How Differently We Have to Explain ‘Insurrection’ to Children and Ourselves

So, the recent events that unfolded in our nation’s Capital brought Americans directly in front of their mirrors-PAST meeting PRESENT, to reflect on who this country is, and what we stand for. Are we the democracy that we are so proud to tell ourselves and everyone else? What do we tell our children is America?

trump nation
COVID-19, for months now, has forced everyone to stay at home. As a result also, this pandemic has presented many learning opportunities-“teachable moments” –for children and adults alike. We were rendered captive audiences, forced to watch television, for entertainment and for news. The nightly news, where ratings had continued to decrease, all of a sudden caught everyone’s attention. George Floyd, BLM, and then came- the ‘Insurrection’. Adults watched. Children watched. Families watched together. America in action. Those who didn’t watch right away, heard talk of the events at the Capitol Building, and were compelled to see for themselves. What a revelation!

What was thought to be impossible, exaggerations and complete lies about the actions alleged to have been taken by our police men and women and our elected and appointed officials, was played out in front of our eyes. There was no denying its truth. What was equally as shocking to watch was the heinous acts committed by our citizens themselves-and they were also white Americans.

Tough enough for black parents regarding necessary conversations to have with their children,  was to warn and prepare them for the potential, and highly probable interactions with law enforcement- the protocol, rules of engagement and the consequences. These discussions had become a ‘regular’ aspect of parenting. It was an unfortunate routine out of daily concern for their children’s safety; not about any criminal acts that their child may or may not have committed. It was about the assumptions of guilt held by police and the narratives that law enforcement held as justification for disregarding their rights. Seen as threats, not cautioning children against committing criminal acts, parents had to teach them how to act, what to do and what not to do in their presence.
You see, there has always been a double standard, two separate sets of rules and race-based experiences in American society. What was permissible behaviors and attitudes  for whites, was impermissible for blacks. Everyone understood that, and children grew up learning that as a fact of life as a black person in this country. Whites could exercise freedom of speech, and expect the presumption of innocence first. Whites could engage in conversations with authority figures without seeming ‘uppity’ or ‘sass-mouthing’. That was tolerated and accommodated.

Ask questions? If a black person dare question whites or law enforcement specifically, it was seen as defiance, an act of violence of sorts against them. After all of these years, there was still a ‘place’ for black folk. Worse than that, children were taught to understand that they had to stay in their place around whites, or anything belonging to or associated with white people.

insurrection
Protests? With the knowledge that there was always a separate set of rules to abide by, their collective and unified voices of dissatisfaction are almost always peaceful, non-violent and definitely not destructive. Black people, when in protest mode, fight for total equality, equity and access- as no different from all others. The fight is never to destroy the democratic process or property, but rather to insist that we uphold its tenets in practice.Thus, discussions about the Capital and the ‘insurrection’ impacts black families much differently than it affects whites.

When we explain to ourselves or our children that which played out on television, it is not as life-shattering an issue for black parents. It rests upon the non families of color, to do the explaining and make sense of what they and their children saw on TV. Their messages are different and less confusing, mainly because by the time they become parents, they already understand America better than America understands itself.
In other words, blacks look at those images and tell themselves that it is confirmation that there is a double standard. They tell their children that these are acts that they could never imagine themselves doing and getting away with it or imagine  surviving.  For black people, it was evidence of that contradictory American standard practices.
They can say to themselves and their children, with certainty that this would never be allowed to happen at all had they been black. The National Guard, Local police and even the Marines would have been at the gates, steps with full riot gear. Rubber and real bullets would fly and people would lose their lives, be beaten and/or arrested, long before they made their way to the top step.

They tell themselves ‘see, that’s white people!” That is not their concern, because theirs is deeper and more basic than that. Many black families are certainly saying to one another, “Thank goodness they weren’t black people involved here.”  That is the extent to which they must explain the way people terrorized the very foundational pillars of government.

So, the many articles that are written and conversations that center around ways to explain that scene to children, it is a white conversation. What happened at that federal building, proved confusing and difficult to speak about, because what was shown was not black people in action. They were people who looked like themselves and their children. Whites teach and tell themselves to expect raw mob violence from black people. It is what the media reinforces. This latest scene dictated that it is this group who must explain to their children.
These people weren’t the Klan, wearing white robes, and they weren’t seeing Middle Eastern or indigenous folks either. They saw themselves and it was shocking. Certainly none of them thought that they would ever live to see such acts committed by the people for whom this country was structured and intended to benefit. 

