SIC Scholarship

I can’t read everything, even in the subfields of my particular interests. If someone asks me if I’ve read a particular piece, chances are the answer is either “no” or “I have no idea.” In other words, it’s very hard for a piece to stick in my memory because there are so, so many. I say this because this essay here is entirely subjective, and intentionally so.

When I think about what articles stick to my ribs, so to speak, and the type of scholarship and public engagement in which I hope to participate and that I would like to encourage in my colleagues and compatriots, I have begun to codify (though not quantify) my interests along three different scales.

I hope to read, share, and create, SIC scholarship.

S(trong), I(mportant), and C(ompelling).

Strong is the most traditional aspect of it, the scholarly rigor. Basically, peer-reviewed, though I know this excludes some valuable work. This is what I need to continue to learn about in my methods classes and my other coursework. I don’t know that I agree with the way rigor is defined, and it’s surely used as a gatekeeping tool, but if I’m going to cite something and it’s going to be criticized for relying on something not considered rigorous, then I should be aware ahead of time. For my own reading, I don’t care as much, but especially while I’m in school and soon after, I am mostly reading articles so I can turn around and write. So, yeah, it needs to be strong for me to rely on it, even though I think the journal system is a mess and so are conferences. I can’t exist fully outside of the system just yet.

Important is purely subjective, of course, but to me, it means two main things. It’s important to me if it’s related to my subfields, sure, because I can use it, but it’s also important to me if it seeks to challenge oppression, dominance, white supremacy, etc. This is mostly about the goal of the study or the article. Articles that reify power structures just aren’t important to me, aside from their roles as counterexamples of what I would not like to consume or produce.

And for me, I hope to consume and create work that is Compelling. This is purely about the way people write (or otherwise express themselves). This is what journals really stifle, and if an author can force precise prose into their published piece, it can totally sing. I will cite a piece that’s important and/or strong, usually looking at the findings, but when the introduction or “discussion” sections are particularly compelling, that’s when I hold articles close to my chest.

I think if more of us strove for these qualities, our work would be much better. Imagine if it wasn’t unusual to challenge oppression in our work. Imagine if reading most journals wasn’t dull. Imagine!

This is just a silly idea, but I think it’s a fun concept, and I’m going to hold onto it.


A Dream Coming Into Focus

The class I’m enjoying the most this fall is a research seminar where we basically get time to deeply consider the direction of our work and pursuits. We’ve only had 2 sessions (vs 4 of the other classes) and will only have two more, but in just these two times, I’ve gone from basically being completely uncertain about where to go with my research to pretty well set.

Leaving aside the particulars of quant/qual and the actual work I hope to publish, let me tell you about a dream I have.

These days, most English Language Teachers are, as I’ve said before, Teachers of Standardized English, even if they don’t refer to themselves that way. They’re mostly white, like any group of educators, and there is, in my view, a not-great undercurrent of savior syndrome in the field. It’s not bad for a job to be fulfilling, but too many of us see our job as some sort of charity, and unless we’re volunteering (which some ELT folks are, but still), it’s still a job with professional standards and expectations. I want this image to die.

What I want to do isn’t to make English stop being taught. That’s silly, because, for all the railing I could do about colonialism and racism, people still move to places where the language is spoken and want to acquire it. But imagine this, if you will: An adult moves to New York and, like their relatives before them, is absorbed into a community of their home language. They want to go to school and/or work, so they decide they need to acquire more English. They don’t have the money to pay for a private language academy, and they hear about a nonprofit or another organization that offers free or low-cost classes. So they go and sign up and return for the first day of class. If this was happening now (and it is probably happening literally today), they get to their first class and it’s a smiling white woman, and the student has about a 50/50 chance of leaving before the session ends. But imagine they get to class and there’s a teacher from their own community at the front of the room. Imagine someone who knows their experience existing in a world that oppresses them racially and culturally. The person doesn’t necessarily have to speak their language – in NYC, you can’t be expecting everyone to speak every language, after all – but just that sharead experience would go a long way. I remain convinced – and there’s research backing me up, though not in the same context – that part of the reason my classes were so well-attended at my last job was the shared experience of being something of an outsider, even though it wasn’t always voiced.

