live in refugee camps before resettling into a new host country. They petition “for protection from outside of the country in which they hope to live”. They have the right to establish permanent residency in the new host country to become “productive members of society”. They petition relocation from a country outside of their “country of last habitual residence to qualify as a refugee”. Refugees often times go through very difficult journeys leaving their home countries. After reading about experiences that refugees have in Dr. Cowart's article, I gained a profound respect for them. The stories about war impacted me the most. Particularly the one about Ishmael Beal growing up as a child soldier. I could not even fathom the idea of taking a human life as a child. We as teachers must take into account the experiences that refugee children inherit.
A significant difference between a refugee and a political asylee is that a political asylee “petitions the United States government for protection and legal recognition after entering the country”. “While the refugee requests protection from outside the United States”. Political asylees go through much of the same turmoil as refugees.
These children that migrate to the United States might go through cultural bereavement. “Cultural bereavement is the sense of being separated from the past and losing touch with all that is familiar from the homeland”(Cowart, 2007). It is very dangerous to lose ones cultural identity. Though we all have a name to distinguish ourselves, culture is the way of life that we take for granted. Children are far better at adjusting to a new life than adults. To an extent, it can hurt them in the long run. By assimilating more and more to a new culture, they begin to lose certain characteristics of their native one. They might not feel the impact of cultural bereavement until they reach adulthood. Take Spanish for example. If a child comes into this country and assimilates well with its peers, he/she begins to take off in the U.S culture. After reaching adulthood he/she applies for a job that requires them to be bilingual yet does not know how to read or write with proficiency in Spanish. It is a sad when a person realizes that he/she cannot reach back into its roots at that moment. But it is never too late. After my father retired from the Army, we relocated to Puerto Rico. My soul was half full of my culture until we reached the island. It was a cultural awakening. I was reborn. My sense of belonging was not even half of that when I was living in Killeen. Though I am sure I have not gone through half of what these children have seen, I must be aware of their experiences.
Acculturation on the other hand is the opposite of cultural bereavement. It should be embraced by all teachers of all cultures and backgrounds. It embraces the culture that students bring into a classroom. We as teachers must find materials that are pertinent to acculturation. We must “become or continue to be a student of cultures and languages, particularly those of our students so that our knowledge of their experiences and needs will grow regularly”. Two way immersion education embraces acculturation. It involves the students and community to learn and appreciate different cultures. I am still fascinated after watching a video of two way immersion. To see native English speakers embrace and speak Spanish is something that settles well with me. Caring about other cultures goes hand in hand when implementing acculturation. It is the unmeasurable tool that must be with teachers throughout their careers. If not, it will be a bumpy road. “Without a caring and knowledgeable adult to guide the acculturation experience and to provide reassurance that learning a new language and culture does not mean that the heritage language and culture must be eliminated or forgotten, the refugee student will flounder, literally taking one step forward and two steps back out of fear of losing his or her cultural identity”(Cowart, 2007).
Though I write this paper learning about how students retain or lose their cultures, I cannot help but see my life story applied into some of these ideas. My parents where the ones who facilitated acculturation for me. As a young boy, every time I stepped in our house, we only spoke Spanish. My mother also embraced other cultures. She always told me that whatever girlfriend I brought home was to be accepted, no matter what culture(acculturation). My father always played Salsa music wherever we lived, even in Germany when we were stationed there, yet we always found time to experience German culture (acculturation).
The following was an essay I wrote in 2010. The language is "user friendly" but makes its point concisely.
“Writing is mankind's last manifestation”. I agreed to the previous quote after I heard it from one of my college professors in 2000. I realized then that written expression is humankind's most ultimate form of communication. Written text has the power to change the globe everyday. Every single idea that has made an impact on our lives has been due to someone somewhere writing it down. How would law establish itself without it? How could we know about Shakespeare's plays and its pertinence to today's culture? How do we know the way our history shapes us? And most important; how do we know the truth? As a teacher we must know the importance of writing. Yes, many of us do not like writing. But no one will dispute its significance. We must show (model) the importance of it. Not to say the least that reading also goes hand in hand. Most people who do not like to write is because they do not like to read. If a teacher does not enjoy reading, their career will be a steeper path to the finish. An important factor is to show them (the students) how rewarding writing may feel. This may be implemented in the publishing stage. To see our own work be admired by others is an exhilarating feeling. There are steps in which I can help a student reach this feeling. First, I must introduce the concept of a writing “process” and not a finished work. All written work may be revised at anytime (including this one). Then, show that the process is divided into five steps that are: pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, publishing. Also, there are other approaches that help writing development in which could be used. Krashen's affective filter does not limit itself to a conversational class. It can also be noted in the writing process.
