We Need Your Help: Letters for Latino Students

Today, I am want to give a shout out to a new initiative that Eduflack has recently launched. As loyal readers know, I am incredibly proud of my family and the story of how we became a story. As chronicled in my award-winning book, Dadprovement, both of my kiddos were adopted from Guatemala. They are full birth siblings. And we are all incredibly proud of their heritage.

Next week, the entire family is headed out to Missouri as part of a national gathering of families who have adopted from Guatemala. MoGuat provides families like ours a sense of community and of belonging. And it helps our children, in particular, to see that they are not alone.

It’s no secret that now is not the ideal time to be young and brown in America. Talk of walls and sending families “back to their own countries” sends the wrong message to kids. It can also be very difficult for young people to understand, as they feel they aren’t wanted. That is why I launched Letters to Latino Students. I want to begin a national movement that shows what a bright future our young people have ahead of them. The first phase of this is seeking encouraging words from leaders across the country — Latino or not — on what is ahead. The call for these letters is below. I ask all Eduflack readers to please share this post with any and all who can contribute. All notes will be posted to the Letters to Latino Students website and will be shared as part of a broader effort.

Instead of walls, let’s build some bridges. We need those letters, folks.

You understand how important it is for children to have quality role models. But in the U.S. today, millions of Latino students hear far too often that they are part of the problem and that their dreams count less than those of many of their classmates. I am writing to you not seeking money but simply asking for your inspiration for those students who need to hear that they can be successful and that they are as important as their more privileged counterparts.

Through Letters to Latino Students, we are seeking motivational works for so many of today’s young people. So I write to ask you for a favor. Can you share with us some motivational words for today’s students? Can you offer a story from your own childhood that inspired you to finish school, go to college, or seek your passions? Can you share those quotes or movies or songs or books that gave you the inspiration to become the success you are now today?

Too much of today’s media communicates – intentionally or otherwise – that brown children are somehow at fault for many of our nation’s ails. They are told we need walls to keep them away and that they should “go back to where they came from.” And while they will soon represent the single largest group of students in our public schools, Hispanic students are too often made to feel inferior.

Let me be honest with you, this is a very personal subject to me. As the father of two Latino children, I have heard, seen, or experienced what can be said or done to kids that look like my beloved children. I know how brown students can be seen as a burden in the public schools, having heard from my own elected officials that we need to “do less” in our public schools to make them less attractive to “those families.” And while I know that my children can achieve anything, many others don’t share that view.

Letters to Latino Students seeks to share with all Hispanic students that anything is possible. It hopes to show today’s young people that there are generations before them that have succeeded, embracing and proud of where they come from and who they are. We hope to ensure that all Latino students can be inspired to persevere, regardless of the options placed before them.

I hope that you will take a few moments to write some inspirational words that can be shared with today’s Hispanic young people. All responses will be shared on our website, and all will be heavily promoted through social media. You can send your letters or thoughts to letters@letterstolatinostudents.org.

My kids, and the millions of children like them, look forward to your response.

Respecting the “Modern” Family

In today’s age of blended families, alternative families, and just play different families, it is hard to believe some still see the good ol’ nuclear family as the norm in the United States. It is even harder to believe that an school teacher would hold such a view.

But over at Medium, I write about how a teacher’s failure to recognize the 21st century construct of the American family can do real damage to the children in her classroom. In my latest contribution to Ashoka’s Changemakers in Education series, I write:

We worry about how testing is affecting kids today. We wring our hands over how standards or higher expectations are impacting our children. We fret over whether students are expressing enough grit or enough skills to succeed in the future. Maybe, just maybe, we should also realize that there is no one cookie cutter to define today’s kids. There is no one way to describe their abilities, their interests, learning achievements, or even their family structures or backgrounds.

Give it a read. I promise it’ll be worth it.

 

Teaching True Meaning of First Amendment Rights

For weeks, Eduflack has been biting his tongue on the rash of intolerance offered in the name of tolerance on our college campuses. Too many stories of free speech being squashed in the name of “safe zones,” too many instances of aspiring “activists” believing Constitutional rights only apply to those individuals and causes that one completely agrees with.

Over at Medium this week, I wrote about our desperate need for today’s college students to truly understand the rights that they claim to embrace. Quoting everything from the First Amendment to President Andy Shepherd’s monologue from the movie, The American President, I just had my “I’m mad as hell” moment.

As I wrote:

But a funny thing happened between a generation known for its passionate advocacy for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War and now. Today, too many see those freedoms and speech and assembly with self-inflicted blinders, believing such rights are meant to apply only to those who agree with us.

As originally conceived, the First Amendment was written to ensure a protected place for reasoned dissent in our new nation. Today, it is used as a weapon to protect against disagreement or opposing viewpoints and silence those who may see things differently.

When, exactly, did we allow the First Amendment to be bastardized to prevent civil discourse and public debate? When, exactly, did we determine it was OK to defend free speech, but only if it was speech we agreed with?