I don’t mean to say we should kick out the good teachers we have. No. But there are always new Standardized English teachers being developed, and especially since it’s often a second career type of thing, we have the opporunity – and, I’d argue, the obligation – to change the new faces we place in these spaces.

How do we get there? The work I hope to do would catalogue how often race and other forms of oppression are part of new Standardized English teachers’ syllabi and/or lessons, and then I would speak to professors who emphasize these issues to have them share why these topics are so important for new teachers to learn. From there, if I can publish on these things, I can find work promoting these ideas, and maybe the industry can grow and change in some small way. Maybe.

For now, it’s just a dream, but at the very least, it’s never been clearer and more tangible than it is now.

On “Studying” Race

What does it mean to study something?

I mean, if something is mentioned in passing, does that mean it’s been studied in a class?

If something is not the direct topic of a paper or an assignment but is implied, does that count? Is that better than nothing?

I ask because I’m in the process of collecting data from a survey on race in ELT, and one of the questions I’m asking is whether or not race was covered as a topic during the participants’ training.

Now, not all of these participants are people I know (which is probably good), but most of them are fellow alumni of my MA program. Some at different years than I was there, but still, many of us overlapped.

And I wonder, what does it mean to someone to have “studied” race? Because in my current program, even if the class isn’t about race (none have been), race comes up as a specific topic in every class, as well it must in education. We dig into it and chew it over.

Yet I wonder if the implication of race is enough for some to consider a topic studied, handled, examined. I think people’s general discomfort with race means any hint of it feels significant, but for someone like me who wants to really research the topic, the majority of discussions that could be considered racial were really about “culture” and rarely about the lived experiences of racialized people.

Do I blame them for this? Not really. I don’t even really blame the programs. I just think my data analysis is going to have to account for this, and that further studies may inquire as to what, exactly, is studied about race in TESOL preparation programs.

In Their Feelings

Oh boy.

So I am currently running a survey (which you can take if you’re an English Language Teacher, but I’m not putting the link here so that I don’t influence the data). The survey asks, in a few different ways, whether or not ELTs incorporate race into their lesson planning and instruction. It’s entirely okay for someone to answer “no,” because it would give me something to write about in my analysis. In fact, I’m expecting most respondents to say “no.”

But people are in their feelings.

I get it. Despite the things going on in the news, most people do not harbor deep-seated ill will towards members of other racial groups. I do believe that.

At the same time, almost everyone who is a part of a large institution is, by defintion, furthering institutional racism (and sexism and classism and so on, but race is my focus). That’s what “institutional racism” means. That’s what the modifier is for.

And this is hardly just a white/black problem, especially when it comes to adult ELT, where the student population is comprised of many different races. I just read a study from Hawaii where the “old school” ESL students – who were Asian – discriminated against the Micronesian students. But the problem in that study wasn’t so much the students treating each other poorly, which is just sort of what teenagers do. It was that the school did nothing to address the issue.

Look. Hate crimes are a huge problem, but they always have been. We know enough now to know that race is a factor in human lives and outcomes. You can call it a social construct – it is! – or something that shouldn’t matter – it shouldn’t! – but the fact is, to get intensely personal, if a cop wants to talk to me, it really doesn’t matter how many degrees I have, does it? I look the way I look. And I’m one of the luckiest ones.

King spoke of his issues with the “white moderate,” but I don’t think this is really about them, no matter what CNN would like us to believe about the Obama-Trump voters.

No, this isn’t really about white people per se. Because the insidious thing about institutional racism (and sexism and classism and so on) is that you don’t necessarily have to be a member of the majoritized group to perpetuate the system in place. Trump wouldn’t have won if several million women hadn’t excused his awful treatment of their gender, and you could replace him with other politicans and policies when it comes to race or class or other things.

