Category Archives: education

The Avenues School in New York City

Diversity and Jet Powered Upper-Class Multiculturalism

By Guest Contributor Frank Ligtvoet

In my research for a piece in the Huffington Post on independent schools and the lack of diversity I came across Avenues. The World School in New York, a newly founded school in Chelsea. The school’s expression of diversity was so far away from my take on the subject, that I – after some hesitation to get so direct – couldn’t resist to write and make some serious fun about it. Avenues is in essence not very different from many other independent schools in the US, alas. But in comparison to the serious efforts made by some of their New York competitors like Calhoun, Brooklyn Friends and Dalton to break away from their ‘exclusive’ traditions, to become more inclusive and less upper class white, Avenue stands out. Being the new kid on the block it could have learned from its peers.

The Times devoted earlier this year an article on the new New York based, for-profit independent K-12 school with its somewhat bloated, urban-chic name Avenues. The World School. It has the title: ‘Is This the Best Education Money Can Buy?’. For my black kids, Joshua and Rosa, the answer to that question is absolutely not. And it might not be for white kids either.

I invite you to have a look at the ‘Leadership: Our People’ page of Avenues’ official site. What you will see are 17 portraits of ‘Our People’ with above nice descriptions of who they are and what they have accomplished in their lives. Impressive men and women, yes, and all middle aged, and then – disturbing: all white. Very white. Almost the whiteness of the definition of white when Italians and Spaniards were still regarded non-white, an Anglo-Saxon and German kind of white, an old-fashioned kind of white. (See Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People.)

Of course, it is fine to be white. I myself am white with a Germanic name. But it is not fine to be collectively white, not in a city that is as diverse as New York, not in a country that is less and less run or dominated by whiteness, not in a country that consciously makes efforts to be more inclusive, that strives to ‘a more perfect union’, and particularly not in a educational institution, in a school that is a world school in a non-white world. To be fair: the New York campus has three non-white leaders and one is the Director of Admissions, not an unimportant position.

Of course there is, like all other independent schools in the US, a whole section on Diversity on the website. You can read there that the Avenues’ budget allows 10% of the student body to be social-economically diverse. Hope for a higher percentage will be found in donations from parents and alumni, in – again – old-fashioned charity that is. There is no goal, the goal is for what the money eventually allows.

The real Avenues diversity is, however, projected in the future when according to the grandiose plans campuses elsewhere on the globe will be established: The broader Avenues learning community, eventually comprising campuses in many of the world’s leading cultures, will be exceedingly rich in cultural diversity among both students and staff. The thousands of students and faculty from China, India, Europe, Africa, Latin America and North America who will be an integral part of the Avenues culture will represent unprecedented cultural diversity.’

Avenues’ diversity is not the diversity in the definition of most other (independent) schools: it is not about sharing the privileges that we white people amassed over the course of history, it is not striving for equity and equality, it is upper-class, multi-culturalism, powered by jets between the campuses, campuses which will be each max 10% diverse as well. (From a global diversity perspective is the expression ‘the world’s leading cultures’ also a bit awkward, to say the least.)

To go back to the whiteness of the Avenue’s leadership: what does all this whiteness say to my kids, who are adopted and happen to be black? There are no black people good enough to have those important jobs? There are not even people who are not black and not white, like Asian or Latino or Arab people who are good enough to fill those positions? How can the leadership create diversity if they are not even able to diversify their own administrative body? The world of the New York world school is white. We, 7 year old Rosa and 9 year old Joshua, and their brothers and sisters of color, don’t count in that world, our heritage doesn’t count, the ‘unpaid work’ of our forefathers and –mothers doesn’t count. We can attend – of course – if we have the money, but what we are and who we are and where we are from doesn’t count in the Avenues world. And imagine the unthinkable: if my kids would attend and finish that school, what would be their idea about themselves? That they had to submit to almost complete whiteness to become the people they are?

I am sure that as an ethical service to the people who will send their kids to Avenues, the curriculum will be very, very worldly and very, very diverse, but it is not the flexible ideology that counts in the real world, it is the real and hard facts that surround us, the faces we see and the social hierarchy they represent.

The loss will not only be for the kids of color, but also for the white kids: they will experience that whiteness not rules the world any more once they leave the white, multi cultural bubble at graduation. And one can wonder if an education at Avenues under the ‘Our-white-people-leadership’ will be so effective after all, in a steadily more and more diverse world.

Frank Ligtvoet is the Founder of Adoptive Families with Children of African Heritage and their Friends, NY and published about adoption and diversity in a.o. Adoption Today, the Huffington Post and the New York Times. He tweets as @frank_ligtvoet.

