Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hear Ye Hear Ye

I know a lot of creative people. Those of you who read this are all talented. Trust me, I know you. (unless you're a random reader, in which case you have very good taste; read on...)

That said I'm happy to introduce, plug, and shout on rooftops about Paper Darts. Paper Darts is a grassroots literary magazine....that needs your input! The output If youc na thin? A beautiful amalgam of art, music, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, snark, love, hate...get my drift? Anything. Everything. If you have anything you want to submit, email it to If you want to learn more, and poke around, become a fan on facebook, or follow @PaperDarts on Twitter!

Stay tuned for events, sponsors, and other Paper Darts features!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A little bit MidWest of Eden...

I had my orientation with the Saint Paul Public Schools today (SPPS)*, and I finally realized how large the task ahead of me is, and what kind of people and struggles I will meet along the way. Some people just. don't. get it.

The Community Outreach Coordinator that met with us today talked about decidedly uncomfortable facts. Individuals with privilege are the ones that succeed within the current system. This predominantly means the white students in middle to upper-class socioeconomic situations—i.e. Being born into the “right” race at the “right” time. This is what the Outreach Coordinator had said to us, and I completely agree, as should anyone who recognizes privilege and its relation to education. However, one cracked up lady in the back piped up about how uncomfortable she felt with the language of “right” and “wrong” in regards to race and privilege “With all our diverse backgrounds I don't see how 'right' and 'wrong' are applicable” she said. She. Does. Not. Get it. It's her refusal to accept and own up to her own privilege (she was white, by the way, and daintily eating a fruit salad with a silver fork—presumably because the lunch we were provided was not adequate for her desires...excuse me...needs? ) that perpetuates the cycle of inferiority. What the Outreach Coordinator meant, which was clear to everyone around us, was that it is mere chance and situation that places us within our respective positions of privilege, or non-privilege.

What scares me is the damage this woman has the power to cause at her service site by socializing the students she works with. Not that it would be widespread or even noticeable on the surface, but the imperceptible continuation of her inability to talk about privilege and its effects means that she has the power to influence children to also not talk about it. If someone is uncomfortable talking about issues so difficult, the trajectory of these damaging hierarchies remains the same. Racism and classism do not go away by ignoring them and not talking about them. I learned today that my job includes not only teaching children this, but possibly educating my peers.

Encountering uninformed, yet self-righteous individuals has already become commonplace in this job (well, and my life). During one of the days of training (we were learning an early literacy intervention technique) a woman started ranting about how she was uncomfortable (people always use “discomfort” to describe situations they disagree with, is this just Minnesota Paggro? Or are all pseudo hippie weirdos like this?) with the idea that the MN Reading Corps helps the children on the “cusp,” i.e. the children who we can help improve greatly within the three years we are available to them (aforementioned in previous blog about What I Do). After 20 minutes of interruptions and repetitions, my training instructor finally got the woman down off her high horse, or at least stuffed her mouth with a knowledge rag to chew on for a bit. After three days of interactions like this at training, and a fourth day of paggro whiners at orientation, I started to worry about my ability to maintain sanity during this job.

I'm holding out for those “eureka!” moments with children that I work with on a day to day basis—the rest will just have to be practices in patience. And those moments where kids crawl under desks, and yawn through their phonetics practice, 'cause DAMN that's cute.

*This blog in no way represents the views of the MRC, MLC, SPPS, or Americorps

What I Do

This month I started my training to be a K-3rd grade literacy tutor through the Minnesota Reading Corps (MRC)*. I'm placed at an elementary school within the Saint Paul Public School system (SPPS for short). The focus of the MRC is to get children to be sufficient readers by the third grade. We start by doing benchmark tests to see if students are where they should be along the lines of words they can read correctly per minute, letter sounds, phoneme blending, etc. Once the tests are administered, I'll be working with an internal coach to determine which students are eligible to receive MRC help. One of the biggest goals we have is to take the children that would benefit from help—i.e. the ones who are just below the proficiency marks. This means that instead of tutoring the kids who have the lowest scores first, we take the students that will be back on track within a few weeks of interventions. This can be a controversial concept because it seems to neglect the ones that need our help the most. The defense of this argument is twofold 1) the students who are doing the worst should qualify for title 1 funds that lend themselves to special education teachers, etc. and 2) the students who are just barely at the proficiency line will NOT receive help from any other organization—the ones that are so close to success are usually overlooked, but generally stay on the same below-proficient trajectory all through school.

So....shmanyway...In training I learned different ways of helping these kids that we would have chosen for the program. Most of it involves sounding out letters, words, and doing fluency practice with more advanced readers. I've decided that I want to get my friends drunk and practice the literacy interventions on you think they'll comply? One of the frustrating things is that I have to keep to the script while doing the interventions. This is due to the fact that each intervention is based on extensive research that has been proven effective year after year—it makes sense, I'm just bad with scripts.

I came home exhausted from training and ended up sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night. It took me a run in the 90 degree weather, pages and pages of East of Eden, and reorganizing my papers to finally relax enough to sleep through the night.

*This blog in no way represents the views of the MRC, MLC, SPPS, or Americorps.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Paul Farmer

He deserves this more than anyone, and is also more knowledgeable.

I'll write more/edit this post when I know *what* the hold up is, but in the meantime, for you lit-heads, go read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder and fall in love with one of the Few Good People of our lifetimes.