Thursday, August 31, 2017

Queering the Ceramics Curriculum

Every year, the Ceramics teacher does a relief-tile project with students. Kids look at the work of a famous artist, choose an image they like, and build a tile with the image in relief.

The Ceramics teacher came in to the Library today, looking for books with color reproductions of art works to take to her Ceramics studio for the project. When I was researching LGBTQIA people of color to help teach about the Day of Silence last year, I came across the artist Kehinde Wiley. I love when Wiley reimagines classical works of art, centering people of color.

When I look at a Wiley, I feel as gorgeously love-drunk as a bee afloat in a jar of honey. Afloat, and free of the material world, and in a zone where color and shapes and design reign. It is delicious. Check him out:



The Ceramics teacher listened to me kvell about Wiley, and flipped through the giant coffee-table book I was able to buy for Perry's Library. She snatched it up, as well as a big book on Banksy's work, also new to the Library, and took them up to her class to introduce to her students.

 So now, kids will have the opportunity to learn about two living artists, one of them a gay Black man who plays with ancient artistic themes and modern African-American culture, the other a mysterious entity who challenges political and cultural norms.

#SchoolLibrariesMatter
#QueerTheCurriculum
#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Speak the G-D Truth


Do you remember what it was like to be in high school? I kind of do. Fucking Vietnam. Take that hill with no bullets, Private. Don't tell me you don't have what you need. Go.

Yeah, that's pretty much what it's like. Fuck you if you think I'm exaggerating. I'm there every day. We send our kids into situations we couldn't control and hopefully don't face now, as adults. Being in the same school as a neighborhood you're warring with. Knowing you're going to get jumped. Being isolated, feeling so lonely and alone. Having nobody to sit with at lunch. Having no friends. Having the wrong friends. Being terrible at sports. Being gay and being tortured constantly. Not being gay and everyone thinking you're gay. Not knowing if you're gay. Being weak. Being poor and having terrible clothes. Being homeless. Not having soap, or deodorant. Coming to school after your Dad beat the shit out of your Mom and then out of you. Being raped by your uncle-- then having to come to school. No running water or electricty at your house. Not understanding what is going on in class and feeling unhelpable. Not understanding why the kid next to you acts so loud and wild. None of these problems apply to you? They apply to your classmates, and nobody is helping you understand how to be in relation to your classmates. Not your teachers, not your parents, and not the curriculum.

If we can't avoid this as adults, we do the best we can to deal with it. We send our kids into that situation at school, hoping for the best. We try to manage if we are teachers, and many of us are trying our damn well best. Some of us love our kids.

It's not like I'm only speaking of inner city high schools. Don't kid yourselves, private school parents, suburban parents. Ha! Where do the school shootings happen? Not in inner city schools. Where are the best drugs found? Sure as hell not in Black inner city schools. Some private and suburban parents just blind yourselves to that stuff. You think you've bought your way to safety. You just pretend your way out of the menace, while your kids shoot heroin and steal your Xanax.

Why am I writing this? I'm not trying to terrify or enrage anyone, or worse, jeer at anybody. I'm leading up to this--high school is not always safe, physically or emotionally for kids. It's a jungle, whether your kids have 400 kids in their marching band and win awards for their big-budget musical, or whether Principals threaten children's lives and retain their jobs, like the Woodland Hills case.

I asked my nephew if his friends at his suburban school were watching the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. It is about a girl who kills herself, leaving 13 tapes behind to the 13 people who contributed to her death. My brother said he would never watch something like that-- I told him he should--rape culture, rape, suicide-- all real issues covered in the show were things to talk about with his kids.

If we can't talk about rape, rape culture and suicide in the suburbs, we damn well start. And we damn well better start talking about violence in schools, too. In his ninth grade year, my son went to arguably the most academically well regarded high school in Pittsburgh. That year he told me about the most disturbing and horrible fight he ever saw, in which a kid pounded another kid's head against the pavement over and over and over.

I walked up to check on a colleague after a fight last week, past blood on two flights of stairs. There stood a maintanence man with a mop, erasing the pools of blood that drove those rivers down the stairs. I pushed through groups of kids, excitedly watching and rewatching the fight which has been shot from every angle by their peers on phones.

If you are a parent reading this, or a person who would use my words to prove how public schools are "failing," violent and to be avoided, hear this: suburban and private schools may or may not have violent fights such as this. But as a person who has worked in both suburban and private schools, there are problems that are terrible there, too.

 In private schools, rich parents can set policy to protect themselves, not children. This results in wholesale violations in special education law, grade inflation, the richest kids being able to bully/miss school/etc. without consequences. You may think this wouldn't happen to your child, or be your child. What if it does? And if you think it can't be true: why wouldn't this be true when the school answers to parents, not the state?

Suburban parents may think they have purchased themselves the distance and the resources to have opted out of the problems that beset the inner city. But white privilege is it's own problem. And uber competiveness to get into the Ivies and other prestigious schools, combined with a relative curricular disinterest in social justice and diversity keep suburban kids from a full and rich understanding of the true and real world.

There is an answer. We belong together. All of our resources, human, material, financial-- we belong together. Building moats around ourselves, our resources, our humanity, disucssions about the truths we live-- this is stupid. The truth is the truth. Let's open it up, bring it out and just freaking talk about it. Nobody is better than anybody else. Black inner city kids and adults have resources nobody else has. So do others. We should stop being afraid to speak the truth.

