Letters 26.3

LA CUCARACHA © 2012 LALO ALCARAZ. Used by permission of Universal Uclick, all rights reserved.

Someone sent me the link to Melissa Bollow Tempel’s “It’s OK to Be Neither” (Fall 2011). I just wanted to tell you I think what she’s doing is absolutely wonderful and there are many people out there who agree.

I am a transgender guy myself. I was quite a gender-variant kid and I was lucky enough to grow up in a school environment where my teachers and peers were accepting. It saddens me to think that kids have experiences that are very different from the ones I had as a child. Society has gender roles ingrained into children’s heads at such a young age, and it is definitely something that needs to be addressed at that young age.

Some people forget that kids are just kids. The fact that toys and activities are so gender-specific is ridiculous. We shouldn’t be sending out the message that Legos are for boys and dolls are for girls. That only does harm: It limits creativity and imagination.
Brennan Williams Hyde Park, N.Y.

Melissa Bollow Tempel could have been talking about my daughter; the similarities are eerie. For the most part, my daughter doesn’t care what others think about her. She wore a shirt and tie for picture day and requested Timberland boots for Hanukkah. She looks and acts like a typical boy, and we are supportive of how she chooses to express herself. She is only in 3rd grade, however, and although her classmates accept her for who she is, I know it won’t always be so rosy.

I forwarded “It’s OK to Be Neither” to my daughter’s teacher, not to tell her how to run her classroom, but to offer some ideas about how to address situations that might arise. She is a wonderful teacher, and I know she’s receptive to this kind of information from parents. I’m more concerned about how my daughter will be treated next year when we move to a new town and she attends a new school. I’m going to keep Tempel’s words of wisdom handy in case her new teacher needs some support in that area.

These lessons about gender identity, roles, and stereotypes are valuable for all children, and I can only hope that both of my daughters (including the super-girly one) are lucky enough to have teachers like Tempel in their lives.
Name withheld on request

Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Your “Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline” issue is excellent! Although the specifics of the school-to-prison pipeline map out differently, there are many lessons here for educators based in Canada, where the rates of incarceration of Aboriginal young people far outpace the wider population. And although crime rates are declining, the conservative government of Canada has just passed a massive crime bill that includes the building of mega prisons. Could this really be the best, most creative and effective solution to crumbling and toxic reserve schools, or the low-income housing crisis in so many urban and rural parts of Canada? Thank you, RS, for another thoughtful read.
Özlem Sensoy School of Education Simon Fraser University Vancouver, Canada

Linda Christensen has done it again! She’s taken the theories and abstractions of the school-to-prison pipeline and given them an on-the-ground practicality for teachers and students. I love how she used her own experiences to explore how relationships are at the center of any reforms worth doing. She’s done this even though her mistakes and stumbles would have made most other educators shrink from disclosing these things. As ever, I couldn’t put the article down.
Sonia Nieto professor emerita University of Massachusetts,  Amherst

What a great issue—truly about education as it is lived and spoken in the classrooms by students and teachers. It is talking, listening, and construction, rather than the more common classroom of surveillance, control, and instruction. You have found the practices of what I preach: classrooms and schools as community organizations, teachers as community organizers.
George Stranahan
 Manaus Fund Carbondale, Colo.

Mexican American Studies in Tucson

I live in Indian Country. I’m a proud Rethinking Schools advocate and user of Rethinking Columbus in my classroom (since it was first published). As an art teacher and video/graphics teacher I still have some control over content delivery in my rural Nevada classroom.

We are in the middle of a History of the Poster unit and took one of the central principles of the Tucson curriculum, In Lak’ech, to create posters in solidarity with the students in Tucson. I asked students to think about their own cultures when working, and they easily recognized the universality in that idea. We hope to print the best of them as banners on fabric to share with the Tucson Mexican American Studies students.

It’s been pretty revealing to see the students’ responses to the poster project. My kids of color are the children of rural ranch workers, and I know for sure that when you can connect with their identity they are powerfully successful, even in public school.

My heart is with the kids in Tucson and their teachers. I don’t know what we can do besides make sure our kids understand this well so they don’t raise the same racist hatred in our own state when they’re in charge someday.

In Lak’ech: “I am another you” or “I am you and you are me.” If they hurt in Tucson, we all hurt.
Laura Smith
Fillmore Smith, Nev.

Ever since I used Rethinking Columbus for a yearlong series of critical events around the quincentennial (I included Lummi and Nooksack perspectives, among others), I have valued what Rethinking Schools does.

Hearing about the banning of Rethinking Columbus in Arizona was not surprising, though it does signal the intense opposition to equity, justice, and common sense that prevails in many places, including around human migration and human rights.

If there is any silver lining, it would be taking pride in the fact that your work is targeted in this way. In other words, it’s so significant and truthful that it made the cut! (I recall a poem about the disappointment one might have if, amid the book burning in Nazi Germany, one’s writing wouldn’t have been strong or challenging enough to be selected.)

Keep it up!
James Loucky Department of Anthropology Western Washington University,  Bellingham