Explanations? I can’t lie and tell you that I know what you should say to your children. What I do know with certainty is that it is time to reflect on your values, your core issues and concerns about this democracy. As flawed as we may be, this is certainly among the best governments designed for white people. Its documents suggest all people, but somehow white people, still reaping the benefits of this government, are apparently feeling threatened, fearful and incredibly angry and destructive.

capital mess
What has to be explained to children is why there is so much anger, fear and why things like this can happen when they are the actors- perpetrating such violence. Explanations must center around how fear can become anger and rage and then violence; pure lawlessness.

Why was the law rendered helpless? That is never seen in real life, on TV and truly not what we lead children to believe ever happens. The ‘good guys’ did nothing. They allowed themselves to be overrun, overpowered and made to look either inept or complacent, and otherwise nonexistent in that situation.

Try to explain, first to yourselves, to make sure that it makes sense and that you can answer these questions honestly. Ask those very basic questions and try to come up with answers that are the real true answers. Children can no longer stomach lies that we have been telling ourselves and them for generations now. This generation has their own sources of information, and they can compare notes, easily.

Be honest. If you don’t have any answers, begin by reading the various accounts of what happened. Look for information that contradicts your belief, and explore them all. Your jobs are made more complex if you believe that children aren’t going to go online and look for their own answers. They will hear from other people.
As the saying goes-“keep it real”. This may be one of the most important discussions to hold with your children. What you tell them needs to be well thought out. As much as we know about children’s brain development, we should know that they know, fundamentally, when we aren’t being forthcoming. They may just ignore you. You will have to tell your children about white privilege, and identify its roots as being white supremacy. What you have to tell them is that both of these are fallacies, myths, and reasons to be lazy and get automatic rewards and allows one to be rewarded absent merit, hard work, but by melanin content alone.

You will have to engage in the examination of all that Confederacy means, and what it has meant in this country. Above all else, explanations to children will certainly center on and connect to racist ideologies. Explain how they connect. Explain that racism  became a prevalent perspective that influenced practices, including laws. You may even have to show evidence of where and how these laws were written. Finally, you may be called to connect the past with the present, as they are still so clearly inter-related.

Don’t let them tune you out now. There will come a time when children will need you to tell them the truth, and are counting on it from you. Disappoint them and you may just set a terrible precedence, from which you may never recover, as parents to whom your children look for guidance. The truth is always best, but you must be open to that truth first. All conversations are that much easier  when you are sure of the truths and also recognize the tendency for people to embrace their own manufactured truths.

mob scene

Children need to know why those people did what they did. Although no one can say with absolute certainty, there is a root cause and factors that influenced them as well. American parents, white parents, it is this latest incident that will force everyone to reflect. Reflect? The incident at the Capitol Building just presented another opportunity for us all to get things right. We can now begin the process of either, being strong enough to stand up for what’s right versus what’s not. Or we can pretend that we don’t know what happened or why or where the initial seedling came from. It wasn’t President Trump, although he had a big hand in these events. It is deeper rooted than he alone; he just tapped into it as it had been cleverly hidden to the masses.

Will you tell your children the same old stories? Will you tell children or each other that this was a sad look at American hatred? Did this arise out of love for this country or a hatred for the ‘other’ in this country? That hatred is an outward symptom of an inward fear. How do you feel about these issues?

How do you wish your children to feel, grow to believe about themselves? Do you wish them to feel ‘entitled’ or ‘competent’? Competent implies a sense of self-esteem, confidence in one’s own ability and worth by deeds. Entitled implies a feeling that one is owed something just because. Rather, because they put in the work, met the competition unafraid and fully prepared, certain that they are qualified, with the strength of character to accept the possibility that someone else may be more qualified and prevail. A fair fight throughout life. Is it helpful that it is skin color that determines what one can do or where one can go in life?  

Decide to take in some harsh truths about who we are as human beings, American citizens and as parents and teachers of the next generation. Do we wish this for their future, too? Remember that the future you may want to see for your children may not be the world in which they wish to live. This is an opportunity for America to take the ‘blinders’ off to face some harsh truths and show our youngest people that we are better, stronger, more informed and educated than our past.

If we recognize a problem,  we have to openly admit that there is a problem. This is a problem for America, and not a novel one. Don’t ‘whitewash’ it. Also, remember that, if anyone is even the least bit proud of their actions on that day, there would be no national efforts to identify and apprehend these folk. They would speak out and stand proud of their participation. To me, it sends a message that there is deeply felt shame for what was done. Tell the truth-shame the Devil! Your children will respect your honesty.