It is important for the students to comprehend completely the term pre-writing. We must leave it as a step in which we construct ideas, cancel out ideas, and to see what is pertinent for the subject given. Many people might feel frustrated when writing because it may be difficult to know where to start. It's ironic how people fear their own thought process. It is important to let our students know that they should relax. By doing this we, lower their affective filter. Creating an excellent writing atmosphere helps to bring about good ideas. Some of my best teachers thought that everything was art and beautiful. They would praise any idea as if it were the discovery of world's biggest secret. This attitude creates such an atmosphere. To introduce brainstorming, I would show the students a video of a thunderstorm. The concrete example gets them the idea of creating a storm of ideas for their paper. After that, I would model on the board a brainstorming activity, by timing myself and just go “crazy” and showing them that no idea is out of bounds. After modeling brainstorming, I would model listing by writing down ideas for a paper on the board. Within a given time they would tell me different ideas specific to the subject. “This will help the students to focus on the important and interesting ideas they have instead of struggling to find the correct form for those ideas”(Zainuddin). After these two activities, freewriting can be introduced. It would be simple just to give them a blank sheet of paper and ask them to write anything that comes to their mind about the subject. Freewriting may be a spaced out activity for those who have never written a formal document, and would not recommend it as a first activity. A good first activity for pre-writing would be visual mapping also known as a web map. The teacher would first model by circling the main idea of an essay in the middle. Then, would ask the class to give supporting ideas to the main subject and web it off. This activity can even lead to other ideas they never thought would come out. It also helps a lot with the visual learners. An activity such as question dial could help elaborate on a subject without losing yourself on another. A teacher would have a big circle and divide it into the five W's and H questions (who, what, where, when, why, how). It can also be used as a supplement for the previous pre-writing activities.
Drafting is where a student would construct the base or skeleton of their paper. It is where the ideas actually begin to form into paragraphs and structure. Many people struggle in drafting (especially the perfectionists) because they refuse to let their ideas flow. Again, we as teachers need to model the thought process of drafting. We can digitally project a Word Document and think aloud as we write. The questions we must ask ourselves as we write are: “What is the essay about? Why are you writing it? Whom are you writing for? What is your favorite part? Why? What ideas did you leave out? Why?”(Zainuddin). Keeping on your topic is the most important idea in drafting. Though drafting may be the stage with the least activities, it is the longest to create. It is where the essay actually comes alive.
Revising is the stage where students exchange their essays with their peers and provide new ideas for them. Ideas may even be canceled out. I have read about authors who have canceled out entire chapters for their books. It is very important to let the students know that this stage is not about correcting syntax. It is only to provide ideas. If they have never written an essay before, then much less have practiced revision. A good idea from Zainuddin is to provide them with Reader-Writer Response Worksheets, where the reader responds to a series of guide questions provided. Teachers may create these questions molded to their objectives. A Group Response Worksheet has the same concept except it is answered by a small group instead of an individual. An Audience Analysis is applied to a whole group. Revisions should be considered an input from readers of an essay. The author has the last word when it comes to choosing any given insights.
On the other hand, the editing stage has little room for author's choices. In this case, the students actually search for correct syntax. The teacher may hand each student an essay from their peers. To edit a paper requires good knowledge of grammar, so they must first learn or recall information in order to be effective in this stage. Constructivist teachers love this stage because the students must be active in their thought process due to the fact that their peer's correctness depends on the editor.
The publishing stage is a great motivator for the students. The feeling they get from their work being recognized can last their whole lives. Even I still remember my teachers displaying my works. It shows them that working the mind pays off and has it intrinsic rewards. Teachers may publish students work by posting them in the hall, school newspaper, mailing them to parents, posting it online. The possibilities are endless. The most important factor in stage is the motivational factor and helping them achieve a sense of accomplishment.
In 2000 the same professor that taught me that “writing is man's last manifestation” caught me plagiarizing. It was the essay “The Things They Carried” by Tim O'brien (brilliant by the way). I was young and given a second chance in life and did not even know it. After my lesson taught, I realized the importance of writing, and firmly believe that it shapes our world culture. This sense of belief must be carried by all teachers while teaching the writing process. It can be arduous, but the results are definitely worth it. We must remember that if they can master the “last manifestation”, then there academic career will go on smoother than their peers.
