Monday, April 28, 2014

"Diversity low in educator courses at Mass. colleges": That's Surprising???

So already, this morning's Boston Globe front page* features an article about the low numbers of nonwhite students enrolled in college courses and programs that could prepare them to become teachers.  The article is juxtaposed to articles about the canonization of two popes and the problem of drugs-for-gun trades in New England. The italicized sub-title "response" to the "news" presented by the article's title is State encourages more nonwhites to become teachers.

Is "encourage" the best the state can do?  How about "help" or "support"?

After offering several paragraphs about initiatives that focus on "recruitment and admissions policies" being undertaken to diversify the developing teacher force, the article lays out possible reasons for the under-representation of racial minorities.  

The article initially suggests that the biggest impediments to building a more diverse teaching force are perceptions of and attitudes toward the teaching profession itself and education's general commitment to diversity. From Mitchell Chester, state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, we hear that "Our society, unfortunately, doesn't hold teachers in high esteem." Then we hear the arguments for and against the importance of the teaching force's being racially diverse: while some educators insist on the power and value of students' being taught by teachers with whom they can identify and to whose achievements and values they can aspire, other educators hold that "top-notch teaching . . . trumps other factors."

"Top-Notch Teaching"
So what leads to "top-notch teaching," and can we say that the teacher education courses and programs in which we want nonwhite college students to enroll can produce it? Can produce it single-handedly? In my book, top-notch teaching is the result of a combination of the following factors, at least:
  • knowing one's content well--and continuing to deepen and expand that content knowledge;
  • becoming instructionally skillful--and continuing to develop one's repertoire of instructional skills and ability to use those skills in the "right" instructional contexts;
  • becoming skillful in terms of assessing students' knowledge, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, understandings--and in terms of using that information to support the learning of students as individuals and in groups;
  • being skillful at knowing and working with students as learners and people, and at working with parents, supervisors, colleagues, and students themselves to help those students achieve their learning potentials, pursue/reach their achievement goals, and develop the confidence associated with authentic learning and achievement;
  • being part of an educational organization that provides the time and space to take advantage of and contribute to colleagues' skill and knowledge--and to be a genuine community in spirit and practice.
Even excellent teacher prep courses and programs do not alone suffice to prepare beginning teachers for "top-notchness" as defined by these bullets. It takes a village to support a young teacher to become a "top-notch" teacher over multiple years' time, whether the teacher is working with students who resist learning or students who embrace it with anxious fervor, whether the teacher is attempting to engage more with parents whose greater involvement in their children's school lives could prove beneficial--or to engage less with parents whose lesser involvement in their children's school lives could prove beneficial. Simply put, we cannot expect newly minted teachers to be "all set" upon their graduation from college, or even graduate school, teacher education programs.

But this article talks about college programs -- and this is where we need to be really honest about who gets hired to teach in most Greater Boston schools. As the person who ran the New Teacher Induction Program at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School for many years, I can say that most of our new teachers, the majority of whom have been white and female, came to us with one or more of the following:  a master's degree in education or the academic field in which they were teaching, several years of teaching experience in another secondary school, multiple years of teaching experience in a college, and/or multiyear experience in another profession or in the arts.  Very tough competition for a teaching candidate with no teaching experience and a college degree only--unless a district is truly dedicated to supporting and bringing along a new teacher who oozes potential for continued learning and passion for teaching in the public school setting.

The Financial Challenges of Teaching
But supporting and bringing along can't consist solely of mentoring and encouraging:  that's simply not enough, especially for newly minted teachers who are graduating from college with loans to repay and who are entering Massachusetts public schools. For MA teachers, there is the expectation that they will earn a master's degree or the equivalent to advance from Preliminary to Initial licensure and/or from Initial to Professional licensure, according to guidelines set forth by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Such programs always have some cost.