This latest stain on history was an event that also serves as an opportunity to commit to growth and positive change. Show who you really are, the values you hold dear and demonstrate that, above all else, you are willing to uphold every one of the values you teach and sometimes preach to your children,  with consistency. In the end, it remains a personal decision. What and how did you tell your children?

 

 

The Data on Virtual Learner Engagement During COVID-19

Due to the pandemic, classroom instruction is now virtual. Learning is to take place at home for school age children across the U.S., with few exceptions. Learners in New York City public schools have been mandated to receive their academic instruction via remote learning platforms. Requiring wifi access and devices to receive this instruction, not all students have guaranteed access to learning.

Those students who do have access to the tools they need to logon to their classrooms, aren’t all doing so. Since last Spring, when instruction first became via remote, the numbers of students who have actively engaged appears to be discouragingly low. A middle grades learner whom I have been tutoring during this time, told me that among his classmates, only 4 or 5 students have been logging in for class on a daily basis.

little girl taking online classes

Perhaps it is naive of me to assume that the transition to remote learning would have been a smooth and seamless one. A convenient transition for students,teachers and families alike. My assumptions couldn’t possibly have been mine alone. Surely, educators believed the same thing, as well. Otherwise, appropriate plans would have been made. The reality has demonstrated differently, grossly confounding these assumptions.

Planning remote instruction, for schools, was done quickly, not comprehensively conceived or strategized in alignment with needs or circumstances of their populations. We have left previously existing barriers to learning unaddressed. These barriers continue to pose problems for learners, block access to instruction and impact their levels of engagement. So many students are struggling, as are their parents. Who are these students? They are those with disabilities, in temporary housing, language learners, and those who live in low income communities. Primarily, children of color in New York City.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, about 185,000 school-age kids in New York City have no broadband internet at home, and half of those have no internet access at all. Another 75,000 have internet access but no device available to them.

The Education Department counted multiple interactions with school: a student’s submission of an assignment, participation in an online chat, or even just a response to a call or email — any form of communication from the family.

Even by this limited measure of engagement, English language learners, students in temporary housing and students with disabilities all engaged at lower rates than others during the all-remote part of the spring semester. Faring worst of all in terms of interaction were students who were either in temporary housing or doubling up with another family. Among this group, on average 20% failed to make any contact with school whatsoever. While there was no specific breakdown of students in foster care or in juvenile detention facilities, it’s probably a safe bet that these students make up a good number of that 20%.

If the findings from this new report by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York[CCC] is any indication of the nation’s total student population, then we must all act swiftly so as to not continue to fail our children. We must collectively identify, acknowledge and address the numerous factors that are severely impacting youngsters’ ability to learn and make progress through the academic offerings provided by our school systems.

LEA[local education authority] and SEAs[state education authorities] need to advocate for its students. Beginning at the community school level, going to the state and then federal levels of government,  it is time to lobby for equity. In fact, demands need to be made, appealing to internet and cable service providers, as well as businesses that manufacture computers and other devices now required of learners. Children need fully operational devices at home and families need internet access. Both are to be deemed essential services.

man in yellow polo shirt sitting on chair

 

It is clear that education outcomes are directly impacted by social realities. These realities inform us that the inequities that exist in the greater society have great influence on what happens in school and public education, specifically. The framework of public education is that any child, from anywhere will benefit from the knowledge and tools acquired in school. 

Separate has never been equal in education.  Even though they are still highly segregated, for PreK-12 children enrolled in public schools, learning opportunities are supposed to be equal and equitable. There has to be one standard prerequisite condition, for all. Now that learning is to take place in the home, every child, in every family, no matter their economic status or race, is to be equally minimally equipped to learn. The tools needed today are different from yesterday. Not just paper and pencil or books; children need access to devices and technology, right where they are-in those spaces they call home.

Among the other things that affect healthy growth and learning, these are the ‘new’  21st Century basics that haven’t received sufficient attention until now. Hopefully, as our eyes are more open, we rise to the occasion, seize the moment, and  begin to understand that learning does not happen in a vacuum. Without the tools needed for learning and academic achievement, neither students nor their families will actively engage with schools or the educators who are the facilitators of learning, to achieve the best potential outcomes through frameworks built on the principles of equity.

