I Missed You, Lisa Delpit: School Culture and Race

mudI think it’s important to follow up a crazed love letter to an author and his brother with a brief discussion of race relations in the classroom.  (?!)

In Boot Camp for Kiddies this week, Diane Ravitch posts a criticism (and later a response) of the top-down, overly harsh management styles of certain charter schools, in specific those of Achievement First. Without mentioning specifics, Rafe Esquith named the same problem back in 2008. Ironic, since much of KIPP based their model on the letter– if not the spirit– of Rafe’s own classroom management… and then other charters built their models based on KIPP. It’s a lesson in following ideas back to their sources: often the quality of mercy is strained, shall we say.

That being said, the unexamined idea that a common school culture is racist has still always bugged me. In whatever form, involving whatever claim, it can be a seven-layer bean dip of presuppositions: that a culture imposed by privileged whites is inherently disrespectful to students who are not of the same race or class. That a common school culture is uniformly imposed by privileged whites. That a common school culture is uniformly imposed only by privileged whites. That authoritarian approaches to teaching are racist. That constructivist approaches to teaching are racist.

With all that rhetorical juicy goodness going on, why not just say that if a teacher is not teaching a classroom of 24 clones of herself, she is a racist?

(What? Someone did? Not really, as you can see. But wouldn’t it be a quick and easy jump from here?)

The muddiness kills me. So we kill the muddiness by getting our facts straight: and (Irony #2) acknowledging the muddiness within the facts.

My first thought up0n reading the Ravitch post was to brush up on the work I most trust on education and race relations, which would be that of Lisa Delpit, Peggy McIntosh, and Gloria Ladson-Billings. I did this with a strictly defined, peer-reviewed search on Google that was at least several minutes long. (But seriously, if anyone knows anything that can be added to what I was able to glean, please put it in the comments. Whole point I’m writing the post, really.)

Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, in her usual admirable straightforwardness, does not screw around with whether charter schools and their systems are racist, but goes right to whether children of color should be waiting in line, or in a lottery, for a quality education in the first place. In this fabulous blog piece, she even plays with the idea that we would be better off today with (Irony #4) ”a real Plessy than a fake Brown,” concluding simply: “We must guarantee all students and their families an equal opportunity to learn.”

I didn’t turn up any direct commentary by Dr. McIntosh on charter schools, but did find an interesting article on how several “innovation schools” (basically charters) in Massachusetts have adopted the “Open Circle” learning program that her organization, The Wellesley Centers for Women, developed specifically to train kids in supportive collaboration. Which points up messiness/Irony #5: that while Dr. Ravitch and others castigate charters schools as de facto segregators of education, it is the infrastructural freedoms afforded charter schools that often allow them to take on programs like Open Circle that dig up the roots of prejudice itself.

Finally, it turns out I completely missed the publication of Dr. Delpit’s latest book just last year, Multiplication is for White People, so I’ve fixed that with One-Click Amazon and will report on it accordingly. Lisa Delpit, as Tom Hoffman comments here, puts across her arguments “with a certain weight of moral and intellectual authority which is unique to her,” and so I am eager to see where she goes in the book– particularly as she is arguably the mother of the idea that the dominant culture of power needs to be explained, and its rules taught, to students of color.

And I imagine, in the final irony of this post, that this is exactly what Achievement First would say they are doing.


Who Needs Socrates When You’ve Got Love? : My First Fan Letter in 28 Years

diaryDear John and Hank Green,

I hate you both.

You have cast me back into a time long forgotten, now remembered again in horror and shame. A time of upheaval and pain. A time of pink diaries locked with tiny gold locks. A time of laminated kitten pictures.

It began with “An Open Letter to Students Returning to School.” Later– I can only believe I was drunk– it was “Giraffe Love.” Things quickly degenerated into hours of Hankgames, greedily memorizing your witty tidbits between plays.

And now I sit here, dreamily trolling through four years of vlogs instead of feeding my dog. Now I scramble to learn Zeno’s paradox, when The Meno was all I ever needed. Or wanted.

I am smitten, and in return, you carelessly smite my fragile, hard-won adulthood.

You have forced me to draft this fan letter– the first I have written since I sent a package of homemade chocolate chip cookies to the pre-hobbit Sean Astin for his jaw-droppingly brilliant performance in The Goonies– and to cloak my shy, sweet double crush in ribald satire, merely to preserve some tiny, tiny shred of dignity.