 

 

‘But Everybody On TV Is White And All The Nice People Are Blonde’

By Guest Contributor Hana Riaz, cross-posted from Media Diversified

Participants in the upcoming exhibition, ‘A Different Mirror.’ Images and video by Martyna Przybysz.

Earlier this summer, my beautiful then five-year-old Nepali nieces sat with me in our garden enjoying the warm and easy sun. What started as a conversation about what happens to melanin when it finds home in all that glorious vitamin d, looking at our skin browner than it’s winter shade, turned into a difficult conversation about race, gender and diaspora.

One of them began to talk about wanting white skin and blonde hair, and what she would do if she had it. Whilst her twin sister disagreed, responding fervently that she actually liked her brown skin and her black hair, I needed to know what exactly had triggered the other’s denigrated thinking. Her answers, however, were unsurprising – a consequence of not only the (gendered) shadeism (and anti-blackness) that holds dominance in Asian communities but her experiences as a brown girl in a white supremacist society.

Upon my questioning, she responded with a resolute and yet strangely logical answer:

but everybody on TV is white and all the nice people are blonde. Nobody wants to be brown.

There was nowhere she could really see herself.
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Race + Tech: Watch Black Girls Code’s Kimberly Bryant’s TED Talk

By Arturo R. García

The opening of Kimberly Bryant’s video lays it out: “Just to say the words ‘Black Girls’ is revolutionary.”

In this presentation from a TED Talks event in Kansas City in August 2013, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant takes us through not just the development of BGC, but her own upbringing in Memphis, a hub of social change in its own right.

“As a child of the ’60s, I like to think that revolution and radical action was running through my veins, from the time I set foot on the Earth,” she explains. What she has built, she says, is a movement not just for the nerdy girl she was growing up, but for girls like her daughter, and girls “who believe the revolution of this generation is, indeed, technology.”

Half of Asian-American NYC Teens Bullied In School, New Report Finds

By Guest Contributor Sukjong Hong

Sikh-American student Pawan Singh (center) reacts at a Nirbhau Nirvair Workshop. All images courtesy of the Junior Sikh Coalition.

No one promises junior high school will be easy. But for Pawanpreet Singh, a tall and mild-mannered Sikh-American teenager, junior high was overshadowed with the memories of classmates calling him “Osama” and “terrorist” and touching his turban. “I would hear at least one comment per day … I felt like I was less than everyone else, and some other species. It took a toll on my self esteem and academics,” he said. Now, as a high school student advocate, he hears from other students around the city who face the same insults and get no help from the school staff they call upon. At a September 5th press conference in lower Manhattan, Singh recalled a 13-year old student who reported to his teacher that his classmate had called him a “raghead.” According to the student, the teacher replied, “What’s the problem? That’s what you are.”

It has been five years since New York City’s Department of Education established a regulation to address bias-based bullying regulation in schools, Chancellor’s Regulation A-832. (PDF) The regulation was the result of years of advocacy by community and legal groups in the aftermath of three high-profile incidents of harassment against Sikh-American students. On paper, the regulation is comprehensive, with measures for defining, reporting, addressing, and preventing bias-based harassment in schools. But a survey conducted by a coalition of community and legal groups, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Sikh Coalition, the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) and CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, revealed that bias-based bullying is still a far too common experience for Asian-American students.

Based on the responses of 163 students in after school programs, youth leadership meetings and houses of workshop across the city, the report by AALDEF and the Sikh Coalition, One Step Forward, Half A Step Back, finds that half of the students surveyed had experienced bias-based harassment at school. What’s even more unacceptable, according to Amardeep Singh, Program Director of the Sikh Coalition, is that more than 25 percent of Sikh students experienced physical violence based on their identity.

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Race + Tech: Despite ‘Titstare,’ Black Girls Code Does Disrupt Right

By Arturo R. García

While a pair of sophomoric, reckless displays ended up being the calling card for this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt developers’ gathering, let’s not let that take away from the work Black Girls Code put in over the weekend.

As founder Kimberly Bryant told KQED-FM on Monday, she brought a team of three BGC members to the event as part of a partnership between her organization and ThoughtWorks, with their demo, SnackOverflow, providing a guide to each of the organization’s chapters.

The successful appearance at Disrupt came just a couple of weeks after Bryant and her group were profiled on CNN.
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Quoted: Inside Higher Ed on Meritocracy Vs. Bias

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“While the principle of fairness may be a driving concern in people’s attitudes towards policies such as affirmative action, social welfare, and fair housing, the malleability of white respondents’ attitudes towards the importance of university admissions criteria in response to racial considerations indicates that public opinion about the importance of such criteria is anything but fair, at least if the definition of fairness entails a procedural fairness by which all groups should be subject to the same procedural process, i.e., same weighting of admissions criteria, when determining whether an individual should be admitted to a prestigious public university system, an opportunity that will significantly shape that person’s life outcomes.” Read more…

– Frank L. Samson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Miami, whose recent study of white adults in California revealed that they favor admissions policies prioritizing high school grade-point averages and standardized test scores, until they are focused on the success of Asian-American students.