Considerations of the economic situations and working-life realities of early-career teachers, especially early-career teachers in Massachusetts, are not considered in the article. While perceptions of value are almost always tied to economics in the U.S.A., the principal economic problems faced by those who choose to become teachers are not problems of status, whether the teachers are white or nonwhite. Most teachers I know chose the profession because they wanted to help kids and thought they'd enjoy doing so, not because they wanted to be admired.  That said, they all appreciate being respected and don't always feel respected.

I also want to be clear here that I am making some assumptions here, for the sake of this blog post. There are no doubt African-American, Asian, and Hispanic college students who, because of scholarships and/or familial wealth, graduate from college without student loans and who can anticipate graduate study that will not put them into significant educational debt. I am choosing to focus here on nonwhite college graduates (by the way, I could be saying the same things about a significant number of white college graduates) who anticipate paying off loans for college, graduate school, or both for a number of years--and certainly while their salaries are relatively low. Given more general data about the economic categories in which racial and ethnic groups generally fit in America, I am also surmising--but without any proof--that African-American and Hispanic college graduates may be disproportionately represented among Americans needing to pay back college loans.**

So let's look at Cambridge, located so near to so many institutions that educate aspiring and practicing teachers. Yes, it's true that the Cambridge Public Schools has a Tuition Reimbursement Program, that the Harvard University Extension School offers some scholarships to public school teachers enrolling in courses, and that many online and face-to-face graduate programs are competing for educators in terms of the affordability and convenience of the programs they offer. But when one considers the cost of living in the Greater Boston area, even the economic support such programs offer does not significantly offset the loan-related financial burdens young teachers walk through the door shouldering. As one of this year's new teachers, a transplant from Texas, told me as we were talking about master's programs to which she might apply, "Teachers generally don't need master's degrees in Texas"--which means they don't have to pay for them.

But it's not just loan debt that makes prospective teachers wonder if they can afford to choose teaching as a profession. With or without loans, economically independent younger teachers wonder how far from Boston and Cambridge they will need to live if they wish to own homes of their own.  As one transplant from another state asked me a few years ago, "Will I have no choice but to live with roommates when I'm forty-five?" Even yesterday, a Facebook Cambridge-educator colleague who came to CRLS six or seven years ago, now the father of two, posted a comment about how discouraged he was by his recent forays into the housing market. Other teachers have come to discuss whether they would have to downsize the families they planned to have, based on their experiences of providing for the needs of one child.

Interestingly, while I was reading  the Boston Globe article today, I was simultaneously listening to an NPR/WGBH "On Campus" feature about Parent-Plus Student Loans. It incorporated the story of a proud mother who gladly incurred more than $130,000 in debt to finance the educations of her two sons--and who expects to work hard forever to pay back the money she borrowed. Despite her pride, responsibility, and dedication, it's definitely not a story of planning for her own post-employment future at any point.

As a middle-class white person who entered the teaching force in a very different economic time with a good education and a master's degree in tow, with manageable education debt to repay, and with parents who helped me out when I needed to buy my first car and my first condominium--and did so without subjecting themselves to great economic pressure or hardship, I have been economically and educationally privileged. But at the same time my parents were in the "safety cushion" background of my life as a young educator, I became aware that a number of my colleagues, both white and nonwhite, regularly sent money to their parents and one or more of their siblings. As we look at today's prospective teachers, are we considering the economic responsibilities they both have and anticipate having as members of existing families, creators of their own families, aspirants to professional-level education licenses, and aspirants to Greater Boston home ownership?  

All the encouragement and recruitment in the world won't foot the bill for these needs and aspirations, as humble and reasonable as they are.

So What's Really Possible? 
Interestingly, the Globe article ends with descriptions of two programs that offer hope--and ideas that other institutions might learn from. Worcester State University's Latino Education Institute pays students $1000--not a lot, but something "in recognition that many students are struggling to pay for college." And the last paragraph mentions "alternative teacher preparation programs, such as Teach for America and the Boston Teacher Residency program, which have enrollments of people of color of 29 percent and 46 percent respectively." Given the uneven quality and the inadequate post-prep-program support of some Teach for America preparation programs, as well as the significant number of Teach for America program participants who leave teaching quickly, either for other professions or for educational roles outside of the classroom (as reported in the May 2012 issue of the ASCD's Educational Leadership magazine), I am not enthusiastic about Teach for America as the solution to a problem of teaching force diversity.

