Sunday, October 21, 2007

Recap for October 21, 2007

A bit rainy, and barely fifty, we assembled at Evergreen in Tacoma.

This morning we heard Bernadette’s story.

Several strands of conversation looked at the construction of self in a land divided by color. One member said, “I wish kids didn’t have to explain themselves” for why they bring to schools their own sets of skills,” it would be good if they were each treated equally.

One focus of these discussions was about the toxicity of the color line in schools—for lots of kids, they are the only person of color in a room. It is vitally important that schools have enough teachers of color, for example. There are several dimensions to this toxicity—young kids who are constructing an identity in the midst of this, for example. We might construct little zones of comfort, but several Members believe the education system here is fundamentally flawed. Doing one program—such as supporting one classroom in one school, for example (see below)—does not distract Conversation members from continuing to work on the systemic problems—the biggest of which might be that we have a system that produces the loss of about three in ten of our kids.

One piece of an answer is to encourage kids to be teachers, to tell them it is the best job in the world. That might not be true every day, but looking at a larger picture, more teachers of color are needed, and have to be encouraged and nurtured.

A related issue came up. How do people in school administration and teachers see, understand the lower test scores among students of color? The members in the room bring a lot of experience in schools. Perceptions differ, to put it delicately. Answers often focus on poverty. There are remediation classes (a claim: research shows remediation does not improve test scores, but mandated remediation programs are the way we deal with it—and, students placed in them are taken out of classes such as music and art.), there are after school programs. But there is a strong consensus among teachers that the basics of classroom organization need to be remade. We know that school should begin at 9, given the physical being of those we call students, but it starts at 7:30 because the buses require it.

One important piece of parent involvement—at some schools, a good proportion of parents do not speak English, and perhaps don’t read much. Schools tend to be unwelcoming places for parents—finding the office, waiting, getting the passes, and so on. There are barriers.

One recurring strand of conversation was to compare the experience of students and teachers from a privileged background. Most privileged folks, as we have gone over many times in the Conversation, do not see it. One story illustrated how teachers can inadvertently accentuate the privilege: the teacher in a theater class asked the students to each announce what their parents did.

Teachers confronting the toxicity face burnout, and operate under these conditions for years. One method of coping is to find other kinds of activities to plug into the week.

How do you get kids to figure out what is valuable to them? This is a perennial struggle. There are lots of vehicles for getting kids to this. Some love sports, and stay in school so they can keep it up. Some are charged by art and theater, and put up with the rest of the classes as a way to be there.

The meta-conversation continues from last week.

We have heard a message from our teachers (which is the line of work most represented among those present), and the examples keep reiterating the same issues.

Perhaps it is time for The Conversation to adopt a classroom, or a school. The education people in the room are encouraged to come up with a design for how that might work. Might we be the ones that would organize things for the parents (some kind of orientation, for example). There are other ideas…. How about the educators here coming up with a plan, within a couple of weeks, that we can talk about? Perhaps the Conversation can sponsor however many students might come from Lincoln.

One Conversation member emphasized an important feature of education—getting parents involved. As volunteers, we can find out what parents need, and have a way to intervene in schools to make them more welcoming places for what parents need.

Another Member emphasized getting the kids involved at the leadership level—such as raising their voices before the school board.

A group of high school students were able to read The Students Are Watching, by Theodore Sizer. A blurb on the book says “Sizers point out that the students are often seen as the school's "clients," as its powerless peopleAthough the authors believe that is a costly, patronizing pretense. Instead, the Sizers call for adults to put stock in the suggestions of children, since they watch and listen to adults all the time and have learned more than we realize.”

A suggestion, immediately endorsed: One way to think about the way we refer to the relationship with a school or classroom—instead of calling it adoption, let’s call it a partnership.

When inviting parents—have food available, arrange carpools, let folks know they can dress however they want, have their kids in the plays…. there are lots of things to do to get students to come.

We talked about the Tacoma schools group. See the web page, at Note the addition of a linked page, at, which is about the Nov. 1-3 workshop at Harvard, to be visited by a contingent from Tacoma Schools, including a member of The Conversation. Members are asked to familiarize themselves with the material as a way of supporting these inquiries into

We discussed the lists we constructed last week, and talked about where to go with it from there.