So if it’s not the “white moderate,” then who is it?

It’s the “woke ally.”

I’m not calling being “woke” bad. Nor is allyship a problem, obviously. It’s the people who want to claim this status without doing the work to interrogate themselves and their own role that need to be challenged. And it’s a shame, because generally these are the people who can help, and who want to help, and whom we need to help.

I have no hope for the followers of Steve Bannon. I’m sure there are a few of them teaching, but mostly not so. And there are a lot of educators out there fighting the good fight, even despite their own discomfort with issues of race (for which extra training and support is needed).

But the woke ally needs to actually be woke enough to pause and look in the mirror if they want to really be an ally instead of just a performer on the public stage.

Student Reflections Vol. 1

I plan to occasionally comment on what I’ve discovered during my time as a doctoral student.

  1. I think it’s a shame when a published article (or book!) is ungrammatical or poorly composed, but I don’t find it any better when a piece is so stuffed with jargon that only the author (and the editors) can read it easily. I am not advocating for dumbing down anything – I remember my friends in Korea saying they spoke in broken English to their students – but the Venn diagram of “accessible writing” and “sophisticated writing” does indeed have an intersection. And to me my work will fall short if it doesn’t satisfy both requirements.
  2. I will someday become a researcher who cites his own previous work in his writing, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
  3. I am gratified that my program not only allows but encourages self-examination, and especially so that it seeks out students with an interest in equity.
  4. I think academia certainly does have a “liberal” bias, if only because, almost by definition, being conservative (not even just politically but in the denotation of the adjective itself) implies satisfaction with less change. That’s just what the word means. And being a doctoral student requires a ceaseless desire to grow. Those who don’t want to grow or just want to reinforce their own worldview are less likely to be accepted into such programs. Part of me would find it interesting to be in class with a more conservative group, though in a way I’m probably one of the more conservative people in my own cohort, and I’m really not very conservative at all.
  5. I expected it to be more conceptually complex, even out of my reach in some ways. That’s not an insult. I was always fearful of applying because I thought I’d be exposed as some sort of intellectual fraud. I think, now, that most people who have the energy and commitment to work nonstop for however many years can probably handle it if it makes sense for their lives, finances and careers.
  6. I am torn between focusing on qualitative studies, which I find, if done well, can be rich explorations of a small group of stories, and mixed methods. I doubt I’ll focus on purely quantitative studies as they haven’t grabbed me as strongly from what I’ve read, but it’s still early. And I know that numerical data gets the most funding.
  7. Academia is both more and less interesting than I thought. There are some really fascinating people and studies, and there are some of both that are extremely banal. I guess I was expecting X and have found it’s both 2x and .5x.
  8. I have no comment on the future job market. But there is always room for new voices, and I intend to be one. I am glad that my program is grading our writing on a strong (but coherent) voice in our work. I want my writing to always sound like me (or like me and a partner if the work is a collaboration).
  9. I’m glad to finally be a student at a public school, and a school where the student body is much more diverse than anywhere I’ve ever studied. I didn’t realize until I got my current job and then entered this program, but I have spent my entire life being the “only,” and it’s absolutely and utterly exhausting.
  10. I have learned enough about myself as a student now to say that, when I’m compelled by a topic, I need initial guidance, some scaffolding, and some support, and then I can hit the ground running. And without the immense weight that has always trailed me (re point #9), I can run faster than I ever have. The journey is just beginning but I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Where You Live Matters

I think we all knew this was true, but there is copious data backing it up now. Take a gander.

The main takeaways from this are what you might expect, that areas with lower “risk factors” of incarceration, single-parent homes and other such things give the children raised there a higher average household income as adults. Nothing is fated or guaranteed, as an individual from a “riskier” area can become wealthy and a person from a “safer” area can end up struggling, but the chances are what they are.

To me, the most interesting question is how to help the people who are nonetheless living in these areas. The study suggests we ought to help people move to give them a better chance, and if that helps some, then good for those folks.

