Action Research Initiative: Promoting Parent and School Communication

In this presentation, we discuss the results of an action research initiative where high school teachers communicated with parents about their children on a weekly basis. We share the results of this initiative as well as make suggestions for those interested in improving communication between parents and schools.

Peiwo – A Chinese app that can promote language learning

Peiwo is the Chinese equivalent of Snapchat where users are allowed to broadcast themselves talking as well as share images. The word peiwo translates into English as “accompany (join) me.” This app has extraordinary potential for helping people learn English and can be used for cross cultural interaction in the future.

I recently signed in the other night to test and see what I could learn about the app. As soon as I signed in, I set up a channel and then began talking. Within minutes, 500 people or so had signed on and joined my broadcast to hear what I had to say. By the time, I had finished, nearly 3000 people had joined in. The app makes it possible for the presenter to share his or her microphone with those in attendance thus making the broadcast interactive.

Currently, I believe that I am the only expat on Peiwo at the moment.  The app is currently in Chinese and I am sure more expats will join if there is an English version of the app.  Certainly, users would benefit from having an English corner on this platform and this is something that can be easily created by any given user.

Schools could essentially have teachers set up an interactive discussion broadcast based on different topics which attendees can be informed about in advance. I assume that language learners will be more confident and more likely to participate given the fact that they would be contributing online from their phones. This makes it easier for attendees to have a dictionary, pencil and paper nearby to reference and make notes before sharing key thoughts and ideas.

Update: There are currently 10,000,000 registered users on Peiwo.

 

Developing resilience in minority children to overcome the Golem effect

In order for minority children to thrive and succeed, they must be taught how to overcome the effects of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The self fulfilling prophecy, in this sense, is a blueprint for failure that manifests itself actions and habits that are culturally external and internal and become reality in our daily interactions. Self fulfilling prophecies can be good when we have positive expectations for children and children, in turn, respond to these expectations by performing well. However, at least historically speaking, such prophecies for certain minority and inner city children have been negative. From microaggressions on the streets when people lock their car doors when these children pass to being called on less in class, these assaults on our youth’s morale are incessant. This results in a condition known as the Golem effect in which lowered expectations result in lower performance in every area of life.

One way we can overcome this, to my mind, is to develop a sort of gritty, hearty and vigorous disposition in our youth who are so focused and determined that nothing can stop them from achieving their goals. Developing this disposition requires educators to specifically focus on the nurturing of values (honesty, integrity,  discipline, kindness and steadfastness). It is only when these values are developed that we can then focus on improving test scores and other areas in this life.

A reflection on bullying

When I was a child growing up in the deep south in primary school, I remembered how we were oftentimes discouraged from enjoying the experience of learning new and interesting subjects in school. I recall a third grade teacher, who told us (a class of African American students) that we would be unable to complete an experiment in static electricity because our hair was “too oily.” The experiment was designed so that the students would have to rub balloons against their heads to attract bits of paper on the desk. When the teacher saw that some, though certainly not all of the students of African American descent, were unable to complete the experiment satisfactorily, she made the aforementioned comment. To this day, I am still baffled as to why she said this. Did she want to discourage us from developing an interest in science? Was this a form of passive aggressive bullying or not?

Bullying was rampant at school when I was student in primary school. I went to school in South Carolina in the Low country region, not too far from Charleston. Racism was the focal point of many a bullying incident at school. If you wanted to play volleyball at the playground and weren’t white, you had to be made into an honorary “white boy” to play, but then you’d be ostracized by other students for engaging in activities that were not considered “appropriate” for your ethnicity. It sounds bizarre, but I almost exclusively was on the receiving end of bullying just because I liked to study, primarily by male members of my own ethnicity.

The bullying was mostly passive in nature but resulted in exclusion from activities (e.g. sports teams, social events etc.) just because I liked studying. It is difficult to qualify what it means to “like studying” because it was hard work and not all fun and games, but all I can say is that there was certainly a negative correlation between how well I got on with people and how well I did in school in terms of grades I received. It may be the case that people experience this around the country regardless of ethnic or social background; however, at least in my context, this seems to have been a beast spawned by racialist thinking. It’s been my experience that passive aggression is the worst type of bullying. Being excluded, given a label, and ignored are the most demoralizing things and serve to diminish students’ self-esteem. How does one deal with passive aggression, particularly when the factors that led to its creation exist and/or are inherent at a local or societal level.

Even if there is ostracism inherent in schools and this can lead to the bullying and isolation of individuals who do not conform to the status, then why would ethnic minorities, choose to eschew education (as is often suggested by the media) given the obvious economic and social incentives currently associated with academic success? Recent research answers this question by more accurately suggesting that environmental factors and personal relationships demarcate the role of education in the lives of minorities. An immediate conclusion from the aforementioned is that minorities’ resistance or acceptance of educational opportunities cannot be readily and solely predicted by historical inequalities or injustice.