I do not watch or read the news. I watch and read History. Tendencies seldom change. People always tell me"your a teacher and do not watch the news?!". I always answer the same way: "Let me see? Was somebody shot yesterday? Will thousands of children die of hunger today? Will thousands more die of illnesses? Were lives cut short? Will people lose their jobs today? Is there traffic after work? Did big corporations get caught red handed? Are such corporations still scheming for power? Is some celebrity in a mix up? What are we going to do about it?"
The predictability of humans has been a powerful tool for big names in history. Some exploit such information. Many more "do what's right". The propagandist media does not make money on happy stories. Their profit relies solely on tragedy. But I am here to say that many more of us have beautiful intentions.
Months ago, I was conversing with a co-worker and tell her about a story I was following on facebook. It was about a soldier who was complaining about my stand against gun laws. His exact words were "You f**king people don't even know how to defend a country".
First I'd like to say that my father was a Bronze Star (Heroism) recipient for the first Gulf War. I am proud of him because very few people who stand in front of me have not even half of his dedication for human life. He IS my standard definition of dedication for human life.
I remember responding to the gentleman in the lines of: There are many ways to serve and defend a world, continent, nation, state, town, neighborhood, home. Tutor, teach, volunteer your time, feed, heal, defend (courts), build, make, pass on, pay forward, pay back, relate, travel, connect, be just.
I ended up telling my co-worker that a true teacher would give his/her life for any man, woman, or child. The people that worked in Sandy Hook Elementary School were True Teachers and Workers.
The great book written by Louis Lowry: "The Giver". It tells about a fixed society (sort of like the movie "The Island") in where every person that is born is placed accordingly to certain jobs. There is the Giver position, which is the most wise person in the community. Then next in line would be the "Receiver" who inputs all the information passed down from the Giver. The truth is, that the Giver is the only one who knows how sick their society is. I do not want to ruin it, but HIGHLY recommend reading it.
Years ago a student asked me to "Give" some of my most insightful thoughts, in honor of the great book. A sort of "The Giver", if you will. This is what I wrote.
Year : 1981
Pain is love. Throughout your life you will receive hardships, downfalls, breakthroughs, successes, failures, love, hate, revelations, life and death. Just like Jonas in the The Giver, our pain makes us only appreciate life in its integrity. But we must understand and embrace pain as life's ultimate Giver, for the events that we endure, reconcile justice and love. As I ponder my deepest devastations, I realize that it is my sincerest pleasure to transmit to you 3 of my most intimate memories. Keep in mind that they are mere events that have molded me into what I am today. What do you think your memories will withhold for you?
My first memory is my hardest. It is actually collection of times that helped me earn a degree from an accredited university. My times (about seven years worth) throughout my BA was one of the hardest things I have ever had to produce. In 2000 I was accepted into the University of Puerto Rico. From then on, personal misguidance deviated me from graduating. I was more focused on hanging out with my friends rather than studying even though I knew it was getting out of hand. Nonetheless, I seemed to have had an innate sense that told me that I was destined to graduate. The nights of partying almost took a toll on me during college. Imagine: no mommy or daddy to tell you not to do “this or that”. Well I did all of it. Some of it was fun, but most was frightening. College is supposed to help make you a dignified person in society, not to break your will. You may think that a night out on the town “never hurt anybody”. True. But it's when you decide to go out almost every night, drink until you vomit, go to class drunk, people trying to mug you, fail easy tests and classes, lose college money (money is everything in college) for tuition, get your laptop stolen, traffic tickets, and don't even let me get started with love drama. But I had no one to blame but myself. I promised myself to finish. And I did.
My second memory is my most rebellious (mentally). It is also a collection of times. It happened while still an innocent child, though I did not realize it until a mature adult. My father did not treat my mother how a woman should be treated. Though he never lay a hand on her, his actions spoke more than words. His alcoholism detoured many of his obligations as a husband and father. Some of my most marked memories are those fierce arguments they used to have. He taught me many things that I must not do. Yet he told me what was correct. And even though they are still together, I know that my mother has scars for the rest of her life. It breaks me to the core when I think of what she has gone through. My mother’s memories are far much more severe than mine. She has endured far much more than I will ever. She is my Giver.