But not everyone can move. So what sort of support can be provided so that neighborhoods – and the challenges within them – don’t doom people to future poverty?

My wife, who knows more about this, especially on the housing side, offers her opinion on how to support people in these neighborhoods, and she will have the last word on this.

Alissa says, “Supports must include, safe, affordable, functional housing and access to safe, nurturing, supportive schools/childcare.  This is not shocking, as we are often aware of the problems within cities and the lack of access to resources that money could buy; we just struggle to provide a way to overcome the barriers. There are a lot of models that support the benefits of economically diverse neighborhoods and communities, however this often lacks insight into the fundamentals of individual/household income limitations.  It won’t help to live in a “better” neighborhood if one cannot afford to take advantage of the access it provides.  This can create a feeling of insecurity that is wrongfully assumed would go away with said move.  For example, many households struggle to find affordable (and trustworthy) childcare and may rely on neighbors, family, or friends.  If this family moves to a “better,” and thus more distant area, their supports are now more difficult to access and logistics can become trickier. This family may now spend a large amount of time traveling greater distances to continue to utilize these vital supports and therefore spend less time in their “better” neighborhood.

These problems need to be solved within communities.  How can we enhance what’s there?  How do we help individual communities become safer and allow families to live where they truly choose, where they have strong ties?  This is possible, but it requires thought, time, and, of course, money.”


What do you think?

Good News Out of Indiana

Is that a statement you hear frequently? I would wager that no, no it is not.

But they’re closing the achievement gap through a specific, targeted program that is simultaneously not succeeding in other states.

The summary is here.

An excerpt:

Scholars have closed the college-going achievement gap and are more likely to attend college than their peers.
In 2016, 21st Century Scholars saw the highest college going rate (82 percent) among all demographic populations.
The college going rate for Scholars was over double that of their low-income peers (39 percent) and 12 percentage points higher than their higher-income peers (70 percent).
Scholars continue to make progress in early-college success, while other low-income students fall short.
Between 2014 and 2015 alone, the gap in early-college success between Scholars and the overall population was
reduced to only 2 percentage points – a trend that coincides with new high school
and increased outreach efforts at both the state and campus levels. If progress continues at its current rate, the gap in early-college success between Scholars and their higher-income peers is projected to close by 2025.

So what are they doing that is making this so successful there, and only there? Let’s see.

Inconsistent implementation and review of the program across participating schools, as well as minimal focus on college readiness, is partly to blame for the disappointing results.

The college testing firm ACT in a recent report with the United Negro College Fund indicated that while African-American students are achieving significantly better in school generally, they lag in college readiness. Only about 6% met ACT benchmarks for college readiness in four key subjects (English, reading, mathematics and science) as opposed to 28% for all students.


Two leading college attendance researchers last year published a book suggesting that to increase college-readiness for disadvantaged students, the U.S. education system must offer more financial aid and academic support. The researchers also call for strengthening connections between coursework and the labor market and offering more structured paths to college and careers.

So…. support the students who don’t have the support they need to thrive. So easy to say, yet seemingly so hard to do.

On Empowering Male Students of Color

Here’s an abstract about the evidence published in a recent book. The author writes, about the way men of color are currently treated on campus:

 On the one hand, like many of his peers and other college students, he acknowledged an increased motivation to succeed academically and develop “a vision” to achieve his goals. On the other hand, while his family helped motivate his aspirations, he expressed having to contend with the added burdens that come with being a Black male – being a negative statistic.

The statistics about males of color cut two ways. First, they can serve to “justify” the already-lowered expectations of males of color throughout the educational pipeline. Because they do not complete college at higher rates, some may argue, it might be expected that they will not be successful in college. In fact, some of our youth receive these messages well before they reach college. Second, the statistics signify to these students a narrowed conundrum: succumb to the perceptions or attempt to prove them wrong. Inherently, the cost of this dyadic view is that it strangles away these students’ sense of agency and belonging on many college campuses.