I know it is Thanksgiving week and all, but give it a read. We should all be thankful for our rights, whether we are red, blue, or purple with sparkly pink polka dots.

“The Strength of Street Knowledge”

Yes, I was one of the those fans that lined up this past weekend to see Straight Outta Compton, the bio-pic on the rise and fall of the musical genius known as N.W.A. And yes, I was one of those kids, one of those white boys from the suburbs, who was a huge fan of the powerful lyrics Ice Cube wrote about a world I would never understand.

As a kid, I didn’t listen to heavy metal. I wasn’t into alternative music like REM or U2 or Depeche Mode. No, I was into rap. As a young kid growing up in North Jersey, Run DMC was my gateway music. I was immediately taken by the lyrics and the poetry. As I got older, my preferences got a little harder. I loved the post-License to Ill Beastie Boys. I couldn’t get enough of Public Enemy. I cherished a bootleg cassette I had of 2 Live Crew (which I just told my mother about last week). And I got amped listening to N.W.A.

I looked at music like Public Enemy and N.W.A as I assume my parents’ generation looked at music by folks like Bob Dylan. It was protest music. It spoke truth to power. It gave voice to many previously without words. And to kids like me, it pulled back a curtain so we could catch just a glimpse of the world, of the struggles, and of the realities that were foreign to us, but important to our development into men (and into hopefully responsible men).

As I got older, my musical tastes matured. In college, I took a real liking to 3rd Bass (it was even on my college answering machine, where they sampled JFK). Jay-Z and Eminem and Snoop remain on my regular play lists today. But N.W.A and Public Enemy are still my go-tos.

I’ve introduced my kids to a little of it, namely Public Enemy’s Fight the Power. They sadly know Snoop from his work with Katy Perry. And they love Salt n Pepa from the Geico commercials (yes, I’ll wipe a tear).

Twenty-five years ago or so, I was taken in by the movie Do The Right Thing. Originally, the draw was the music (obviously). But I still regularly watch the movie (it is one of the staples on my iPad) because of the story it tells. As an Italian-American, I feel a personal connection. I still don’t want to accept that no matter how open-minded we all can claim to be, that we all have a break point, and we all have that inner Sal (or worse, the inner Pino) with us. I don’t want to ever be so blind to the realities around me.

So this weekend, I watched Straight Outta Compton, and was completely taken in. The music reminded me of my childhood, while the story was one I was aware of, but not completely familiar. In many ways, it was a Shakespearean story, as the lives of young men who would grow up to be the Dr. Dre of Beats headphones fame, the actor known as Ice Cube, the felon Suge Knight, the up-and-comers Tupac and Snoop, and the visionary Eazy E were intertwined over a relatively short period.

How does all of this relate to my regular writings here on Eduflack? I’m not exactly sure. I do know that my childhood, and the soundtrack of that childhood, is an important piece of who I have become and the work that I do. I know that the social, justice, and educational issues hit in those songs continue to be topics that we struggle with today. And I realize that there are still far too many kids, and they were kids back then, whose voices aren’t being heard.

This morning, I found myself listening to nothing but rap on my morning run. It gave me a lot to think about and a lot to reflect on. As luck would have it, I hit the home stretch as a song from Darryl McDaniels (of Run DMC fame) hit the shuffle. The song came out in 2007, just a few months before the adoption of my son was official. Every time I’ve heard the song since then, I think of my son. And those thoughts usually come with tears.

That’s why rap is the soundtrack of my life. It isn’t because I was a suburban kid thinking I was an OG. I wasn’t pretending I was understanding what it was like to come of age in South Central. It is because I happened to be listening to Public Enemy as I was driving back from a college internship interview, only to learn later that the Rodney King verdict had come in. And it is because in his song Just Like Me, DMC captures feelings about my kids and adoption that I couldn’t previously verbalize.

Taylor Swift (even when she tries to rap) and Meghan Trainor and even Katy Perry don’t make me think. Dre, Cube, and E do. each and every time.

Racism, Empathy, Liberals, and Baseball

As I’ve previously written, I am honored to be part of the Ashoka Foundation’s Changemaker Education effort, serving as an Ashoka Empathy Ambassador. This past week, I wrote over at Medium on a very personal experience from my childhood, where I heard supposedly liberal, open-minded parents demonstrate some textbook closed-mindedness when it came to busing and the impact of bringing kids from the inner city into their suburbs.

As I wrote, reflecting on my experiences as a kid:

I want to be empathetic about it. But I’m not necessarily talking about showing empathy for my friend. I want to better understand what in the world can motivate a supposedly liberal, educated adult male to be so thoughtless, so careless, and so ridiculous with his thinking. I want to know how adults who can preach tolerance and equality, and talk about the need for civil rights, can mean it as long as it doesn’t extend to their own local parks and schools.

I hope you’ll take the time to read the full piece over at Medium here, and to really spend some time with some of the great writing being offered through the entire Ashoka Changemakers effort.