But if programs like the Boston Teacher Residency program can train teachers while attending to their needs for affordability and can provide intense mentoring and authentic collaboration experience in classrooms during the program year, that seems like a good beginning.  That said, I place a lot of emphasis on the word "beginning"--because good teachers aren't created in a single year. 

Or even in five years, in my experience. Speaking personally, I would say it took me eight years to become a really good teacher, and that was in a climate and school where there was adequate time and collegial contact to help me grow. 

I worry about the kind of support that developing teachers get at schools that are emphasizing communication with parents over communication with students and that are eliminating programs that connect those still-learning teachers with teacher-coaches who have developed skills and tools for helping them to address the needs and challenges that they themselves identify: simply putting teachers together in groups does not guarantee the kind of teacher support that skilled coaches can responsively and effectively provide. In the absence of such programs, I am excited about Massachusetts' having received one of the National Education Association's (NEA's) Great Public Schools Fund grants that can support the development of programs that support teachers to become "top-notch" with the help of colleagues with whom they work every day. If such programs can offer opportunities for growth for both the supported and the supporting educators, gains in professional status, financial rewards, faculty morale-boosting, and authentic connection among colleagues, we may have a shot at attracting and keeping more nonwhite teachers.***

The more we can recognize that the diversifying of the Massachusetts teacher force depends on one or more of the following--
  • financial support and incentives; 
  • post-collegiate educational support and incentives; 
  • school-based professional support and incentives; 
  • schools' and districts' active (vs. philosophical) commitment to the idea that top-notch teachers must and can only develop over time; and
  • schools' and districts' active (vs. philosophical) commitment not just to diversity as a demographic reality, but to understanding the experiences of, and supporting, their nonwhite students and staff members
--the sooner we have a chance successfully recruiting into college education programs and courses nonwhite college students who may already be stretched financially. 

Why not go for what we really need--a cadre of nonwhite "top-notch" teachers? We really could achieve this. But encouraging and recruiting in the absence of addressing economic, professional, and cultural factors won't suffice.

* Screen shot from <>
** I wish I knew how to interpret the Asian data economically:  I don't know in which economic categories Asians are proportionately or disproportionately represented.
*** I believe we need to think about the particular kinds of connections and supports nonwhite teachers might need or want as members of faculties that are predominantly white.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Good," "Evil," "Heroic," and "Unbelievable": The 4 Adjectives of the Apocalypse

Sunday morning, April 20, 2014
So already, here I am sitting in more than one hundred miles from the Boston Marathon starting line, let alone the Boston Marathon finish line, where all eyes will be focused tomorrow afternoon. It's Easter Sunday in Berlin, New York and many other places, too. And here they are--"good," "evil," "heroic," and "unbelievable"--the four adjectives of the apocalypse.  

I'm calling these words the four adjectives of the apocalypse because they inevitably surface to characterize people, events, and actions associated with calamitous moments terrible and transformative enough to suggest apocalypse, at least temporarily. Moments that end lives, alter lives, and alter the ways we see and understand. Moments that we don't choose and that define us, always through tremendous pain.  

Given the reality of these moments, perhaps I should say that if we're lucky, they alter the ways we see and understand in some constructive ways. Because if we understand more fully why, where, when, and how humans and nature create such calamitous moments, we stand a chance of preventing at least a few of them, of nipping at least a few of them in the bud.

These four adjectives have been omnipresent in recent weeks and months because of the anniversaries of several of such moments: the first anniversary of the Marathon bombings, the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and various events leading up to it, and the fiftieth anniversary of JFK's assassination. Even more recently, they've been attached to three terrible events involving teenagers: the abduction of more than one hundred Nigerian schoolgirls, the California bus accident that claimed the lives of a number of teenagers optimistically en route to a college visit, and the South Korean ferry accident that has claimed the lives of so many young people because of the crew's criminal negligence.