You have turned me back into a drooling, squealing, hand-fluttering t-shirt-buying social-media-stalking groupie twelve year old, the likes of which of I have not seen in eight hours, since I am a middle school English teacher and school is out now.

Did I say I hate you? One requires a certain amount of emotional distance, decorum, dare I say, when one teaches pre-teens. You have blown all that to hell. Students can smell it, you heartless beautiful blogging fools. How will they ever take my my faultless grammar, my arched eyebrows, my arch remarks rife with literary references they have yet to discover, my clean but not overstarched dress shirts and kitten heels, seriously again?

No. All that is gone.

Soon, despite my best efforts at concealment, they will enter the room. They will see me in a Nerdfightaria t-shirt. I will be giggling about brooms who “overswept” and muttering something about “Bald John Green” and slash fiction. I will be doing the Happy Dance. And all attempts from then on to impress upon them the importance of the Oxford comma in keeping our civilization alive, via the sheer gravitas of my tasteful pearl jewelry, will be for naught. Naught.

You have ruined me.

Don’t ever write back to me again. Or for the first time.


Dina Strasser

UPDATE: Katie Sauvain, in a much more serious and very lovely post, also reflects through the generational lens upon John and Hank Green and Nerdfightaria. Her blog is deeply intelligent and a great read. Go give it some love.

My New EduCrush(es): John and Hank Green

DFTbaOh, my.

If you haven’t met the Vlogbrothers

If you don’t know what DFTBA means

If you haven’t read Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, or The Fault in Our Stars

If you haven’t succumbed to the charms of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

If you haven’t used a Crash Course video in one of your classes…

Or, at the very least, if you haven’t shown your students this at the beginning of the school year

…then prepare to have your mind blown.

Next post: The first virulent fan letter I have written in 28 years.




My New Reluctant Twitter Feed

funny-moms-on-twitter As I posted on Facebook: Help me not regret this. @DinaStrasser. New blog sidebar as well.

And now I will take my kids out for FTF ice cream.

(My daughter, slyly: “Hey, Mom. I can read that.”)

UPDATE: Oh, and when you leave a comment, if you’re willing, drop your Twitter handle or PM it to me. Even if you don’t follow me, I’d love to follow you.

That sounds needy. Oh well.

The Importance of Blog Love/Why I Didn’t Get a Ph.D.

kim-kardashian-and-glamour-magazine-galleryFirst of all, thank you to the dozens of people who responded so kindly over the past few days with a wave and “We’re still here”!

And thank you as well for allowing me finally to confirm up there whether my use of ending punctuation in a sentence with quotation marks has been correct all these years. (Pro-tip: If the heart-breaking question, huffy exclamation, or staid statement belongs to you, the writer, put it outside the quotation marks. If it belongs to the speaker, put it within the quotation marks.  To wit:

“I can’t believe Kim Kardashian gave birth in high heels!” Stacey declared.


I can’t believe that I didn’t stab her eyes out with my high heels while she declared that “I can’t believe Kim Kardashian had her baby in high heels”!)

Anyway, thank you.

In the spirit of reconnecting, I also sent a couple of apologetic, inquiring emails off to old blogger friends this past week. I’ll leave them anonymous because I haven’t asked their permission to say anything about them. I was struck, though, by the sadness in both their replies: very glad to hear from me, but both remarking that I was the first blog correspondent to follow up with them in awhile. I suspect, too, that in the habitually isolating profession that is ours, connection becomes all the more treasured.

Oh, friends, readers, countrymen…er…countrypeople: No guilt trip intended. But you have no idea what power you have. Leave those comments. Send those emails. You are being heard. You are missed when you do not.


Part of the adventure this year that kept me off the blog was finally giving a Ph.D. education program a shot.

I applied to six, with the assistance and kindness of more people than I can name. Results: three rejections, two acceptances, and one “You can’t find my transcript? Here’s the email proving I sent you my transcript. You can’t give me a decision right now? Well, we’ve already decided, so… thank you?” Guess we’ll never know about that path less taken. NOT COOL, ROBERT FROST.

The acceptances were generous and wonderful and exciting. My husband and I embarked on weeks of intensive research, involving hours on the Internet and consulting with people in the profession and academia and our financial advisor and climbing high Asian mountains in sandals of yakskin.

I took a day off. We sat in a coffee shop with legal pads. For four hours. During which we asked repeatedly if we were cheating the waitress out of tips and could we have a little more coffee.

