Klingbrief Archive

Vol 96 - October 2020


Of Note: A Handbook for Opening Eyes

Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias by Pragya Agarwal
Bloomsbury Sigma, June 2, 2020

No one escapes bias. Behavioral scientist Dr. Pragya Agarwal begins with the foundational knowledge that, intentionally or unintentionally, we use our experiences, beliefs, and impressions to ground our thinking. With or without power, we are victims of our own and others’ stereotypes. At a time when political partisanship and inequality are costing lives and livelihoods, there is urgency, which she captures admirably, in coming face-to-face with how our own bias, present and pressing in our everyday actions, allows and supports systemic injustice. Her book is both rigorously science-based and compassionately personal. With the goal of increasing understanding, not blaming, the author looks deeply at how personal biases originate and how they operate to perpetuate racism, homophobia, sexism, and ageism. The questions raised and addressed in these pages are particularly effective: Are we responsible for the impact of unconscious bias? How can we confront the seeping of “casual racism” into our everyday actions? Is the desire to change ever going to be enough? This is a handbook for opening eyes to the fact that what it would take to profoundly change lives and systems for the better is inside us, is available, and is needed right now.

Submitted by
Elizabeth Morley, Kobe Shinwa University, Japan
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Actual Access

The Firsts: The Children Who Desegregated America by Rebecca Rosen, Adam Harris
The Atlantic, September 29, 2020

Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Atlantic recently published a series of articles about the students who first attempted to integrate American schools after Brown v. Board of Education. These articles are stark reminders of how little has changed in the last sixty years. Our public schools remain deeply segregated and unequal. Equally depressing is witnessing the similarity of the arguments against integration, levied by white parents 60 years ago, to those levied by white parents today. The five articles recount the heroism of the Black students and their families who bravely began the process of integration; they are important reminders, for any American committed to racial equality, of the long, painful history of unequal access to education that undergirds our current moment. Like the podcast “Nice White Parents,” these articles underscore the many ways that parents of color have been silenced or ignored because of the influence of white parents. Teachers of history will find this series helpful in bringing alive anti-racist curricula that will resonate with students as they study what it meant for specific children, often very young, to actually access the education they were promised by the Brown decision. Independent schools striving to live out their values of inclusivity also need to be students of history and to remind themselves of the many ways that even well-intentioned adults failed–and can fail still–to treat parents of color as equal partners in school.

Submitted by
Stephanie Lipkowitz, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, NM
Current Events & Civic Engagement

Old School Challenges from the Unschooling Movement

When You Get Into Unschooling, it's Almost Like a Religion by Molly Worthen
New York Times Magazine, September 25, 2020

Molly Worthen’s recent NY Times Magazine article describes the hopes and ideals of the unschooling movement, which has challenged the most fundamental assumptions about what school is. Core values of unschooling include following children’s natural curiosity and questions; doing away with textbooks, tests, and common core curricula; and stripping away even the school building itself. The belief of the movement is that students don’t need to be externally motivated to learn; coercion is seen as failure of the system. Instead, educators need to tap into the innate curiosity of the child. These are age-old criticisms of “school,” but as Worthen writes, such challenges to traditional education take on newfound strength and relevancy given the fact that millions of students are currently learning online and teachers are questioning their pedagogical best practices and educational philosophies. Of course the unschooling movement is not without critics, and Worthen challenges the assumption that, left to their own devices, students will opt into learning and growth. Regardless, there is something to learn, within our own contexts, from this fringe movement. If nothing else, “by throwing off social norms and pushing faith in a child’s freedom to an extreme,” the unschooling movement pushes us “to confront our own assumptions and blind spots.”

Submitted by
David Teller, Fuchs Mizrachi School, Beachwood, OH
Teaching Practice

How to Get Out of Bed like Marcus Aurelius

The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers by Eric Weiner
Avid Reader Press, August 1, 2020

What would it mean to "Fight like Gandhi" or "Grow old like Beauvoir"? In his most recent book, The Socrates Express, Eric Weiner searches for nuggets of wisdom that the living can take from philosophers long deceased. Weiner makes use of the train motif throughout The Socrates Express. The book itself is a journey. It begins with "How to Get Out of Bed like Marcus Aurelius," ends with "How to Die like Montaigne," and in between brings the reader on a trip spanning a small town in New England to a province in Southern Japan. Socrates makes up but a chapter, leaving space for the lessons of thirteen other philosophers, from Confucius to Nietzche. The Socrates Express is part self-help guide, part personal diary. Throughout his fourteen essays, Weiner interweaves autobiographical vignettes with philosophical fragments and brings the ethereal down to the train tracks. He makes frequent and intentional references to past chapters, helping to reinforce ideas. The essays in The Socrates Express are humorous, practical, and approachable. These are not in-depth analyses of philosophical treatises; this is the express route perhaps suited for a long train ride.

Submitted by
Darian Reid, Roxbury Latin School, Boston, MA

Micro, Macro, Meso

A Theory of Racialized Organizations by Victor Ray
American Sociological Review, January 1, 2019

Organizations are many things: ecosystems, communities, and, writes Dr. Victor Ray, racial structures, “cognitive schemas connecting organizational rules to social and material resources.” Ray’s theory offers a powerful framework for recognizing and addressing racial disparity in schools. Beginning with the premise that race “is constitutive of organizational foundations, hierarchies, and processes,” Ray posits key tenets underpinning organizations that challenge the notion of organizations as race-neutral structures, notably that organizations limit agency on the basis of race, legitimize the unequal distribution of resources, and see Whiteness as a credential. By focusing on the organizational level of analysis, which Ray names the Meso level to distinguish it from the Micro (individual) and the Macro (institutional), he draws our attention to the role that schools and individual workplaces play in upholding racial disparities through wage differentials, racialized tracking, and racial segregation. Citing Critical Race Theory and the idea of Whiteness as property, Ray highlights the way that organizations such as schools make racialized schemas “durable” by connecting them to specific resources and opportunities and by “decouple[ing] formal commitments to equity, access, and inclusion from policies and practices that reinforce, or at least do not challenge, existing racial hierarchies.” Ray’s work is useful as a reference as schools seek to more fully interrogate and understand their own racial dynamics and disparities.

Submitted by
Jessica Flaxman, 120 Education Consultancy, Belmont, MA

A Future Arrived

Published one month before the pandemic caused schools in the U.S. to close their doors, Ready or Not explores how adults can prepare today’s students to thrive in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) future that has already arrived. Dr. Madeline Levine uses research, expert knowledge, professional observations, and personal anecdotes to describe how anxieties negatively impact a child’s brain, the parenting styles that harm more than help children’s resilience, and what we need to instill and develop in our students. Dr. Levine identifies specific skills, habits, and moral values that will equip kids to do well for themselves and to do good for others. Before the pandemic, conversations about the future and what children need to know and do occurred in classrooms and living rooms. Ready or Not is now a more pivotal read for parents and educators. Dr. Levine’s recommendations can inform approaches to enhance curricula, build character, and create safe and supportive environments. Certainly, VUCA is the right acronym to describe how students see the present and the future; this book is a guide, for them and for us.

Submitted by
Jeremy Sandler, The Potomac School, McLean, VA
Psychology & Human Development

A Story to Uplift

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
Penguin Random House LLC, New York, May 14, 2019

As U.S. cities erupted in protest over the death of George Floyd, educators from across the country sought myriad ways to diversify curricula and amplify Black voices in an effort to affirm the identity of Black children within predominantly white institutions. Matthew A. Cherry’s Hair Love, illustrated by Vashti Harrison, is a heartwarming story exploring the many hair styles and textures worn by the main character, Zuri. From twists to braids, Afro puffs to curls, Zuri’s identity is honored and celebrated. For the Black community, hair is an expression of who we are. Representation matters and the normalizing of Black hair is essential to providing an affirming experience for children to see themselves reflected in the stories we uplift. Historically, Black hair has been the subject of policing and harsh disciplinary actions, harkening back to decades of systemic racism, that work to further marginalize Black children in schools. With the recent passing of the CROWN Act in 2019, the fight to end hair discrimination persists. Hair Love is an entry point to the beauty and resilience of Black identity, echoing the journey of self-love, acceptance, and pride as told through the story of our hair.

Submitted by
Ralinda Watts, EdM candidate, Klingenstein Center, Teachers College Columbia University, New York, NY.