Needless to say, there's much to feel about all of these events, and much to wonder. How might they have been prevented? Who would have cared enough to prevent them? Which could have been predicted? Which surprised few people--or no one? What thinking underlay each of them? What circumstances surrounded them? For so many of us our experiences of these events are shaped by what we learn of them from television, radio, the internet, newspapers, and magazines.  

Sometimes when we're busily assimilating the particulars and circumstances of these events, it's hard to know exactly what we're doing.  Are we simply curious and learning all we can about something spectacularly sad or horrible? Are we bearing witness out of respect for those affected and/or in preparation for responding effectively? Or are we watching as voyeurs who will readily exercise our abilities to step away or press the "off" button when the gruesome and tragic threaten to unhinge us, even momentarily? Some of us actively wonder what we would have done had we been present, hoping we would have been our best, bravest, most resourceful selves but knowing we might not have been. Yet others of us pay little or no attention to these or any events divorced form our personal worlds, dismissing them quickly from our consciousnesses when they do penetrate--sometimes even by using one of the four adjectives mentioned above to describe them and then discard them.

That's the real problem with these adjectives:  they are often used so handily, easily, and ultimately dismissively.  Used to classify people, events, and behaviors, they simultaneously pump us up with self-congratulatory emotion and analysis--and end the conversation. They make life experience manageable, predisposing us to a cultivated but rigid certainty that cements the privilege that comes with physical and emotional distance from catastrophe.

We love "good." We're often sure we're capable of it. But we seldom examine our commitment to it when we're asked not simply to help, but actually to empower people who are suffering and who are not like us economically, socially, racially, religiously, ethnically, linguistically, and/or artistically, etc. Confronted with the reality of difference, many of us choose to recognize it rather than to understand it because pursuing an understanding of it would inevitably require questioning our own assumptions about what is and what should be. 

When we judge people as "good" because they have done what we hope and believe we ourselves would have done, that's a sure sign that our definition of "good" needs challenging and examining.  We may end up with the definition with which we started, but we need to go to that place of exploring our commitment to our particular way of seeing, defining, and believing. That exploration can seldom happen authentically without our engaging with others who think differently from us, treat us with respect, and ask us to explain our ideas and attitudes.

The word "evil" raises other challenges. We may argue about how best to label deliberate atrocities and unintended murderous incidents, but heaven help us if our debate derails our efforts to prevent such events in the first place, or to act quickly and effectively in response to them when they do occur. If "good" overly allies us with those we label as "good," "evil" too easily allows us to wash our hands of those we consider to be "evil," thus to minimize or altogether ignore the factors that contributed to their hateful decisions and actions, and even to congratulate ourselves on our difference from them.

Religious texts complicate the issue: even though the story of Saul in I Samuel 16 recounts that God afflicted Saul with "an evil spirit" from God, I do not view evil behavior as emanating from people as a result of something implanted in them by God. I detest what the Tsarnaev brothers did, but I do not view it as an expression of "evil" rooted in either the divine or the satanic. Given the many potential sources of our conceptions of evil, I am grateful that Facing History and Ourselves*, in conjunction with Project Zero, is working to help teachers help students to "confront evil" as intellectual explorers capable of interdisciplinary inquiry; as individual human beings with personal meaning-making systems; and as local, national, and global citizens/community members inclined to informed activism.

"Heroic" is term used in Boston these days for anyone who plays a role in securing the physical and emotional safety of individuals and of our citizenry as a whole. We seem to classify those who risk their own lives either as a matter of course in their line of work and/or in a moment in which the lives of others are at stake as heroic. 