My third memory is my most grievous. Violence in my country took over one I truly loved. My brother (literally from another mother) was shot in the head through his mouth on a February 29. Me, myself, and I have never gotten over the loss. Tomas Melendez was an angel on earth. He used to look up to me as a role model. Little did I know that I should have looked up to him (I was involved in my own ego). The truth is that I still think about what “Bebo” would do every time I'm in a tight situation. Reciever, I write this memory as I weep. Please do not take life for granted. When Bebo died, that same night he came to me as an angel that I knew he always was. Over his heart he had the last name “DeSoto”. I said to him, “Pero Bebo tu eres Melendez (but Bebo your a Melendez)”. He said, “Melendez was my name on earth. DeSoto is who I protect now”. My brother had become a guardian angel. It was his calling upon his release.
Thousands of miles and a few years later (today), I reside next to the town of DeSoto, Texas. It (the town) is my Elsewhere. What does it hold for me?
Receiver this memory is the deepest wound in my soul. A loss of a love one only leaves memories to recollect. Leave it at that.
Love is pain.
The hardships are pleasures,
That leave us waiting in vain.
Listen to the Givers of society,
They bring messages,
Held true by the almighty.
All of your questions will not be answered.
But above all else,
Never let truth be tampered.
Art is not limited to Beethoven, Goya, and/or Anonymous. If only the world can see when a child has an epiphany as a result of a beautiful work of art from the teacher. I remember as a child, a teacher asked us the definition of poetry. I wrote down "art in words". She looked at the words and said,"your definition is simply complicated". Today I know she pushed me even more than what I thought was the perfect answer.
I read somewhere that Beethoven said," Don't only practice your art. But force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine". During the symphony of a classroom, every instrumental mind must be in sync to sound epically in tune to promote learning.
Some instruments are smooth with a high pitch. Others are rough around the edges. Some have been battered and mistreated by its owner. Some are well kept. Some have never even given a chance to come out of the box in fear of the outside world. Some just need a little tuning here and there. Others seem to look beyond repair. Some are missing strings or a bow. All have true potential.
The conductor must do whatever it takes to create harmony, for it is what the world views as beauty. And beautiful sound is the result of effective practice from an innovative mind. Every instrumental mind must be trained and molded to sound just and free. Yet each one must be addressed individually to place them according to their diverse sounds. Proper placement promotes acculturation, rather than assimilation. Before the day of the show many rehearsals are conducted to perform perfectly.
The end result is an epic sound for the ages. Sound that will be played and appreciated for generations to modify at their leisure. Yet the innovative distinction of the true harmony will live on, no matter what instruments are used as long as they are addressed, trained, and molded.
P.S I invite you to watch the video below. It was created by The Piano Guys.
Being a fan of culinary arts, I can't help but make connections between the service and education industries respectively. I was watching Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" and realized that both of our professions are similar in many ways.
Ramsay is arguably a master in his field. To be one of the best you must learn from the best, and he has learned from some of the world's best (he's said this a number of times). He's seen how great restaurants are run all over the world. Also, knowing that every one of them seeks and attracts a certain kind of guest. Each one of them also has different standards and expectations when it comes to service and quality. Some are expensive, other are "the ones I go to". Yet the great ones are resourceful and pursue excellence no matter the budget. Ramsay realizes this throughout the show and suggests what is best for each particular one. Some are simple issues. Others need major overhauls from cleanliness, methods, to change in philosophy. Yet no restaurant disputes the most important element: the clientèle.
Education also has many masters. Why aren't some of them on TV?! The masters of education also learn from the best (who doesn't right?!). They have also seen effective classes, schools, and districts around the world. All of them also have individual standards and expectations when it comes to quality of education (and yes even service). Some have more funding than others.Yet the great ones are resourceful and pursue excellence no matter the budget. The leaders in our field (from the teacher on up) also suggest what is the most effective when it comes to teaching. Again, some are simple glitches in the system. Other times, major change in teaching philosophy is required. Yet no school disputes the most important element: the student.
I'm sure there are many other comparisons and contrasts when it comes to the two professions. The point is that you must apply what is effective and be your worst critic when it comes to measuring its success. The food industry may be more systematic and routine. Then again, isn't most of what we do systematic and routine? And doesn't the classroom have to be a reflection of its surrounding society? It is the advantage that I have the teacher, to implement routine that is not boring to the clientèle and doesn't suck.
One of the main reasons why I was so motivated to create this site was a commencement speech (originally given somewhere else) given by Stephen Krashen at the NABE conference in Dallas 2012. I was so excited and relieved to hear a world renowned expert in education tell the truth like it is. After watching and listening to the man, and reading his address my professional life deeply connected with my personal ideals with his approach on the issue.
Enough said, read his speech for yourself: "Our Schools are Not Broken"