At some institutions, students of color in general and males of color more particularly are responding to and trying to navigate hostile and apathetic campus cultures. Here, the students often are trying to “survive” just to “make it through” college. In effect, with little and not enough support, racial tensions between themselves and staff and faculty, social and academic dissonance, racism and discrimination, and lowered views of them, standards of and support for excellence for males of color are compromised quite easily. And the resulting discussion indicts the students themselves for not performing better.

I really don’t want to write much else. The author, Professor Derrick R. Brooks, knows what he’s talking about, and here’s hoping what he and his colleagues have found is spread across the country.

Students come to our campuses full of potential and possibilities and some come with greater needs than others. They also come with various forms of capital at their disposal. While we need students to engage in specific performances to progress through college requirements successfully, a key component is better positioning ourselves to support males of volor [sic] for success. College should not operate on a sink or swim mantra, and our support for students should not depend on our job titles or how students “prove” to us how much or if they care. Greater attention to helping students become who they are, even as they continue formulating their identities and sense of self, can go a long way in helping them achieve their goals and increasing their possibilities for success.

I know I spent far too much time just trying to stay above the water myself, and I suspect that experience is common.

Supporting Vulnerable Latinx Students

Sobering realities on campus these days. Report is here.

Almost 90% of administrators indicated that they had observed behavioral or
emotional problems in immigrant students1 and one in four (25%) indicated that
this was a very big problem. Huge majorities of respondents recounted examples of
fear and anxiety on the part of their immigrant students. One Maryland teacher
writes: “We have one student who had attempted to slit her wrists because her family has been separated and she wants to be with her mother. She literally didn’t
want to live without her mother.” A California high school teacher explained, “I had
one student who came back the day after prom and would not eat or talk to anyone.
I finally found out from one of her friends that she came home from prom to find her mom deported and never had the chance to say good-bye or anything. She was
suffering but did not know what to do.”

So what are we going to do about this? This horror will end someday, but there will be another, for this group or a different one, and we’ll see the impact, and another generation of students will suffer accordingly.

How can we truly support them?

There are also indirect effects on non-immigrant students. In Southern schools
70% of educators reported this impact, with 15% judging it to be extensive. More
than one of seven educators in the South, and one in eight nationwide, reported
that students’ learning was being affected a lot due to concerns for classmates
whose families are targeted. For many, the ecology of the classroom has been
disrupted. One Northern California counselor commented on how the fears of
immigration raids had stressed her out: “I don’t know if it is stressing them [the
students] out, but I feel stressed out about how the San Francisco Chronicle
reported possible raids in California. It is a scare tactic which frightens not only
undocumented immigrants, but those who are around them.”

It’s a fallacy that this only hurts the direct victims. It is stressing out anyone with empathy for the vulnerable, and that certainly includes most college students.

Not a one person is at their best when stressed, and college is a big challenge for most even in the best conditions. We are forcibly pushing down our young, and I am fairly sure that’s what a handful of people want. But for the rest of us, the impact of this is clear and present.

For-Profit Closings

I was not expecting this to be true, but for-profits are actually not doing very well, no matter what DeVos and friends would like.

There are likely a number of factors contributing to the continued decline of the for-profit industry, not the least of which is increased scrutiny under the Obama administration. The nation’s low unemployment rates also mean fewer students are going back to school or looking to re-skill for new careers, and those who are look increasingly to traditional institutions, which have seen tremendous growth in their online education offerings.

Increasingly, for-profit institutions are seeking nonprofit status, either on their own or through partnerships or acquisitions involving traditional institutions. Former University of Phoenix President Bill Pepicello said in a recent conversation, “Ultimately, I think that there won’t be for-profit universities or institutions as we know them today.”

As you can see in the piece, the real reason is that public and other traditional schools have fought back with nimble online offerings. It’s encouraging and suggests that education will always find a way to adapt to new challenges. Here’s hoping it continues.