In the end, for a gazillion non-John Grisham-like prosaic reasons, we decided against it. And when I say “a gazillion,” I mean “three of the legal pads were labeled  ‘cons’”.  Here’s probably the best summary of it, which I wrote in an email to the professor who advocated for me the most strongly on this adventure:

The bottom line is that even if we stripped back to the barest of bones, even if the miracle of a decently paid church position and professorship occurred within commutable distance of each other (never mind our families), within a slightly-less-than-dysfunctional public school system, in June of the year I graduate– even if that happens, the doctorate would still mean an accrual of heavy debt, and a necessary uprooting, that we would be fighting for the rest of our lives, right when we need most to be stable for our children and other loved ones. We have more commitments on that front than are typical. So it sucks, and I’m just heartbroken. But I am also at peace. If that makes any sense.

A few weeks later, the Chronicle of Higher Education printed this article, which sounds exactly like they bugged our coffee shop booth~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

grumpy catI write this not only to explain some of my silence this year, but also to mourn a bit.  On this blog, going on almost five years ago, I recognized the dead end uselessness of getting a Ph.D. with the intent of remaining a classroom educator. In the intervening time, we continue to think that firing teachers is a viable alternative to providing sustainable and differentiated career advancement, and instead of celebrating and nurturing the kickass teachers we have, we use completely inaccurate data to pick on teacher preparation programs, like a schoolroom bully who can’t spell.

In otherwords: nothing has changed.

So it sucks, and I’m heartbroken. And about this aspect of my decision, I am not at peace. Don’t think I ever will be.

I’d love to hear your stories about Ph.D. work or professional advancement, and/or the lack thereof.  I will run them past some folks I know at the amazing Center for Teacher Quality who are working hard to change this, and get some feedback for you.

To Twitter or Not to Twitter: This Is the (Fourth Time Through the) Question.

twitter_bird_deadThe first time,  in 2007, I had my hands full the with blog.

The second time, around 2010, I became so swamped by attempting to follow everyone’s feed with a Jane Austen level of correspondence that I chucked the account in disgust.

In 2011, my first tweet was “I’m going to regret this,” and then I left something like 48 hours later.

Not a Luddite, no. So not. In fact, if I force myself to be honest, kicking Twitter was one of the means of managing the hypnotic pull social media has on many writing-minded folks, in general, and me, in particular.

But now, with the implosion of Google Reader imminent (and yes, this is how I will write and link about this event from now on) I’m considering it. Again.

Jered, in the comments on “Diamond in the Rough,” kindly offered up that Twitter is going to serve as his de facto feed for awhile. Other crowdsourcing recommends Feedly.

What do you think?

Hurry, Star Blazers! You and the Argo have only 8 days left!


The Common Core: Diamond in the Rough?

Cheryl Dobbertin and I have teamed up again at Education Week to find joy within the Common Core. I don’t think it takes away from our message at all to say we have been working on this SINCE JANUARY– yet another symptom of the pure, hard slog up the mountain that this year has been for many educators, and certainly those in New York State. As if an average of 3 posts in the 2012-13 school year didn’t tip you off.

Right, so, I’ll make a deal with you, readers. If you leave a comment somewhere, it will remind me that I still have readers. (I put that in bold for you.) And perhaps The Line will travel with you through the July 1st implosion of Google Reader.  So I’ll have that going for me. Which is nice.

In return…but, you know, never mind. I’m not going to make posting contingent on your blog love; that isn’t fair.  Just know I’m gathering up my get-up-and-go for some more…regular…much more regular…posting, as Jose Vilson advises.

And thank you for your support

UPDATE: My old friends at Teaching The Hudson Valley have also posted some parts of the Ed Week piece, in part because their Summer Institute is focusing on sifting through the ambivalence surrounding the Common  Core. Check them out, especially if you live in New York or downstate. They are kick-ass. And, the picture of me isn’t bad.

Newtown in School: The Most Difficult Post I’ve Written

I thank The Center for Teaching Quality and Ed Week for making this post possible in about 24 hours, from a pitch I wrote in desperate need to do something concrete to assist educators in the wake of this horrific event.

My son is seven. I kissed him, and his nine year old sister, so often this past weekend that they started to get annoyed.

I can’t kiss my seventh graders, much as I’d like to sometimes. So instead I settled for giving them what I could: about 10-30 minutes of devoted class time to work through what they needed after this weekend.

We give what we have, you know? I think that’s all anyone can ask.

Please make sure to check out the sidebar in the article, where I list a couple of really helpful links as well. And as always, feel free to leave comments here or at the Ed Week page.