Camus' discussion of the relationship between heroism and common decency in The Plague is worth our considering if we're going to use this word regularly. First, the narrator describes a generous, dependable civil servant as having "nothing of the hero about him," even though his administrative efforts on behalf of the sanitary squads are crucial to their effectiveness. Later on, Dr. Rieux refuses to characterize his own medical efforts to combat plague as heroic: "I must tell you: there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is—common decency." "Common decency" and simply doing one's job must not be equated with heroism in Camus' world, though doing one's job under such circumstances is decidedly for the good.**

Recently, I've begun to wonder whether Boston's romance with heroes has more to do with the need to feel safe, protected, and cared for, actually and potentially, than with the need to be inspired during a dark time. On the other hand, perhaps active triumphs over fear are all acts of heroism:  we never really know what's at stake for a person who decides to stand up and tell his/her story or act with deliberate intent when staying home and/or doing nothing at all would feel so much safer on some level.

I have to say that when people describe a difficult situation as "unbelievable"--or "unimaginable"--and then change the subject to something more personally palatable, I get really angry. The enraged part of me wants to say, "Unbelievable? Unbelievable??? You see the bodies lying there. You saw the pictures. You heard the details in the report. What's not to believe?" I wouldn't mind so much if people said instead, "I can't bear to imagine this" or "I'm really overwhelmed by this." I could at least respect their honesty, even if they then went on to say, "And I refuse to imagine this," which would be the most important honest thing they could say.

What better indicator of privilege is there than one's having the choice of whether to imagine, believe, encounter the details of an atrocity, or of anything disagreeable? The point that Northeastern University's Jeffrey Burds made at the Facing History and Ourselves "Confronting Evil" Day of Learning was that if we mean to eradicate inhumanity and atrocity, we all need to overcome the "gag reflex" we experience when we encounter sickening evidence of that inhumanity and atrocity:  those who are committed to understanding evil with the intent of working against it must look closely at and inquire purposefully into whatever evidence they can find of how people--all people--behaved and reacted. 

I know Burds is right; I'm scared that I'm not strong enough to do what he feels is necessary. That's my challenge.

Monday Evening, April 21, 2014
So already, the Boston Marathon has been run. The day proved to be joyous and celebratory, a hyped, ultra-vigilant version of Marathon Mondays prior to April 2013. The news commentators balanced their desires to convey the day's positive, triumphant excitement with their obligations not to declare the "people's victory" before the event concluded without incident.

I spent a good part of my day near but not in front of my television set:  just had to make sure we got beyond 2:49 with nothing more than the happy monotony of more anonymous runners crossing the finish line safely and victoriously. "Feels like a joyous exhale today," I heard the television newscaster say. I concurred.

I haven't given up hope that people can actually talk about difficult topics in ways that deepen everyone's understanding of them. I haven't given up believing that we can use powerfully expressive language--the four adjectives of the apocalypse--in helpful, responsible ways. 

While I worry about my ability to follow Burds' advice, especially on my own, there is something I am strong enough to do:  to help those difficult and important conversations, when they begin to happen, to take hold and develop enough to enlarge the thinking and perspectives of those who engage in them.  This will mean challenging the norms of social conversation which aim for pleasantness and agreeableness rather than authentic, respectful intellectual exchange. But I think I'm up to that.  "Unbelievable? Unimaginable? Really? I don't think so."

Screen shot of <> page.
**p. 66 from uploaded Stuart Gilbert translation of The Plague by Albert Camus:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Confronting Evil" at the Neue Galerie's "Degenerate Art" Exhibit Eight Days Before Passover

by Annita Soble April 2014*
So already, on April 6, I visited the Neue Galerie as a participant in the Massasoit Community College Art Department's annual field trip to the art galleries and museums of New York City.* 

I used the bus ride time to read in preparation for two events:  on Friday, April 11, I was part of a Project Zero team associated with Facing History and Ourselves' 2014 Day of Learning: Confronting Evil in Individuals and Societies; and tomorrow, Monday, April 14, I am making the Seder for the first night of Passover. First I reread a great deal of The New Union Haggadah prepared by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Next I finished reading an academic paper about human behavior and its contexts during the Rwandan genocide. Finally I read a journal article about stereotypes, their relationship to identity construction, and the implications of both for legal equality and the "social ideal" of equality (Appiah 47).***

