Nanny Nanny Boo Boo on the Playground in the Age of Trump

In this time of acute polarization, the adults hog most of the attention, filling the communal spaces with their discourse, much of it uncivil.  Emotions are high. What happens when this filters down to our youngest students?  Since the election of Donald Trump, Michelle Gunderson, carefully attuned to the shifting moods of her first graders, has been recording her observations.  This essay originally appeared at Living in Dialogue.

dont-ever-be-mean

A veteran teacher and a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction, Gunderson is Vice President for Elementary Schools at the Chicago Teachers Union.

 

By Michelle Gunderson

Last week a group of my first grade girls was taking an unusually long time in the bathroom. When you teach little ones you get a sixth sense for when something is going on. I knocked on the door and said, “Dear ones, whatever can be keeping you?” The ring leader answered me with her cute front-toothless diction, “We are talking about Trump because we know you won’t let us in the classroom. We can’t stand him.”

Now, before you jump straight to the comments section and make ungodly statements about my ban on political speech and intolerance of differences, you need to hear me out.

I teach in a Chicago Public School in a neighborhood that is traditionally LGBTQ. Many of our students have two moms or two dads, and it is fair to say that most of our families are politically liberal with many who consider themselves progressive. Yet, in this context, there are families who still support Trump.

During the month before the election, one of my students made it very clear that his family supported Donald Trump, and he talked about it often. The children started teasing him on the playground. In fact, the taunting game became “nanny nanny boo boo, you vote for Trump” as children tag one another (much like the game of cooties you might remember from childhood).

After recess that day, a girl came running into the classroom crying uncontrollably. “Why would they say I like Trump? I am a good person. I don’t say bad things.”

We held a class meeting to try to work this out, but the crying kept up, and the hurt feelings were incredibly deep. Now, I ask you, reader, how have these conversations been going for you about Donald Trump with the adults in your lives? How many relatives or friends have you lost on Facebook? Put yourself in the children’s shoes. Can you imagine how confusing and how hard it is to navigate this space for first graders?

Usually during class meetings we make a group decision about how we are going to proceed in working with one another, but there just seemed to be no end to it. I finally said, “These are arguments that adults are having, and it is very hard right now for us to understand one another.” I decided that we would not talk about the election in our classroom any more. I needed to protect the children whose families supported Trump and stop the harmful teasing before it went any further.

This is my thirtieth year of teaching, and I have always taught about the elections and current events no matter what grade I teach. But this was more than we could approach in our class. Many of our families consider Trump’s presidency  an existential threat, and the anxiety and pressure has filtered down to the children. And when children feel anxiety and pressure, they misbehave.

The other day, an eruption happened during lunch in the cafeteria. One of my students decided to go around the room calling the others “losers.” You are probably saying to yourself that first graders have been calling each other losers for decades. And you would be right. It is one of the reasons that the rhetoric of Donald Trump is so difficult for me to accept as an educator.

But this instance was different than the name calling of days gone by. It was harsh, and it targeted vulnerable kids. Children call each other names to get a reaction, and they know when language is heightened and charged. Think about times you have experienced children using potty language. A child knows when something is wrong, and they experiment with the power of it.

The name-calling was a problem that I took care of one on one. There was an opportunity for the name caller to apologize to the children harmed, and a gentle and careful talk from me. The child who called others losers did not to be excoriated publicly. He is just mimicking what he has seen and heard from adults.

All of this brings me back to a question I have asked my friends: How do we teach in the time of Trump? In my mind, we do what we have always done, but with a renewed sense of urgency. We help our children use kind words. We teach them that there are many things that go on in the outside world, but our classrooms will always be safe spaces. And we hope that they do not act like our president. A situation that makes me incredibly sad.

 

 

SHARE

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus

Denisha Jones on Early Childhood’s Lesson for School Choice

With Betsy DeVos at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education, choice has ascended to the top of the policy agenda.  Charter schools, vouchers, and other nonpublic options are proliferating—the grandchildren of free-market economist Milton Friedman, who viewed the elementary and secondary system as a monopoly in dire need of competition.

blog-big-intheparkStaunch proponents of choice view it as a solution for the nation’s persistent opportunity gaps. Denisha Jones, a national advisor to Defending the Early Years, where this post originally appeared, highlights the inequities of America’s market-based early childhood system as a cautionary tale.