 

 

Flying Classroom Launches An After-School STEM Initiative for Student Learners in Virginia

 Opportunities for Hands-On And Virtual Learning Experiences Through Culturally Relevant Role Models

How can ALL kids become STEM-enthusiasts? After all, science, technology,  engineering and math[STEM]  Present opportunities for them to create, design, imagine and experience learning by placing ‘mirrors’ before them to demonstrate reality-based relatability. It’s a downright inspired teaching strategy for captivating the most vulnerable learners who often  sit ‘outside’ of the mainstream and attend lower income and under-performing schools.  

In Virginia’s Richmond and Henrico County,  hundreds of school students recently participated in virtual expeditions and other after-school STEM adventures and projects thanks to a wonderfully inspired partnership between Virginia Department of Education[VDOE] and Flying Classroom.

Flying Classroom is a supplemental STEM+ curriculum based on the global expeditions of pioneering African American aviator Barrington Irving. In 2007, Irving achieved two world records by becoming the youngest pilot and first African American to complete a solo flight around the world. Irving, who turned down football scholarships to pursue his dream of becoming an aviator, founded Flying Classroom in 2014 to introduce students to STEM career possibilities.

Visit the official Flying Classroom website to enlighten and inspire!

Through Flying Classroom, students accompany Irving on his expeditions and explore real-life applications of academic content in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the humanities.

On Monday, November 16, 2020, Irving delivered 350 Flying Classroom STEM kits for participating students during a fly-in event at the Richmond Jet Center.

The partners of this event included Captain Barrington Irving, Flying Classroom; Jason Kamras, Superintendent, Richmond Public Schools; Beth Teigen, Deputy Superintendent, Henrico County Public Schools; Mike Taylor, CEO, Henrico Education Foundation; Jeanine Turner, Program Director, NextUp RVA; David Eshelman, Director of Career and Technical Education, VDOE; and Randall Johnson, Title II/IV Specialist, VDOE

The fly-in was conducted in compliance with CDC and Virginia Department of Health guidelines for physical distancing and COVID-19 prevention.

“I want to thank Captain Irving and Flying Classroom for partnering with VDOE to provide these exciting learning opportunities for students in 21st Century Community Learning Centers,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said. “Flying Classroom will open windows to the world and introduce students to the unlimited possibilities that await in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And I know students will be inspired by Captain Irving’s many accomplishments and his amazing life story.”

The STEM kits allow students at eight 21st Century Community Learning Centers at schools in Richmond and Henrico County to participate in virtual expeditions, adventures and challenges based on Irving’s career and accomplishments, including catching snakes in the Amazon, exploring glaciers and HALO (high-altitude, low-opening) parachute jumping. The kits also include at-home activities for students aligned with Virginia’s academic standards.

In the spring, students at after-school learning centers  in Richmond, and  Henrico County will be challenged to construct a Dodge Daytona STEM vehicle designed by Factory Five Racing Inc. The goal of the Flying Classroom Automotive Car Build program is to improve student attendance and engagement, and introduce students to careers in the automotive industry.

At the conclusion of the car-build project, Flying Classroom’s 18-wheel Mobile Auto Lab will visit all of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers in the commonwealth.

VDOE is supporting the initiative with $250,000 in funding from the commonwealth’s 21st Century Learning Centers federal grant. Other partners include Virginia Commonwealth University, the Wendell Scott Foundation, Richmond Raceway, Henrico County Public Schools, the Henrico Education Foundation, NextUp RVA and Richmond Public Schools.

pexels-photo-5896456

The federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers program supports the creation of opportunities for academic enrichment during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics; offers students enrichment activities that complement regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.

Every  school district- just ought to ramp up their offerings for learners and their families and provide real-life relevant instruction, hands-on learning experiences, and deliver inspiration, increased life and career options and ‘mirrors’ to communities who see life and themselves through too many windows.

We, as parents and educators, spend more than enough  time placing windows in front of children, amidst an underlying assumption that children will which is particularly impactful to children of color. Impacting their self-image, self-esteem, and limiting the natural inclination to dream without boundaries, the absence of the introduction of brilliant achievers who look like them works to perpetuate the ‘status quo’. ALL children need exposure to black and brown excellence…as a naturally-occurring example of equity, possibilities, and less rigid views on race and ethnicity.

Event such as these are not, no, should not be, rare opportunities to turn the world, as taught, upside down. It is actually right side up. When deliberate, intentional, carefully planned, and collaborative, lower income community schools and educators can teach to a fully engaged audience. I am deeply moved and encouraged by the state of Virginia’s walking the talk  in the desire for excellence through equity.