Aliza Luft's "Boundary Crossing in High-Risk Contexts: From killing to saving in the 1994 Rwandan genocide" argues that classifying individuals as "perpetrators, victims, bystanders, and rescuers" eliminates a consideration of people who belonged to more than one category, specifically, in the case of Rwanda, those Hutus who killed Tutsis in some situations and saved them in others (2). "By clarifying the conditions that explain boundary crossing from perpetrator to rescuer in a genocide, we can better understand the variety of mechanisms that influence how people make decisions in high-risk contexts," she explains in the abstract of her paper (2).*****

K. Anthony Appiah's "Stereotypes and the Shaping of Identity" in part explores the difference between "equality and sameness" (41). Appiah explains that "questions of equality largely arise when the treatment [of people who are somehow different from one another] is not only different but in some way invidiously so" with the following example: "It is one thing to give pink cookies to girls and blue ones to boys, but another to give the boys expensive toys and the girls cheap trinkets" (43).

Appiah also distinguishes among three kinds of stereotypes.  The first is a false attribution of a quality or attitude to an individual that, statistically, could be correctly attributed to many members of the group to which the individual belongs, but not to that particular individual. The second is a misconception based on a robust preconception or belief rather than on statistical evidence.  

The third, which he calls a "normative stereotype," has less to do with expectations for how people will behave, and more to do with conceptions of how they should behave. Explains Appiah,
Both the first and the second kinds of stereotypes involve intellectual error--either misunderstanding the facts, in the case of simply false stereotypes, or misunderstanding their relevance, in the case of statistical ones. But there is no reason to suppose that normative stereotypes as such must be wrong, or that public actions grounded on them are to be criticized, even when they involve differences in treatment that are judged to be invidious (49).
Normative stereotypes create expectations of some kind of conformity that individuals may experience as burdensome and arbitrary--but not necessarily as disadvantageous to their pursuit of dignity and respect:  even though I may inwardly bristle at needing to buy black slacks and a black top when the majority of my old college women's close-harmony singing group decides they are de riguer for an alumna singing event, I simultaneously recognize that the inconvenience and financial burden will ultimately be outweighed by the social and emotional benefits of enthusiastically belonging to the group.****** That said, "invidious" easily morphs into "insidious" if I receive constant messages that, as a rule, I cannot be trusted to dress myself appropriately; my self-esteem and confidence might plummet, creating further personal, economic, and social consequences.

So with genocide, varieties of stereotypes, oppression, freedom, and new theories for explaining people's capacities to commit both atrocious and morally courageous acts, I entered the Neue Galerie's "Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937."  To represent that the Germans mounted in close proximity to each other two deliberately contrasting exhibitions, the "Great German Art Exhibition" and "Degenerate Art," the Neue Galerie exhibit juxtposes triptychs from each in one of its exhibition rooms: Adolf Zeigler's The Four Elements (Fire, Earth and Water Air), displayed on the left, met with German approval; Max Beckmann's Departure, on the right, did not. 

Text on the wall explains that while the approved art of this period of history, which seemed classically balanced, solid, implacable, monumental, and aspirational, was displayed in a large, uncluttered exhibition space, the disapproved art cluttered and overwhelmed the insufficient exhibition space in which it was mounted. Thus, the "Degenerate Art" exhibition in its very layout was designed to dishonor and disrespect. A short video showed a steady stream of visitors viewing the exhibition. What were they thinking and feeling?  that the art was beautiful? interesting? strange? disgusting?  Was that what they had they expected to think and feel? Was anybody thinking, "If I could sneak that beautiful painting out of here, I would"?