 

Image Credit: James Almond on Flickr

Race + Education: New York Standardised Test Scores Hit New Lows

Standardised New York State test scores infografic via the New York Post

Clearly we have a problem.

According to the standardised test scores that came out last week only 26% of 3rd-8th grade students in New York City are reading at grade level. Only 30% of them are up to proficiency in math. The achievement gap between Black and Latino students compared with their white counterparts deepened, with only 15% and 19% respectively meeting the state proficiency standards in math. Those are considered all time lows.

Despite the fact that NYC almost matched the performance of New York State overall, let’s ignore Mayor Bloomberg’s spin factory and acknowledge that this indicates a serious issue. The United Federation of Teachers seems to agree, and blames the NYC Department of Education (DOE) for the lower scores:

Testing became harder this year due to New York State’s implementation of the “Common Core”standards: a curriculum designed to produce college prepared students who have mastered the skill of critical thinking. That’s all well and good, but according to many teachers’ organisations the Department of Education didn’t do its part when it came to preparing teachers to help their students rise to the new standards. From the United Federation of Teachers:

Some schools will in September finally have new curriculums aligned to these standards. But, unfortunately, some schools will struggle because the Department of Education under Mayor Bloomberg refused to mandate that schools have a standards-aligned curriculum and had no plans to provide one until this union pressed the issue publicly.

The DOE just doesn’t get it. They need to learn the principles of Education 101: that the DOE needs to provide every teacher with a Common Core-aligned curriculum with scope and sequence in order for teachers to create lesson plans from that curriculum. Only in that way can we help students learn the subject matter on which they will be assessed.

PR Campaign from the New York City Department of Education. Both ads (en espanol can be seen on the DOE site) curiously only feature students of color.

These new Common Core standards weren’t a surprise. They didn’t sneak up on the DOE in the dead of night. They’ve known for two years that this was coming, which left them enough time to throw up a full bilingual ad campaign warning that the tests were going to be more difficult yet somehow not enough time to make sure that all schools in the city had the necessary curriculums to pass the new test. There were schools in poorer areas of the city where no students (as in zero. zilch. nada.) passed the math exams. One principal at a school in East Harlem watched her students’ English and Math proficiency scores drop from 33% to 7% and 46% to 10% respectively. It’s likely safe to assume that her’s isn’t  the only school serving poor, minority students seeing that  drastic of a plunge.

Criticisms of standardised testing in New York City aren’t new. In prior years when the scores were higher it was argued that the tests weren’t actually measuring a student’s ability to do anything more than regurgitate information after a school year of cramming and rote memorisation. My fourth grade classroom where we learned nothing but creative writing, long division, and the history of the Lenni Lenape tribe would not fly during this era of Teaching To The Test, with the sole purpose of meeting those standardised benchmarks. Of course, it’s hard to do that when you don’t have the curriculum to do it with and a new test with some questionably unfair material.

As someone who works with 5th and 6th grade minority students who have scored in the top 10%  on their standardised tests in past years I can tell you this: as you move beyond the skills of powering through math problems and underlining sentences to answer reading comprehension questions you can see where the deeper education stops. The arts of essay and creative writing have seemingly vanished with Teaching To The Test, along with those critical thinking skills the Common Core hopes to inspire. And those students who do buck the trend and get a bit creative on their standardized tests (like I did in the 2nd grade when I wrote a full, rambling story about World War 2 as an answer for a relatively simple standardised test essay question) are usually punished for it in their scores (my mother was told I needed to be in a remedial reading class).

For a variety of reasons standardised tests –Common Core or not– are probably not the best judge of overall student intelligence. There are parents who believe that so strongly, and are so tired of the constant testing that they had their children boycott the tests this year in protest. That said, if we’re going to insist on using standardized testing as a measure then we should at least be making sure that students have the tools necessary to succeed. Not only do these scores help place children in gifted and talented programs within the public school system, they can help parents get their kids into charter schools, or programs that might help them enter into independent schools like Oliver Scholars or TEAK. Low test scores don’t only reflect badly on the DOE, they can actually limit and hinder an otherwise bright child’s options to escape the DOE.

So In a week where we combine a new achievement gap low with finding out that the city’s solution to lack of middle-class Pre-K access is having parents take out student loans for their four year olds, one really has to wonder where public education in New York City is heading and how far Black and Latino students are going to have to fall before anything is done.