Jones is an Assistant Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C.  A former early childhood teacher and preschool director, she is pursuing a law degree, and has been active in the fight to stop the corporate takeover of public education since 2011. She also serves as a board member of the Badass Teachers Association and United Opt Out National.

 

By Denisha Jones

January marked National School Choice Week.  Established in 2011, this awareness campaign continues to grow and shine “a positive spotlight on effective education options for every child.” Although the number of charter schools has increased across the U.S., the majority of children in the United States attend traditional public schools. The slow rate of growth does not deter choice advocates from demanding greater access to charter schools and vouchers.

One argument espoused by supporters of choice is that children should not be trapped in a failing school because of their zip code.  According to this line of reasoning, when parents and students become actual consumers of education, schools will be forced to improve to attract more customers—or risk closing. This market ideology has been seeping into public education for several decades. Now that Betsy DeVos is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, choice advocates believe they have a friend in the position to push the agenda into more states and districts.

Advocates for choice often say that public education and the teachers’ unions have a monopoly on education in the United States, that we need to give the market-based approach a chance to transform the system. Given the persistent educational opportunity gaps that relegate children of color and low-income students to under-resourced, abandoned public schools, they argue that the time is ripe to push for this expansive experiment.

But we don’t need an experiment to discover that these strategies are likely to exacerbate existing inequities.  All we need to do is look at our early childhood system, where quality only increases for those who can afford to pay top dollar.

Unlike the universal public education system, America’s early care and education system is a hodgepodge of public and private offerings that vary widely, state by state, and even within districts.  We have the federally funded Head Start program for low-income young children; state-funded preschool programs typically offered through public schools; nonprofit and for-profit child care centers; faith-based child care centers; employee-sponsored children care centers; and family daycare home providers.

Depending on where they live, parents of young children looking for child care can choose between some or all of these settings.  But does this array of choice ensure a high-quality system?

What we have learned from the research is that money makes a difference. Wealthy parents can afford tens of thousands of dollars annually for private preschools, which are of higher quality, while low-income parents, who can barely cover rent and groceries, have no choice but to enroll their children in child care programs that are within their financial means but of lower quality.  The result is many children enter kindergarten behind their more privileged peers, and we see the effects of the opportunity gap take root.

Is this what we want for our public education system? We already know that schools are unequally funded based on property taxes.  Poor children—especially those of color—regularly receive a substandard curriculum,  lack basic resources and are disproportionately taught by new or uncertified teachers.  Will expanded school choice fix our uneven system?  Or will it perpetuate the current zero-sum game that rewards children fortunate enough to be born into the right families?

Critics will be quick to claim that, with state funding, all parents should have an adequate amount of money to choose an education for their children. But the reality is another matter. More affluent families have always had the means to buy into school districts in zip codes that have higher property taxes and spending per student.  We have learned from the voucher experiment in DC  that often the money given to less advantaged parents is not sufficient to cover the tuition at private schools. The market will ensure that some kind of school be available to parents, but—as the saying goes—you get what you pay for.

If our early childhood education system is any indicator of what free-market choice can produce, we should ask ourselves why many researchers continue to push for universal access.  Public education was created to be the “Great Equalizer,” not a market enterprise. We need solutions that promote democratic ideals, not choice experiments that are likely to reinforce inequities and unequal outcomes.

SHARE

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus

Angie Sullivan Takes on an Alt-Right Preschool Critic

blog_girllookingup[1]

The United States is not known for its stellar record on preschool. We’re in the bottom half of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Starting Well Index,” which benchmarks 45 nations on the quality, availability, and affordability of preschool. This, in spite of a robust research base and growing consensus on the value of early education for children and society.

In The State of Preschool 2015, a yearbook published by the National Institute for Early Education Research, at Rutgers University, Nevada ranked 40 in access for four-year-olds and 39 in state spending.

. . . Read full article →

SHARE

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus

Michelle Gunderson on Teaching in the Time of Trump

Nettlehorst-Elementary650x400

How are educators managing in these trying times? Reports from early childhood classrooms have been finding their way into Facebook posts. Many are filled with angst, and the heavy burden of explaining the unexplainable to the nation’s youngest students. Some offer moments of great transcendence—like the notes, below, from Michelle Gunderson.

A veteran first-grade teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction, Gunderson is a leader in the Chicago Teachers Union, where she honors the expertise of early childhood teachers, fighting for their rights through sane policies that support . . . Read full article →

SHARE

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus