New York City math teacher Robert Parris Moses was a legendary figure during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, having orchestrated the black voter-registration efforts and the Freedom Schools made famous during the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer. This heroic educator’s revolutionary work, which was not without risk to life and limb, transformed the political power structure of entire communities. Now, nearly forty years later, Moses is advocating for yet another transformational change: the Algebra Project. Moses asserts that a deficiency in math literacy in poor neighborhoods puts impoverished children at an economic disadvantage when it comes to being able to compete successfully for jobs in the 21st century, and that this disenfranchisement is as debilitating as lack of personal liberties was prior to the Civil Rights Movement. His solution is to organize people, community by community, school by school, to overcome the achievement gap and give impoverished children the tools they need to claim their share of economic enfranchisement. Moses’s book, Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project written with fellow Civil Rights worker Charles E. Cobb, Jr., can be found easily and reasonably-priced on amazon. A fascinating read for anyone who is interested in Moses’s story, either past or present. A chapter about this remarkable teacher will also be included in the book I am currently working on, tentatively titled Chalkboard Heroes.
In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday I thought I would share a really great resource for teaching the bard’s timeless classic Romeo and Juliet. The teacher-created volume, Shakespeare Set Free, was published by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, the country’s leading authority on all things Shakespeare. This handy resource book is jam-packed with practical, specific activities that even the most recalcitrant student can not resist. There are two guiding principles behind these experiential activities: the first is that the best way to learn Shakespeare is by doing Shakespeare, and the second is that everyone at all ages and ability levels can access, appreciate, and have fun with Shakespeare. Also included in this particular volume, the first of three, are activities for Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You can easily and affordably find Shakespeare Set Free at amazon.
This week, while I was absorbed in volunteer work for my school’s Scholarship Committee, I was reminded once again of how amazing our school counselors are. Day in and day out, these dedicated professionals labor tirelessly to help ensure the academic success, personal achievement, and emotional well-being of our kids. Their commitment to the success of each student starts with their very first interaction with students through their eighth grade outreach programs, and continues with assisting the freshmen with their graduation requirements plans, one-on-one meetings with English-language learners, counseling students who are failing classes, helping students who are lacking credits with strategies for credit recovery, and making sure seniors are on track to graduate. In between all this heavy-duty work, counselors help students find scholarships to fund their post-graduation education programs, write letters of recommendation, judge senior projects, and attend IEP meetings. And as if all that wasn’t enough, they also organize small group counseling sessions to help students deal with such issues as bullying, smoking-cessation, teen parenting, or bereavement. When the inevitable quarrels between students arise, they serve as competent conflict resolution facilitators, and they have even been known to mediate the occasional dispute between a student and a teacher. And then, just to top it all off, if—God forbid—some tragedy such as a fatal traffic accident or a suicide strikes, school counselors quickly mobilize into a highly-effective crisis management team. Phenomenal, aren’t they? Chalkboard champions, in the truest sense of the word.
Like many people who have heard of farm labor leader and civil rights advocate Cesar Chavez, I have also heard of his right-hand woman, Dolores Huerta, elected vice president of the United Farm Workers Union. But did you know she was also a teacher? Raised in Stockton, California, Huerta graduated in 1955 with an AA and her teaching credentials from the College of the Pacific. After graduation, she accepted a teaching position in a rural Stockton elementary school. She had been teaching for only a short time when she realized she wanted to devote her vast energy to migrant farm workers and their families. “I couldn’t stand seeing farm worker children come to class hungry and in need of shoes,” she once explained. “I thought I could do more by organizing their parents than by trying to teach their hungry children.” After one year, she resigned from her teaching position, determined to launch a campaign that would fight the numerous economic injustices faced by migrant agricultural workers. Joining forces with the legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta organized a large-scale strike against the commercial grape growers of the San Joaquin Valley, an effort which raised national awareness of the abysmal treatment of America’s agricultural workers, and she negotiated contracts which led to their improved working conditions. The rest, as they say, is history.
Although there are several fairly good juvenile biographies of this extraordinary woman, there is no definitive adult biography about her. The closest thing to it is A Dolores Huerta Reader edited by Mario T. Garcia. This book includes an informative biographical introduction by the editor, articles and book excerpts written about her, her own writings and transcripts of her speeches, and a recent interview with Mario Garcia. You can find A Dolores Huerta Reader on amazon. I have also included a chapter about this remarkable teacher in the book I am currently writing, tentatively entitled Chalkboard Heroes.
So many of us have had Newtown, Connecticut, on our minds these past few months, as we hold our own children more closely, guard our students more carefully, and evaluate our lawmakers’ choices more intensely. This newest example of senseless loss of life saddens us all deeply. Of course, every instance of school room violence reminds us of Columbine High School, and the valiant teacher, Dave Sanders, who was killed there protecting his students from two well-armed student assassins. Sanders, a business teacher and girls basketball coach with 25 years of tenure, clearly went beyond the call of duty to ensure the safe evacuation of over 200 Columbine students and colleagues, and lamentably he paid the ultimate price. You can read Sanders’s heroic life story in a slender volume entitled Dave Sanders: Columbine Teacher, Coach, Hero by Marilyn Saltzman and Linda Lou Sanders. The book can be found on amazon at Dave Sanders, but is very costly, and alas the book is not easily available at your local library. If you’re highly motivated, however, you will pay the asking price to read the book. Or you could wait to read the chapter about this lionhearted teacher in the book I am currently writing, tentatively entitled Chalkboard Heroes.