What does that look like explicitly? Public school does a good job of bringing people together. It has FAILED to teach people directly how to DO diversity. We need to teach directly how to live in a diverse classroom and school community. We need to acknowledge explicity how to live in a "beloved community" where we are trained to see some of us have gifts of lived wealth, some of us have gifts of artistic wealth, etc. If we see each other in term of our strengths, not our deficits, we may learn to live together better.

We need to teach diverse curricula. We must teach about LGBT people, Latinix, and all the missing parts of humanity in our curriucula: not just because we got sued by somebody, but because elevating the stories and contributions of the world create and recreate our humanity.

We need to teach about all the issues kids are facing-- rape, rape culture, racism-- let's drive the elevator up Bloom's Taxonomy to Critical Consciousness. If we want our kids to be SAFE-- we must arm them with the ability to THINK.

And EVERY Pittsburgh Public School, IMO, needs to be trained in Trauma Informed Practises. IMMEDIATELY. Because all of us, teachers and students, are traumatized, over and over again, by the violence we see and terrors we hear and know of.

And by the way, DAMN, largely white, rich capitalist pigs need to stop offshoring what should be tax dollars and pay into a democratic society so our country stops circling the drain. But that's for another blog post.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Perry High School's in-school Food Pantry: By Kids, For Kids. By K.



Ten of Pittsburgh Perry’s student body are in the beginning stages of something truly great and inspirational.  We are creating a food pantry within our school. We began a committee to create a food pantry when we realized there are a lot of students who are going hungry at home. For example, we know of a family with twelve members and eight children who gets less than $200 in food stamps a month. Families every day are struggling to get by, even on public assistance. When students don't eat they tend to be very angry and irritable and this causes a lot of fights at school.


Some of us get the backpack program. Your parents have to sign up for the backpack program, which allows you to take home blue plastic Giant Eagle bags with non-perishable food in them on the weekends. The problem with the backpack program is that  those bags are not enough to satisfy the hunger of a growing teen,  let alone them and their family. So, two of our ten food pantry members met with the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, the head of Oliver High School's Backpack Program and Mary Shull, a community activist,  to see how we could work together to get our program off the ground. We discussed why we wanted to have a food pantry within our school. We showed them our plans up to that point, which included giving students choices about what kinds food they wanted to have in Perry’s food bank. We think if you have more of a choice between foods,  it won’t be a waste. We showed the Food Pantry people the space Mr. Cooper has designated for us.


The Greater Pittsburgh Food Pantry told us they are willing to work with us, and would give us a list of foods and hygiene products they could possibly provide for us.


Since then, with they help of Mary Shull, we created a survey for the student body to take. The survey lists what the Perry Food Pantry might be able to supply, and allows students to choose what they want in the pantry. When students take the survey, it will help us determine both how many kids might use the Perry Food bank and what items they want.


If the students come to our student-run food pantry, they will be more comfortable because it is not random people there judging them nor is it the staff there, it is their peers that are there. Our 10- members are very respectable and trustworthy. This is something small that could turn into something nation wide all we need is faith and a little help. -K.
Please support our GoFundMe campaign, which will allow us to purchase items we need for our Food Pantry. Thank you! Go Fund Me: Perry's Food Pantry Campaign

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Starving Students: and how we might respond



My friend told me her 7th-grade daughter just passed the Algebra Keystone our 10th graders at Perry keep failing. She was morose about it, because she teaches at Perry, and she gets beat over the head with A+ Schools' "Report to the Community" every year, and the PowerPoint presentations at every faculty and Parent-Community meeting. The data, the data, the data, the data that says our kids are underperforming on math and reading, math and reading, not to mention their dismal Biology Keystones, and God only knows, when the folks at the PDE come out with a standardized test for Social Studies and Home Ec and PE and everything else but what our kids are doing great at: surviving, and being every kind of beautiful in a world bent on destroying them. 

It's not just hyperbole. Our city may be the "most livable" for some, but it has one of the highest levels of Black poverty, our schools are some of the most segregated, our state offers zero aid to homeless children, and our public schools are made to do more with less, and less, and less and less. While white, suburban, socio-economically segregated schools roll and drip with cutting-edge technology and professional-grade scoreboards with video screens and marching bands 400-kids deep, replete with a glistening fleet of trucks to haul the brand-new instruments they play. 

In our school, children arrive so hungry that they ask teachers for food. They sleep in class. After long weekends in homes without food, or with food insecurity, they return to class angry, they can't pay attention, they have stomach and headaches, their chronic illnesses are flaring or are in crisis. We have not had a full time school nurse in many months, and so finding a nurse in her office to help is catch-as-catch-can. If we had a doctor on site, her prescription would be food, healthy food, a steady stream of it, and lots of it, as needed. 

Since we don't have a doctor on site, Perry students have decided to come to their own rescue, and this is how: they are working on a plan to develop an in-school Food Pantry. Working with community activist Mary Shull, and Oliver City-Wide teacher Holly Sousa, an 11-student Perry committee will soon meet with the Pittsburgh Food Bank. The idea is to have students create, manage and run a Food Pantry inside Perry in co-operation with local funders and resources that will serve their peers. Agency, choice, voice, some kind of food security, a reason to come to school beyond learning: to serve others. To make a difference in the lives of your peers. To help yourself, to learn how to run an "agency" in your school that might just calm your school. That might just heal your school. That might provide a measure of peace, for you and for your friends, and your not-friends. Food heals. It literally and figuratively nourishes a body, in this case a student body. There is nothing Perry students can't do. Watch this space to learn how you might support their effort. Love.