******** (8*)
I entered the Galerie with a misconception that many Jewish artists were represented in the exhibition; in fact, works of very few Jewish artists were featured. One painting particularly drew my attention. "The Pharisees" by Karl Schmidt-Rotluff seemed to represent the rabbis featured prominently in the Gospels as stereotypically Jewish in appearance--beards, long noses, heavy brows--and stereotypically Jewish in behavior--whispering, plotting, conniving. Wouldn't the Nazis have approved of artistic expression that presented Jews unfavorably, that made them through the artist's choice of color and shape almost inhuman?

So if such a painting wasn't going to win the approval of the Nazis given their anti-semitism and genocidal aims, what was the real purpose of discrediting and mocking modern art? As I looked around the room as a whole, I was struck by the often unorthodox use of vibrant color; the distortion of forms; the characters and caricatures; the life.  No suggestions of static tableaux; instead, movement, light, and darkness--irrepressible vitality immersing the viewer in "slant" truths.*********

Suddenly, I developed one possible answer to my own question: imagination itself was under attack. Not just an art movement or a subgroup of people, but a whole way of living and responding to the world. Individual imagination would not be tolerated. No more symbols, except those chosen and adopted by the state. No more exhilaration via color and abstraction. No more humor, light or dark. No more unorthodoxy. Just forms, subjects, and palettes selected by the state. Stolid, uniform dignity.

********** (10*)
Thinking about this later, as I read the exhibition brochure and explored the Neue Galerie web site with this in mind, I mused that the four women in the painting on the left would never date the four men in the painting on the right. Clad, the four women, embodiments of life forces, could be starters on an undefeated field hockey team already happily planning to spend the rest of their lives wracking up victory upon victory.  In contrast, the men, skeptical, subversive, urbane lurkers, restless and uneasy, bide their time in doorways, wondering but not quite hoping. The women did not interest me as people at all; the men made me chuckle, but not derisively or disrespectfully. Still, of the two groups, the men, with their discontent and imagination, would no doubt have been the more vulnerable. For them, artistic conformity--a kind of adaptive, self-chosen normative stereotyping?--would have been one form of death, while non-conformity might have led to another.

************ (12*)
Oscar Kokoschka's proudly self-asserting self-portrait of this time period suggests the problem. On the one hand, he rebels against those trying to humiliate him by entitling his picture Self-Portrait as a Degenerate Artist and claiming the label almost as a badge of honor; on the other hand, as the National Galleries of Scotland web site explains, "A deer can be seen on the right and a running figure on the left. It has been suggested that both of these elements refer to flight or pursuit and to the artist as a hunted man." 

Kokoschka's portrait speaks emphatically to me personally:  the experience of being given an emphatic institutional thumbs-down when one feels at the height of one's creative and productive powers is extraordinarily painful even when it's not terribly public. No doubt an actual public "'exhibition of shame'" would intensify the experience of being shamed, both as an individual and as a member of an identified group.************* As education articles, studies, and reports proliferate, many written to advance the agendas of powerful lobbies and groups rather than to illuminate the challenges and complexities of district-based public education, the designation of teachers as the unskilled, uncaring, overly autonomous culprits often goes unchallenged. While imagination is identified as a must for "college-and career-ready" students, teacher imagination is discouraged, curbed, even rooted out. 

After several hours of fascinating, disturbing, often beautiful stimulation, I walked out of the Neue Galerie into a sunny, warm, perfect spring day. It was the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and practically the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, but the forsythia was in full bloom. Particularly as a Jewish person leaving one more cultural/historical/artistic event that captured the Nazi genius for organized terror and humiliation, I felt saddened, angered, sobered, vulnerable, and enlightened. But I also felt wonderfully free--and so grateful for that.

Oppression and aggression are alive and well in too many places, and the memories of oppressions and aggressions past are sometimes as burdensome as the events themselves. Reading, looking, and thinking, on one's own and in the company of thoughtful, knowledgeable others, can lead to so much understanding, but one has to want that new understanding and insight. And that understanding will seldom transform strong emotion into something easier to bear. But it is extraordinarily helpful as one determines to move forward into a future shaped less by aggression and oppression. That was my take-away from Friday's Facing History "Confronting Evil" day of learning. As both a teacher and person, I actually have more hope today than than I did three days ago that freedom from oppression is possible for many if not all.