One Group’s Ideas:
• We can assemble a list of books, a list of films, which support the study of our systems of value (such as Edwin Nichol’s work on axiology) that will constitute a foundation for Conversation topics. This can help reduce the invisible barriers of understanding.
• We can support a classroom or a school. There are different dimensions of this—supporting the teacher, finding ways to support the families. A couple of people asked about the PTA’s, or PTSA’s, whether they are active and viable. One Member recalled that in high school they had a way to identify for each student a Next Step after graduation—which implies early intervention, a group of parents taking care, talking to students and parents, getting conversations going about options, and the PTA was probably involved in this. One topic we discussed at some length: the burdens on low income families should never be underestimated—time demands, barriers mentioned earlier in today’s discussions, for examples—and it means the schools and support organizations need to find ways to welcome and encourage participation of parents.
• Schools should have tutors and teaching assistants in the classrooms of our schools. Many of us in this room have the skills to do that. Some of us remember going to school with teaching assistants in the classroom. We can advocate for this in our schools.
• These conversations led to a deeper consideration of systems of values, of learning tutoring skills.

Another Group’s report:
• We should continue as we are—in the process of getting there, we are on the right Track in the Conversation, esp. in the group dynamics of how we reach those goals (such as influencing the system, closing the achievement gap).
• Inviting people to supporting events, such as the discussions today about getting students to the New Orleans Monologues, November 9.
• The music events, such as So Just, and encouraging members of the Conversation to get out and do the things that use their talents—some can preach, some play music, and all of us can ‘walk the walk’ of Conversation topics in the situations we find ourselves in. We should note that a Conversation member reported hearing from a couple of people who no longer come to our gathering because they did not feel welcome here—because of gender identity issues. We were encouraged to consider this, and consider that we have some unfinished business here. Another member said that she feels welcomed here.

Another Group’s report:
• We need to be doing more street action. We can come up with a list of volunteer and service opportunities for Conversation members.
• A Conversation t-shirt is one way to let others know about us, noting that perhaps we should discuss the wisdom of growing in size.
• We should consider getting involved with schools earlier than high schools.

Another Group’s report: (to be emailed and included later)

Another Group’s report:
• We want to orient new people, have our history and vision, etc., put into a handy document, maybe a trifold, that we can keep ready for handouts. We should have a plan of introduction, to have a self-conscious welcome for new people. Part of it was the inclusion of a list of readings and other texts.
• Offer the Tacoma community at large an opportunity to read a book, perhaps something by M.L. King Jr. Someone mentioned Where Do We Go From Here. (A speech of that topic was given by Dr. King on August 16, 1967, and you can read it at

Discussion of the group lists: There are some common charges in the lists, and some implications for how we get involved in activities that arise out of Conversation discussions. People find us in different ways, with different expectations, identities, resources, and commitments. The common expectation here is that people come to the Conversation, listen earnestly, and over time come to identify the places where they wish to make a difference.

There was some discussion of the report of a couple of people not coming because they felt unwelcome. We are sort of on the side that wants to include everybody, and if some don’t show up because they don’t like being near certain people, well, that is a cost of trying to be inclusive.

Some Announcements:

A Member distributed an advisory ballot for the upcoming election. Call any regularly attending member for its suggestions.

Peace Community Center, Nov. 8, 6:30 am, is having a breakfast and you are encouraged to contact colleen.

Friday Nov. 2, 9-3:30. 923 S. 8th st, Catherine’s Place, a workshop on “Bullies, Manipulators, and other relationship.

Saturday, Oct. 27, noon at 23rd and Jackson in Seattle, there is a peace march. Tacomans can meet at the Tacoma Dome bus station at 9:30, and a caravan from there at 10 am.

This Friday, 7 pm, David Price is going to be at King’s Books talking about the topic of his recent book: how anthropologists and other experts are being used in war efforts.

Sun. Nov. 11, 1-4, a Sunday Salon fund raiser for United For Peace of Pierce County. See Kristi Nebel.