This year, reaching a few hundred learners, can be next year’s few thousand, and so forth. Promoting STEM and careers tied to these areas of learning, and in such ways as offered by Flying Classroom, sparks new interests, hones skills and broadens worldviews. We now stand in the doorway of real change in the learning landscape and since education is closely tied to income and earning potential, we must expand our adult creative capacity.

From the protests of late, screams for social justice in all forms, children must no longer be pigeon-holed into narrowly defined boxes. If we don’t dream big for our children, all of them, we are wrong to expect that they will sit in a classroom and dream big for themselves-not without exposure, involvement and relevant figures to show, not just tell them.  So proud am I that the South is rising towards righting generations of wrongs, and is demonstrating  in education that representation is key. This is STEM at its best!

Can REM Sleep Halt the Negative Effects of Trauma?

Did you know that there is new evidence that suggests the existence of a time-sensitive window when—if you intervene to improve sleep—you could potentially stave off the negative effects of trauma? According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, increasing the amount of time spent asleep immediately after a traumatic experience, may ease any negative consequences.

Published in Scientific Reports, the study helps build a case for the use of sleep therapeutics following trauma exposure. It was found that if you can increase sleep, you can improve function.

close up photography of woman sleeping

The findings hold particular promise for populations that are routinely exposed to trauma, such as military personnel and first responders, and may also benefit victims of accidents, natural disaster, violence, and abuse.

In a series of experiments in rats, researchers  examined the links between poor sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—a psychiatric condition that affects an estimated 8 million Americans each year.

People with PTSD often experience nightmares and other types of sleep disturbances, such as frequent awakenings and insomnia. An initial thought was that those sleep disturbances may cause further cognitive impairment and worsen the effects of PTSD or the initial trauma. The researchers thus set out to see whether repairing the sleep disturbances associated with trauma exposure could help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD.

Their study used methods reviewed and approved by Washington State University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which oversees all university animal research procedures to ensure animals’ humane treatment throughout their lifecycle. This included a commonly used PTSD rodent model in combination with optogenetics, a technique that uses light-sensitive proteins to control the activity of brain cells.

After going through the PTSD protocol, rats were assigned to two groups. In one group, the researchers used optogenetic stimulation to activate melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH)—a sleep-promoting brain cell type—over a period of seven days. Animals in the second group served as controls.

Comparing the two groups, the researchers found that optogenetic stimulation increased the duration of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep—the sleep phase thought to be important for learning and memory—across the rats’ rest and active phases.

The researchers then assessed the rats’ behavior on a three-day classical conditioning experiment involving a memory task. On day one, rats learned to associate an audible tone with the mildly unpleasant experience of receiving a small foot shock immediately after hearing the tone. After several occurrences, rats would freeze after hearing the tone, anticipating the foot shock. On day two, they heard the tone 30 times without receiving the shock, allowing them to gradually extinguish that memory. On the third day, the researchers played the tone 10 times to test to what extent the previous day’s memory extinction had stuck. They found that rats that had received optogenetic stimulation to increase their sleep time had more successfully extinguished the memory, freezing less than control rats.

toddler lying on pink fleece pad

It seems likely that if you are kept awake after a trauma, this could potentially be harmful to your cognitive function, though it wasn’t directly tested in this study. As an example, victims of traffic accidents,  may not get much opportunity to sleep as they are poked, prodded, examined, and treated after being hospitalized for injuries. Though prioritizing sleep may not be feasible in victims with potentially life-threatening injuries, increasing sleep in other trauma-exposed populations could practically be done. Military personnel coming back from  tour of duty could be encouraged to sleep and potentially be given sleep-promoting drugs to help them stave off any trauma they may have experienced.

Although these experiments suggest that manipulating sleep immediately after a trauma may be beneficial, such an intervention may or may not be effective for traumatic experiences that occurred in the more distant past. These researchers, consequently, now wish to pinpoint those molecules that are important for regulating sleep or learning and memory, to help them identify targets for the development of better drugs to help trauma-exposed populations.

Based on their findings, it is also suggested that the use of antidepressants known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in people with PTSD may need to be re-examined, as SSRIs are known to suppress REM sleep. Ultimately, we may be doing trauma  victims a disservice by prescribing drugs that actually eliminate a potential therapeutic avenue  by removing  REM sleep when these findings suggest that they should be increasing REM sleep.