A reading in the haggadah to the left explains that Jews eat matzah before bitter herbs at the Seder because "First Moses had to teach the taste of freedom's hope,/ and only then did servitude taste bitter" (43).************** Those of us who are free are particularly obligated to seek freedom for those who have it and are in danger of losing it, for those who don't have it and may never have had it, and for those whose memory of it has been obliterated by habituation to oppression.  So I go into this Passover looking for new and deeper understanding, and believing that everyone should feel as free as I do. I go into this Passover hoping that I'll learn something more about who I am vis à vis myself, vis à vis others, and vis à vis God; who we (Jews) are as a spiritual people guided by ethical considerations; and what all of this should mean to us in terms of actions and commitments.

People are complicated; issues are complicated. But if we--as educators, citizens, and human beings--dedicate ourselves to making time and taking care to acknowledge and explore complexities, we might have a real chance at doing better at increasing freedom and dignity. Self-awareness, other-awareness, and issue-awareness, followed by awareness-based action: could be the winning combination, for all of us.**************

*1 It was, as always, a beautifully organized trip that allowed students, most of whom had never been to New York City, to make personal choices about what museums and galleries to visit, to navigate several art-rich areas of the city with information and ease, and to be part of a group or not be part of a group as they did their viewing and exploring.  The trip's organizer, Massasoit professor Bob Priest, even encouraged students to take advantage of Central Park when they became overly saturated with art and needed a respite. Choice, support, optional camaraderie, great weather, and great art combined to make it a wonderful day.  Older students being treated as the adults that they are, but with the understanding that NYC is a dense, complicated environment for newcomers.
**2  This Passover image was created by Annita Soble, my cousin.  Please check out her web site:  <>.
***3 Appiah, K. Anthony. "Stereotypes and the Shaping of Identity." California Law Review 88.41 (2000): 41-53. Print.
****4 Luft, Aliza.  "Boundary Crossing in High-Risk Contexts:  From killing to saving in the 1994 Rwandan genocide."  Academic paper under auspices of the Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
*****5 Lvov, Ariella. "Image from "Shenanigans"" Web log post. Habitat for Humanity Immersion. Rollins, 10 Jan. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2014. <>.
******6 I've adapted a clothing related example that Appiah provides in his article.
*******7 Screen shot from  "Neue Galerie." Museum Landing Page. Neue Galerie, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014. <>. 
********8 Screen shot of painting image: Schmidt-Rotluff, Karl. The Pharisees. 1912. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Provenance Research Project. Museum of Modern Art. Web. 09 Apr. 2014. <>.
*********9 Dickinson, Emily. "Tell All The Truth." N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014. <>.
**********10 Screen shot of painting image: Zeigler, Adolf. The Four Elements (Fire, Earth and Water, Air). 1937. Pinakothek Der Moderne, Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlungen, Munich. Neue Galerie. Web. 12 Apr. 2014. <>.
***********11 Screen shot of painting image: Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig. A Group of Artists (The Painters of the Brucke). 1925-6. Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Neue Galerie. Web. 12 Apr. 2014. <>.
*************12 Screen shot of painting image: Kokoschka, Oscar. Self-Portrait as a Degenerate Artist. 1937. Web site. National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh. National Galleries Scotland Collection. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.>.
*************13 Zwick, Tracy. "Art In America." "Degenerate Art" Exhibition of Nazi-Era Modern Work Opens at Neue Galerie. Curiator, Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Apr. 2014. <>.
**************14 Bronstein, Herbert, and Leonard Baskin. A Passover Haggadah: The New Union Haggadah Rev. Ed. New York: Penguin, 1978. Print.
***************15 The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting fosters "issue awareness" through supporting and sharing high quality independent journalism.