Lee (1994) provides evidence for how relationships between parents, authorities, and peers encourage or discourage minority students. In particular, the researcher notes that Korean students feel indebted to their parents’ sacrifices for their education (p. 418). Korean students’ parents in turn support their accommodation of white culture; furthermore the dominant culture (e.g. teachers and others in power) promote, encourage, and expect these Asian students to excel in academia (pp.416-417). It is apparent that the expectations from the local community and parents are congenial, which is associated with academic success according researchers (Hones and Cha, 1999, p. 154). Thus, we see that when both the community and parents expect and encourage minority students to succeed, children are more likely to make progress. Contrastingly, it has been found that other Asian groups are worse off academically when they perceive themselves as victims of discrimination (pp. 424-425).

Hones and Cha (1999) present us with a gamut of environmental factors affecting minorities’ educational performance. On one hand, if both parents and the local community reject the aspirations of minority students to succeed academically, those who happen to succeed might become alienated from both groups. The result would be that fewer minorities in such situations would succeed (p. 45). On the other hand, groups like the Hmong, when placed in schools where minorities are encouraged to succeed, will more than likely do well given their culture’s insistence on academic and professional development (p. 112). Again, encouragement from the local community appears vital in producing desirable results for the Hmong. In conclusion, the researchers suggest that schools implement cultural therapy programs to mitigate the influence of negative environmental factors. Through cultural therapy students will have the opportunity to learn “social skills suitable for participation in the larger society” (pp. 139-140).

The question quite naturally arises however as to what social skills are suitable for society, especially if our society is potentially the culprit that engenders inequalities and disparities in education that lead to bullying, ostracism, and isolation? After reflecting on the readings this week, I believe the way forward is to connect parents and educators by promoting cross-cultural awareness, but without a systematic analysis of the factors that discourage minority students, such intervention may not have the desired results.

Ultimately, I believe that in order for students to succeed, educators must strive to create learning environments where students feel confident to express themselves, where diversity is seen as a valued asset, and where students are given tools to become agents of change both inside and outside of the classroom. My reasoning for the aforementioned is that I believe that in order for schools to become viable in an increasingly diverse society, every student must be treated as an integral member within an inclusive, educational environment.

I believe that schools should serve as safe havens where our diverse student body can utilize their cultural capital without fear or prejudice. In such a school environment, networks would be formed at school where students would be able present information about their home cultures and language. Knowledge of students’ home cultures can serve as resources for teachers to connect students with the content of their lessons. Such content will be culturally appropriate and meet the needs of the students (Luke, 2009, pp. 301-303). Opportunities for students to share their home cultures through different mediums such as blogs, wikis, and presentations will ultimately serve to reconcile home and school cultures. Knowledge gained from these activities can serve as a platform to connect teachers with parents and correct misconceptions teachers may have about students and their parents and vice versa.

Finally, I believe schools should empower students to overcome “deficit” and “racializing” discourses that have long plagued American society. These discourses have often branded minorities as being culturally and linguistically inferior in addition to being marginalized as the “other.” Schools can empower these students in two profound ways:  The first way is to give students opportunities to provide feedback on their teacher’s performance. Students should be able to openly discuss aspects of their classroom experience that they find difficult or confusing. The second way is to make explicit the kinds of discrimination students are likely to encounter in the real world (Freeman, 1998). The aforementioned involves increasing students’ awareness of the factors that have created their circumstances, which can position them to take on the role of change agents (Freire, 1970). In the aforementioned view, the school becomes a bunker where students can actively and collectively resist the status quo rather than becoming molded and shaped by it (Freeman, 2000, pp. 203, 206-207). In this way, educators will be able to serve as catalysts for change.

 

Bibliography

Freire, Paulo. (1970). The adult literacy process as cultural action for freedom. Harvard Educational Review, 40(2), 205-225.
Freeman, Rebecca D. (1998). Bilingual Education and Social Change. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Freeman, R. (2000). Contextual challenges to dual-language education: A case study of  developing middle school program. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 31(2), 202-229.
Luke, A. (2009). Race and language as capital in school: A sociological template for language-education reform. In R. Kubota & A. Lin (Eds.). Race, culture and identities in second language education. New York: Routledge.
Hones, Donald F., & Cher Shou Cha (1999). Educating New Americans: Immigrant          Lives and Learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Lee, Stacey J. (1994). Behind the model-minority stereotype: Voices of high and low-achieving Asian American students. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 25(4), 413-429.

Educator, startup and social entrepreneur who aims to use technology to connect teachers and students. My ultimate goal is to prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st century.