Ending the Hobo Parties

“Ha ha! It’s the same Hobo from before!” the kid in the front row sneered, looking around the room to ensure that his classmates were laughing.

I had put on “The Pursuit of Happyness” for kids to watch during class, in preparation for the essays that we’ll be writing. The first is about how Gardner displays perseverance throughout the story, and the second is about the impact that homelessness has on Americans.

This kid clearly has a lot to learn about homelessness.

He doesn’t know that there is probably a homeless kid sitting in one of his classes.

I’ve been teaching for a decade, and have come to recognize how little I truly understand about my students. There are kids who have parents arguing through a divorce, kids who are struggling with depression, anxiety, and certainly homelessness.

I did my student teaching with kids who were living in the Boys’ and Girls’ Homes in Grafton. These were the first kids who helped me to learn what it means to be a teacher.

With their help, I realized very early in my teaching career that my students face uphill battles each day.

I decided to do this unit on homelessness because I want to confront the problems that my kids are facing. Typically, my seventh graders don’t honestly see the impact of their words, and how their actions can hurt others.

It is my job to teach the kids about research, about crafting essays, and about evaluating evidence. I love that I get to work in a district where I’m allowed the autonomy to choose the topic; this year, I dared to venture down a path that is painful. When watching this film and first beginning to consider homelessness, it quickly became evident that many of my students understand little about the struggles that Americans face.

This kid giggling during “The Pursuit of Happyness” along with a number of others, throw around the term, “Hobo.” Did you know that there is a Disney show where the characters throw a “Hobo Party?” There are pages on Pinterest dedicated to the topic, and kids don’t understand the true struggles that are connected with being homeless.

 

My hope is that Will Smith’s moving performance in “The Pursuit of Happyness” will help them begin to empathize with those who find themselves homeless. I hope that kids will be ready to deplore iCarly’s “Hobo Parties” when they understand how many Americans are living with homelessness, and how it effects them. Through their research, I hope that my students begin to understand how complicated this issue is, and how awful it is to be homeless.

And for that kid in my class who is living without a home, I hope that he sees that I’m trying to help others understand him just a little bit better.

 

 

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How This Teacher Hopes You’ll Use Your Vote to Help All of Our Kids

“Wait, so why is Question 2 Bad for schools? I don’t understand why teachers are against more schools.”

This idea has surfaced throughout my adventures about town. I’ve talked to other toddler parents at the playground, moms on the block, and parents of school-aged children at weekend play-dates. It is important that everyone fully understand exactly what this question is asking people to vote for.

Here’s the short(ish) version.

Question 2 would allow the cap to be lifted on public funding for more charter schools. To understand what this means, you first need to understand what a charter school is.

A charter school is a publicly funded “private” school that has a special mission. For example, students who attend AMSA have twice as many math and sience classes, and students who attend Seven Hills attend citizenship classes.

To attend a charter school, students need to meet certain grade criteria and sometimes pass an enterance exam. Their parents need to be educated enough to complete the enterance papers; students who need learning and language support are not able to attend. (Translation: ESL and Special Education students cannot apply.) Charter schools have a “seperate” mission, so they don’t have to follow the common core, and students don’t have to complete state exams.

I’m sure that there are reasons to support charter schools, but I can’t speak to any of them.

All that I can see is how much charter schools hurt public education. 

Last year, 450 million dollars of state tax dollars collected for education were spent on charter schools, instead of public schools. This means that kids who are in public scools had nearly half a billion dollars less to buy things like new pipes for safe drinking water, math books, qualified teachers, and laptops that work. (I could have a serious rant here about the condition of schools and equipment, and how underfunded we are. But I’m restraining myself. Be proud.) Lifting the cap would mean that the condition of our schools, teachers and materials would only further deteriourate. YIKES.

Because they don’t have to accept those with special language or education needs, charter schools provide a “seperate but unequal” education. Think about it: the more top preforming kids who leave the public education system, the fewer there are in my classroom. At the start of the year, I had about 20% of my students who were identified as having a learning disability; anoterh 20% were identified as needed language support. We’ve already lost two students to charter schools- the more who leave, the higher these percentages “left behind” are. As the top students leave, the middle of the class that I try to teach to becomes lower and lower. YIKES.

Question 2 is bad for public schools. It means that those people who believe in public education are left with less funding, and only the kids who need support. The public schools have less money to pay for things that they need, and budgets are cut even when taxes increase.

This public school teacher, who is sending her kids to public schools, begs you to vote no on 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facebook: Death of Facts, and the Democratic Republic

“Kate, this isn’t real,” Mr. Belbin, my 9th grade government teacher said, dtriggling to suppress a smirk.

“But… I found it online. On one of those internet newspapers!” I frowned.

“‘The Onion’ isn’t real news. It’s a joke,” he replied, patiently.

In 1998, the World Wide Web was rapidly changing the way that people read and received their news. Decades later, it sounds impossible to believe, but I honestly thought that those stories in “The Onion” were real.

Mr. Belbin, my 9th grade government teacher, took a stand. He worked hard to teach us about the importance of sorting through sources to find well-researched and credible websites. Then, he taught us about the importance of the media in a democratic republic. I learned the value of free, accessible information and the value of informing citizens to help them make good decisions when voting.

Today, I’m not entirely sure that our media is free and open. In fact, Mr. Belbin, or any Social Studies teacher, could talk for hours about the way that the media has been censored throughout the last century. Some great examples date back to Vietnam… but let’s not get too wrapped up in that. (Ok, wait, have you seen Newsroom?! 5 great seasons of an HBO drama about how censorship and the news media are threatening the democratic republic of America today.)

People don’t watch the news. They don’t even really read it in print or online.

Many Americans get their news from… facebook.

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A well developed research study concludes that 68% of Americans regularly engage in Facebook, and 55% of these people are regularly reading and posting about “the news.” Here’s where it gets fascinating. Or scary.

Only 16% of the people interacting about the news are sharing their opinions on the topic, or adding any original thought. The other 84% are just re-posting what they read.

But people aren’t really reading articles before they post them.Think about it. How many people bother to actually check the facts of what they’re reading?

My facebook feed is flooded with misinformation from well-intentioned friends. There’s a picture of a check supposedly written using common core math, warnings about facebook privacy, and then there was that Photo-Shopped picture of the Pope checking out some girl’s boobs…

People often comment on posts without reading the entire article. They re-post articles without checking the dates, or bothering to see if the article is from a reliable source. There’s an entire website, Snopes, out there, maintaining an up-to-date database of misinformation that is continually posted on facebook.

I wonder what Mr. Belbin does when he looks at his facebook feed. As a middle school teacher, I have to be honest- I sometimes cringe.

Facebook, fearing the demise of their own integrity, is supposedly coming up with a system to alert users to a false story that is being perpetuated through newsfeeds. 

But, here’s what’s keeping me up at night: how is Facebook going to impact the next presidential election?

If people don’t watch the debate, or read up on the candidates, are they just going to check their newsfeeds to see what articles their friends are re-posting? Will people begin to really read the articles before re-posting the pictures themselves?

My gut tells me that the answers to these questions isn’t what Mr. Belbin would hope for. Instead, in the words of my favorite Social Studies teacher, we’re becoming a Plutorchy, where the loudest, richest voices are the only ones that are really heard.

“Down with democracy!” shout the crowds. “GIVE US FACEBOOK.”

Ugh.

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